This past weekend, I packed in some serious climbing miles and conquered some fears on some bigger stuff, too. I decided to check out Queen Elizabeth Country Park and Tidworth Freeride, but will concentrate on QECP this time, with a post on Tidworth later in the week.
On Saturday, my oldest riding buddy Oscar and I set course for Queen Elizabeth Country Park (QECP), just 13 miles from the South Coast and the busy shipping town of Portsmouth. After a quick blast down the A3, we arrived nice and early to a quiet car park and a hazy morning. £3.50 for an all-day parking ticket was pretty decent in my opinion, given the vast surroundings of the undulating South Downs freely available to explore.
QECP is maintained by the QECP Trail Collective; the minds and hands behind the Southern Enduro series I’m competing in this year, so I had a good feeling about the trails. Oscar and I set off, heading straight for the blue trail, a roughly 3-mile loop which included some mammoth tester ascents! The blue route here is very much a cross country circuit, fantastic for training and getting the leg strength (and heart rate) up. The blue route had some great off camber, rooty sections, and ended with a fast run down the side of the hill, which left a decent smile on our faces.
We immediately went to scout the red trail, which is a little longer at 4 miles, but my god, the climbs were immense! Heading up super steep hills is a challenge enough, but throw in off camber switchbacks, a mass of roots and some sketchy chalk berms, and you’ve either got a recipe for disaster, or great fun. I’m happy to report it was the latter on the day, as by this time, the sun had burnt through the haze to offer us a scorcher of a day.
The red run had a few little drops and tabletops thrown in, which was great as it did feel to me that there could be more features on the runs at QECP. I’m sure there are plenty off-piste, considering there are various events held there (including round three of the Southern Enduro in July), but sticking to the marked trails did feel very much like a cross country affair.
Whilst we were in the area, Oscar mentioned the hill opposite, Butser Hill, was the highest point on the South Downs at 271m (889ft). It was already a day of climbing and beasting our legs, so naturally, we had to climb it. Holy shit, it was steep. We made it a decent way up before conceding and pushing the final 30m or so of the ascent, but we were rewarded with some insanely impressive views, from the Surrey Hills to the North, to the glimmering seas of the Portsmouth and the coast when looking out to the South. Now, if only I can get better at photography, you’d be able to see what I saw. Still, check it out if you can, it’s worth the hike up!
By this time, I was more sweat than human, owing to a bad choice of layering in the early hours of the day. We cooled down by heading back down the hill through a field of ewes and lambs (of course taking great care to navigate slowly around them… we’re not monsters, us cyclists are considerate people you know!).
Running low on fuel and water, we stopped off at the café back in the QECP grounds. I opted for a sausage and egg ciabatta, which was presented very nicely and went down a treat. It’s worth going back there just for the food (and slushies on a hot day, of course!). It’s a fantastic venue for BBQ’s, family days out, walks, horse riding and cycling, so there’s definitely something for everyone.
Refuelled, it was time to do a another loop of the blue and red (the purple?), and, knowing what the climbs were like, we felt a little more prepared mentally, perhaps not the same physically by this point, as the sun was beating down and caused many to seek shade. Not us, we’re not ones to complain about the sun actually shining!
The second runs were much faster and more fun, as we had a bit of an idea about what was coming up. We sailed through the blue, then cruised to the red again. This time around, we sessioned a small section with two jumps and two drops, and after a few runs, it all clicked and we were flying over the tables, and hopping off the little drops with style.
We blasted down to the end of red, both nearly washing out on the chalky berms towards the finish, but completed the day both very much intact. This was a fitting cross country ride to bid adieu to Oscars 2005 Marin Mount Vision… he joins the ‘flock’, so to speak, very shortly picking up a stunning Bird Cycleworks Aeris, in the green option. Excited is an understatement of how he’s currently feeling!
Checking Strava post-ride, we climbed just over 3000ft in the space of approximately 25 miles… no wonder our legs were burning by the end of the day, but what a great day it was.
Overall, QECP was great fun, but is definitely more tailored to a cross country rider. The majority of bikes there were either hardtails or short travel full suspension, so I was perhaps over biked. The Aeris however, takes everything in its stride, and continues to impress me with its climbing ability, managing to snatch a few top 5’s of the day on both the ascents and descents. QECP is certainly a fantastic venue for training, as the climbs are definitely a challenge.
No rest for the wicked at the moment. I headed to Tidworth Freeride with a great bunch of guys the day after, for a morning of exploring the short trails there before my race on Sunday 12th June. I’ll get that post up in the next few days, but in the meantime, you can keep up to date on Instagram.
Ian @ Stealth Riders