"Each step forward has a sacred meaning of its own" Sri Chinmoy
Slaughtered in the Cotswolds Audax - 204km + 2.75AAA - May 2019
I knew this would be a big step up after nothing longer than 100k in recent months - and with 2.75AAA on offer I knew there would be a few choice climbs. The weather was on my side though - very chilly for May, for sure, but pretty much dry and the wind not much more than a breeze.
I messed up my start a little by riding to the garage in Stapleton for a receipt but on my way north out of town I realised my mistake and stopped off at the real start - Frenchay Park Garage - to clock in at around 7.20. From there it was the roads I know well up and out of Bristol through Wickwar and Wootton - it was there that the climbing started with the first ascent of the edge of the Cotswolds. Once up on the roof of the plateau it was steady going on B roads then a steep descent through Horsley into Nailsworth. My daughter lives around here for much of the time (although at the time of this ride she was in Spain) and she calls the road up to Minchinhampton Common "The Struggle" so I knew what was coming. Over the cattle grid, into the lowest gear and grind up to the top. By the time I had crossed the common and tested my brakes on the fast descent to Brimscombe I'd been going for about 2 hours.
The views down into the Toadsmoor Valley were lovely, and the climb was easy enough, then I covered ground at a decent pace on easy B roads before the hectic A road section on the edge of Cheltenham. This little route round the edge of town was easy to follow and took me through salubrious suburbs with art deco houses and an air of well-healed affluence. It seemed as if a portion of my native Surrey had been picked up and airlifted to the west of England. Contrasts can freshen up the mind though and this little urban detour helped my energy levels as I tackled the climbs over Cleeve Hill and up to Winchcombe. I stopped at Rosie's cafe for a breakfast without the sausages and consumed it in record time - clearly it was the right time to get some fuel on board! Winchcombe was beautiful - a Cotswold gem - but it would soon be eclipsed by even lovelier Cotswold-stone villages as I rode on into the heart of England.
Broadway came next, with a short section on cycleway through a wood up to the A44 and the ascent of Fish Hill which I remembered from years ago when my truck used to struggle up in first gear. Motorbikers were out in force and Broadway was, as you'd expect, filled with dreaming tourists ambling among the honey-coloured buildings.
The next town was Chipping Campden where I spotted wine bars and antique shops but didn't see a cafe of any kind so I popped into the co-op for a pastry. There was a Rolls Royce parked outside and plenty of Porsches. I felt immersed in history among the old houses and shops - there was a real perfection of form in the architecture which was probably prosaic enough back in the day but has been mellowed by time into something special. I'm convinced that stone has a memory and these old houses and churches somehow save the throughts and voices of the past. That's what I think about on these long scenic rides!
Next came a wonderful section through Broad Campden and Lower Slaughter - I stopped only once for a photo as this combination of topiary and stone cottages seemed quintessentially Cotswoldian.
I rode past Condicote and Swell - old haunts in my traveller incarnation - and as the tiredness began to set in I arrived in Northleach where the cafes were shut but the shop had plenty of carbs and drinks. I had a bottled coffee, filled my bidons with coke and lucozade and ate a whole pack of apple danishes. The Colne Valley was as gorgeous as I remembered and the drag up to Daglingworth and Perrotts Brook as draining as I expected. Now I was pretty slow and pretty tired but my legs, well fuelled, were still doing the business.
As I rode over the high ground near Sapperton I was calculating the challenge ahead and expecting 3 big climbs. One failed to materialise as I was already at the same altitude as Minchinhampton, the second (past Forest Green Rovers) saw me slowing to a snail's pace but prevailing in the end, and then there was Dursley. The only thing open was the pizza place so I ordered a pizza and sat for 20 mins eating as much of it as I could before it began to taste like cardboard and I realised I was full. Then I tackled the 20% epic of Hill Road and numerous scary downs and gruelling ups around Waterley. Those were the sting in the tail - after that the flattish roads of the Vale of the Severn got me home. Over 12 hours on the road but a great day and one of the most beautiful routes you'll ever ride :)
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