I rose at 3.43 to catch the first train. There was a heavy frost, and the lock to the bike shed was frozen solid - not a good start. But I was soon on my way to Surbiton on well gritted roads for the train. Surprisingly there were as many cyclists as cars at this unearthly hour. The temperature recorded by the Garmin was falling as it adjusted to the outdoor conditions. By Kingston it was showing minus 0.5C, and I was too excited to look after that. Much colder at Woking, where I changed for Andover
My luggage focuses on staying warm, and what with food and cooking equipment, is surprisingly voluminous. I have a lot of merino wool stuff for day & night time, and many over-layers. Two sleeping bags, including a bulky ex-Army bag which is nearly the weight of a Centurion tank. The packing arrangement is not ideal but it's a learning opportunity.
Dawn was stealing over the horizon, oily layers of red, orange and yellow supporting a pale cloudless sky above mist and frosty fields, as I chugged towards Andover, a few miles outside the Wiltshire border, arrining at 7.45, ready to start. (Impossible to photograph from a brightly lit train unfortunately.) My destination tonight is a forest near Marlborough, but first... I had 50+ miles to ride through quiet lanes, before sunset at 4.15. It was still cold, and there was no rush, so I stopped for a mid-morning coffee.
The sun came up over a winter wonderland as I left Andover, and I was instantly on deserted roads, with the odd thatched cottage or farm every do often. The rising sun cast a pink glow on the frosted hedges. It was beautiful, but the wrong sort of beautiful: I was still in Hampshire, but not for long. The temperature was now -2.7 degrees., but it soared to nearly +1 after a bit, and I had to take one of my many layers off.
The morning's ride continued (carefully) with the odd frosty patch on the empty lanes, a few hills and plenty of vast views into the distance. A group of deer standing in the middle of a field, ran off when I stopped to photograph them. After so long, I remembered the pleasure of exploring somewhere new.
No villages to speak of for 20 miles until Ludgershall, well known to regular A303 drivers. I was expecting a post office and a castle, but was delighted to find Mary's Vintage Tea Room, just in time for elevenses.
Ludgershall castle, built by Henry VIII