The rain had swept in by now and despite full-wet gear we retreated to a burger van. Yes, it seemed a bit odd, to be in the middle of nowhere, in the emptiness of the ranges and with only dirt roads in all directions, but there it was, this wee van doing good business selling breakfasts to the army boys. You kind of wondered whether the van went on ops with them too, flipping patties on the roadside in Helmand Province?
Crossing the ranges was a matter of obeying some ‘Keep Out’ signs and then ignoring others. I’m not sure I understood the rationale, but I didn’t notice any live rounds whistling past my ears so JV must have known what he was doing. There were still go-arounds brought on by the military activities and eventually that forced us onto a road-based detour that took too long, and was made longer by British Rail closing half the roads in Hampshire.
Eventually we hooked onto the historic Fosse Way. Another route that is centuries old (it dates back to at least Roman times - probably earlier) but seemingly well cared for today, with sections almost manicured it’s that well maintained. It was a pleasant track, despite the driving rain, for it seemed to point west in the most direct no-nonsense manner and you got that feeling of once again making progress. Nice one Centurion!
There was a decent river crossing along its path, deep enough to warrant requesting JV make repeated passes for the camera. Laying my camera bag in the hedge I noticed a lot of litter; I looked up and down and saw more. Clearly the river-crossing is a spot for some entertainment, but I’m always depressed by the mindlessness of those who’ll desecrate the countryside. The propensity of the British to litter and fly-tip any lane of tranquility always saddens and annoys me. Especially when we motorcyclists are challenged over our right to pass, for fear of damage, yet the litterers and fly-tippers do far more to spoil the countryside than a pair of wheels.
All the same, the Fosse Way was a delightful ride, in many places something of an avenue of trees, with fine views across vast fields and given the trail’s excellent grading meant you could take lingering looks at the countryside, only slightly wishing it wasn’t cast, by the incessant rain, into such dark hues of grey and brown.
Of course change has to come and as we pressed on westwards the lanes took on a new nature. I think submerged is the word. The rain kept falling but the water table was clearly rising. Mostly it was about four-inches above ground level, but here and there, where vehicle passage had worn deep hollows, it got deeper still. We got into overgrown trails too, still submerged, bringing down the speed and needing the odd duck under the lower branches. And again we found the way blocked by fallen trees. Not small trees, but huge ones, like oaks. Getting around these required sizable clay banks to be scaled and descended - good fun in a Boy Scout kind of way.
The terrain changed again and started to rise and fall - we’d arrived in the Cotswolds. Rocks started appearing above the surface of the lanes making the ride that little bit more technical. Nothing we couldn’t manage, but requiring a lot more concentration, especially given that everything was wet and slippery. The rain had been falling for hours by now and so our riding kit was starting to suffer. Gloves were saturated, goggles struggled to resist misting but worse, the waters had got into my boots. The left boot seriously and I could feel the water running back and forth. My open-face helmet meant stinging rain pelted my face when the speed picked up, but I suspect it also meant less misting of the goggles, so a fair compromise.