Monday, 1 October 2012

Keynsham to Ilfracombe Day 1

Blimey. We had determined to set off early today and by some miracle 7am found us at my garage dragging the bikes out ready for the off. This is practically unheard of. We were heading down to Mick's place in Ilfracombe, planning to break the ride at Luxborough on Exmoor tonight so we knew we had to cover roughly 65 miles. Couldn't afford to be late off today. We loaded the panniers and then I reached for the '3 in 1' oil and dabbed some on the chain. We set off.

'Bollocks!' shouted Mick.
'Shh, it's early, the neighbours will hear you swearing. What is it?'
'I've got a sodding puncture!'
Sure enough, Mick's front tyre was as flat as a pancake. We wheeled the bikes back to the garage and he bad-temperedly grabbed the pump.
'Aren't you going to change the tube?' I asked.
'No, can't be arsed, I'll pump it up and we'll see how we get on.'
I wasn't sure this was a good idea but as he was clearly not happy I decided that I would keep my mouth shut (for once).

Tyre re-inflated we set off once more. As usual I had decided on the route and Mick was following along. Why he still allows me to do this after some of the monumental foul ups I have made I have no idea but he didn't seem bothered. He says that I'm so bossy that there's no point in him making suggestions which I think is unfair. It's not my fault if all his suggestions are rubbish. 'Ah, I'll leave it up to you Nappers,' he said. Nappers is shorthand for Napoleon as he says we have height (lack of)  and other characteristics in common.
Cows on Maes Knoll
He cheered up once we got underway and we followed a now familiar route down to Chew Magna and Chew Valley Lake, pleasant in the early morning sunshine. We were too early for the cafe but we stopped anyway for some snacks we had brought with us and then continued on alongside the lake to Bishop Sutton where we joined the A368. Our first challenge was to climb up onto the ridge that is the Mendip Hills. There is no easy way of getting up from this side, save a very long detour to the Strawberry Line. At West Harptree there is a way up to Mendip. 'I thought I'd try the the one further on,' I said to Mick. At Compton Martin the turning came up sooner than I expected and I made a last minute swing left.
'Can you give me more warning next time,' said Mick
'Sorry, I saw the sign for The Wrangle at the last minute.'
'The Wrangle?' he said suspiciously. 'Well as long as it's not that vile steep hill we came down from the Mendips that time, do you remember? It was too steep to go down let alone...' he trailed off as we turned the corner.
'This IS that road!' he exclaimed.
'Er, is it?' I said lamely. 'Never mind!'
'Yes it bloody is! Tell you what, if you can cycle up without getting off I'll buy you a pint.' This was unfair. Mick knows I can't resist a challenge especially if beer is involved.
'Right,' I said, settling my bottom into my saddle, which is so wide and padded Chesterfield would be proud of it. I embarked on my getting up hill technique - lowest gear possible, sitting down, really, really slow and counting elephants. 'One elephant, two elephant...'
It was working well too until a car came down the hill and I was forced to put my foot down to let it pass.
'Ah well, never mind,' said Mick. 'Better luck next time.'
'But that wasn't my fault!'
Mick just grinned.

Once we were up the Wrangle we were on the top of the plateau and it was glorious. The Mendips are beautiful and I enjoyed the ride across to the top of Cheddar and then a long, winding descent through the chasm between ever higher cliffs. We coasted into Cheddar and stopped for a coffee before pressing on to Wedmore. I love this run, heading out onto the Somerset Levels, it never fails to delight. At Wedmore we turned left and climbed a tiny hill and then had a long flat ride along to Mark and across the Levels to Woolavington.

I was expecting the next bit to be totally shit and it was. We joined the A39 which is heavily used by lorries heading to the nearby M5. There were a few moments respite on the way into Bridgwater where a short cycle path took us off the road - but only to get us across the bridge over the motorway, then it disappeared again. I made a mental note to find another route for next time. I am never cycling through Bridgwater again if I can help it. Mick expressed some forceful opinions of the same nature as we battled alongside the heavy traffic. We were both relieved to turn left onto Durleigh Road and soon we were on quiet country lanes once more.

'Ellie, I'm not being funny but can I mention something?' said Mick as we pedalled along.
I wondered what was coming. 'Yes, what?'
'I saw you using the 3 in 1 this morning.'
'Maintenance is my job. You're Routes. The thing is, if you do a man out of a job like that, pretty soon I'll feel like there's no point in coming along.'
'Ah yes, I see your point. Sorry. I won't do it again.'

The second challenge of the day was looming: getting over the Quantocks. Last time we came down this way we had stayed on the A39 but we hadn't liked it. This time I decided we would stick to back roads. We took a tiny lane up through Great Wood, which was superb. Climbing ever higher we could see the river glistening as it ran through the valley below. At the top the lane turned into a steep gravelly track. We decided to walk down, I didn't fancy skidding down there with loaded panniers. At the bottom we remounted and threaded our way through muddy, slurry-strewn lanes. 'I'll have to take the map off you in a minute Nappers,' warned Mick. He was right, this route needed some 'fine tuning' lets say.

Great Wood

Eventually we got onto the B3224 and a stonker of a hill up Exmoor. By now I was feeling pretty weary. This was the third big lump we had toiled up today. 'I wish I hadn't cycled up the Wrangle now,' I grumbled. 'I peaked too early.'
'You should never tangle with the Wrangle,' said Mick smugly.

Once on the top though, the road was flat and fast until the turning for Luxorough. We had booked into the Royal Oak, having called in here before on the way to Exford and liked it very much. I had forgotten, though, that the village is nestled in a steep valley. We gingerly rolled down, gripping the brakes. There was an additional hazard, the neighbouring fields were full of pheasants which kept running out in front of us before disappearing with a squawk. One bird, even stupider than the rest, panicked and flew straight into a tree trunk.

We had conquered our own 'three peaks challenge' and felt pretty pleased with ourselves when we finally arrived at the pub and checked in. It was five o'clock and we had just time for a hot bath before settling into the bar for several pints of real ale and a slap-up meal. Mick's tyre had stayed inflated all day, he decided he must have left the valve open or something. This seemed like a good reason to celebrate with another pint before turning in. I decided not to let Mick know the bad news: the hill to get out of the village was even steeper than the one to get in.

Our route is here

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