A glorious time at the Golden Beeches Weekend 2016
A glorious time at the Golden Beeches Weekend 2016
The Golden Beeches rally is based at St Leonards Parish Hall near to Tring in Hertfordshire. It takes place in mid-October to make the most of the wonderful autumn scenery. There is a choice of rides every day for road riders and an off-road option on the Sunday morning. Some people bring camper vans and caravans, whilst others choose to camp indoors in the hall. A willing team of volunteers provide hearty meals, alongside tea, coffee and snacks. The rally kicks off with a social evening on Friday night with a 'get to know you' session followed by a light entertainment evening on Saturday.
We opted for the off-road ride, thinking that riding in the woods at this time of year would be fantastic. As regular mountain bikers, we felt somewhat ashamed that we hadn't visited this part of the world before - it's only 60 miles from where we live but the terrain is very different from the sandy heathland of south west Surrey, although the chalk ridges are similar to the North Downs to the east of Surrey. The Chilterns are, of course, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the ancient long-distance trails of The Ridgeway and the Icknield Way pass this way - both are largely do-able by bike.
We meet our leader Brian outside the hall and set off promptly at 9.30am - he's planned a 15-mile route that takes in some of the best non-technical routes in the area. Our motley group of nine riders consists of experienced mountain bikers such as my husband and myself, complete with all the gear (but possibly no idea), to some who regularly ride what they call 'rough stuff' in traditional clothing, and others who are used to riding tracks in places such as the New Forest. After a few miles of delightful, mainly mud-free (thanks to the incredibly dry summer and autumn) trails, we came to what Brian called 'a very steep rutted descent', advising the group to walk if they didn't feel up to riding it. These kind of trails may not be the most technical but, when covered with fallen leaves, obstacles such as roots and stones can become hidden and potentially hazardous. Carefully, the group made its way down - either on foot, gingerly by bike or, in our case, quite fast - being from Surrey, we are used to such trails, though my husband, Roland, nearly comes a-cropper as his back wheel almost slides out as he hits a slippery patch.
While we wait at the bottom for the others, enjoying the peaceful surroundings and the way the light dapples through the trees in a golden glow, my attention is caught by a sign and some guerilla knitting on one of the trees next to the track: to my dismay, it says 'HS2 will pass the bottom of the field 400 m west'. Yes, it confirms what Brian has already told us: these ancient and irreplaceable woods are to be the location of a section of the proposed high-speed rail link, along with many others. A depressing thought on such a beautiful day in such a tranquil spot.
Trying not to think about HS2 too much, we continue along more spectacularly tree-lined trails and quiet lanes before turning left and starting the climb through Wendover Woods to the visitor centre, where a plaque tells us we have reached 'the highest point in the Chilterns'. A large slice of cake and a coffee revive us nicely for the return leg, which is not without a mini-drama: leaving the visitor centre by the single carriageway forest road, blinding sunlight and oncoming motorbikes mean that one of our group catches another one of us on the shoulder and I turn round to see him splayed out in the middle of the lane. Fortunately, the following car has stopped and kindly says to the rider to take as long as he needs to recover before moving out of the way, which he eventually does, just a little battered and bruised but otherwise unharmed. Funny how it's when you least expect it that these things happen!
The rest of the ride passes in a whirl of swirling leaves and fast-flowing tracks. There's time to put in an extra loop here: another long and flowing descent before the inevitable slog back up, though for those of us on high-quality mountain bikes, the gravelly trail is challenging but do-able. For most of the others, it's a combination of riding and walking before the summit appears and the reward of a quick breather before the final, wonderful descent on a byway through the woods and then lanes back to base.
Greeted by a large chocolate cake and plates of cookies, we manage to resist as it's nearly lunch-time: a magnificent spread of quiches, potatoes, salads, rolls and more appears from the kitchen and is followed by a big bowl of steaming fruit crumble and custard. We'll be back next year for seconds I'm sure - of the riding and, of course, the food. Maybe we'll make a weekend of it and enjoy some of the fabulous road riding in the area too.
Many thanks to the tireless volunteers of South Bucks CTC, and especially organiser John Capell, for making the rally such a success - and for providing such magnificent weather!
South Bucks CTC provides a wide variety of rides throughout the area all year round. More information about cycling in the Chilterns can be found via Cycle Chilterns, a project that Cycling UK was a partner in.