A History of 'Stonehenge and Back'

By Chris Jeggo

The text of this article was originally published in the April - June 2005 issue of 'The West Surrey Cyclist' and appears here unchanged.  The illustrations are new, and an update has been appended.

'Stonehenge and Back' has always been a good ride, undulating through the broad landscapes of Hampshire and Wiltshire.  It has evolved into its present form over a long period, with roots going almost as far back as any Audax UK (AUK) event.  Ray Craig originated this West Surrey DA reliability ride of 200 or 250 km in 1978.  He started riding with the DA in 1963, became a founder member of AUK, and introduced randonnées to our programmes.

The Origins of Audax UK

One of the very few Britons who rode the 1971 Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) randonnée (1200 km in 90 hours) was the cycling correspondant of 'The Daily Telegraph', Jock Wadley.  'Randonnée' means 'ramble' and distinguishes events organised under Audax Club Parisien (ACP) rules, in which riders may ride at their own pace either solo or in ad hoc groups, from Euraudax events where riders must stay in groups led by a captain who controls the pace.  Jock was invited to join a Parisian club team, and described his ride in a book, 'Old Roads and New'.

A number of British cyclists who read the book decided to enter the next ACP PBP in 1975, but they ran into a problem.  The event had become very prestigious and attracted entrants who had no hope of completing the distance but who acquired kudos from participating.  This caused problems for the ACP organisers so for the 1975 event they stipulated that entrants must have completed a 600 km randonnée run under ACP rules that season.  Such events were run only in France and by the time the Britons found out about the new condition it was impracticable for them to comply.  They set about convincing ACP that they were qualified, and the organisers eventually agreed to accept, for 1975 only, entrants who had completed more than 600 km in an official British 24-hour time trial.

Ray Craig was one of the British team, who rode as the 24 Hour Fellowship.  The DA history 'Sixty Years On' mentions a 1976 Horsell slide show in which Chris Davies recounted how Ray came off his trike while touring France before the 1975 PBP.  I well remember that slide show.  Chris, a hard riding cyclist, was a part-time journalist, having articles published in 'Cycling' and elsewhere, so the first thing he did after the crash was take a photograph!  There was Ray lying at the roadside covered in blood.  A later, equally colourful slide showed Ray in his hospital bed with his face covered in scabs and bruises.  However, his injuries did not prevent him succeeding in PBP.

Those who rode that event, and a few others, founded AUK in 1976 to organise ACP-compliant randonnées in the UK to enable Britons to qualify for future PBPs.  In 1983 Ray founded the AUK magazine 'Arrivée' and edited it for its first three years.  (Link to AUK home page)

The Stonehenge Ride

The event started life in CTC Centenary year as an Audax-style DA reliability ride of 200 or 250 km in 13 hours.  The route used more main roads than the present one, but that was typical of Audax events of the time.  Starting from Ash Station at 6 am, riders followed main roads to Odiham, lanes to Hatch, A30 to Basingstoke.  The 200 route followed the B3400 direct to the Andover bypass, while the 250 route took the A339 to Kingsclere, lanes to Highclere, and A343.  DA members Bob and Joyce Patmore were parked in a lay-by and provided refreshments at their control.  Given the early start, most riders would have reached here by around 9 am and so would have encountered little traffic.

Both routes now took to attractive minor roads through delightful villages, the 200 route through Abbotts Ann, the 250 down the west side of the Test valley to Mottisfont, then north again through Over Wallop.  Merging at Grateley Station, the routes continued through Cholderton to emerge on the A303 east of Amesbury.  From here to Stonehenge and back was less pleasant (via Amesbury so not all A303), but then it was mainly lanes again through the Wallops to Stockbridge, Test valley to Barton Stacey, then Micheldever and New Alresford, where the control was in the station café of the 'Watercress Line'.

Still on minor roads, the 200 went direct to Well via Wield, Lasham and Lower Froyle, while the 250 went via the beautiful Candover valley to the outskirts of Basingstoke, then Tunworth and Long Sutton.  Ray apologised for sending riders along the A325 from Farnham to Farnborough, and the finish was in Mytchett, where DA members Sylvia and Ken Pett provided tea in their garden.
Ray ran the event along very similar lines in 1979, and then made it an official AUK 200 km randonnée for 1980 and 1981.  The start was at 'The Heron' pub in Aldershot, where the landlord provided tea and toast.  The route followed the original 200 course to Whitchurch, whence lanes were followed down the Test valley to a control at the Barton Stacey 'Little Chef'.  More Test valley lanes took us to Longstock, then B3084 to rejoin the old route through Cholderton to Stonehenge.  The original route was used back to Alresford, then an improved route to Farnborough via Wield, Bradley, Upton Grey, Well, Crondall and Church Crookham.  Tea was in Mytchett at the Jeggos'.

The landlord of 'The Heron' was a pleasant fellow who rode the event one year, but did not finish.  He 'phoned Ray in the evening:  'I found a lovely stream and sat down beside it.  I took off my shoes and socks and dangled my feet in the water.  It was very pleasant sitting on the grass in the sunshine, and ... well ... I just ran out of time, but I did enjoy the ride!  Perhaps Iíll finish next year.'

When I rode in 1981 I had young, blonde Linda Pack stoking my tandem.  Her mum, helping Lynette at the finish, was beginning to get worried when we rolled back in at nearly 7 pm.  To explain the delay would spoil the story!  Harold Coleman was involved, of course.

In 1982 and 1983 Ray ran the event under the banner of the Weybridge Wheelers CC, but it still counted as a Benstead Cup reliability ride.  The main change to the route was between Odiham and Whitchurch;  it took lanes through Rotherwick, Bramley and Silchester to a control at Ray's home in Tadley, then more lanes via Wolverton and Hannington.

It was 'all change' in 1984, coming back to W Surrey DA, with a new title, 'Hampshire and Wiltshire Highways and Byways', and starting and finishing in Hook, Hampshire, courtesy of keen Tandem Club members Cathy and Ted Blackman.  The route ran through Greywell and Preston Candover to Northington, whence it followed the old route backwards to Stonehenge.  Then, the westerly Hook base allowed an excursion into remote territory, from West Amesbury through the Woodfords to Wilton, Coombe Bissett and Rockbourne to cross the Avon well south at Breamore.  North to Alderbury, whence the oft-ridden lanes between Salisbury and Test led to Mottisfont.  Next came the streamside, thatched, half-timbered cottages of King's Somborne.  Apart from a short stretch of main road between Crawley and Sutton Scotney it was lanes all the way back through East Stratton, Axford and Upton Grey.  An excellent route, Ray's best, and last.

In 1985 the DA ran a completely different 200 km event, Wanborough-Brighton-Wanborough organised by Dave Butler.  It was well liked, and repeated in 1986, when it attracted 30 entries, having been more widely advertised.  However, in 1987 it was cancelled at short notice because of an inexplicable lack of entries.

The DA re-instated 'Stonehenge and Back' for 1988, organised by Chris Juden, with the start and finish the furthest east yet, at CTC HQ, which makes it quite difficult to both reach the objective and avoid main roads without going well over 200 km.  Chris strung together some direct lane routes, well known and well used by long-distance cyclists, such as Farncombe to Runfold, Farnham to beyond Long Sutton, Upton Grey via Axford to Overton and the B3400 down the upper Test valley.  He then skirted Andover to the north, which was more direct but put riders on to the A303 earlier for the approach to Stonehenge.  Coming back, between Grateley Station and Stockbridge he used the minor road that goes over the shoulder of Danebury Hill.  That gives superb views on a clear day, but I prefer to pass (or not!) the 'Five Bells' at Nether Wallop.  Then via Crawley to Headbourne Worthy for a direct approach to New Alresford up the delightful Itchen valley.  Chris's last stage, another pleasant direct lane route through the Farringdons, the Worldhams and Churt, was totally different from its predecessors because it was returning to Godalming, not Farnborough.  Also totally different was Chris's 'up = ahead' (i.e. not 'up = north') strip map annotated with route instructions.

Chris ran the event again in 1989 and 1990 with almost no changes to the route.  Entries in 1988 and 1989 were about 50 but fell to 18 in 1990 because for some reason the event failed to appear in the main AUK calendar, which was a pity because Chris produced a novel ceramic medal that year depicting a Stonehenge trilithon in bas relief.

Geoff Smith (junior) took over for 1991 to 1993, during which the start and finish moved to Elstead, freeing a few kilometres so that some A303 could be by-passed through Tidworth.  Roger Philo (1994 - 1996) tried further variations, common to which was an attractive novel part of Section 3 running from south of Amesbury through Porton, Middle Winterslow and King's Somborne to reach Crawley.

Peter Callaghan (1997 - 2000) chose not to tinker with a very good route but to concentrate on establishing the accompanying Danebury 150 km ride, to such good effect that Mark Waters (2001 to 2005) has not found it necessary to alter either route.

A Paradox

Purely from the cycling point of view, there is no point in actually going to Stonehenge.  No-one is going to join the English Heritage sight-seers halfway through the event, and it is having it as an objective that forces all the compromises on the route planners.  The main roads and military establishments in the Amesbury area are the price paid for an evocative name - the history and mystery of the ancient megaliths combined with one of the best established titles in the Audax UK calendar.  Nevertheless, I have enjoyed riding it many times.  It is a successful event of which the DA may be proud.  Long may it continue.


Update - November 2006

Mark Waters did, in fact, alter the route in 2005, possibly as a result of reading the pre-publication final draft of the above article.  He changed Section 2, between the Whitchurch and Amesbury controls, completely eliminating the A303.  The revised section uses lanes throughout, apart from 3 miles of B3048 up the peaceful Bourne valley, which is followed to Upton and beyond.  The route then goes over the hills via Chute before descending to the outskirts of Ludgershall.  The previous route is used through Tidworth to Bulford, whence the most direct route into Amesbury (all on minor roads) is taken.  Thus the loop west of Durrington and Amesbury, which uses unpleasant main roads in order to visit Stonehenge, has been replaced with a far more pleasant loop on lanes to the north of Andover.  The revised route was liked by all who rode it in 2005, so it was re-used this year;  the 2006 route sheet is headed "STONEHENGE :  WELL ALMOST".  One of our showcase events got better still.


Audax UK

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