So we set off merrily down the lane to Compton Dando and the Avon Cycleway. The route follows rural lanes through sleepy villages until we arrived at Pensford. It's a shame that the fast A37 races through the middle of the village. At various times Pensford has produced high quality cloth, copper, brass and coal; now it's a commuter village for Bristol and Bath. It is dominated by the glorious Pensford Viaduct. Built in1873 to carry the Bristol and North Somerset Railway across the Chew Valley, it finally closed after the '68 floods when it was declared to be unsafe although I can't help but wonder whether this was a rather convenient excuse. British Rail once tried to sell the viaduct for £1.00 but had no takers so it remains part of BRB (Residuary). It would make a brilliant cycle-path...
More country lanes to Chew Valley Lake and time for a cup of tea. As we sat enjoying our break and looking out over the lake, Mick pensively said: 'You know, I've always had a regret that I never became..'
'Became what?' I wondered. 'A brain surgeon? A father? A duck?'
'...a thief,' he continued.
'What?' I said, non-plussed. 'What do you mean, a thief?'
'I could have been rich,' he said. 'Look at all the money to be made out of ripping people off. Being honest is for fools.'
I looked at him aghast. 'Yes we're skint, I protested. But at least we can sleep at night!'
'Well, that's it,' he said dolefully. 'I don't sleep. I have insomnia. So I might as well have become a thief.'
|Water level in Chew Valley Lake|
Leaving the lake we cycled through Bishop Sutton then turned left and started the climb up onto Mendip. Mick started to get all excited. 'We're going to Priddy!' he exclaimed. 'Brilliant! A pint of Roger's Butcombe and a cauli cheese in the Hunters!'
'No, calm down. We are not going to Hunter's today.'
'Owwwww, why not?'
'Because I have other plans. We'll go to Roger's another day.'
I turned off before Mick spotted the Ring o Bells at Hinton Blewett where I knew I would have another rebellion on my hands. Instead we coasted down to the A37 at Temple Cloud, and cycled on through Hallatrow and Paulton to Midsomer Norton. Mick did have a point, this end of Mendip is the poorer, hardier end, and there was nothing very attractive about these places. Certainly no-where we felt like stopping. At Midsomer Norton, Mick swore as realisation dawned. 'We're going to fucking Radstock! Again!' He was incredulous at my nerve. To be honest I was now feeling a bit sheepish. I had been a bit of a cow, refusing any pub stops and disappointing him with a pointless ride up hills and down again. 'I wanted to see the Neolithic long barrow,' I mumbled.
Mick snorted. 'Well we're here now, come on then. Where is it anyway?'
'Other side of Radstock. By Wellow.'
'It had better be good.'
We headed along the Collier's Way first on railway line and then country lanes. This time I was ready for it, and spotted the signpost for the long barrow. 'Where is it?' asked Mick.
'Up there,' I said pointing to the top of the hill beyond the stile.'
'Oh. Do we really want to go up there?'
'Yes we do. We've missed a lunchtime pint for this.'
So we tied our bikes to a gate and set off up the hill and across two fields. When we reached the long barrow Mick was impressed. 'It is amazing,' he agreed, conquering his claustrophobia to come and have a poke about inside. It's possible to go a long way inside - with side chambers coming off the main passage where the bodies would have been laid out.
'Lie in one, like a corpse' I suggested.
'YOU lie in one. I'm not!'
Outside I announced my intention to circumnavigate the site. 'Yeah, you would,' said Mick. 'Anyone else would just walk round it.'
We agreed on the walk back to the bikes that it had been jolly impressive though, and worth the effort. We headed up the hill to Wellow where we were unable to resist a quick nose down Railway Lane. Sure enough, just down the road was the remains of the old level crossing gates. The signal house had been converted to a dwelling as had the station, which for ten years was the residence of the artist Peter Blake. Even I, art philistine that I am, recognise some of this guy's work:
We slogged up Hinton Hill and crossed the A36, after which we enjoyed the long coast down to Iford Manor. Nestling at the bottom of the hill, Iford is a stunning Elizabethan manor house with Grade 1 listed Italiante gardens which have been described as one of the best in the country. They were designed by Harold Peto, architect and landscape gardener who lived here from 1899 to 1933 although sadly they were not open at this time of year. The River Frome which runs on front of the manor house (the Somerset Frome, and pronounced Froom not Froam) forms the boundary so whilst the Manor is in Wiltshire, the Bridge outside is in Bath and North East Somerset. Perched on the top - looking slightly incongruous and like she might want to jump at any minute - is Britannia, also a Peto addition.
We cycled into Freshford, past the closed Inn and through Limpley Stoke, past the closed Hop Pole. Well it was Tuesday afternoon so hardly surprising. By the time we had cycled back to Bath along the Kennet and Avon towpath we had a proper thirst on.
'Ah, back to civilisation,' said Mick with satisfaction. 'The pubs will be open here.' Sure enough the Royal Oak at Twerton, one of our favourites, was open so we spent a very pleasant couple of hours here before the last push home.
|Neath Ales Dewi Sant|
|Ceiling of the Royal Oak|
|Mick having fun turning in front of petty 'no turning' sign|
Our route is here