Tuesday, 6 March 2012

The Weston Figure of Eight

'Hills, hills, hills,' said Mick. 'We can't have too many hills. When we're training. What about cycling the two gorges - Cheddar and Burrington?'
We were deciding where to go on today's ride. 'Ok,' I said, 'Cheddar Gorge it is.'
We decided to try out the relatively new Sustrans route which takes cyclists west out of Bristol, the Festival Way, and then head down the Strawberry Line to Axbridge and Cheddar before climbing up onto Mendip.

In Bristol city centre I decided to deviate from our usual cross-Bristol route and swung left down the road. St Philips is not the most salubrious part of Bristol and the locals evidently derive entertainment by slinging empty beer glasses (or full ones for all I know) at walls as they drive home from the pub. We proceeded along the road next to the Cut which was busy with lorries and vans all driving like maniacs. It was with some relief that we got onto the traffic free chocolate line.
Chocolate Line
Create Centre

At the end of the choccy line, the Create Centre occupies one of the old tobacco bonded warehouses. It's an Environment Centre where everyone is very keen on recycling and green energy and things of that nature. It also had two things I wanted: 1. a toilet and 2. a free cycling map for North Somerset. Emerging in improved physical comfort and with a new map on my barbag, I was feeling cheerful as we headed across Bristol's spaghetti junction of Cumberland Basin and through the grounds of Ashton Court mansion house. Deer were grazing in the park and the mansion looked splendid in the sunshine. We coasted out the other side of the grounds and across the road, intending to head down through Long Ashton.

Suddenly Mick yelled out to me to stop. He had a puncture. Some people seem to get a puncture every time they go out, but with our solid kevlar tyres, this was a novelty. Mick calculated he last had a puncture in early 2009 and so initially this was disconcerting.
'I'm not being funny...' said Mick (a phrase which invariably precedes criticism in my experience) 'but this is your fault.'
'How so?'
'For taking us along that shitty road. The day is ruined now!'
'Ah. I see.' Feeling conciliatory (for once!)  I agreed that the fault had been mine and placated him by saying,' 'The day is not ruined - and you can show me how to fix a puncture.'
He cheered up immediately at this - blokes adore being able to explain to someone how to do something practical, don't they? 'Oh yes, ok then. Pass me the tyre levers.'

Ashton Court

Once fixed, we set off again, down through Long Ashton and then along the lovely new cycle path out towards Backwell and Nailsea, where we conducted a huge loop round Nailsea Moors through Chelvey and Claverham and then headed towards Congresbury and the Strawberry Line. Time was getting on and it was my turn to sulk. 'If we had not followed your suggestion to go via Nailsea,' I grumbled, 'we would be in Cheddar by now. We're hopelessly behind.' Mick, in turn, placated me by saying, 'Look you know I'm crap at routes.  Don't listen to me, I talk bollocks.' And so, between us, we managed to get to Axbridge without an argument, something of a triumph in the circumstances.

'Motivation Corner' near Claverham village

Heare lies the bodey of poor Atkins - St Bridget's, Chelvey

Strawberry Line

In Axbridge we stopped for a cup of tea in the Almshouse. It dates from 1433 and offers cake instead of alms these days, but is a delightful cafe, although Mick failed to take into account the low beams and twice banged his head on them getting upstairs. Whilst we supped on our drinks and Mick rubbed his forehead, the chap on the next table, who was sitting alone, turned to talk to us.
'Bet that hurt,' he opened.
'Yep,' said Mick.
'I had a bike in Germany,' he said. 'When I moved here I was going to buy another one but I looked at the roads and changed my mind. Too dangerous.'
He went on to tell us he had lived in Berlin but had been brought up in Saarland on the French/German border. 'I was born in France but then moved to Germany,' he said. 'Without moving house! I used to do a bit of smuggling in the old days.'
'What, cigarettes?'
'No, antique jewellery. My 70 year-old aunt used to help. Sometimes I would call on her and she would say 'Ooh lovely, are we going smuggling today?' Of course, with the EU free movement of goods that all went. You should go to Weston from here,' he offered, as I pulled out the map to have a quick look. 'It's a lovely road.'
I looked at Mick. 'Shall we?'
He shrugged. 'You're Routes.'

So on leaving the cafe we headed west and crossed the A38 at Cross. The road skirted the end of the Mendips. Towering above us on our right was the 600 foot Crook Peak whilst across the  flat moors to our left,the distinctive Brent Knoll rose up in the distance. The road undulated along, hopping over the M5, before the short, puffy climb up to the village of Bleadon. We whizzed down the other side and at the bottom we paused before turning left. Up on our right was a rather inviting looking pub, the Queens Arms, a Butcombe pub. No words were needed, we turned right and tied up the bikes and went in for a pint. I liked it. The pub had not been mucked about with and there was a nice old-fashioned seating area. And it opened all day! Two pints of AH's Rare Breed later we re-emerged, blinking after the darkness of the pub.

It was only a ten minute hop down the main road to Weston sea-front. We pushed the boat out and bought abag of chips to share. Twelve quid on beer without a second thought but we demurred over two bags of chips! Priorities, I suppose. It has been a while since I have been to Weston-super-Mare and I was mightily impressed. The promenade has been resurfaced and revamped and the beach looked clean and ready for the new season.


Weston Pier - victim of fire but now refurbished

 derelict Birnbeck Pier

Birnbeck Pier
We cycled past Marine Lake and round the headland where the derelict Birnbeck Pier juts out mournfully into the estuary. The Pier has recently been bought by developer Wahid Samedy of CNM Estates who also own the site previously occupied by the Royal Pier Hotel until it was unfortunate enough to catch fire twice in twelve months. (Fires do seems to be a problem in Weston. The Grade 2 listed Grand Pier burnt down in 2008 and was totally rebuilt. The historic Victorian Royal Pier Hotel caught fire in June 2009 annd September 2010. In 2011 another derelict hotel, the Bayside, was destroyed by fire. Firefighters in Weston must hardly get a wink of sleep.) CNM Estates have plans for some very low key development on the site which you can see here. I think this looks tremendous and so in keeping with the Victorian surroundings at this end of the town. Not. Apparently Mr Sameday is currently preparing a 'Masterplan' for the entire site and the council, for some reason, appear to be giving him their blessing.

The Toll Road (which no longer collects tolls) hugs the edge of the coast round to Kewstoke. The road is notorious for accidents and has rumblestrips along its length, great fun for bumping along and making silly aaaahhhh noises, although one can use the cyclepaths alongside each one if not in the mood to have one's brain shaken about.

Coming out of Weston was a route foul-up on my part which included a terrifying belt across the junction of the M5 with the A370 followed by a run along the latter for far too long until we could once again rejoin the sanity of the quiet lanes around Claverham and then pootle back home, rather pleased with the longest (albeit flattest) training ride so far.
Our route is here

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