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Crashing through the potholes of Oxfordshire – The Chiltern Hills #23 & #24

Having chalked off a good few of the 100 UK climbs in Simon Warren’s book, it’s now getting harder and harder to find opportunities to climbs the remain ones.  Previously I did so opportunistically, taking my bike with me while working in various parts of the country and knocking off two, three or four at a time in a well planned route.  However the remaining hills are now singles or farther away.  Or just in places I don’t tend to visit.  The exception being numbers 23 and 24 in the Chiltern Hills, these are less than a two hour drive from home and perfect for a day trip ride.

I’d had the route planned in Strava for a good year or so but never got round to riding it.  So on a Sunday when cycling had been already scheduled and the chat began about where to ride, I put forward my Chiltern Hills Loop; adding ‘I’ll drive’ always helps.  And so the decision was quick and decisive and on a Sunday morning in May we found ourselves pulling up into the gravelly car park at Coombe Hill, just south west of Wendover.  A nice free, middle of nowhere car park, busy with walkers on a nice sunny weekend.

Coombe Hill Car Park
Coombe Hill Car Park

This day of riding was decided on way too far in advance to wait for the weather forecast, but luck would have it that we happened upon a good one.  No rain, a bit of a breeze but nothing too concerning and decent spells of sunshine.  The May temperatures made getting warm from the off a little tricky but we soon settled into a rhythm and got some kms into our legs ahead of the first testing climb. A left off the A4010 just before Princes Risborough takes you up Peters Lane and the climb that is Whiteleaf, number 23 in the book. Apart from making a wrong turn up the previous left and nearly causing an accident (sorry Dean!), Whiteleaf went pretty much to plan. I mean, it’s a tough little climb but it’s not one to worry the experienced cyclist and with only a few kms in the legs, it was dispatched without any problems.

The route I’d planned takes in hills 23 and 24 from the UK climbs book but it also included hill 122 from the 2nd book in the series from Simon Warren. And it was number 122, Kingston Hill that came next. A similar sort of climb to Whiteleaf, up the same ridge in the Chilterns and to be honest much the same sort of hill.  Similar gradients, similar height gain and similar length. This isn’t to take anything away from the ride so far, it’s a nice part of country to ride in, plenty of great scenery and very much rolling hills. It’s just that compared to places like the Peak District, Lakes, North York Moors, Wales and Scotland, the hills don’t quite have the same bite.

Toward the end of my route are Goring and Pangbourne.  Either of them could quite easily have become the half way cafe stop. Googling around from home it seemed that Pangbourne had the better cafe options where we might be able to sit next to the bikes without any fear of them being half-inched. From my brief ride through though it seems that Goring is the more picturesque, particularly where the road bridges over the Thames river. And so we took the opportunity to stop and take a few photos, including the obligatory bike leaning against the railings shot. I think had we realised that we were so close to the next climb then we might have not allowed the legs to cool quite so much but you could say that the photos were worth it.

It's Goring quite well so far.
It’s Goring quite well so far.

So we got riding again and very quickly found ourselves faced with Streatley Hill, number 24. The stats show this hill to be much the same as the other two, but it seemed much tougher at the time. Maybe it was the stop for photos in Goring, maybe it was the extra distance already ridden or maybe I just pushed myself harder? Looking back at the efforts on Strava there wasn’t a great deal of difference in time taken or in average speed. Beyond Streatley Hill lay our planned cafe stop and a bite of lunch, so spinning our way round to head back toward the East we came into Pangbourne and found a good spot out the front of Costa Coffee. It’s times like these that I’m perfectly happy to pay the new sugar tax and in the heat of the early afternoon sun I was eager to have a full sugar coke rather than my usual coffee. Alongside a filled wrap and a bag of crisps it hit the spot quite nicely. Over the years of cycling I’ve come to realise that eating little and often suits me much better than riding to a cafe and stuffing myself full in one big effort. So having had cereal bars and energy gels throughout the ride, the wrap was plenty for lunch.

It was at lunch that Phil mentioned that the second half of the ride actually contained more climbing than the first half. Also the second ‘half’ was the smaller ‘half’, so that meant more ascent in less distance! There were no ‘notable’ climbs from the book in the second half but the rolling countryside wasn’t planning to let up. And it all began with a climb pretty much immediately to get us up and out of Pangbourne, Whitchurch Hill is a tough one, especially after a cafe stop. Let’s just say I’m glad I didn’t have a great big cream cake ahead of this climb.

The rest of the ride featured more short hills, of both the up and down variety, plenty of quaint little villages to pass through, some woodlands and a whole host of sports cars and classic cars. In terms of the general feel of the area, it is quite apparent that there is plenty of affluence around these parts of Oxfordshire. Which makes the horrifically poor road surfaces all the more difficult to fathom. If I could sum up the area with 3 P’s, then it would be Posh Cars, Posh Houses and Potholes. It’s not something that only afflicts this area of the country at the moment of course; there are potholes in every neighbourhood of every county for sure but riding around where I live near Peterborough you also see far fewer riverboats, Ferrari’s and 8 bed houses. And maybe it’s the fact that potholes seem all the worse when hurtling down a hill at 30 mph+ compared to riding on the flat at only 20 but the ones in Oxfordshire seemed more numerous and somewhat more dangerous.

The route on Strava
The route on Strava

All in all, it was an enjoyable day out on the bike. But then it rarely isn’t! The final climb back to the car park was one of extremely tired legs and at that moment I would have really liked to have an extra gear or two. Fortunately there was an ice cream van awaiting us at the top and that spurred us on to the finish. Would I re-ride that route, probably not. It’s nice enough countryside and the rolling hills are a good challenge but nothing greatly different to many other parts of the UK. Other parts of the UK where there are fewer cars about, places a little bit quieter and hopefully with fewer potholes, although that may be wishful thinking of course. I’ve now done the hills that I set out to ride, they are added to my completed list in the 100 climbs app and my sights are firmly on other areas of the UK now.

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