A few weeks before a potential Brexit vote seems as good enough time as any to cycle to France.
I cheated quite a bit, feeling far too lazy to get up at 5am to give myself enough daylight to get all the way to Poole and the ferryport. Instead I faffed, faffed some more, and got a train out of London far enough to avoid the tangled snake of A-roads and dual carriages that thwart cyclists’ dreams all the way to Guildford and beyond.
As ever, my method remains a bit retro in these GPS suffused times. I pack a road map and a pencil, and try to find a route on B-roads and country lanes. Google isn’t really any help as it constantly tries to send you down bits of the national cycle network, which means canal side tracks and utterly non-maintained country tracks and gravel aplenty.
The first bit of joy is swinging your bike off the A-road leading out of town and on to the first of many meandering country roads. I headed north and uphill, trying to find a ridge that I knew would take me north of Winchester and away from the grim half term roads leading into the New Forest.
I was in the country proper now, with the smell of shit, alongside the view of gorgeous tree lined vistas and the occasional shut-down pub gauded with pro-Ukip propaganda.
I messed up my backdoor entry into the New Forest, gambling left and travelling down the spine of a busy A-road formed a boundary to the national park. I pulled a u-turn, cycled the mile or so back and found my turning sat blamelessly a few hundred yards north of my turning.
Then, magically, I was in the land of ponies. The route skipped around busy places like (Nicholas) Lyndhurst and instead gave me the open spaces with ponies flitting about that had always existed in the New Forest of my mind.
I got lost a few times on the forest’s western fringes, but after crossing the horrific A31 near (Molly?) Ringwood it was pretty country lanes almost all the way into Christchurch, where I met the mouth of the Stour and the Avon and cycled along the sea front all the way to Poole and a much deserved pint. On the way, I passed many happy families having bbqs outside beach huts, a few piers and many questionable inflatables. It was bliss.