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  • Writer's pictureAndy Marks

An Impromptu Overnighter - Salisbury Plain, Castle Combe and The New Forest

I don't want to tempt fate, but I think spring has finally sprung. The winter seems to have gone on forever and I have been itching to get away on the bike again. I got back from a weeks skiing in Italy at the end of March and decided it was time to make it happen again, the Alps will have that affect on you! My bike has been on SORN since the tax and insurance ran out just before Christmas. I renewed both and looked out the window just in time to see it start raining! A couple of fairly short local rides followed over the last week or so and finally, in the middle of April, I am heading off for a weekend on the bike...


A fully loaded Honda motorcycle
Loaded up and ready to go for the first time since last September

Friday

144 miles

By lunchtime the bike is loaded and the sun is shining so I decide to go now instead of waiting until tomorrow morning – one of the perks of being self-employed! I have lunch at home and by 1:45 I am on my way, I’m just not sure yet where I am on my way to…

20 miles or so on the A27 get me away from the roads I ride all the time and will give me more time somewhere new later. I get passed Brighton and take the road up over Devils Dyke before picking up the A272 and heading west again, still with no real plan other than ‘head west’.

A motorcycle parked next to a lake
Benbow Pond, Cowdray Arboretum

I consider stopping in Petworth but it's very busy when I arrive, I guess the schools are kicking out about now so I carry on through and soon spot a car park with a couple of benches that look inviting. I sit overlooking Benbow Pond at Cowdray Arboretum for a while and have a drink, as well as the pond with ducks and a pair of black swans there look to be loads of paths and trails in and out of the surrounding area and there are a lot of walkers coming and going – it’s obviously a popular place. I also spot the first Red Kite of the trip, I occasionally see them at home but not very often, they become more common as we head west.


Black swan on a lake

Back onto the A272 I continue towards Winchester. This is a fantastic stretch of road on a bike but it’s a couple of years since I have been this far down and since I was last here mile after mile of 50mph speed limits have been put in place with average speed cameras. It’s a bit disappointing but, to be honest, even 50mph would have been an achievement at times with all the traffic! While sitting in traffic I am once again reminded why I love riding on the other side of the channel so much.


A thatched cottage in Wherwell
One of the many thatched buildings in Wherwell

Nonetheless I still have a pleasant ride, the sun is still shining and I make good time. I pass through Winchester and start heading slightly north. The roads are quieter out here and we are back to national speed limits. Another stop in Wherwell for a drink, a few photos of the beautifully thatched cottages and to think about where I am going to stay tonight. It’s nearly 5pm now so I have a look on Pitchup and find a promising looking campsite that’s about another hour away, I book it and get going again.


After a very brief stint on the main A303 I start across Sailsbury Plain and past Larkhill Military Garrison. Plenty barbed wire fences with a few entrances manned by soldiers follow. I have to chuckle at the soldiers, they are dressed from head to foot in camo, and then have a high vis jacket on over the top. Do you want to be seen or not?


A sign warning of tanks crossing the road
Plenty of signs, but I didn't see any tanks this time

I stop at the co-op in Shrewton to buy a drink for tonight and then stumble upon the A360 to through Market Lavington and Devizes – this turns out to be a real treat to end the day and I arrive at Blackland Lakes campsite just after 6pm. It turns out this campsite has a bar, which serves pizza and my plans of cooking for myself waver a bit. However I am all set up by 7pm so cook the meal I had brought with me, Chicken in white sauce (straight from the tin and into the pan) and some naan bread. Not quite gourmet but it’s all easy to carry on the bike and actually tastes quite good. The beer I bought earlier goes down well too.


A tent on a camp pitch
Basically the same set up as last year

It’s a huge campsite but is still fairly quiet this early in the year, I am set up next to a row of caravans that look to be here permanently with their awnings, picket fences, benches and even pergolas and pot plants outside. As a few of the residents turn up they obviously know each other fairly well and have a very loud conversation about how their weeks have been – I guess they are here most weekends.

A lake at Blackland Lakes campsite

Whilst eating dinner I have a look at the map and ponder what I’ll do tomorrow. Castle Combe isn’t very far away and I’ve seen pictures of the village on Instagram, it looks stunning so I’ll head there first and see what the day brings after that.


A campsite meal and a beer
It tasted better than it looked
A bar on a campsite
The onsite bar in an old barn

My pitch is also quite close to a stream and water means the mozzies are out in force, so after I’ve eaten and washed up I walk through to the bar for a drink in there. I meet a father and son who are here for a weekends fishing. It turns out they also ride bikes and were impressed at how much stuff I kept getting out of my panniers when I was setting up. We while away the next hour until the bar closes at 10pm and I head back to my tent to get my head down for the night.

 

Saturday

213 miles

I didn’t sleep very well last night. I woke up cold at about 1am, it wasn’t to bad so managed to get back to sleep after pulling my fleece on. I don’t usually feel the cold much but I am only just getting over the stinking cold I came back from skiing with so that doesn’t help. And getting cold set my cough off again which didn’t help the sleeping situation.


A lie in would have been nice and absolutely fine given my lack of a plan for the day, but the daylight and morning chorus of birds in the nearby hedgerows mean I am awake again at 6am! I manage to doze on and off until I give up and get up at about 7:30. I’m tired and I feel a bit rough with the cold again so I’ll take it easy today and see how we go.


After breakfast and coffee I get everything packed away and loaded on the bike in time to be on the road again by 9am. As I pull away I am conscious of my headache and sore throat – this might have to be a very easy day. Within half a mile I pass a sign for a motor museum, but when I check it isn’t open this early on a Saturday morning so I carry on.


I enjoy the ride and the scenery as I head north again and go through the market town of Chippenham and on towards Castle Combe. I hadn’t planned on stopping at the race circuit, having no idea what is on there today, but as I pass I can hear bikes on the track so decide to stop and have a look.


A motorcycle parked outside Castle Combe circuit

It’s ‘only’ a track day, but this means I can get in for free and I enjoy watching for half hour or so. There are some beautiful bikes being ridden and it makes me want to get back on track even more than I do already. I haven’t raced yet this season, and it isn’t looking likely to happen for another couple of months at least, but there is no doubt in my mind that I will be back on track – and it can’t come soon enough.


As I set off again the fuel light starts flashing, I’ll need to stop at the next petrol station I see, but not before Castle Combe village. I bypass the car park on the way into the village, confident that I’ll find space for a bike further in – which I do. Now, I know the whole point of a blog is to talk about what I have seen – but in this case I think I have to say a picture is worth a thousand words. Look at them, Castle Combe is everything it is hyped up to be and more. Named after a 12th century castle which was demolished centuries ago, Castle Combe is probably unique in this country, in so much as no new houses have been built in the village since about 1600. Yep, that’s right, the newest house there is over 400 years old, and the majority of them are  a lot older than that.


Castle Combe village

The church at Castle Combe village

Castle Combe village

I stop and chat to a painter sitting on the path painting the wonderful scene. He isn’t local so does a bit on the painting whenever he is visiting. He has spent over 20hrs on this one so far and has been working on it since last February. He often stops when the small village gets to busy with visitors. I don’t have the skill or the patience for a painting like that, but I can appreciate what he is doing and I am sure the end result will be worth the effort – it already looks fantastic to my amateur eye.


Castle Combe village

Castle Combe village

I could spend all morning ambling around the village but get back on the bike and, after stopping for petrol, head south towards the New Forest. There will be plenty of campsites down that way and if I’m still not feeling great it isn’t too much of a slog to get home. After going back through Chippenham I pick up the A350 to Shaftsbury which, despite being busy, offers sweeping bends and views for miles. Just as I am starting to think this is as good as it gets, I turn onto the B3081 and it gets even better. After a tight climb up the aptly named Zig Zag Hill the road opens out to offer some of the best riding you’ll find in the south of the UK. I stop in a layby to take a few snaps and, shortly after setting off again see a police car up ahead. I’m not speeding but naturally slow down a little more anyway. As I round the corner I notice the hole in the fence and a battered ford fiesta in the field on the other side – it looks like someone was having a little too much fun!


A motorcycle in front of a scenic view in the UK
The view from the top of Zig Zag hill near Shaftsbury

From the 3081 I join the 3078 and by the time I arrive in the New Forest I’m really enjoying myself again, despite the headache and sore throat that haven’t completely abated. I cross the cattle grid as I enter the New Forest near Linwood and am soon passing the horses which are roaming wild among the gorse bushes, which are all coming out in yellow flower.


A motorcycle in the New Forest
Horses in the New Forest

It’s all 40mph speed limits now but this is fine by me. Between the narrow roads, great views and free ranging horses I barely do more than 30 as I cross the new forest and arrive in Lyndhurst at lunchtime. As I ride down the main street I spont a couple of other bikes parked outside a pub and, even better, there is a free table in the sun. I pull up next to the other bikes and then notice what I have just parked next to – it’s an almost new Ducati Panigale V4 in immaculate condition. I don’t think I have ever seen one of these in the flesh before, you don’t see them out and about very often. Judging by the edges of the tyres the owner of this one isn’t afraid to ride it properly either.


Motorcycles parked outside a pub in the new forest
REd Ducati Panigale V4

Lunch is a baguette and chips, they were OK but I wouldn’t rush back to this pub for another meal. I sit in the sun and eat while watching a steady flow of people ogling at the Ferrari dealership next door. When I have finished I decide to join them and have a walk along the forecourt to look at the 30+ cars they have on sale. There are some second-hand ones here with price tags in the window of up to £175k! The one I really like however, has ‘POA’ in the window – is that ‘Price On Application’ or ‘Put Of Asking’? Trust me to like the expensive one, I guess even when it’s purely window shopping, I don’t break the habit of a lifetime.


Ferrari dealership in New Forest
A red Ferrari

Back to the bike and it’s decision time – the weather is glorious, I’m enjoying the great roads and scenery and I have no real need to get home. However, I am still not feeling great and the prospect of another night in the tent isn’t one that particularly appeals to me so I decide the call it a day and head for home. I can go back along the M27 and I’ll be home in a couple of hours, in time for dinner and my own bed tonight.


On the ride home I am reminded of the one thing about my NC750 that I still really can’t live with. I’m on about my 5th different variation of screen and deflector but, even with my brand new, custom made earplugs, the wind noise is still horrendous once the speed gets up to anything much above 45-50mph. Sitting at a constant, ahem, 70mph on the motorway is unbearable and really doesn’t help my headache. I’m actually relieved when everything slows down around Chichester and approaching Worthing we are diverted onto the A272 because the A27 is closed. This is a welcome relief, but my headache is a lot worse now and when I push the bike back into the garage at about 5pm I am very please to be getting off of it! That's unusual for me - I'm usually only just getting into the swing of things on day two!


I have another, far more adjustable (and expensive) screen on order and I am holding out high hopes for this one – if it doesn’t solve the problem however I can’t see me keeping the bike much longer. I’ll let you know how that goes in a later post.


Sunday

Sunday morning was spent unpacking, drying the tent out, washing up and repacking everything so it is all ready to go next time I have an opening to get away, even if it is only for one night. Despite not feeling very well and cutting this trip short, I had a great time and am already looking forward to the next one.


The Route

After heading west along the A27 past Brighton I went north for a bit and picked up the A272. The bigger loop on the map was done anticlockwise with my overnight stay near Chippenham. I then came home via the New Forest and the A27, which I would have followed all the way home had it been open.

A route map for a motorcycle tour in southern UK

The Cost

I know from the feedback I got on a recent post I did about what I spent on my two week trip in Europe that people are interested in the costs of getting away on the bike. I'm slightly less concerned about the cost on a small trip, it's only a couple of days so the odd couple of quid here and there doesn't add up like it does over two weeks. However, controlling the cost to some extent will allow me to get away more often over the course of the summer and stay away for longer when I head to Europe later in the year. So - very briefly here is what I spent:


Fuel: £33.20

Campsite: £15.50

Beer on campsite bar: £4

Pub Lunch in Lyndhurst: £15

Food and drink from shops: £6

Total: £73.70



This was the first time I have been away on the bike and camped since I was in France last September, and now the weather is improving I’ll be doing a lot more of this over the summer – as well as a couple of longer trips I have planned.


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