"Each step forward has a sacred meaning of its own" Sri Chinmoy
Granny's Cotswold Telegram 100 mile 2 x AAA Audax - October 2018
I was expecting a day of nothing but rain and gusty winds, but in the event I had one of those Autumn days on the bike where the seasons seem to change with each bend in the road. I was looking for AAA points and some new roads, so although I would have been quite happy with a 100k I opted for a longer ride so I could start from home and still be exploring unknown territory. Heading past Stroud also meant I could drop in and see my daughter's family on the way back.
Leaving home in the dark I was down to the start point (BP garage in Frenchay) in 15 minutes. It was raining steadily but lightly and the wind was strong and gusty but mostly at my back, so no drama. It was all home-turf to Wickwar but usually I turn east there so it made a change to roll northwards on hilly B road to Wotton under Edge where the first proper climb came. The route promised hills, hills and more hills and it was already delivering. The weather improved though and when I descended into Nailsworth past Ruskin Mill it was actually dry. I couldn't quite believe it. Another climb and descent and I was at the first control - the friendly newsagent guy seemed used to Audax riders and his receipts have the right time and place on so all good. Not exactly the last of the big spenders, I only got myself a twix, but that was part of the plan - munch sweet stuff on the way north then get a proper cafe meal somewhere in the heart of the Cotswolds. At any given time on a long ride, a high percentage of my awareness is centred on food these days. That comes from the experience of riding 200k with too little attention on food and the energy crash that that inevitably leads to. On this particular day, the feeding was something that went right.
After the long drag up the Toadsmoor Valley and some gorgeous woodland where the road tunneled its way through leaves in every hue of gold and amber, copper and bronze, I came out into the open descending to cheltenham with panoramic views over the Vale of the Severn. Shame the photo doesn't capture it. I paused to look out over the Vale, feeling as vast as the view. A series of mini roundabouts were easy enough to follow through the edge of 'Nam and I was soon at the second control - just an ATM outside Tesco Express - so as I still had enough fig rolls to keep me going I decided to get the proper feed in Norhleach.
The next section was the loveliest of the ride - a narrow, lonely lane through the Cotswolds, only rudely interrupted by the need to cross the A40. The sun was out and the fields shone. I felt amazing. I was brought slightly down to earth by passing through the middle of a pheasant shoot, with shotguns firing and eager labradors returning with game in their mouths to the shooters, but once past that the light was incredible and the unexpected warmth a pleasant surprise. It must have been getting close to 20 degrees and I was overdressed despite the breeze. A closed A road that was still rideable took me through a horsedrawn traveller site then into Northleach, the next control.
Northleach brought with it a great bakery with 3 little seats tucked in by the window where I could watch my bike while eating a somosa, then I was into the Colne Valley with charming, somnolent villages. At one point I passed a lordly Stag who paused and stared back at me before disappearing into the woods. Calmsden came next, once my home when I lived in a bender (still as silent and seemingly uninhabited as it was back then in 1990) and then I was heading for Minchinhampton to complete the upper loop of this figure-of-8 (roughly) route.
Jel had sent me a google link to find her (she moves around a lot, as you do when your home is a converted horsebox) but google played tricks on me as it so often has and there was a needless detour of 3 miles with the 18% climb of Bear Hill before I found her, Glen and Nerys. Grateful for a cup of tea in the truck, I was soon back out on the road as they were off to visit friends and I had plenty of miles to cover before nightfall. The winds on Minchinhampton Common were savage and having to cover the ground twice thanks to google was pretty unwelcome. I was starting to get mentally tired.
The climb past Forest Green Rovers was familiar from recent Cotswold rides and from there into Dursley was lovely if testing (both the climbing and the harsh headwind). In Dursley the Bank Cafe provided tea and truffle and then the routesheet took me up a 20% hill. It was good in one respect, as I'd tried and failed to ride up this same road on a 200k once, in rain and with my legs shot from the distance, so at least I felt a minor victory had been won when this time I arrived at the top. I had routefinding hassle again and it was only after a number of false starts that I found the correct route to North Nibley. By now I was texting Kokila to tell her I was not going to be back by 6, as the wrong turns and the stiffening headwinds were sapping me mentally and physically. From there it was a case of soldiering on, digging deep, insert your own endurance metaphor here. I actually rode fast for the last hour so maybe the fatigue was mostly in my mind, but I was glad to see my front door after 12 hours on the road.
A truly gorgeous route, highly recommended, especially the section from Brimscombe all the way to Northleach and back down to Minchinhampton. The rest of it is lovely too but familiar to me from numerous other rides, so perhaps less striking for me but still stunning for you I'm sure if you get to ride it. The best part of the day was rolling through the Cotswolds, overheating in a jacket, not quite believing it was Indian Summer, with the Autumn colours burning brightly in the fields and hedgerows.
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