It was a beautiful morning as 34 riders gathered in the sunshine at Islip village hall for the start of our 2019 Century and Triennial Veterans’ ride. There was strong representation from Wantage with regulars from Oxford City, Midweek and Wallingford groups plus guest riders from near and far (including Milton Keynes, Swindon and Suffolk). We would have been a full complement of 36 but sadly Robin had to pull out due to illness, and Barry with bike problems. A big thank you to John for agreeing to lead Robin’s group at short notice.
The 3 groups left at 5-minute intervals with the group of younger vets first, and my “slower” XI with 4 septuagenarians third. With me were Julie, Karl and Des, David Green (Oxford City) and Peter (Midweek group), who had kindly volunteered to sweep, and 5 guests: Jane from Sussex, Sally and Sylvia from Milton Keynes, Colin from Freeland and Ian from Oxford. This is the tale of our day.
The first 25 miles to Bodicote took us north into less familiar and rolling territory winding our way up the Cherwell Valley. Through Tackley, Rousham and the Astons, we took the climbs steadily and regrouped regularly – there was no point in rushing at this stage of the ride. The views across the valley were lovely.
From North Aston there is no road north and so the route turned eastwards with a nice long descent into the valley to cross the river and canal at Somerton. With no road up the valley either, the only way was up the other side and we climbed steadily to the picture-perfect village of Fritwell. To go north we had to join the rather busy B4100, passing through Aynho, but after 3 miles we could relax again on quieter roads into Kings Sutton. Here we stopped on the small village green to admire the slender spire of the church that is so prominent from the M40. Shortly after, we crossed the Cherwell and the Oxford canal for the final time and ascended steeply to the edge of Adderbury. A short stretch of A4260 brought us to Cotefield. We turned into the garden centre just as John’s group were preparing to leave and joined James’ group in the café courtyard for a rest and refreshments.
Last time we came to Cotefield the garden centre was surrounded by fields.
Now there is a housing estate, but it did provide a useful cut-through to Old Bodicote with its ironstone houses and church. We joined NCN5 for the steep descent to Sor brook and climb up the other side to the delightful miniature windmill sitting in the middle of a wheatfield. A nice stretch of flat then downhill brought us through the ironstone village of Bloxham and on to the Barfords. The steady climb to Ledwell passing Nether Worton Hall, was the longest ascent of the day. We continued after a short rest and were soon dropping into Sandford St. Martin. Here we joined my favourite part of the route, winding through narrow lanes Clevelly and on to Enstone. We had reached our highest point before the gentle but fast descent into Charlbury and the Evenlode valley. On through Fawler, we dropped down to cross the Evenlode by Ashford Mill, to turn sharply uphill at first and then more gently towards Wilcote Grange and Ramsden. After the second longest climb of the ride, our lunch stop at Hilltop G.C came as a most welcome relief. James’s group were still there and it was nice to catch up with their progress before they headed on. Our pre-ordered lunches came quickly.
Following lunch, the ride became easier – mainly downhill to picturesque Old Minster Lovell. Then, after the climb out of the Windrush valley, came the fastest section of the ride on the gentle descent through Brize Norton to Bampton. There had been a nagging westerly breeze all day, but riding westwards to Clanfield was straight into the wind making this a tough stretch. I appreciated Des and Karl taking a turn at the front. From Radcot the approach into Faringdon with green fields skirting the hill right up to the town centre is always attractive. After a good rest at the top, we continued through town and on via Fernham Road into the Vale, enjoying a great view of the White Horse from Fernham Hill. We were now on familiar roads and the sun was shining.
As we approached the Horse and Jockey, we passed James’s group on the way out. Robin was waiting for us in the rear courtyard with the Cycling UK banner flying and a lovely treat – a great big cake! We enjoyed a welcome cup-of tea, snacks and a good rest. By the time we set off on the final quarter, spirits were refreshed and the evening light was beautiful with barely a cloud left in the deep blue sky. And at last we had the wind behind us. Through Pusey, Hinton Waldrist, Appleton and Cumnor, we made good time and all enjoyed the long descent into Botley. Here, one of our visitors, Jane, left us to return to the youth hostel having nearly completed her century.
We joined the cycle path to take us safely over the A420/A34 interchange and on to Wytham, then turned eastwards to cross Port Meadow, past the riverside Trout Inn and entered leafy North Oxford at Wolvercote. A section of the Woodstock Road brought us down to Marston Ferry Road to join its segregated cycle track. With 5 miles and 30 minutes to go, there was some late drama and jeopardy as Karl picked up a puncture and ripped tyre in the Ferry Road underpass. I took the main group on, while Des and Peter assisted. Out through Old Marston and on to Woodeaton, the final ascent to the B4027 was taken with determination and there was great relief to see Islip ahead with a final downhill to the river. After a final brief climb up to the village hall, we finished at 20:19, 3 minutes inside the cut-off time of 12 hours 7 mins for the full 101 miles. And to make the day, Karl, Des and Peter arrived just over a minute later. A great sense of achievement and smiles all round as celebratory pics were taken and certificates awarded. And au revoirs from our guests until 2022.
A big thank you to my group for good company and a most enjoyable day’s riding and to Peter for sweeping. Thank you too to James and John for leading the other groups, to Eddie, Jo, Jane and Yvonne and all those who helped with sweeping, and Robin for all the admin of the event and to Kerry for the cake! I look forward to doing a Tri-vets again in 2022.