Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Brassknocker Hill

I am meeting my sister at Keynsham for lunch so at ten I head off back down the canal towpath on my bike. I worked out this was the sixth time I had travelled this route in as many days, and I thought I would have a change from cycling the towpath. The road would be more direct and smoother after all. And maybe the hill and the traffic wouldn't be so bad. And so I made the fateful decision to cycle back via Brassknocker Hill and across the top of the hill rather than via the towpath to Bath. After all, I reasoned, once I'm up the hill it's a more direct route than the winding canal.

Brassknocker Hill. It's a lovely name isn't it? The hill isn't lovely though, at least not heading in the direction I was going. It's steep. Very steep. I immediately switched onto the granny wheel and began slowly pedalling up the hill. My Dawes is not the lightest of bikes and I was regretting having two pannier bags as well. I managed to get about a third of the way up the hill before pulling over, gasping, onto the verge at the side of the road, convinced I was about to have a heart attack. I leant over the handlebars, gasping and clutching at my heart. It was beating so fast.

After some minutes I felt reassured that I was not about to expire on the road and began to slowly push the bike up the hill, crossing the road on each sharp bend to try and reduce the liklihood of a car ploughing into me as it rounded the corner. Near the top I almost stumbled over a dead fawn lying by the side of the road. It had clearly not been there long, poor thing.

Once at the top of the hill, the going is pretty flat. The road goes across the top of Claverton Down and Combe Down south of Bath. Under Combe Down, but only just under (in places only a few feet), are miles of stone mines from which the famous Bath stone limestone was extracted during the 18th and 19th centuries. The stone was sought after for prestigious buildings, not only in Bath but across the country, including Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace.

However the mines became increasingly unstable. People were getting up to discover that holes had appeared in their gardens overnight. Not good when you let the dog out for a pee and it falls down a blimmin' great hole. On one occasion a truck fell down a hole and was left there to provide a house foundation. (Presumably it was thought to be better to build the house on top of a lorry rather than on top of land which resembled Gruyère cheese.) In recent years a stabilisation project has been pumping foamed concrete into the mines. This was a massive project, over 400,000 square metres of concrete were pumped in altogether.

Foamed concrete is created by injecting air bubbles through the mass of the concrete. The density of foam concrete can vary from 200kg/cub.m to 1600kg/cub.m. The strength of the concrete is determined by the mix of cement and water and also is dependent on the type of foaming agent used, and whether it is protein or synthetic based. Foam concrete has a wide variety of applications.....Hey! Wake UP!

OK enough about foam concrete. Suffice to say that the mines are no longer falling down.

I cycled across the top of the plateau and then freewheeled the long coast down to Newton St Loe and with gritted teeth I put up with the A4 for a few miles until Saltford where I could turn back onto the lanes for the final few miles.

Made it in time for lunch. I think I may have to train a bit more before tackling Brassknocker Hill again though.

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