"Each step forward has a sacred meaning of its own"   Sri Chinmoy

Westonbirt 88k - South Glos & Glos - March 2021

I found this route under the name Wootton-Sherston-50 online and when I added in my distance from home it came in around 85km - an ideal step up in distance. I also went for it because the wind was from the northeast and as usual I wanted that to be a challenge earlier in the ride rather than later.

To start with it was the old route I know so well out of Bristol to Cromhall then through Kingswood to Wootton and the first big climb of the day - Coombe Hill. I went on for a long time but eventually it surrendered and I found myself recovering enough on the roof of the Cotswolds to actually start cruising at a reasonable pace. The route was partly on B road and partly on A road at this point but there was hardly any traffic - lockdown was still in force, the "Happy Monday" of the first stage of unlocking yet to come.

After the main road circuit brought me past Newington Bagpath the GPS line led me down Bowldown Lane, one  of those perfect roads where the scenery and the smoothness of the road and maybe a touch of tailwind all combine to make you feel great as you ride. I was in high spirits now, feeling the freedom of being out there with the whole of the Cotswolds spread out ahead of me and enough energy in my legs to tackle at least this beautiful corner of the AONB.

The lane led onwards and eastwards to Wesonbirt, past the gates of the school on one side of the main road and the old entrance to the Arboretum on the other. I paused for a pic of the redwoods. Next I headed through the village and onto another lane that was clearly a favourite with road cyclists - they passed me in pairs or solo, any bigger gather still prohibited. There were lots of riders out there though, braving the cold and windy conditions to get in some miles. I was struck by how great everyone's gear looked (except mine). Maybe a lot of riders have saved a stack of money in lockdown and spent it all on new bikes and kit - it certainly seemed as though the whole world was wearing rapha, and that doesn't come cheap. I rode on into the lovely landscape in my Aldi tights, aware that I should invest in something a bit higher quality sometime.

Next came a succession of hills, classic Cotswold style, leading to Sherston (nothing open for a coffee, sadly), Little Badminton and through a parkland estate to Badminton itself and Tormarton. I don't have words to describe these roads - they really are the best. Quiet, smooth, challenging and with that timeless beauty you get out in the Cotswold villages, with only the tarmac and the occasional car to remind you this is the 21st century. Buzzards circled, skylarks sang over the fields and occasionally I heard the cough of a pheasant as I rode through tangled woodland.

I was glad the route I was on started and finished in Almondsbuty, as that meant a return to Earthcott (one of the waypoints on my outbound ride) instead of the tedium of the ringroad cycle path which I used to ride so often but now try hard to avoid. Maybe it's the contstant stops and starts as you have to cross each junction, or the noise, or the over-familiarity, but that cycleway is on my not-to-do list right now even if that means extra hills around Winterbourne on legs that could do without that in the closing stages of a ride.

When I finally rolled back to my front door I had clocked up 88k - a hard but excellent ride. I reminded myself that this is less than half the distance I'm training for (180k for Iron-distance triathlon) and that was a sobering thought.

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