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

Lacock Loop bike ride - Jan 2023 - Filton-Lacock-Filton

Having neglected my cycling in 2022, I thought it was best to start the year as I meant to go on with a decent winter ride - but various commitments meant I could only be out for around 4 or 5 hours. Definitely enough to get the triathlon training underway, but I decided not to tackle a rough 100k that might see me fighting against time to get back. I started my triathlon training a year or two ago with the Lacock Loop and it seemed about the right length at approx 90k, with the hills stacked in the first half of the route and easy cycleway to finish. The weather was anything but easy though, with intense, blustery winds bringing in heavy showers and cold temperatures. Add the fact that I was starting the ride long before sunrise in this darkest corner of the year and the whole thing was challenging enough to be getting on with.

I fumbled my way into layers of waterproof everthing and got out the door around 7am, with a bit of breakfast inside me and a plan to stop either at Lacock (if anything was open - and that seemed pretty doubtful) or Bath. The route was one I had ridden before at least twice so I knew that there might be a deep pond of standing water near Ford and I was planning to ride a long way round to avoid that. Not quite the season for open water just yet.

Riding out of Bristol in the pitch dark, I found my kit was holding up well and my lights were doing a decent job. The main challenge was the gusty wind that made it hard to control the bike. I'm not sure of the windspeed but it was definitely in the uncomfortable/nervy category. On the ring road path and later on the lanes out near Coxgrove Hill, I was fine when riding between tall hedges or houses, but when I came out into open country it was hard to keep things stable. The forecast was for this to ease as the morning went on, so I just stuck it out and kept pedaling. I found myself going OK up Coxgrove Hill, then the massive hill at The Bull that led up to the A46, but the wind was harsh again up on the roof of the Cotswold Plateau, as I ploughed on along rain-soaked lanes around Marshfield. The scenery was gorgeous despite the sullen weather and dark skies.

Lane after lane and climb after climb led me to Lacock, where as expected the cafes were still closed as it was too early for the regular punters. I stopped long enough to eat a mars bar, something I rarely eat, which took me back immediately to being a child when mars bars were immense and only cost 5p. I mean they were really immense, in my world at least, so my mind at least was fooled into thinking I'd had a massive load of fuel to keep me going. Glucose certainly refreshes the muscles after a couple of hours of wrestling with the wind on exposed lanes.

After Lackock, more quiet and rough lanes took me back in the direction of Bristol, then the route headed up a private road. I tried it, having a memory of finding an unobtrusive way through without any bother on a previous ride, but after a couple of minutes of uphill slog I came to a point where it led right across the front of someone's house on a gravel drive. I didn't want to hack anyone off early on a rainy morning so I decided to turn back and find a public road route around the estate. Just then two roebuck leapt over the wall right in front of me and then sprang into the fields and loped away - a beautiful site and well worth the detour.

Next came more ups and downs that led finally to a long plunge towards Bath, all the height I had gained disappearing in a 50km/h descent that went on and on and brought me out at a roundabout at Bathford. Here the route followed the river into the georgian city then diverted to an old stone toll bridge where the toll collector confirmed that bikes cross for free and waved me past. I was hungry now and hoping I'd pass a decent place to stop in Bath, but there was a long stretch of gritty canalside to negotiate first. I passed all the barges, a mix of what looked like tourist lets and permanent bargees, some with immaculate narrowboats and others looking like the traveller crew I used to be a part of with boats in varying states of low maintenance and eccentric decor.

In Bath itself I came over Pulteney bridge and opted for the first cafe on the bridge itself, where I got hot chocolate and a pain au chocolat as it was still breakfast time as far as cafes were concerned. A lot of rain poured off me and the guy making drinks politely mopped around me once I'd sat down. I didn't stay long and it was just as well, as I lost some warmth on that stop and it took me to the other end of Bath to warm up again ready for the blast along the cycleway. From there it was the same old end to so many rides, eating up the miles on the Bristol and Bath Cycle Path which I've run and ridden so many times.

So the first epic of the year was done, with the overall time very slow but that mostly down to the wind and the weather beating around me, in the words of Sri Aurobindo. The bleakness of the Cotswolds in winter was striking and refreshing, but also harsh, so I'll revisit these roads in the summer for a different experience.

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