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

Mendip Lakes and Gorges - September 26, 2020

Having missed out on AAA points on my Castles 100k around the Forest of Dean and Monmouthshire, I scoured Ride with GPS for a route with over 1500m of ascent. I found one of around 90k with about 1600 that started in Cotham, then decided to augment it with a couple of urban climbs to see if I could somehow ramp it up to 1800 to ensure I scored 1500 on the final analysis by the "AAA checker" when I submitted my GPX file. The ride is the ride and all its beauty and challenge are not about numbers.....but AAA points are a way of setting a target and I like that too. Guess it says something about my psyche that I need some kind of competition to get motivated, even if it is purely against myself (which true competition, I would argue, always is).

I rode down Gloucester Road into town and then swung up the hill past the BRI and up the famous, nay infamous, St Michael's Hill. This was a good way to start the day and legs and lungs both felt more than warmed up when I landed in Cotham at the top of the climb. Amid the georgian splendour of the old stone houses, with their ornate balconies and massive sash windows, I joined the GPS route and headed for Clifton. Once over the bridge I followed the line on my app through Long Ashton and up the nearly-a-climb-but-doesn't-quite-qualify hill on Wild Country Lane. Next I was heading for Winford, on a road I ride a lot before and after work in the summer (not this summer obviously, as there hasn't been much riding to work) and then I turned off onto the unfamiliar Dundry Lane. This was the second genuinely big climb of the day and a real corker. Dundry always is, from whichever direction you happen to be coming. The road surface was pretty broken up at the edges and I had to take care not to slip off the crumbling tarmac into the stone-filled gutter. Luckily I met no traffic coming down - it was only just wider than car-width in places.

After that epic I thought my next big challenge would the the hill-climb route at Burrington Combe, but the lanes led me to another hill first - the wonderfully named Awkward Hill leading to the equally wonderfully named village of Nempnett Thrubwell. These were classic Audax lanes, hardly a car in sight, the occasional horse rider and grass down the middle of the road in quite a few places.

Next came a winding route down to the dam at the edge of Blagdon Lake, and a very stiff ascent up into the village from the lakeside. My GPS froze here and sent me on a wrong route, but I soon realised my mistake and got back on the right road, through Chew Valley past the arresting sight of the church at Rickford, reflected in the still surface of the pond in perfect mirror-image. After that, the turning to Burrngton came and I passed the Rock of Ages and started the climb. Over the top of the Mendips I was starting to feel like it was time to take on some fuel - I'd had a serious breakfast, but only a couple of jaffa cakes and a maltloaf bar in over 2 hours of riding that has been mostly climbing, so I decided to break the ride in Cheddar which I guessed was only half an hour away. I caught sight of the sea in the distance as I rode towards Tynings Farm, through a wonderfully quiet and picturesque corner of the Mendips that I rarely see.

Down Shipham Gorge and into the familiar valley of strawberry farms, I was soon making decent speed on a rare bit of flat terrain and then I decided on Simply Gorgeous as the tea stop. Spoilt for choice, I based this crucial decision on their excellent tea and scones and good bike-parking spot near the window (so I would be able to keep an eye on it). I locked up white-bike and just as I was doing so, two couples got ahead of me and formed a queue - oh well. It didn't delay things much and while the general awkwarness of masks and track-and-trace meant it was almost half an hour before I was back in the saddle, it was worth it to support this fabulous tea shop. Warm, fresh scone + ample jam and clotted cream is 2.90 which is a decent price in the gorge.

With some high-caffeine assam tea and the high-calorie food inside me I was soon devouring the climb of Cheddar Gorge. There were plenty of riders out and lots of rock climbers on the cliffs too - I had several shouts of encouragement from walkers and even drivers. That doesn't happen every day. The Pinnacles were outlined against an incredible blue sky and looked breathtaking as ever. Not that I had any breath to take at that point, as that sublime circlet of rock towers comes at the steepest point of the ascent. The climb is followed by an endless uphill drag where I got into a steady 12 mph which was pretty much the average on a day with so many metres of uphill struggle. Here I lost GPS route again and didn't want to restart the app in case I lost my tracklog recording, so I was seeing only mile markers and having to guess the route in between from that point on.

Down Harptree Hill and over the edge of the lake I knew my route had some stings in the tail left tocome and so I made sure I kept fuelling on the bars I had packed in the top tube bag. Belmont Hill was next and I surprised myself by getting up it with relative ease, even managing to ride into the mid 20s mph on Beggar Bush Lane just afterwards. Finding the route without the line on my phone screen was tricky from Clifton back to Cotham, but once I had done it I had to choose my way home for maximum hillage. I opted for Nine Tree Hill and wondered why anyone had thought fit to put an uphill cycle lane on this beast of a climb. Surely someone was having a laugh? I was still strong enough to enjoy it and I was impressed to see people riding it who seemed to be just on their way home from town (rather than out "training").

The good news postscript to this ride was that all 1800m of ascent got counted and I had managed to bag the 1.5 AAA the route certainly felt like it contained. My ride over to Bath a few days before had felt like the last day of summer, while this post-equinoctal expedition in bright sunshine all the way had still seen me in jacket and jersey the whole way round - temperatures had dropped a lot in a short space of time. What a great ride. Climb after climb for the physical challenge, and expansive Mendip views to nourish the soul.

Sacred Steps Home