The Thrill of the Chase (Dorset): Inbound

Jack Thurston’s Lost Lanes West cycling guide describes a 65-mile tour starting and finishing at the railway station in Gillingham, Dorset. I adapted the tour to create a two-day 80-miler, starting and finishing where I live.

This blog post focuses on the second day, inbound from Gillingham. The first day is covered here.

The road out of Gillingham, heading east in early morning haze

To follow

The road out of Gillingham, dew still on the grass in the fields

To follow

A second day riding with Hovis as a backdrop
Saint Mary’s Church, East Knoyle

Saint Mary’s Church in East Knoyle has very colourful stained glass in its windows. Notre Dame had gone up in flames in Paris just two days earlier … reminding us that our architectural heritage is very fragile.

Half a mile beyond East Knoyle I stopped at the side of a grassy field, to watch a hare zigzagging across it. It stopped right in front of me, sat up and wiped its nose with its paws, before loping off along the fence. It seemed oblivious to me throughout. This tour connects lanes together very well … indeed, I was gently zigzagging my own way around north east Dorset now. Easy sections punctuated with steep climbs and fast descents.

Bridge over the River Sem, north of Semley
Looking towards Donhead St. Mary

The air temperature was steadily rising, as the sun gradually burned off the mist of the morning. My route meandered south now, with Shaftesbury to my right (the west). I reached the top of one climb to see a typical view of rural Dorset laid out on front of me, with Donhead St. Mary featuring on the skyline. A line of tufts of wool on a barbed wire fence suggested that the fence wasn’t entirely sheep-proof!

I passed through Ludwell, and looked for somewhere to enjoy elevenses (a cappuccino and a slice of flapjack), boiling hot water on my new stove again.

Rural bike rack?

I found the perfect spot behind a gate, next to a plantation of new trees. The warming air was pungent with the smell of the preservative used to protect the fenceposts. I sat in the sun, sipping on my drink and nibbling flapjack, while psyching myself up for the climb up Ashmore Hill in front of me.

Ashmore Hill in the distance … a steady climb up beckons (after elevenses)

The climb was not as bad as I feared. I stopped once, part way up the hill, in a convenient pull-in; but other than that, I gradually wound my way up to the top. The views certainly made the effort worthwhile. Indeed, the gentle downhill I would enjoy for the next few miles would be ample payback for my deposit of altitude gained!

The view east from the top of Ashmore Hill

Rural Dorset continued to provide a very pleasant backdrop to my exertions. I met very little traffic on the lanes and had them to myself most of the time. Although it was still only mid-April, the crops in the fields were well-ahead, and the wild flowers in hedgerows and woodland glades were in full bloom. Spring was fully-sprung.

Rapeseed oil crops, as far as the eye can see
A carpet of woodland flowers (mostly bluebells)

I was in the heart of Cranborne Chase now, with the cycling easy-going. Now I would work my way south, with a brief excursion to a ruined church at Knowlton. This is a two-mile detour, recommended in the Lost Lanes West guidebook. I’m glad I took it.

Knowlton Church and ancient henge

My side trip to Knowlton Church became my lunch stop, although I had to make do with another slice of flapjack, since I hadn’t anticipated having lunch here. I’m glad I did though. I sat atop the henge, overlooking the ditch towards the church. What is left of it is very well preserved, although I suspect that it is an never-ending job preventing the mortar that secures the stones and flints from loosening. I had driven past this spot for more than twenty years, and never knew the church or henge existed. That’s bike touring for you.

My new stove performed well again. I had been pleased to have the opportunity to test it during this two-day tour, and I look forward to using it again, on many more trips to come.

The originally Norman church is built on the site of the henge
The avenue leading down through Crichel estate

Once I had passed through the Crichel estate and returned to Witchampton (closing the loop described in the Lost Lanes West guide), all that remained was to retrace my steps home. And so it was that my two-day tour came to a close … two days during which I had, indeed, been thrilled by the Chase, visiting several places for the first time, and re-discovering others.

It is a route that I can heartily recommend, whichever way you do it.

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