Route #7 Around the Purbecks offers plenty of glimpses of the English Channel as you cycle along some fantastic scenic lanes.
I'm apparently pretty difficult to buy for when it comes to birthdays/Christmas - so when I received a copy of Lost Lanes West by Jack Thurston, it has given me some very welcome inspiration to make me explore some new routes for my regular rides.
Most of my riding time is spent commuting to work, so that means a fixed start and endpoint for most of my rides despite some of the detours I go on some mornings. Being located so close to the sea, it also means there is not much scope for heading south either, so it is all too easy for route choice to become a little stale.
Whilst a gravel lap of the harbour is great fun, it does rather rely on the Sandbanks Ferry running which hasn't exactly been always the case the past 12 months with no amount of trouble with its daily operation.
By following somebody else's route, it forces you to ride on roads that are unknown, or more often simply forgotten from previous rides. This route follows a road after Lulworth that was once included on our local cycling club's 100km reliability trial last used in the 1990s. It was great to ride there once again with the furious descent to get back on after having been dropped on the climb! (Ed: Our thanks to Bill Simmons - we've re-created said route on Strava).
Jack has kindly allowed us to publish this route on Strava so that you can follow it too, and we have put together this informative Q&A with him, punctuated with photographs from the route that starts from Wareham Railway Station.
A small word of warning - some of this fantastic route takes you over roads controlled by the Ministry of Defence that are not always open to the public. Whilst open most weekends and school holidays, it is always worth checking here before you commence.
We hope that it inspires you to carry out some exploration a little closer to where you work and live, or even has given you some pointers for you to have a mini-adventure all from the comfort of your bike.
What is your background and how did the first book come about?
When I was in the sixth form at school, a few friends and I started a school cycling club. Partly because we hated organised games at school, but mostly because we loved cycling. The format was to hop on a train from north London and do a few hours riding in the Hertfordshire lanes.
One of the club members was Daniel Start who, twenty years later, started Wild Things Publishing off the back of his successful Wild Swimming books. He was keen to do a cycling book and we came up with the idea of Lost Lanes. I was working as a freelancer in London, doing some cycling journalism alongside other stuff, and saw it as an opportunity to revisit all my favourite routes and come up with some more.
The books cover a very wide area, how did you select the routes?
I look for a good spread of routes across the areas covered by each book, but ultimately it's the scenic quality of the routes that determines which get in and which are rejected. I'm looking for very quiet lanes, interesting things to see and do along the way, great views and vistas, as well as good pubs and cafes for refuelling.
I try hard to make all of the rides accessible by train, and I have linked day rides together so that readers can do a multi-day mini-tour, say from Taunton to Barnstaple and back, exploring Dorset or the Mendips and the Somerset Levels.
Sometimes a route will be great but there'll be an obstacle like a busy A-road or a really muddy bridleway which means I have to reject it or find a way around the problem. It's a fun process that starts with poring over Ordnance Survey maps, then checking Google Streetview and Geograph.co.uk, heading to my books to up on the history.
Armed with all that I head out for a long day to recce the route, usually taking in quite a few alternative sections to decide which is the best.
If you look behind you on the road to Church Knowle and Steeple, you see what we think is one of the best views of Corfe Castle.
You manage to combine a very readable style with all the routes then available to download. Is this unique?
Daniel and I wanted the books to be really attractive in themselves, to present a bike ride in the countryside as something really pleasurable, not the sufferfest that seems to be part of so much marketing of the sporty side of cycling.
So the photography is important, to capture a sense of the landscapes and to stir the imagination of the reader. The photos are almost all my own, and I take them while out researching the rides. As a result, there wasn't going to be space in the book pages and pages of mileage charts and turn by turn instructions, so I decided to put those on a website. Readers can print them out and leave the book at home.
I put GPX files on the website for people who navigate using a GPS or a smartphone. I know Dave Barter sends out GPX files for his book Great British Bike Rides, but I think having a dedicated web page is unique.
It's also really useful as readers can post comments and occasionally, if a route changes in some way, for instance, if a track is resurfaced, or some new obstacle comes along, I can update the online materials and alert readers to the changes.
Sometimes it's a case of sharing the bad news as recently when the Ministry of Defence resurfaced a gravel track across Salisbury Plain with really large chippings that are a nightmare to ride. But I'll always work to provide an alternative route in those situations.
As to the writing style, again it was about presenting a bike ride as a pleasurable form of travel, exploration and discovery. Some of us (me included) just enjoy riding our bikes for the sake of riding our bikes, but I found that a lot of my friends needed a bit of persuasion.
So instead of saying, "Do you want to come for a 40-mile ride around Kent this weekend" I'd figure out a route and say "do you want to come on this ride where we'll visit 6 different kinds of Windmill, or see some bluebell woods that are just coming into flower at the moment, or have lunch an oyster shack on the beach where we can bring our own wine and bread."
It helped convince my friends to come if the ride had a theme or a story, or a really brilliant destination. So I did exactly the same with the ride descriptions in the book.
I was given Lost Lanes West Country as a gift - who do you think will enjoy this book?
I hope everyone who rides a bike will enjoy it, and people who are thinking of taking up cycling, the book might be the nudge they need to give it a go. In the 1990s I made good use of Nick Cotton's series of cycling guidebooks and there's a peace of mind that comes from riding a route that someone else has designed. I love hearing how the books are used by enthusiastic cyclists who have partners, friends or relatives who need a little persuasion. I try to present cycling in its best light, as the most engaging and immersive way of travelling.
And it's not just about cycling, I give suggestions on where to go swimming in rivers and the sea, on traffic-free sections that are great if you're riding with children or people who are new to cycling, or ideas for wild camping and overnight trips. If you want to do mega miles every day or get fast times riding head down along a dual carriageway, then it may not the book for you.
But cycling is as hard as you want it to be, so a 40 or 50-mile route that could take a whole day at a gentle pace with lots of stops can be a great three-hour ride at a faster pace [Ed: which is inevitably what we ended up doing].
Or you could spin it out into a weekend, with plenty of stops along the way.
As Jack says - it doesn't have to be a sufferfest - you can take the occasional break.
You seem to enjoy the history/research of the route - that a recent or from education/uni?
I loved history at school and there's something very powerful about learning more about the history of the places as you're riding through them. I'm really interested in social history, in the way people used to live and how life has changed. I studied politics at university so am interested in the big social and political forces that have shaped history.
Places like Tolpuddle in Dorset, the mills at Saltaire in Yorkshire, or the remains of the Roman fort halfway up the Hardknott Pass - there's nothing like experiencing them for yourself and imagining how they once were.
While researching the West Country book I became a bit of a geology nut, which history on a completely different timescale. I found that just a little bit of knowledge of the geological forces that shape the landscape gives a whole new level of understanding and interest as I'm cycling through the countryside. At the very least, it gave me something to think about as I'm battling up yet another brutal hill on the Dorset coast!
Many of the rides include pub/cafe stops, how did you pick those?
I'm a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to pubs. I like real ale (and the new craft stuff too) and I want simple, hearty food that's home-cooked. I'm not into massive TVs in pubs or Saturday night karaoke or fancy over-priced food. I use the listings of the Campaign for Real Ale including its fabulous inventory of pub interiors, which is a good pointer to pubs that haven't been too messed around with and am always happy to stop for a quick half and a nose around. For cafes, I check in with local cycling clubs and find out where they stop on their social rides.
For Lost Lanes West I knew I wanted to find a few good places for traditional cream teas - that was an especially demanding part of the research.
There are some suggestions for organised rides - were these found online or personally researched?
I try to ride them all myself but occasionally my research schedule doesn't allow for this. I always interview the organiser myself and won't suggest an event unless I've had multiple positive recommendations from my trusted sources.
Local cyclists are well aware of the Dorset village of Moreton thanks to a popular evening race Kermesse series. But it also has this wonderful ford across the River Frome leading to St Nicolas' Church, famous for it's thirteen engraved glass windows
What bike do you do most of your routes research/riding on?
There have been various bikes over the years. A second-hand Roberts light tourer, a Soma Saga that was fine but just too heavy and a dull ride. I've currently got a Surly Cross Check fitted with a triple chainset and supple, fast-rolling 37mm tyres and mudguards. I like a handlebar bag for all my camera equipment and need the option of carrying my ultralight camping set up. I mostly wild camp which is great for making the most of the day, and taking photographs in the early morning night.
More recently, I've had my first ever custom made bike, which has been designed and built by frame builder Richard Hallett. Richard is also a cycling journalist and was the former technical editor of Cycling Weekly [Ed: and Prendas customer].
His knowledge of engineering and bike technology is immense and his bikes are beautiful objects. It's been great to collaborate on a Lost Lanes bike that's got some modifications to meet my specific requirements as well as some subtle Lost Lanes branding.
Anything else that we should know?
As well as writing books I present a podcast called The Bike Show. It began life way back in 2004 as a radio show on Resonance FM in London but since I moved to Wales it has been podcast-only.
I try to cover the subjects that most other cycling podcasts ignore and to capture the feeling of being out on the bike. A favourite recent episode was an extended interview with Isla Rowntree, former national cyclocross champion and founder and owner of Islabikes, who make superb bikes for children. She's one of my heroes in cycling, a truly inspirational woman.
Doing the podcast has been brilliant in terms of meeting my cycling heroes and there are interviews with Graeme Obree, Mike Burrows, Eileen Sheridan, Grant Petersen and many, many others.
Jack is always keen to use his cargo bike where possible for sending his Lost Lane book orders. We are also well known for hand-delivering customer orders on our ride to/from work if you happen to live in the BH postcode, helping to lessen our impact on the environment.