Another cycling adventure completed; a six day trip, my longest so far. A journey of two parts: the first Bristol and back, the second following a WillCycle route guide starting and finishing in Bristol.
Over half is traffic-free, comprising national cycle
routes, quiet lanes and cycle paths. Will has investigated and written
many. His blog posts talk about a wide range of cycle touring subjects. He
likes to sleep in a tent; give me a B&B or hotel anyday. No tent means a lighter bike, which suits me. I went through a similar routine as I did last year. Pack, unpack and remove stuff, then add some bits, pack and then unpack to check I hadn't forgotten anything. In the end I stopped filling the bags and just laid it out in piles. As I left the house I was still anxious that I'd left something important behind.
I rode my mountain bike because some sections of the loop were noted as not suitable for a road bike like mine. A touring or gravel bike would have been fine.
Getting to the start took two days with a stop in Hungerford at the Three Swans Hotel.
The ride was largely uninspiring. It started okay, crossing the Thames at Shepperton.
|the first of many river and canal crossings|
|Roman remains at Virginia Water|
Royal Ascot was on, but there was little evidence of what was to come as I went past the racecourse.
For 55 miles I rode from one "M4 corridor" town to the next. I had thought there would be countryside after Chertsey. Instead it was urban until I left Theale. I didn't stopped for lunch until I got to Bradfield Southend because I wanted a country pub. The weather was hot but not oppressive, the constant traffic was. The Queen's Head served an all day vegan breakfast.
The country views lasted until Thatcham.
|country views at last|
Then I turned off the main road again and peace returned.
|avon and somerset canal|
It was a little too early to check in so cake and coffee was consumed. A sign of things to come.
|coffee and cake at Coffee 1|
It was then a seat by the canal to call everyone with an arrival update.
I had an unexpected companion at the hotel.
Next day was much better, country lanes all the way.
Occasionally it looked like it might rain, but all that happened was it either became more humid or cooler.
Village pubs seem to not open on a Monday. Which meant I was stuck for somewhere to eat. A small shop was ready to serve me. Unfortunately they rarely stock vegan sandwiches etc. But they do sell savouries and bread. With onion rings and rolls stuffed down the front of my jersey I went looking for a bench.
|view up to the clifton suspension bridge|
I hadn't realised how deep the gorge was; a just about walkable zig zag path took me very quickly to the bottom. A sign for the SS Great Britain had me extend my route. A harbourside path lead past a few busy pubs to the yard where it's docked. But it provided only a glimpse of the masts. I was too tired to walk back and then around the other side of the harbour.
The real adventure started on day three; Will's cycle route through Somerset to Wells.
It starts from Bristol station; I joined it at the river.
It had rained heavily overnight; as it had on Sunday evening. The path along the river was a little muddy in places.
Once out into the sun the going was dry.
This section was busy with other riders, walkers and joggers. It was unfortunate that there was also litter. I picked up a few sweet wrappers as I went along.
Some interesting artwork.
Many parts of the tour used old railway lines.
A tunnel; it got much better than this later in the trip.
The Sustrans paths have barriers that could have been painful. They are similar to this.
The first few I came across were wide enough for me to ride straight through. Then they got narrower; my handlebars are just over 600mm wide and they either brushed the sides or were too wide. Had I attempted to pass through without stopping it would have resulted in a crash.
When I returned to the lanes it got a little hillier, a tough one was out of Wedmore. Strava says it peaks at 19%. It's very short so don't worry too much.
On the whole the paths were well maintained and wide, except for a short section after this climb. The sign said it was a dead end, but Will knew better. Bare arms and legs combined with tall stinging nettles isn't great. I managed to get through without pain though.
A very steep, fast descent followed. It was then flat for a few miles, with no wind. I flew along at close to 20 mph with very little effort.
I entered Wells ahead of schedule so had some food opposite the hotel.
At the centre of the town is the Crown at Wells near the Bishop's Palace.
After dinner I went for a walk.
The bishop must have had either a lot of enemies or been very paranoid. The palace looks like a castle, complete with moat.
|a view of the cathedral from my window at sunrise|
The first ten miles was mostly climbing.
|overcast and chilly start to the day|
Then it's rolling, predominantly down hill for twenty miles. I was on the old railway line again.
No food for my dietary choice so they made me a one-off pesto salad bap. Very tasty. They also filled my water bottles; something they had heard wasn't always done at some locations. I've never had a problem with this at anywhere I have stopped.
A few miles later was one of the highlights of this trip.
Some of the line is still in use.
A great path, it took me right into the centre of the city.
This time I made sure I was in the right place to get a picture of the SS Great Britain.
I awoke on Thursday with the trip home in front of me. The forecast said it would be very hot. So I had an early breakfast and left Bristol before nine.
|the sign didn't explain this sculpture|
A brief ride through the commuter traffic and then it was back onto the path I'd used the previous day.
|onion rings and bread rolls|
I bought lunch as I had on Monday from a village store opposite the pub that had been closed on that occasion. This time I sat on the gate under a tree instead of the church yard.
In the afternoon it really got hot.
When I got to the top I was out of water and hungry. It was fairly flat and I soon saw a sign for Marlborough. A shaded table outside a cafe was just what I needed.
|The coffi lab Marlborough|
They filled my bottles and after eating my cakes and finishing the coffee I sat to watch the world go by. I awoke about twenty minutes later. I don't know what people had thought if they'd noticed a tired, sweaty cyclist sleeping.
I did feel much better and it was only about 10 miles to Hungerford.
On arrival I found a bench under a tree near the canal as I had done on Sunday. And dozed off again.
The Three Swans was just up the road, I checked in and went looking for dinner. The hotel only had one vegan meal on the menu. So it was the Bear public house that got my patronage.
Only one day to go, and it was going to be another hot one. So again I left early. I knew what the route was going to be like so I had called in to Tescos after dinner the night before. I bought a box of Belvita soft bakes. They are good, value for money snacks. I intended not to stop at cafes etc on my way home.
In Reading I took shelter in a church yard.
Ascot was packed, the horse racing had caused almost total gridlock around the course. This did not help mood.
Being so hot made the boring ride worse, and eventually I had a coffee at a cafe. A nondescript place attached to a petrol station and car wash.
But it was becoming very slow going. I sat under a tree just outside Claygate for quite some time.
Hook was just up the road so I continued hoping for some food and drink. On the parade was a Gregs. I stood in the air conditioned store and ate two vegan sausage rolls and drank the same number of Oasis drinks. Marcia choose this perfect time to call me.
The rest of the ride was a bit of a blur; it was with great relief that I saw a sign for Banstead; Chipstead and Coulsdon were next. Only one more hill, Marlpit Lane, up to Old Coulsdon.
A final couple of miles and I was home.
I recommend this one. It's interior is moden, the outside looked every bit the original country pub. Very friendly, helpful staff. The only improvements would be a more varied dinner menu and a covered area to secure my bike. It was safe, but open to the elements.
The standard guest house as you'd expect. Good value considering the central location. Get down early for breakfast if you don't want to wait for a table. The single rooms are small. Secure, covered storage for the bike.
My next adventure in July involves a ferry. You'll have to keep an eye on the blog to read all about it.