Cycling ‘carnage’ and a runners’ ‘stampede’ in the New Forest: what really happened?
THE New Forest Journal is reporting on looming “carnage“. By the paper’s front-page news of a dead child and a missing student, we read of the Wiggle New Forest Spring Sportive, a cycling event scheduled for April 13 and 14. Before news of how the race brings death to the woods, more on the event itself. The Wiggle website tells us:
The aim of the Wiggle Super Series is to encourage riders of all levels to get out and ride!
The blurb for the Brockenhurst-based event notes:
Based in the iconic New Forest National Park with has average speed limits of 20-30 miles a hour, the quiet forest roads allows you dust of your bike and warm up your legs by taking in the breathtaking scenery in peace.
Riding with 2000+ like minded riders each day, will ensure you have a magical experience.
The Wiggle Saturday New Forest Spring Sportive has 2 route lengths (83miles / 56 miles), The route differs from our end of session finale (The Wiggle New Forest 100 Sportive), but incorporates the same spectacular scenery of the New Forest National Park, combined with wild animals grazing at the roadside and picturesque villages – a great early season ride!
Over in the local paper, the event is advertised to appeal to anyone who likes their sport bloody and fatal. We hear from Anita Sibley. She runs Vizzit, a website about the New Forest. It features adverts for all manner of things, including bikes and cycling. Says she:
“When similar events have taken place, cyclists ride four or five abreast on our narrow New Forest roads, often aggressively and with little or no concern for other road users. Bunching (riding closely in a group) is popular because it improves speed, as does undertaking cars. Although the organisers state this is not competitive, the cyclists are attempting to outdo their personal bests so, in effect, are racing themselves. If this is not a ‘competitive’ event then I would expect participants to adhere to the New Forest Cycling Code.”
That official New Forest site advertises:
The New Forest is a fabulous place, especially for all you budding cyclists.
New Forest Cycle Code tells riders:
The following Cycle Code has been put into place by the Forestry Commission, and should be adhered to by all cyclists on the New Forest, at all times…
Keep to the Way Marked tracks when cycling in the New Forest.
Slow down and call out a warning when approaching other Forest users. Be courteous and friendly.
Take extra care when nearing horse riders. When in a group, all cyclists should pass the horse on the same side.
Do not startle ponies, cattle or other wildlife. Go slowly and give them space.
Avoid causing obstructions – do not ride more than two abreast. Always ride in single file on narrow roads.
Keep well away from any work going on in the Forest.
Do not pass any vehicle loading timber until you have been told it is safe to do so.
Use the map and plan to be out of the Forest by dusk.*
(*What happens at dusk? Trolls? Whickermen? Noel Edmonds?!)
“These huge events are putting local residents’ lives in danger. How, for example, would an ambulance or fire engine reach a New Forest village in time if there were 4,000 cyclists blocking our roads?”
Maybe they’d hear a siren and move out of the way?
“…Many local residents are frightened to drive while these events take place… Our New Forest agencies seem to be toothless tigers and powerless to stop this carnage. Which one of them will have the creativity and tenacity to plug this dangerous but lucrative loophole and save us New Forest residents from being invaded once again by a group of Lycra-clad lemmings?”
Bit off, no, especially given that that cited Code of Conduct concludes:
Mutual respect and courtesy are essential to enable those with different interests to continue to enjoy the peaceful surroundings.
And as for cyclists being lemmings, what matter if they choose to kill themselves, or are the terrified locals going to shoot them?
A source involved with the ride tells us that the forecast of carnage is wrong:
4000 cyclists over 2 days sent out in groups of 10 in minute intervals so they just string out over the course without causing any offence or problem. It’s just a nice day’s ride in the country just giving people a carefully measured distance to aim for. Some raise money others just do it because it’s there.
Note: Does Newsquest Media (Southern), owner of the New Forest Journal, have its local expert on speed dial? In October 2012, the Salisbury Journal thundered:
Runners blamed for stampede
The story went:
A HORSE rider says she was in fear for her life after 30 horses stampeded across the Forest after being spooked by runners. Anita Gresham-Hale, director of the Vizzit Group, was riding with a friend at Stoney Cross at about 10am on Sunday morning, unaware that the event, a nine-mile cross country run organised by Totton Running Club, was taking place.
She said: “The runners cut across the airfield and dropped into Ocknell Wood before turning onto the underpass. Coming from the direction of the runners, some 30 horses stampeded out of the second underpass, all galloping furiously towards us. Their manes were standing up and it was absolutely petrifying. I have ridden over the Forest for years and I have never come across anything like this.”
A look at the Vizzit website tells us that only one Anita sits on the board. Might Anita Sibley and Anita Gresham-Hale be the one and same? We tried to find out by calling Vizzit but were told “no comment” by a woman who identified herself only as “Anita”.
Back to the stampede story:
Mrs Gresham-Hale added: “I have no problem with the running club or how the race was organised. This is part of a wider problem. There here are too many events, with more people taking part. These events need to be better advertised and supervised by a National Park Authority official. I am in the process of launching a group because we are not going to allow the ruination of the Forest to continue.”
Martin Nugus of the club told the Forest Journal that 134 runners took part and the event was marshalled by 52 people. He said he had received no reports from marshals about a stampede and explained that he had spoken to several marshals after obtaining details from the Forest Journal.
Mr Nugus said: “While I fully sympathise with being caught up in a stampede, not one of our marshals witnessed the incident, in fact they said that there were very few horses and ponies about on Sunday. I cycled ahead of the runners and we had a UK Athletic qualified race referee at the event and we saw nothing. While I don’t believe that a stampede was caused by the runners, we will investigate.”
Curious times in the Forest.