"Each step forward has a sacred meaning of its own" Sri Chinmoy
Over the Mendips 60k Audax, September 2nd 2017
I was keen to get out and do another "perm" in my quest for 20 AAA points, or in other words 20,000 metres of climbing. The AAA award doesn't give you a time limit but I've set myself a deadline of the end of 2017 to win that particular "badge". You've got to have a goal, haven't you? Otherwise, inertia sets in....
Saturday the 2nd proved to be the perfect day. The forecast for the Sunday was very Autumnal, all wind and rain, but the Saturday was replete with sunshine and clear skies - like the last breath of Summer before it gave way to the familiar Atlantic fronts sweeping in from the west. I was scheduled to work the morning so I booked up my shortest ever Audax - the 60km "Over the Mendips" route with the hilly ride out to and from Chew Magna bolted on to each end and no less than 1 AAA point squeezed in to that modest 60 kilometres.
I was out of the office before 1.30 into brilliant sunshine, relying on Google to give me the quickest route to Chew Magna. This proved to be the over-the-hill option via Dundry so my legs got a great workout and I was at the cashpoint by Magna Church for a 1.53 start. Rolling out of the picturesque village the route took me past the lake at a steady pace and then I rode briskly into the climb to get on to the sun-soaked roof of the Mendips. There wasn't too much traffic around and road rolled straight and true across the high plateau, scenery that's somehow softer than the Cotswolds with wooded slopes and lush fields. The descent to Wells was exhilarating and memories came floating back as I rode into the town where I lived briefly back in the 80s - the view of the Cathedral was even more stunning than I remembered, then I passed the market square and Penniless Porch as I rode a lap of the town. I checked in at a cash machine for the control and then found my way on to Wooky Hole road, passing below the hill where I used to live in my truck. I'd hit Wells in pretty much exactly an hour and felt strong despite the lumpy route and lack of recent road miles.
Wooky Hole was sort of crowded - late summer visitors walking lazily in the road - once past the old houses of the village I was on to a lovely old road I hadn't ridden before and then the stiff climb of Ebbor Gorge - steeper than the first climb on to the Mendips. I got an energy bar down me and promised myself a tea stop in Cheddar - why not? I rode through Priddy, past the hurdles on the green where the old Fair was held (maybe it still happens?), remembering the visits I'd made here thirty odd years ago and the legends I'd read about in Glastonbury bookshops - Jesus was at Priddy apparently, or in another version of the story, his uncle Joseph of Arimithea paid a visit. I passed the end of a road called Nine Barrows Lane that I remembered from the 80s and it reminded me of the antiquity of the place. People lived in the Cheddar area many thousands of years ago and apparently their DNA was similar to that of current residents - time's regular upheavals and migrations tend to bypass some corners of the southwest it seems.
After Priddy came the info control at a junction up on the high Mendip and then a swift descent of Cheddar Gorge and on to Cheddar itself. The cafes were all closed! Oh well, another bar and another cash machine and I U-turned to climb the gorge. The first time I rode up here I remember being wiped out by the effort but these days it doesn't seem so hard - more climbing in my legs I guess. It's a stunner of a ride though, narrow in places and with dramatic crags looming over the road. No wonder people flock here and it's become a cute tourist "trap" with plenty of cheese and cider shops. On a longer ride I'd have nipped in to Simply Gorgeous but instead I pushed it hard up the hill and overtook a couple of other riders in an imaginary Tour de Cheddar.
I kept on pushing hard over the top of this narrow section of the Mendips, pausing alongside a fellow confused rider where the junctions didn't seem to match either his map or my routesheet, then pushed at full gas past the lake back to Chew Magna. I clocked in at 3:13 which I was more than happy with after those 3 tough ascents.
By now I'd used up every last calorie and I misjudged my route home a bit, taking the shortest route back to Bedminster which involved not one climb over Dundry as I expected but two, a steep ridge with a long drop coming before the main hill. By the time I was going up for the second time I was spent and the tank was empty - I limped home tired but happy after a really beautiful ride. A wonderful way to finish the summer of 17.
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