Severn Bridge High Loop 200km Audax (Perm) 2016

2 weeks after my struggle around the Severn Estuary 200 I was back out on ride #11 of the RRtY. This time I had Saturday to rest up as I'd delayed the ride until Sunday to avoid several hours of wind and rain. This proved my best decision of the weekend and I was able to set off from home at 6.50 heading for the Severn Bridge - almost exactly 25 years to the day since it was dedicated as a Sri Chinmoy Peace Bridge. On a Permanent the first thing you need is proof of your start time so I swung by my nearest cash machine only to find it empty of paper. I had a feeling this was a dodgy ATM, you never see any one using it. Fortunately it was only a short detour to the next nearest and I was able to make my official start from opposite Filton Church at bang on 7am. Cool (5 or 6 degrees) but with hardly a breath of wind and the sky already brightening in the east.

Roads I knew like the proverbial back of my hand led me out through Almondsbury and Tockington, the sun rising as I approached the amazing sight of the Severn Estuary under peach-coloured clouds and magical dawn light. It seemed as if no time at all had passed when I slipped through the archway at Chepstow to grab another ATM receipt - in fact it was 8am precisely so I'd been going an hour. Back out through the arch and down the side of Chepstow I saw a pack of riders at the Budgens (I've used that as a control before) and wondered if they were going my way? This made me press on harder as I was having an imaginary race with a pack of cyclists who were probably heading in the opposite direction, but it's that old competitive instinct. If it makes me get a move on, I'm all for it! The road to Devauden was a long drag followed by more long drags, finally rewarded with a magnificient view over the hills around Abergavenny - Sugarloaf and Blorenge stood out from the misty valley.

Next there was the descent marked "care" on the routesheet and at one point you do hit a pretty sharp bend so care is definitely the word, especially on the damp surface after a wet November day. Monmouth seemed too soon for a food stop so I got another ATM slip and a picture of the ancient bridge..... before getting slightly lost trying to find the A40.

I had opted for the main road route to avoid any muddiness on the Peregrine Path and as the A road is elevated above some of the town streets, a few roads that appear to lead to it are actually dead ends. Eventually I punted the bike down the pavement of a one way street (traffic coming towards me, had there been any) and got going on the dual carriageway. Although it was Sunday morning just after nine thirty there were plenty of trucks and I was glad when I'd finished the uphill drag into England, passing wonderful views down to the meanders of the Wye, and got myself on to the lanes and B roads around Crockers Ash. I crossed Kerne Bridge which I usually see from a different perspective - paddling a kayak downstream - and then it was a flattish route to Ross and my first sit down stop. I wasn't sure what would be open but there was a Costa so I grabbed their ementhal and mushroom toastie, a medio americano and a brownie type thing. The cost of these stops adds up!

Suitably fuelled and with around 60k behind me, the next task was a short hop to Newent. This ride has quite a lot of controls so it's broken down into short sections, making it easier on the mind. The route to Newent had great B roads, quiet enough for runners to be out on their long training runs, 3 abreast and chatting. Newent had an ATM so I checked in but didn't hang around - the long 33k to Cheltenham (roughly half way) was next. Here I enjoyed some lovely scenery - fields, woods and villages including the unique Tudor church tower at Upleadon. I also had my front shifter cable snap on me - OK, no more big chainring for the rest of the day! I didn't have a spare cable so I extracted the old one and carried on in the low ratio. Staunton had an easy info control which was just as well as the only shop open at this little place (more of a crossroads than a village) was a pet food supplier. I wasn't quite that desperate.

After Staunton and feeling pretty tired (already....) I was glad that the route to Cheltenham was a long, flat and straight burn up, through the Severn Valley over Haw Bridge. I remembered this road from riding the opposite direction - it was pretty low on traffic and I seemed to eat those KMs up pretty quickly and Cheltenham appeared sooner than expected. Tesco was open with another Costa so I fuelled up and refilled bottles with a mix of tango and water (their coke was all zero sugar, and the Seven Up too - what use is that?). Stiff after sitting for a few minutes I saddled up again and rode off into the afternoon sun, wondering how steep the ascent of the Cotswold escarpment would be - a brutal straight up or a winding switchback? When I got there, turning off the main road into lanes round Dowdeswell, it proved to be a little bit brutal but hauntingly beautiful as well. Snaking up the climb through woodland scattered with lodges, gatehouses, churches and other old, quirky buildings I was in a bit of a dream and enjoying the ride despite the semi tiredness and the knowledge of a long way to go.

Withington came next - another easy info control - then a sharp climb on to what proved my favourite road of the day. This was the White Way - a Roman Road to Roman Cirencester. It was either flat or a slight downhill drag, so the bleak Cotswold miles just seemed to float by easily. Before I knew it I was in Ciren (as they call it locally) and stopping at the first cafe I laid eyes on. A massive scone and a hot chocolate set me back around six quid but it was well worth it. The sun was getting low in the sky and my body's fuel guage felt pretty low too, but it as such a lovely day and such a lovely route that I was still enjoying every mile. Out of Ciren I headed into the late afternoon on flat, easy roads around the Cotswold Water Park - a quick stop for an info control in Minety then I carried on with evening coming on fast, towards Malmesbury.

By the time I bypassed the town on a short stretch of main road it was dusk and when I turned off onto the lanes again, night had fallen and I was looking at around 40k of riding in total darkness. On my previous ride I'd been poorly prepared and a number of my lights had given me trouble, so this time everything was fully charged and I had plenty of spare watts should anything run out (which it didn't). I descended the wet and steep road into Castle Combe to get the info control, finding the village totally silent with not a soul to be seen on the street but both pubs looking pretty full. This was my last control so I used the phone GPS to plan a route home rather than stick to the rest of the routesheet - as it happended they coincided to start with and I rode Cotswold lanes and B roads through Acton Turville, crossing and recrossing the M4, feeling strong and making good progress until finally the lights of Bristol were illuminating the low cloud ahead of me and it was just a case of negotiating a way on to the ring road cycle path to get home. Usually that's easier said than done as the signage is atrocious but the GPS got it perfectly right and a network of cycleways through business parks ofloaded me on to a bridge over the ringroad and 4 miles of easy cycleway to Filton. The final time was 11.57 for around 215-220 k so I was happy enough with that. One more ride to go, the Marlborough Connection, which also features that lovely Roman Road through Cirencester.

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