South East Mountain Biking - Ridgeway and Chilterns is the latest in Vertebrate Publishing's line-up of MTB guide books. It's kind of a companion volume to South East Mountain Biking - North and South Downs (also written by veteran guidebook author Nick Cotton) but covering an area to the west of London about as far as Swindon, with Oxford at the northern extremity and Andover the southern. That takes in not only the downland along which the ancient Ridgeway runs, but also the Chiltern hills and a big chunk of the Hampshire Downs.
The book includes details of 24 rides between 18 and 38km in length, plus suggestions to link some of them up into proper all-dayers. The guide is up-front about the lack of all-year-round potential in this particular area thanks to the generally chalky nature of the soil - "mountain biking in Southern England in the winter months or after prolonged rain can at times be all but impossible", says the introduction. You can't say you weren't warned...
In the usual Vertebrate style, each ride gets an introduction, important stats, locations of places to eat and suggested extensions along with turn-by-turn directions. What you don't get is an OS map - Vertebrate uses its own map illustrations which are clear enough, but we'd want to mark the route up on a real map before setting out. The guide maps show you turns and indicate ups and downs, but with no contour lines or much in the way of detail they don't give you much of a feel for the lie of the land.
Positives: Plenty of rides in a less-frequented part of the country, clear directions
Negatives: No OS maps
A Vertebrate guide is always a reliable proposition, and this latest volume doesn't disappoint. We'd still like proper OS maps in there, though.