"Each step forward has a sacred meaning of its own" Sri Chinmoy
Filton-Brean-Filton 135k - April 2021
After the previous weekend's 115k I looked for routes online that would take me up to 125 or 130 - and found one called Burnham Tings. I have no idea what that name signifies, but the prospect of riding out to the sea on Easter Saturday was appealing enough to overcome my resistance to a return journey which would be dogged by headwinds all the way. Well, call it resistance training.
The route began in Horfield and was logged online as 113k, so I planned a little extension from Berrow up to Brean Down and back again to add the necessary distance. There was also the prospect of a coffee by the beach which was pretty enticing. The outbound ride was over The Downs and Brunel's Suspension Bridge, then down through Ashton Court and through Long Ashton. All this in theory was assisted by a tailwind but as usual I couldn't feel it and the pace I was riding didn't really reflect it either. I was grateful for another dry day though - I'd even opted to get on my tri-bike instead of the winter trainer as the roads were in such good nick.
From LA I got on to the Sue Otty Way, the cycleway that leads on from the Festival Way out of Bristol towards the airport. I hadn't really checked out what happened between Ashton Court and Burnham on Sea, so I was surprised when the route divided near Backwell and the outbound leg headed up towards Farleigh on the A370. I was hoping it wouldn't take up the steep and interminable Backwell Hill - after all there was no need to take in an epic hill on the way to Burnham.
The route took me up Backwell Hill and without the low gears I had got so used to on my winter bike it was hard going. After a lof of hard effort both in and out of the saddle I hit the airport perimeter road and was treated to sapping, rolling hills that eventually paid off with the lovely views around Wrington on the beautiful lane that runs past The Walled Garden restaurant. Like pretty much every other restaurant in the country it was silent and forlorn. No passing trade for takeway-only business out here in the middle of nowhere.
From Wrington I usually head northwest to make a circuit back to Bristol but this time I was getting out of my usual sphere and out of my comfort zone. The GPS led me to Langford, then a brief stint on the A road, then on lanes to Sandford and past Winscombe. I thought it might lead on to the Strawberry Line which is not where I want to be when riding my Tri-Bike (it's a gravel-covered cycleway) but instead I was treated to gorgeous lanes skirting the slopes of the Mendips as far as Webbington then quiet, narrow roads across the levels to East Brent. The approach to the village was a dead-straight road leading like a ley line towards Brent Knoll, but from there on it was hectic A-road into Burnham on Sea which was a shock to the system.
Burnham looked a little sullen - a faded seaside town probably still reeling from the non-season of 2020, so much of which saw travel restricted and businesses closed. The road led northwards past Berrow Beach and I got a first taste of the headwind that was set to make my return to Bristol interesting. It was pretty fierce.
I carried on past the caravan parks and amusements until I hit the very end of the road, at Brean Down, with around 60k ahead of me. I stopped for a coffee and cake served out of a hatch at what is usually a sit-in cafe next to the National Trust office. An icey wind was sweeping down off Brean Down and no matter where I tried to shelter I couldn't escape it. I swilled the food and drink down as quickly as I could and grabbed a photo of the windwept beach. A few brave dog walkers in shorts (but also puffa jackets) were out on the sands. Others were climbing the steps onto the headland. All in all it was a pretty small crowd for Easter Weekend and at least that meant I didn't have to queue at all for the coffee.
I began my return journey with a tailwind helping back to Berrow then headed inland to join the much-vaunted cycle link to Weston that saves us having to ride on the nasty A38 to get from one seaside town to the next. Disappointingl it was loose gravel and not particularly road-bike friendly, but I guess that makes it affordable. Better than no route at all, but you wouldn't see a bike route like that in Holland for sure. It was getting a bit of footfall though - plenty of runners were taking advantage of it and it really is a superb running route. Quite a few riders on mountain bikes and tourers were doing it to. I guess those of us with road bikes know we should stick to the road.
At one point the GPS route headed down a dirt track which was definitely gravel-bike territory, so I had to go off piste and navigate round the edge of Uphill to Bleadon Levels and over the A-road to join a lane into Bleadon itself. I climbed up towards the Mendip ridge on Celtic Way and turned on to Roman Road along the ridge itself. I wondered if it really was Roman? It would make sense if it was, as they were mining on the Mendips and would have wanted a quick route to the sea. As well as being strangely straight it did have an ancient feel, so I told myself it was definitely a real Roman Road. It led me along the ridge with incredible vistas out towards Brent Knoll, with the meanders of the river just below me, the sea on the horizon to one side of me and the shadowy outline of Glastonbury Tor on the other.
Soon I came to a point where the route along the ridge became a dirt track and the roadway headed down a steep descent off the Mendip upland back towards the coast - I wasn't about to go dirt biking so I followed the road, which had a few pros and cons. On the downside it was taking me away from my GPS route - soon I was heading in the opposite direction - but on the upside I discovered the beautiful Canada Combe, a wooded valley leading back down towards Weston. From the end of the Combe I navigated back to Banwell to pick up the route again but made the mistake of just following the red line in what I thought was the right direction. When I realised the KM markers were couting down, not up, I u-turned and climbed back over Castle Hill, past the ivy-covered castle walls, to get back on track and start heading home to Bristol. I soon found myself on the Strawberry Line, another hard-packed gravel track, but it was smooth enough and gave me a chance to get down on my tri-bars to cheat the headwind.
After that came lanes around Claverham and Backwell, with some of the most charming scenery of the day. It seemed there were blossoming magnolias and hawthorns in every hedgerow and garden. I rode through the sunshine increasingly fatigued, wondering how the final hill at Ashton Court was going to feel, but it came and went without drama and I was able to roll back up through Redland and Bishopston to clock a final distance of 135km. In total it took me 5 hours 45 but that had included the chilly coffee stop at Brean and I had managed to cruise a fair few sections at 30kph.
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