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A Club Ride Around Rowlands Castle

British Cycling take a training ride with VC St Raphael

Route Description & Photos: Larry Hickmott
Check out the route in detail on Map My Ride | More Rides - Where to ride home page

One of the classic road races in Hampshire near Havant, is the long running Perfs Pedal, an icon in the British Cycling racing calendar and organised by Mick Waite of the equally legendary cycling club, the VC St Raphael. It’s a cycling club that has members right round the country and over the years, has seen some very famous names like Victoria Pendleton wearing it’s colours. 

Riders from the VC St Raphael leave Rowlands Castle past the Castle Inn.

To get a feel for the roads in the area used by the Perfs Pedal event, British Cycling joined four members of the VC St Raphael club for a ride around the lanes near Rowlands Castle and discovered an area that is awash with cyclists.

Not just the racing cyclists that were going to be our guides for the morning but tourists and families simply taking advantage of the beautiful scenery and quiet rolling roads. The four riders from VC St Raphael were Simon Berogna, Simon Brooks, Steve Walkling and Simon Tout and they met British Cycling at the local cafe in the village of Rowlands Castle.

The village has long been the home of the Perfs until this year where the course was moved to the other side of the A3 and the HQ moved to Southwick. The cafe at Rowlands Castle however is still the hub of cycling activity as riders came and went all morning. The  training ride the VC St Raphael foursome were about to embark on is quite special explained Simon Tout. With everyone working in different areas during the week, getting together for a ride is not always that easy so when the opportunity for a weekend thrash on two wheels through the lanes comes along, everyone is well up for the gathering of the clan.

The riders roll past one of the entrances to Stanstead House where you will find some tea rooms.

The cafe stop is a very much part of British cycling culture and for the riders in the VC St Raphael we were with, it always comes at the end of a ride providing the weather is kind. It does, say the riders, help in building that camaraderie needed between club mates and whilst the training itself is a lot of fun, so is the banter that follows where club mates get to know each other prior to a season which will see them travelling away together to events throughout Britain and beyond.

It was an early start for the ride through the lanes of Hampshire with the VC St Raphael crew arriving at 8am on roads still damp from some heavy overnight rain. Ahead lay a route of 32 miles over a mixture of A and B roads and some very narrow lanes though very picturesque villages with numerous postcard old world cottages, churches and pubs. The circuit is used by riders for various types of training including team time trial training on a course which was far from a drag strip normally associated with those whose key discipline is the time trial.

With the hour being early, the roads were quiet as the four riders left through the arches at Rowlands Castle and out on the old course used for the Perfs.  Finchdean Road saw the riders tapping along up a false flat, (appearing flat but rising ever so gently) until after five or six minutes at Dean Lane End and entering West Sussex, you go round a right hander to start the kilometre long climb up towards Forestside.

This explained Simon Tout, is a good place to warm up the legs on a circuit which they will do twice on a good day at an average speed of around 19mph.

The ride takes them past many villages with historic cottages and more.

After the road flattens out at the top of the climb, the riders rolled with it for a mile or so before turning right towards  Forestside and down a straight bumpy road which is narrower and descends towards Stanstead house where  I’m told by Simon Tout the tea rooms there are very good!

The road through Forestside is where the Perfs has finished for many years and because the riders were riding in the opposite direction, it was all downhill until they went past the second entrance to Stanstead House and veered left. The riders then climbed up to Elmsworth Common Road around Aldsworth where they turned left to join a busier road which is now twisting and turning which is good to help keep the focus as there is nothing more boring sometimes than a long straight road.

At the intersection with the B2147, the riders turned left towards Lordington and Walderton (B2146). Along this road, they rode past some very historic buildings (Lordington) as the road continues to wind its way towards Walderton over fairly flattish roads. After Walderton and past fields with lots of sheep grazing contentedly in front of yet another stately home, the riders, breezed through West Marden and towards Compton. There, they climbed up the main high street between lots of pretty stone buildings, pubs and a tea room.

Down the hill in South Harting and yet more old world buildings from the country's past.

After the descent through the village, the riders continued to swap spells at the front in between testing each other out up the hills, and the next destination was South Harting, one the prettiest villages on the route. The roads approaching it are rolling and after a wooded area, the roads started to ascend past the aptly named Uppark. After lots of effort up the climb, the riders then got to enjoy a steep descent (13%) that contains a few wide radius bends which can be a lot of fun at speed but at the same time, caution is also needed as hidden damp areas could be dangerous under the shade of the many trees lining the descent.

Through the village of South Harting and left at the Ship public house, the road widens and seemed to be busier as the riders headed towards Hurst and Nurstead. The roads along here, wider than most of the roads on the route, tend to be rolling with long drags and sweeping bends before the riders then turned left and sharply upwards towards Buriton.

Along these lanes, the riders got a bit of shelter from the wind from the high hedges. As the riders rode pass some elegant looking gates, no doubt an entrance to yet another country house at Pitcroft Lane, the riders carried on towards Buriton, where they descended into the village along narrow roads with parked cars and cobbled speed bumps.

If you have time for a picnic and the weather is being kind to you, then how about the village of Buriton.

At the bottom of the hill, the riders turned right over a bridge and quick glance back over the shoulder revealed a lovely church on a mound with a large pond in front where the ducks seemed to float effortlessly around while people sat and chilled on the park benches.  Notes were quickly made that this would be a lovely spot for a picnic but not on a high speed training ride of course!

The road through the village of Buriton is narrow with lots of parked cars on the left and with that comes the possibility of on-coming cars coming towards the riders. The riders rolled past the Five Bells Pub which is advertising accommodation and as you exit the village, there is a pub and Indian restaurant/takeway.

The riders are now well into the ride and heading towards Weston through the high hedges. Beware of such hedges if they look like they have just been cut as that can make the roads a source of punctures from the thorns.

One of the more interesting cottages along the route. 

At the roundabout as you near the A3, you go straight over (not left or you’ll end up on the A3 slip road) and under a bridge, turn right towards Weston, Ramsdean and East Meon and then turn left as the road into Weston is a dead end. The roads by now are very narrow, single lane and as Simon explained, it’s a long gradual climb towards East Meon. Only one or two percent, but very noticeable in the other direction when the road is fast under the wheels.

You also need to be aware of the gravel down the centre and the broken edges on the side of the road. The VC St Raphael riders now headed towards Ramsdean without going into the village and carried straight on until they got to a T-intersection in the direction of East Meon. After some lovely buildings on-route including a stunning ‘chocolate box’ cottage, the riders turned left at the T-junction, towards Mercury Hill and Clanfield on quiet lanes devoid of names. Getting lost would not be difficult but then it wouldn’t be a hardship either as long as you ensured you stay in the lanes and not end up on a slip road to the A3!

The road soon saw the riders come to a large climb (Mercury Hill) with fields of sheep on the left, woods on the right and the ribbon of tarmac rising up to a lovely Tudor style building on their right where the riders went straight on before racing down the descent into Clanfield. This climb says Simon can be quite soul destroying if you get dropped because it’s so open and you can see the riders ahead disappearing around the bend into the distance.

As ever, the descent gave those who had taken the climb easy time to catch up and soon the foursome reached the village of Clanfield where they glided past a Junior School on the left and turned left towards Chalton (shops on the right as the riders reached the intersection signposted A3 and Petersfield).

The Red Lion public house at Chalton had cyclists and walkers passing by and dropping in through out the day.

Out of the village and the riders turned left down a lane (Petersfield Lane, past a glass fronted house on the left) before dipping down in between hedges and rolling along before the road turns right over a bridge and past the Hampshire Hog pub (climb).

At the roundabout, turning left down the rolling road (Chalton Lane) and up into Chalton, past the Red Lion pub which is a great looking eatery with a big village car park and then descend down through the rest of the village on a narrow road heading towards Finchdean and Rowlands Castle. At the intersection with Finchdean Road, the riders then turned right onto the same road they had started their journey on and it was pretty much downhill all the way now into Rowlands Castle where the cafe was getting busy with riders already there and relaxing before, during or after their rides.

The VC St Raphael riders soon found a table free of other cyclists and with a large mug of coffee replenishing everyone’s thirst, stories followed of club victories in time trialing and road races as well as some famous sportive rides such as the day Simon Tout rode up Ventoux three times. He explained why by saying "I did that in memory of a guy called Laurie Pither. Laurie rode for the Hampshire Road Club and was an instigator in getting me involved in the local cycling scene regarding training, racing and promoting Open TT’s."

One of several longish but not steep climbs on the route sees the foursome split as the pressure is applied at the front.

"Laurie was tragically killed in a road accident whilst riding his bike on 6th April 2009 and had ridden Ventoux 33 times in his life (he was in his early 70’s) and it just seemed a fitting tribute to do the “Club des Cinglés du Mont-Ventoux”. You can read about the Ventoux by clicking here:

Asked why they use this course for training, the reply was because ‘it’s safe’. “We also use this course for team time trial training because it’s a sporting type course and it helps us to learn to ride well together” explained Simon Tout. “Dual carriageway courses are our bread and butter and so you don’t want to lose time on the sporting section of the courses. In September, we try to focus on doing a race in France, the Duo Normand, which is also on a sporting type course that is quite lumpy over the last half. The course we did today mimics that route”.

More stories followed about time trialing successes and cycle-sportive challenges before the riders got back onto their bikes, a little dirtier than they were when we started, and all headed off in different directions. No doubt they will soon be back on these same lanes and it is easy to see why. Anyone planning on visiting the area should give them a try and make the most of the great British countryside!

After the ride, there's time for a coffee or two in Rowlands Castle cafe where there is already a load of cyclists enjoying a drink and cake.

RIDE FACTS

Starting & Finish Point - Rowlands Castle cafe (Near Havant). Hampshire.

Route Includes travelling through: Forestside, West Marden, Compton, South Harting, Hurst, Buriton, near Ramsdean & East Meon, Clanfield, Chalton, Finchdean.

Route Distance - 32 miles

Route Type - Circuit over A, B and single track lanes.

Surfaces - Tarmac but some roads have debris (gravel, sticks, etc)  on them so take care with the type of tyres used. None of the hills are really steep so 'normal' gearing should easily suffice.