I was disappointed not to have spent more time in Chepstow; I had visited the castle whIle I was at school, as well as many other castles of the Welsh marches, including Grosmont, Skenfrith, White, Raglan, Usk, Monmouth, and so on. Chepstow is particularly interesting because of the way it stretches along a cliff on the river Wye, and because it has the oldest castle doors in Europe—tree-ring analysis says they date to the 1190s. The doors were covered in iron plates to prevent attackers burning them down, and on the inside the lattice framework has the earliest mortice-and-tenon joints known in Britain.
The weather was good as we set off, and it wasn’t long (after just a little bit of faffing as I tried to interpret my Wahoo, followed by extensive consultation with other members of the gang) before I was crossing the Severn and heading into England. This felt like a landmark of some sort, and I thought the sign marking the borderwas worth photographing. It didn’t inspire much confidence, unfortunately.
We cycled through Somerset and had coffee and cake at (I think) about 25 miles, but preying on everyone’s mind was the climb at about 37 miles, over the Mendips towards Cheddar Gorge. We had the impression from Rob and Andy (whose A5 sheets say the road climbs ‘very steeply’), and from our cycle computers, that this would be a very tough one. It was indeed tough, with gradients going up to 18%, but it was only tough for about a mile, with a much gentler gradient for the next mile or two. I must admit I had to stop once or twice in the steep section—once because of traffic and once because my legs were on fire—but it was nowhere near as bad as the Cumbria/Yorkshire/Lancashire section. (Was it really easier than Cumbria/Yorkshire/Lancashire, or am I getting fitter? It may be the latter; I am positively sailing up the steep hills at the moment.)
But boy! The decent through Cheshire Gorge was wonderful. Five miles, fast and awe-inspiring. The best descent I have ever done, I think. To say I ‘swept’ through the curves would be to over-romanticise a little, and to exaggerate my cycling ability, but I felt like I was going pretty fast, and it was super fun. I took a couple of photos, but mostly I was riding as quickly as I could.
Once in Cheddar centre ville I had hoped to bump into Rob or Andy in the van, but they were nowhere to be seen, so I passed through the crowded tourist area and managed to buy a pasty at a shop near the end of town. This quick meal meant I was ahead of the rest of the gang, and I crossed most of the Somerset levels in this position until I was joined by Amardeep, Carl, Les, Jamie and John. This was not the most pleasant part of the ride: the roads were not good, and they didn’t seem to represent the shortest route between two points: why would one go south, then west, and then north? Doesn’t make sense. For Les, I should say that I did see a sign for Glastonbury!
We went through Bridgwater, our nominal destination, and ended up in a nice enough hotel in North Petherton, a few miles to the south. A couple of beers, dinner, and I fell asleep over my laptop as I started typing this report.
We cycled 68.6 miles, with a moving time of 5hours and 40 minutes. We climbed only 3,310 feet (‘only’ because of the high drama of getting onto the Mendips), my weighted average power was 106 Watts, and my average speed was 12.1 mph. I used 1,662 calories (is this really right? It doesn’t seem enough.)