Friday, 25 March 2011

Mission abandoned

Ah well, best laid plans and all of that...after a fantiastic night in the Hunters I got back to my little tent to discover a text on my phone. (I had left it behind as Roger does not approve of phones in the pub).  My ex-hubby and my daughter had had a flaming row, Could I please have her for a couple of days? Aaargh. I would have to pack up in the morning and head back to Bristol.

Still the evening in Roger's had been grand. What makes this my favourite pub ever? A number of things I suppose. There's the beer for a start. Served as it should be from barrels arrayed behind the bar, and a fine choice: Butcombe Bitter, Potholer from Cheddar Ales and Gem from the Bath Ales brewery, all superbly kept. The Butcombe served at Roger's is the best I have ever tasted. Then there's the pub itself - flagstone floors, untouched for years, no jukebox,no friut machine, no mobiles, no Wi-Fi. Just good food and good chat. The food is brilliant by the way - bowls of warming chilli, cauli cheese or pasta, all for under a fiver and served with huge doorsteps of lovely fresh bread. It's just the job after a cold night scurrying underground in one of the local caves, expecially if it's one with a cold streamway in it..

No wonder the place is a favourite with cavers, walkers and locals alike. Roger is a gem of a landlord - with his calm smile and habit of not wasting words -  and his wife Jackie is lovely. The pub has been in the family for generations and long may it continue. Last night had been an exciting one as the finals of the West Mendip Shove Ha'penny Championships was taking place and the place was packed. Gripping stuff I can tell you! I got chatting to two of the guys at the bar and asked if they were local. One nodded but the other one said,

"No, I'm  not local, I've only been here twenty years. We haven't quite been accepted yet. But people have stopped making the 'V' sign when I pass by now. The wife's doing better, she's on the rota for doing the flowers at church on Sundays,"

"Give it another twenny years or so an you'll be alright," said his mate. "Jus keep yer 'ead down."

I had cycled back from the pub to the field behind Eastwater Farm, a couple of miles away, feeling very content and looking forward to the next days ride. So the text recalling me home was annoying to say the least. It was also not the most comfortable night camping that I have ever had.  For one thing it was very cold. I had been warned by friends of course, that March was too early to camp, expecially in the highest village on Mendip. As this was not the answer I wanted to hear, I listened instead to my friend Frank, who is Scottish, likes climbing mountains and is very hardy. He must be, he even swims in his native country without a full wet-suit. But because I wanted to camp I preferred his assessment over that of everybody else.

By midnight I had put on every item of clothing I had with me, including my coat, hat and gloves. Still shivering I pulled the sleeping bag over my head, leaving only a small breathe hole for my nose to stick out of. To make matters worse, the cheap self-inflating mat I had brought with me had gone down. I blew it up and it immediately deflated itself again. Damn, it must have a hole in it.

So this morning when I awoke I felt a little weary and not terribly refreshed. I packed up my gear onto my back and glumly peddled back acoss the top of Mendip. With no cooking equipment I had not had breakfast or even a cup of tea. Still the weather was reasonable,with the sun trying to put in an appearance. I love Mendip so much I found it hard to feel grumpy. I stopped for a while at a pond next to the road, enjoying the sound of birds calling to eachother across the water.  As I coasted down the hill to West Harptree I noticed the brakes were making a scraping sound.  When I looked at them, there was no rubber left on them at all. Oh dear.

At Chew Valley Lake I stopped at the tea-shop for refreshments. Two coffees, a bowl of soup and a round of cheese sandwiches and I was feeling much better.  At least I had a nice night in the pub. And I have discovered some useful stuff. Like I need a new mattress. And new brake blocks. In a way my disappointment was also a positive thing. It showed that my apprehension had been unjustified, and that I really, really did want to go off cycle touring solo. It was something I had not fully appreciated until I had to head for home.

My route is here

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Solo cycle touring

As I look out of the door of my tent across the scrubby mendip fields the sun is setting beyond the far drystone wall and the sky is a fiery mix of pinks, oranges and purples. Two crows squabble in the trees next to me and just beyond the stile in front of the tent, ponies contentedly graze in the last of the pale March light. I have set up my little tent which looks irresistably snug. The contrast with the noise, dirt and business of Bristol earlier today couldn't be more acute.

So, this is the first day of my first solo cycling trip. Before setting off I popped into my local cycling shop and took the precaution of buying a portable pump, two inner tubes, a puncture repair kit and two pink tyre levers. If I get a puncture I have no idea what to do about it but at least I have the equipment when I flag down a passing cyclist and demand assistance.

It is a bit daunting going alone, especially taking into account my lack of bicycle expertise. I wish now I had booked onto one of the heavily subsidised bike maintenance courses run by the local authority, but of course I had not bothered. Oh well, lets hope for the best.

I headed out of Bristol on the 'Whitchurch Path', Sustran's route south out of the city. It's not too bad, much better than cycling up the hideous A37 anyway, making use of an old railway path up to Stockwood and then crossing the said A37 before taking back lanes to Chew Magna. This is Route Three which I had decided to follow to Priddy. At times I regretted sticking slavishly to the Sustrans route, especially just after Chew Magna where the route did a big loop round before ending up not too far from where it started. Weird. After Chew Valley Lake was the bit I was dreading - the climb up onto the Mendip plateau. Its a sod. A steep winding climb endlessly up the hill. At about halfway I got off and pushed the rest of the way, but with a loaded bike its not clear which is more difficult, riding or pushing. Then at the top Route Three makes an abrupt right turn and heads off west for a while before swinging round and heading all the way back east into Priddy, presumably in an effort to avoid main roads. So, I would estimate at least six "Sustrans Miles"in addition to the eighteen or so regular ones, although I don't have a mile counter so all mileage is a guesswork on this trip. Maybe I'll work it out when I get home. Anyway its seven oclock so time for a trip to Hunters Lodge Inn for some lovely beer and hopefully a cauliflower cheese. I'll keep the laptop and phone out of sight though or Roger will defitnitely bar me.

 My route is here