My favourite ride: Dorset and Wiltshire
My favourite ride: Dorset and Wiltshire
Ride: Gillingham (Dorset) – Mere – Deverills - Salisbury – Shaftesbury – Cut Mill – Gillingham
Map link: https://goo.gl/maps/smQbf
Brought up in North Dorset, I’ve long had a passion for the quiet rural ways of a county that with each return is so hard to leave. This makes it all the more surprising, to me at least, that my favourite ride sits so much in Wiltshire. Roughly a 70 mile circuit starting in Gillingham (Dorset) it is best tackled on a long summer’s day.
Following the road leading north out of Gillingham, you swiftly pass out of this unremarkable town and head along a relatively flat route where you leave Dorset and head into Wiltshire and Mere. As you wheel closer to this Medieval town, you will notice the lone tower sat upon Castle Hill, and the ridges and ledges, or lynchets carved by ancient ploughs into steep hills.
Look out for the local entertainment just outside of Mere
Such sights are a vivid warning of what is to come. The climb out of Mere is a series of short steep staccato ramps which will tax your lungs and legs as they lead to the roof of the Deverills. The road is narrow, and while road traffic is infrequent, the nature of the gradient can make it difficult to share.
While you catch your breath at the top of the hill, blissfully the road heads slightly downward, and you can rest free-wheeling while taking in the impressive vista of Dorset on your right. It’s a rich reward for the effort, and one of the highlights of the ride whichever way you tackle it.
It is all downhill to Kingston Deverill until you hit the River Wylye which the road winds along passing thatched cottages and working farms. Coming to Longbridge Deverill, should you need you can replenish supplies at the petrol station sat on the A350, otherwise it’s a gentle quiet 20 miles or so towards the old capital of Wessex, Wilton.
Wilton: Church of St Nicholas (Wiltshire). Michael Day (cc)
It’s an incredibly peaceful route, and on a fortunate day as you pass through Boyton you may find yourself greeted by the curious spectators and inhabitants of the Ginger Piggery. Wilton’s importance faded with the building of Salisbury Cathedral, but it is a strange town housing the parish church of St Mary and St Nicholas which, with its 32m high Campanile and Italianate style, would sit equally well in a Florentine setting.
Time and will allowing, I might head into Salisbury and gaze upon the cathedral, but usually at this point the most easterly of the circuit, I will turn towards Salisbury Racecourse and head towards the 13th century church of Saint John the Baptist at Bishopstone.
Continuing towards Shaftesbury along this route, you ride through the heart of a valley where well-heeled villages and good country pubs greet you along your way. There is something golden about this route when you emerge from between the twin hills which have sheltered much of your ride so far, and though it still sits far from the end destination I always think I am on the homeward stretch.
The only down part of the ride occurs here, as you emerge onto the A30 into Shaftesbury. The road is busy, undulating and not always in the best of conditions. Mercifully it is short, and as you cross into Shaftesbury you return to Dorset.
Shaftesbury sits firmly on top of the steepest hill for miles around. An old Saxon town which once housed King Alfred’s sister, it is now more famous for the views from much photographed Gold Hill, made famous by a Hovis Bread advert many years ago. Perhaps best for the cyclist, by approaching from Salisbury, you are spared any hardship of ascent and gifted instead with the exuberance of descent.
Gold Hill, Shaftesbury. Glen Bowman (cc)
Understandably after many miles in the saddle, you’re probably a touch hot and dusty. By heading down the hill and weaving your way along country lanes you come to the highlight of my ride, as down a dusty rubble strewn holloway in Hinton St Mary lies the old fire damaged Cut Mill, which in one form or another has been there since at least the Domesday Book.
Dwelling on the River Stour the mill pond provides a soothing source of comfort for wearied limbs and a swimming pool for locals. Lion-hearted cyclists with energy to spare might climb the ruins and leap from the heights…but that is up to them!
For me this swim is the reward for the ride. From the mill to Gillingham and the station, the miles are short on the map but long on the legs. There may be more challenging rides out there, but this ride is a love affair with the West Country which I hope all who try it will enjoy.
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