Ever wondered who wins the Tuesday Treats competitions and what they do with the prize? Dominic Parkes reports…
“The Isle of where?”
That was just one of the questions I had when Grumpy Jon told me he’d won a weekend’s guided riding on the Isle of Purbeck courtesy of Singletrack Tuesday Treats and grassroots local bike shop The Bicycle Company. Wouldn’t cycling around an island be a bit, well, limiting? And how was Jon going to break it to his wife and kids that he’d scored a weekend away for himself and three others – but the family wouldn’t be coming? Most of all, did I really want to spend two days cycling with Jon?
I should explain at this point that Jon’s a lovely bloke despite the ‘Grumpy’ moniker and I regularly ride with him at our local trails. But he likes 24 hour races and cyclocross for heaven’s sake. And Morris dancing. Probably. He harbours a penchant for lycra and he never, ever drops his saddle. Was there any fun to be had on a weekend’s worth of the sort of riding that was putting such an uncharacteristically large anticipatory grin on his normally scowl-riven face?
A quick check of the map reassured me that Purbeck isn’t in fact an island, although it is slap bang next to the sea just west of Poole Harbour. And it does have a ferry. So with Jon’s family diplomacy delicately negotiated we recruited fellow riders Andy ‘Pilau’ Rice and Tristan ‘Bent Forks’ Harding and set about finalising arrangements for a weekend’s riding. Or not, actually, as it turned out that the lads from The Bicycle Co had done most of the arranging for us. All we had to do was turn up with our bikes and ride. Nice.
Passing Afan and Cwmcarn on our journey south from Swansea we wondered what we’d find in Dorset to warrant the three-hour drive. Jon assured us he’d found a glowing write-up of the area in an old bike mag. I crossed my fingers that the magazine he’d unearthed wasn’t Cyclocross Monthly and tried to keep an open mind as the South Wales hills gave way to ever-flatter terrain. At least it was sunny.
Day one – Purbeck beckons
Our riding companions and guides for the weekend were to be Martyn Hoyle, bike mechanic to the stars and owner of The Bicycle Co in Poole, and his friend and fellow guide Kev. We met up with them at a seaside café where they made a tactful assessment of our claimed levels of fitness and general competence while we pretended the full English breakfasts in front of us had been left behind by previous customers. Then with formalities over and breakfast remains grazed – it would have been a shame to waste them – we headed along the prom to Sandbanks and the ferry. Rolling down millionaires’ row past the concrete and glass monuments to Mammon the day was already starting to heat up and the beach-wards migration was well under way. On down to the front of the ferry queue and straight onto the Sandbanks ferry. Do we need passports? Should I declare those energy gels? Are we nearly there yet?
Martyn is a wiry Mancunian with a taste for 29ers and a ‘mad fer it’ glint in his eye that hints of a past spent downhill racing and generally hooning around on bikes. Kev is stockier, down to earth, with maybe a suggestion of sergeant-major about him. Both do good banter. We’d managed to convince them that a decent day’s jaunt around the hills of Purbeck probably wouldn’t kill us and we’d signed a waiver just in case it did, so they mapped out a ride of “about 50k” that would take in a mix of techy single-track, fast double-track descents, long sweeping ridges and big, big views. Oh and a few climbs.
Rolling off the ferry and climbing gently towards the sandy pine scrublands we soon left the weekend beach crowds behind. Our first taste of the good stuff to come was the golf-course descent – fast flowy single-track that was loose and drifty in places. I’ve still yet to come across a golf-course descent that isn’t great fun.
As the ride progressed it quickly became apparent that Martyn and Kev are excellent riders who take their guiding very seriously. They’re enthusiastic about the local trails and they really want their clients to get the most out of them too. Best of all there was absolutely no sense of ‘them and us’ and not a hint of any condescension towards the punters. It felt like riding with a couple of extra mates in the group, albeit mates who were usefully knowledgeable about the local terrain.
Once we gained a bit of height we saw that Kev hadn’t been exaggerating about the views. We were deep in Hardy’s Wessex where the lush, undulating countryside made for a stunning panorama as it swept down towards the coast at Kimmeridge Bay. It all felt miles away from the hustle and bustle of Poole. Actually is was miles away – we’d been going for almost three hours.
A fast descent off the ridge into the unfeasibly picturesque village of Corfe Castle brought an opportunity to fill up with water and grab something for our short lunch stop. Then back up a hot and fairly brutal climb onto the ridge once more. This was to become something of a theme for the ride – roll along the ridge, fast single or double-track descent, then sweat our way back up to the ridge-top. Kev is – how can I put this – a bit ginger, and I could feel his pain as we sweltered up those exposed climbs on the hottest day of the year so far.
Just how much is it decent to let a guide do for you? What’s the etiquette here? I mean show us around and look after us a bit yes, but the lads from Poole beat us to just about every gate and all but insisted on holding them open for us while we rode through. Better yet, they’re both handy with a camera and frequently took opportunities to nip ahead and grab some action shots, bringing out the shameless camera-tart in us all.
The ride route took us on in a big loop – so it was a trip around the ‘island’ after all – where highlights included a long loose farmyard descent and a rattle down a fast grassy bridleway to the coastal viewpoint at Old Harry Rocks. Oh and Kev’s local-history factoids, which may or may not have been made up. The big stag that sprinted across the track in front of us caused quite a stir too, although Martyn and Kev remained unmoved. Maybe they employ it to keep the tourists entertained.
Then back eastwards along the coast, stopping at last at the promised pub where the cold local cider tasted almost indecently good. A final stretch of blacktop – something we’d seen very little of all day – took us back to the ferry with our milometers unaccountably reading 60-odd klicks despite the route allegedly having been cut a bit short because of the heat. Really guys?
Is Purbeck worth a trip? It’s probably not the ideal destination for gravity-obsessed loons or anyone who would struggle to bash out 30 or 40k off-road in the course of a decent day’s riding. But it’s hard to imagine anyone who enjoys pedalling their bike failing to appreciate what the area has to offer. I’m fortunate enough to ride with a bunch of mates who aren’t XC whippets but will happily hit trails all day, won’t be the next Steve Peat but will always give it the beans on the descents, and best of all have loads of fun doing it. All enjoyed hugely. As we loaded our bikes back onto the ferry tired but replete I wondered how the Sandbanks millionaires had spent their day and whether they’d had as much fun as we had. Somehow I doubted it.
Day two – Wareham next?
The plan had always to been to do a long day’s riding and a shorter one, and no-one was pushing for another all-day epic as we chatted over the morning’s performance-enhancing sausages. With tired legs all round and another scorcher on the cards we appreciated the location of the accommodation Martyn had booked for us – a good 15 seconds away from the bike shop where we’d planned to meet up again.
We loaded our gear into the cars and followed Martyn and Kev up the road to Wareham Forest where we were joined by Martyn’s colleague Steve, another keen local rider who knows the trails well. A bit too well in fact – the bandage on his arm testified to recent unwanted intimacy with one of the twistier sections at Wareham.
The pine forest is criss-crossed by a network of well-linked trails, where sandy fire-road climbs seem always to lead to yet another flowy single-track descent that’s been lovingly built and maintained by local riders. Most are fairly short – great for the ups but such a shame when the downs are so much fun – but there are a few opportunities to link trails for a longer blast. With his DH background Martyn was clearly well at home in the tight twisty stuff and proved that even a large 29er can be threaded nimbly around the narrow berms between the trees as he led us down at a very tidy pace.
Worn-out legs and empty water bottles eventually signalled an end to this short but frenzied trail-bashing session. No-one complained when Kev suggested it might be time to head back to the cars, although both he and Martyn were clearly very happy to carry on if we had wanted to.
If I’ve whetted your appetite for a cheeky weekend biking trip then you could certainly do much worse than head for this largely unheralded part of the country. And if you like the idea of having a guide along to show you the best bits then you really should consider booking a day out with the lads from The Bicycle Company. Good company indeed.
Dom Parkes, Jon Parker, Andy Rice and Tristan Harding were guests of The Bicycle Company in Poole thanks to Singletrack Tuesday Treats.
All photo’s courtesy of Martyn Hoyle