Cycling in The Chilterns

Posted on May 17th, 2010 by Tim Bell in Cycling Training around London, The Road to Tourmalet

It took an American who settled here twenty years ago to reveal the cream of English countryside to me. With only a week before the King of the Downs, I wanted a fairly easy fifty miles having put in my first hundred-miler the previous weekend. Step forward Royce, a business contact and my first random bike acquaintance who suggested riding in the Chilterns. Having ridden across America, and more recently from Land’s End to John O’Groats, he was more than qualified to offer me some pointers on long-distance riding. Moreover, like any immigrant, he knows the English countryside better than most of us natives, taking the place for granted.



Seventeen minutes from Paddington and we were rolling out of Slough station through Eton, past several camera crews hoarding footage of the privileged environment that produced our new PM. Before long we passed by Cliveden House where Lady Astor supposedly ticked off a former PM by saying “Winston, you are drunk” to which the great man replied “I may be drunk, Miss, but in the morning I will be sober and you will still be ugly.” Next stop on the tour of great sons of England was Marlow, home to Steve Redgrave, and the start of our third short, sharp climb of the day. The profile of this ride is almost identical to the first loop of the King of the Downs route, perfect preparation. By this time the countryside was getting ridiculous, lots of Brakspear’s pubs and hedgerows, rolling fields with bi-planes and gliders enjoying things from above. There were a few Red-Tailed Kites keeping the gliders company, which were apparently hunted until recently, wrongly accused of stealing young lambs and the like – amazing animals to look at, but essentially pigeons dressed up in Superman outfits.

Charge of the Light Brigade
We did an extra loop around Hambleden, almost comically pretty and home to the stately pile once belonging to Lord Cardigan, leader of the Charge of the Light Brigade – our third and final English hero(?) of the day. We crossed the Thames soon after at Mill End where canoeists were practicing Eskimo rolls, not far downstream from Henley where I guess Redgrave once made his name. As you can see from the photo, daubing my face in factor 15 was about as useful as a chocolate teapot – once again I have had a long ride on an English May morning with barely a ray of light.

Picture of a weir at Mill End

The Multi-Weir at Mill End

False Pillars
It was not long before we spotted Windsor Castle in the distance, our target for the return. We had a few more stretches through Bluebell forests before getting our heads down for the final stretch and it was not long before we were battling through tourists around the castle. Royce had one more nugget of historical curiosity for me, pointing out some pillars beneath a Christopher Wren building which did not connect with the ceiling above them. Wren had bet his patron that he could have this structure standing without the traditional pillars. Patron demurred and insisted they be installed, Wren duly obliging but proving his point by letting them fall short of the ceiling by a few inches. They have remained unaltered to this day.

Hill Training
From a cycling perspective, this is a great area with plenty of tricky, short hills to build up strength on. I may return to do some hill reps before the Etape and will certainly try to drag some friends out there. It is a stunningly beautiful area, quintessentially English, and apparently no secret to the many cyclists with whom we shared the day.

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One Comment on “Cycling in The Chilterns”

  1. Carroll B. Merriman

    This steroid thing with Contador will really harm the sport of cycling – shame on him!

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