Sunday 15 March Ride to West Meon. Long Ride

Just four met at the Cross on a cool , breezy morning for the scheduled hilly ride to West Meon. I as leader was joined by Sam, Bob and Paul and it was a prompt start to attempt to coincide our lunch stop with the rain expected around midday. We followed the usual route out to Rowlands Castle ( the road still closed to motor vehicles due to flooding) before taking the golf links road onwards to Horndean and coffee at the very quiet garden centre.
On the ride we had noticed a much lower level of cars – a sign of the troubled times?After a fairly leisurely break, quite comically enhanced by a woman sitting on the adjacent table joining in all of our conversation and then offering advice on just about everything – we set off on my slightly alternative route to West Meon. I had already decided to incorporate a few more hills than usual , plus a few roads that we hadn’t used in recent years.
So after taking the usual route out of Horndean, using Five Heads Road and the pot holed descent of Roads Hill, we turned right onto the very quiet Hilton Manor Lane, before joining Mill Lane and the long climb to the Bat & Ball crossroads at Hambledon. Then it was another climb up Hyden Farm Lane, another climb past the Sustainability Centre before the long descent down Coombe Lane, past West Meon Fishery and onto Cupacheeno for lunch.
I figured the 1000ft of climbing post coffee should give us a bit more of an appetite! Maintaining social distancing at the café wasn’t a problem – we were the only customers for the entirety of our lunch. I feel very sorry for the businesses that are going to suffer financially from the current situation.
Lunch is always good at Cupacheeno’s and that coupled with the usual banter meant I had quite forgotten that the expected rain hadn’t materialised, which of course meant it did five minutes after we set off for what I hoped would be an interesting westward loop, prior to making tracks back to Chichester. After a quick stop to don waterproofs, during which time we seemed to have been joined by an oversized orange gnome on a Pashley, my magicial (no mushrooms involved!) mystery tour resumed, with Sam quizzing me on my planned route.
After taking National Cycle route 224 out of West Meon we turned west into a howling 40mph headwind for the gradual climb up Beacon Hill and the  steep descent into Exton. The river here was flowing fast and very high, evidence of the recent rainfall. Crossing the A32 for the climb up Stocks Lane is normally a fraught process but not today, hardly a car in sight. More evidence of the winter rain came at the point where we crossed the West Meon Trail, the little car park by the old railway bridge was underwater. Three of us took the cautious approach and manhandled our bikes up the steps and over the footpath, avoiding the worse of the flood, whereas someone who shall not be named,simply dialled his E-bike up to 11 (for fans of Spinal Tap) and parted the waves, possibly causing tsunamis along the valley!
Paul, having carefully carried his bike past the flood , then stepped into a deep puddle on remounting. The rain, which had been on and off then resumed as we started yet another long climb onto the minor road leading to Droxford Road and another fly past (in the opposite direction) of the Sustainability Centre and a return for afternoon tea to Rowlands Castle via Chalton. (Another 1700ft of ascent on this section)
Unusually we were the only cyclists at a quieter than normal Bumblebee Café ( superb cakes) before a wind assisted run back into Chichester. A good day out despite the wind and a bit of rain , clocking up 57 miles.

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