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The New Forest's big cycling challenge - climbing the 25% "Wall" at Blissford
UP in the clouds, there are fabled places which cyclists discuss in hushed, revered tones.
They are the mountains of the grand Tours, where the sport’s diminutive giants confront self-doubt and defy gravity.
Some who toiled to reach the heavens have never left these pinnacles of the Gods.
Their names remain daubed in tribute upon the broken, torturous slopes while nostalgia refuses to relinquish their ghostly presence.
The late, great Marco Pantani will forever be dancing on his pedals up Alpe d’Huez, the hoop earrings of “The Pirate”
glinting in the sun and his bandana soaked in sweat.
And hollow-eyed Tom Simpson is suspended in time, hopelessly disorientated on Mont Ventoux where he collapsed and died upon the scorched, lunar rubble.
Alas, heroics on Blissford Hill do not feature in cycling’s rich, mystical folklore.
Fair enough, since it’s a trifling mole hill when compared with the famed “hors catérgorie” climbs of the Tour de France – those deemed so insanely tough they’re “beyond catergorisation”.
Nonetheless, with its fearsome 25 per cent gradient (it rises an alarming one metre for every four metres travelled) this soaring slab of Tarmac has become something of a Mecca for New Forest cyclists.
Though mercifully short, Blissford Hill can soon reduce legs to jelly. And don’t be fooled by the brief descent that precedes the ordeal: any gained momentum is soon quickly dissipated when “The Wall” begins.
So, though a moderately-fit rider should manage it with relative ease, dread can still overwhelm the experienced if high mileage has already fatigued limbs and weakened the mind.
While long, sapping climbs favour the light and strong (the legendary Lucien Van Impe weighed just 8st 7lb), heavier riders can unleash raw power to reach a close summit like The Wall.
Yet regardless of stature, all must adopt a plan, select the appropriate gear in good time and quickly settle into an effective rhythm. In fact, Blissford Hill is a perfect taster of cycling’s toughest discipline and a useful measure of climbing progress if tackled regularly.
If first conquered by climbing out of the saddle, try it seated next time. Or compare a low geared, fast-spinning approach to a higher-geared power surge.
And how many repeats can you complete in one session before cramping thighs and searing lungs suggest a rest is wise?
The masochistic permutations are endless.
Bemused passers-by may well conclude you are bonkers but don’t worry. Ignore their blank looks, visualise the great climbers of yesteryear and begin your ascent.
The Wall is about to fall.
FINDING THE WALL:
- The Wall is accessed from Blissford Road and there are
two good approaches.
- Firstly, cyclists can travel east out of Fordingbridge along
the B3078 Southampton Road and turn right into Blissford
Road after 2km.
- Secondly, if approaching from the east, go along
Southampton Road (B3078) and take the second turn on
the left after the Sandy Balls Holiday Park into Blissford
- Once in Blissford Road, continue carefully as you
descend towards a ford and cattle grids. This area can be
flooded and ponies and donkeys abound.
- Continue up Blissford Road until you come to a white
house – Post Box Cottage – at a fork. Turn right here into
Blissford Hill. You will see a 25 per cent gradient warning
sign on the verge.
- Following a descent, The Wall looms before you.
- At the summit, continue to the junction and turn left
where you will find the Foresters Arms in Abbots Well
Road, Frogham. Have a celebratory drink!