I set off from Bristol Temple Meads station heading for Wells on my way to the first campsite. It was very overcast with frequent showers, a cold headwind and I had to cross the Mendip hills.
A nice 50 km for my first day.
My route was predominantly on NCN3, part of the UK National Cycle Network. NCN routes are great. In the main, they use minor roads and paths, like towpaths or dedicated cycle ways, with a rare incursion onto a B road. NCN signage is good, but the signs are sometimes small and occasionally ambiguous. Here’s my route using Cycle Travel:
Bristol has good cycle paths, but a couple of times I ended up going down narrow traffic lanes holding up vehicles, unable to get over the kerb and onto the cycle lane just a couple of metres away. Sometimes, it seems, you have to know a route in order to use it properly.
One sign I did not want to see was the road/cycle lane closed sign within a few hundred metres of the station. The bridge I had to take over a railway line and river was closed. It would have been good to get a couple of kilometres from the station before having to follow a diversion!
My GPS does not re-route if you take an alternative route (aka wrong turn), but it does beep and helpfully show “Off Course” on the screen when it decides it is 30 metres off your chosen route.
I was “Off Course” more than once on this tour. Often the screen was blank, bar the pointer indicating the orientation of the bike. “Here be dragons” would have been just as useful.
I followed the NCN3 diversion sign onto a bridge over the river only to see a “Cyclists Dismount” sign on the far side. Dismounting was not an option, as there were two flights of steps down onto the riverside path that was part of NCN3. Not a problem normally, it was unnerving going down the steps, in the rain, hanging on to a loaded bike .
Fortunately, the cleats on my cycling shoes are well recessed and were not affecting my grip on the (small, steel) steps.
I was very relieved to get onto the riverside path and to not have ended up with the bike a crumpled heap at the bottom of the steps (or, worse, with me under the bike in a crumpled heap at the bottom of the steps).
The riverside path soon finished and NCN3 meandered along the minor roads of suburban Bristol as it kept away from the busy A and B roads. After around 10 km I was into countryside.
Now it was pleasant cycling, passing through villages with lovely names like Norton Malreward and Chew Stoke, and passing next to Chew Valley lake (a water reservoir for Bristol and the fifth largest artificial lake in England). It was impressive to see the Lake with waves and white horses whipped up by the wind.
The wind and rain precluded photos at this time, but here is one of the Lake in the distance under a sultry sky.
I was hoping to have lunch sitting in the sun by the Lake, but it was not to be, so I pedalled on towards the Mendip Hills. About an hour later, pedalling up one of those hills I stopped, dead. I knew I needed to eat.
I’m not proud, so I pushed the bike uphill to find a gate where I could get off the road (which, for a country road, was pretty busy) and have something to eat and drink in the rain. A cup of tea would have gone down well, but my stove was at the bottom of the pannier – I wished I had brought a flask!
- 1: before leaning a heavily laden bike against a farm gate, first check that gate is securely closed
- 2: baler twine wrapped round the gate and gate post may not be as secure as it looks
When I hike, I know it’s important (for me) to eat something like GORP (Good Old Raisins and Peanuts) at regular intervals and have a drink at the same time.
I just forgot to do this as there was a lot going on with route finding (despite the GPS) and looking out for places to stop.
A lesson learnt, which was the point of this tour.
I cycle in shorts and leggings (Ron Hill tracksters, functional, rather than fashionable) and the welcome lunch stop let my leggings dry off as the rain eased. Waterproof socks kept my feet warm and dry.
But the wind remained gusty and cold. I carried on, having to stop and push uphill a few times (like I said, I’m not proud).
There were a few errors in route finding on the post-lunch leg, too. At one point the GPS threw a wobbly and I ended up a couple of kilometres from where I should have been by the time I thought, “This is not right…” and stopped.
My back-up paper map and Google Maps on my phone confirmed where I was and I figured out how to get back on course. Trouble was, I got “Off Course” by going downhill with the wind behind me for a couple of kilometres. Now I had a slow cycle uphill, against the wind. Not much fun.
Eventually, I got across the top of the Mendips and began my descent to Wells, passing this viewing area that suddenly appeared as I cycled round a bend. The dark, pointy bump just to the left of centre is Glastonbury Tor.
My free-wheel descent from the flattish tops of the Mendips took me through Wookey Hole. It’s a little touristy, but it wasn’t raining! I was pretty cold by now thanks to the ever present East wind; maybe pedalling on the way down to keep my legs moving would have been better. Anyway, I stopped and put on my waterproof trousers – relief from the wind at last! I finished my GORP and took a photo for posterity.
I had planned to cycle into Wells, view the cathedral and maybe grab a hot drink, then head off to the campsite.
Wells is a busy little city. However, despite cycling round the main area a couple of times, I could see only pedestrian routes to the cathedral, with no obvious way to get to it by bike. A hot drink was also unlikely as it was around 5:30 pm, and everywhere was closing up. A beer did not appeal, either, I needed some food first. The best laid plans…
At least the route to the campsite was flat and along a nice, very quiet, road. I was the only camper there and the chickens took a great interest in the new arrival.
Ever hopeful for food, I told them I would be eating part of one of their chicken chums that night. They weren’t put off.