The Sandy Balls ride came about as a direct result of the Isle of Purbeck debacle. I decided that paper maps were not the way forward and it was time to embrace the 21st Century. This meant that I was navigator because quite frankly J is terrible with any sort of tech. I’d used the Kamoot app to record the Isle of Purbeck jaunt in the same way most people use Strava. Now I thought it was time to put one of its many planned routes to the test.
We chose the New Forest for our next excursion mainly because it is fairly flat. I didn’t fancy another day of pushing the bikes more than riding them. And the New Forest is one of the most stunning areas in the country. It is also really accommodating for cyclists with lots of dedicated cycle routes. So we packed up the van once again and headed off early Saturday morning. I’d picked a ride of 21.5 miles that looped from Sandy Balls Campsite. It was called SB – New Forest Tracks and seemed like something I could manage.
Parking and Donkeys
Of course it being lockdown, the campsite was closed for parking. So we ended up driving back up Roger Penny Way and parked up by the cricket green on Godshill Ridge. We sat in the van eating egg rolls until the unexpected rain shower passed by. Then with bikes out of the van, I put in one of my wireless earphones so I could hear the navigation and we were off. We managed to get about half a mile before J was distracted by a donkey. They are his favourite animal and one was standing right in the middle of the road. The donkey was looking like he’d found his spot and devil be damned if it inconvenienced anyone else. Once J finished chatting to him, we started the ride proper.
Sandy Balls to Windmill Hill
We followed tarmac of Roger Penny Way down through Godshill and back past the Sandy Balls campsite before turning right onto Blissford Road. This began with a rather nice sweeping descent that unfortunately then became a bit of a steep uphill. Inwardly I groaned, this was not what I wanted today. I dropped down a few gears until I found something managable and then dug deep and peddled.
I’d come up with a new tactic for dealing with hills after last week’s ride. I count to thirty slowly in my head. If I get to thirty and my legs or lungs are hurting too much, I let myself stop. I allow myself to catch my breath for the count of ten, and then I start peddling again. It actually helped a lot going up that hill. We turned off Blissford Hill onto Abbotswell Road and kept peddling up. At the top there is a crossroads. The road itself continues around to the right, but we turned right onto the gravel track of Windmill Hill.
Windmill Hill and Hampton Ridge
As you can imagine, Windmill Hill meant there was more climbing to come. Oh the joy. After the initial steep section though, the ground levelled out a little and I was even beginning to enjoy myself. There were more wild donkeys around here wandering through the gorse bushes. Of course we had to stop again for J to say hi to them.
Back on track we kept going across Hampton Ridge, passing the occasional walker or rider. It felt wild and remote and very free, especially after being locked down for so long. At times all you could hear was birdsong and our own breathing.
We followed the gravel track through the gorse and heather until we got to a really steep hill. The route was telling us to go up it but I decided that diverting around seemed like a more sensible plan. Looking back, it would have been fun to careen down the other side. Diverting also meant there was a bit of confusion as we got a little lost trying to pick up the route again. The automated voice of the navigation in my ear repeating that we needed to turn around didn’t help. We finally picked up the trail again and freewheeled a delightful section of downhill into Amberwood Inclosure.
Through the Forest to Fritham
The trees were hiding a very steep hill that J seemed to breeze up, while I thought my lungs might well explode out of my chest. We passed a couple of walkers who I became convinced were going to overtake me again as I got slower and slower and the hill got harder and harder. I had to stop a few times before I made it to the summit. Eventually, when I caught J up, we had another fun, fast downhill that took us over a couple of bridges across Latchmoor Brook. I had just enough time to get my breath back before we were back climbing again. This time up a more steady incline that took us through the trees and out into a car park at the edge of Fritham.
Fritham to Broomy Bottom
This section of the ride was all on the road. This made me anxious for a few reasons. Cars pass too close as people are always in too much of a rush to get places. I feel like I’m a super slow rider so people are going to get angry that I’m not pedalling faster. I also really hate looking like an idiot and road riding makes me feel exposed. There were people a good twenty years older than me overtaking me on bikes. Embarrassing.
So the four miles that we had to ride over Janesmoor and Ocknell Plains before to turning off another gravel track weren’t my most favourite part of the whole day. The surface was good to ride on though, well maintained tarmac with few potholes. There was quite a strong headwind that didn’t improve my speed. It also meant it was quite hard to chat, so instead we got our heads down and kept going. Finally we could take a right turning back onto gravel at Broomy Bottom, stopping to get a photos of a gorgeous mother and foal grazing by the path.
Broomy Bottom to Linwood
This part of the ride was the absolute best and was everything that I was hoping for when I had been thinking about a New Forest ride. First of all, it was almost all downhill. Hurrah! It followed the gravel past Broomy Plain and then back into the forest. Broomy Inclosure was lovely under the trees on beautiful cycle paths that were wide and delightful to ride on. We crossed over Dockens Water stream and out of the woods into beautiful open countryside, still on wide, easy gravel track. We rode past the occasional house and some other cyclists out enjoying the weather. I wish I’d stopped to take more photos but we were enjoying the journey too much. Eventually as we approached Linwood, we decided that it was time to refuel. So we laid our bikes on the grass and helped ourselves to some well earned flapjacks.
Linwood To Sandy Balls
The final 8 miles of the ride were all road riding. It was better than the earlier section though as there wasn’t so much traffic and my nerves had dissipated. Mostly, the riding was pleasant and easy going. After the flapjacks stop we turned left onto a B road through Appleslade Bottom. We followed this road all the way to a T-junction. Here we turned right to cross over Dockens Water once more before passing through both South and North Gorsley respectively. We passed some more wild horses. Some donkeys were randomly stood in a garage forecourt like they were waiting for it to open.
My legs were growing a little tired but considering it was the furthest they had been on a bike, that was to be expected. There was one final killer climb up Stuckton Hill where I had to dig deep into my energy reserves. I kept counting to thirty, stopped when I had to and tried not to feel too embarrassed that J had to wait for me to catch him up. By the time we passed back by Sandy Balls Campsite, I was running on empty but utterly exhilarated. I had ridden better than I had the week before and for longer. I actually felt proud of myself.
Back at the van we tucked into Marmite sandwiches and a non-alcoholic isotonic beer while we reviewed the ride. I thought that it wouldn’t have been technical enough for J but he seemed to be buzzing as much as I was. Right there and then we decided that we would do another New Forest ride as soon as possible. In fact I started browsing potential routes on the drive home.
Ride Length: 21.6 miles
Time Taken: 2h 15mins
Elevation: 1,025 ft
Suitable for: Beginners with good fitness. There is nothing technically challenging on this ride, but you’ll need a bit of grit for the uphills.