"Each step forward has a sacred meaning of its own" Sri Chinmoy
Wrington Hill 73k - Bristol/Somerset - March 2021
No rest for the triathlete! Well not if the triathlete in question wants to "go long" this summer, that's for sure. With the all-out marathon effort 2 weeks behind me I felt ready to get out for another long session, this time on the bike. Right now "long" means anything over 2 hours, but I will need to build up to some 7 hour rides and long brick sessions in May and June - hopefully we'll get another summer to rival last year's hot, dry, hazy lockdown. This first long ride was a 73k with 850m of ups and downs so I though that was about the right place to start my training. The weather was set to be dry, sunny intervals, strong winds from the west dying down to the merely blustery. I have to admit it that this was the main reason I picked a ride out to the Somerset Levels and back - like most cyclists I'm not keen to battle with the headwind on the way home if I can avoid it.
I found a route called Brockley and Wrington Hills on Ride with GPS and that looked ideal. Heading out through Southmead it was like my ride to work (not that I have ridden to work these last few months, like most people) but some variety came when I reached the Downs and rode down the lovely tree-lined avenue of Ladies Mile, looking across the gorge to clearing skies over Leigh Woods. Then there was a flatter route than usual to the Suspension Bridge and the usual ups and downs out towards Clevedon. I'd set myself the target of 3 hours for this one but with the hilly course and headwinds that was always going to be testing.
In Tickentham the red line I was following on my screen took me in an unexpected direction, down a gorgeous lane past the ancient church of Saints Quiricus and Julietta and out on to the levels on a road that was new to me. I've ridden out this way so many times but always chosen the obvious routes on the map and it was great to check out a new road. The route wound through the flat landscape with the headwind now transformed to a sidewind - there was nothing in that polder-like scenery between me and the sea so the unchecked westerly wind was enough to unbalance me once or twice. The song of a skylark pierced the silence and I saw it hovering over the field just over the hedge on my left. Since leaving Bristol I had hardly seen any traffic and the peace was tangible out on the levels.
After the flatlands came Brockley Combe, another limestone gorge like Cheddar or Combe DIngle, forested and deep. The climb was mostly easy with the odd steeper section but nothing dramatic. When I turned off on a lane towards the airport perimeter I paused to grab a photo. It was one of those rides on the margin between two seasons where one section of road looks wintry then you turn a corner and ride into Spring. The airport perimeter road had great views out across the levels to the Mendips but the surface was very rough and mucky - I was glad to come out on to the lane past the Walled Garden that brought me to the top of Wrington. Here the route turned on to another road I hadn't ridden before - the 15% climb of Wrington Hill that boasts not one but two "V"s on the OS map. It was enough to get me in my lowest gear but I was soon at the top after climbing with fields on one side of me and pines on the other, then descending through a beautiful beechwood on the way to Cleeve.
There was a tiny section of A road then lanes round Claverham and soon I had rejoined my outbound route near Chelvey. Here there was another lovely Somerset Tower church, silent in the sleeping landscape of the levels and moors. The GPS sent me down a road that was not on the map and looked more like a farm track so I detoured a little to stay on "real" lanes. Later I passed what looked like the other end of the same lane and it would have saved me a mile or so - who knows what kind of surface there was in between though? Maybe something for a gravel bike rather than a road bike.
There was a bit of weaving through Nailsea and then I found myself making pretty good time towards Long Ashton - there were many other riders out now enjoying the cool sunshine and quiet roads. Once I got on to the road past the bottom of Belmont Hill I found myself trying to hang on behind some faster road bikers - I didn't quite manage it but it did inspire me to push my pace up into the high 30s and low 40s - km/h of course not mph - and I realised that we were all enjoying the tailwind that had been a testing headwind on the way out. After that hard race-like effort to L.A. I climbed through crowds of walkers descending the hill at Ashton Court then wove through Clifton and Redland for the final drag up Gloucester Road.
3 hours 22 was the final time and I'd had some good practice eating and drinking at a steady pace on the bike. I might make this route a key session and repeat it a few times to try and bring my time down. I'll wait for the mucky winter surface to clean up a bit before taking my tri bike on it though. Perhaps I'll save that for the next change of season.
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