bikebritain News August 18, 2011

Greatest Cycling Climbs: The Somerset Slogs

bikebritain's Somerset Slog Part One : Greatest Cycling Climbs #01 : Cheddar Gorge 

These days, it's a challenge getting the life/work/bike balance. To this end I recently went on a customer visit to a place in North Somerset, called Claverham. Looking at (a) my evening schedule and (b) my locality, I decided to consult the Hill climbing bible. On the first page, Hill 1, was Cheddar Gorge. that was enough for me. I decided to pack the bike and head West 'fully loaded' so to speak. 

It was a good decision. By the time I'd gotten off the M4 the sun was beating down and you could tell it was going to be an outstanding evening. I soon found myself on the A371 heading towards Wells. This wasn't quite right. Thinking I had not gone too far off track, I parked up in nearby residential road. I hastily put the bike together, changed and had one last glance at the map. Basically back the way I came and pick the signs up for the Gorge thereafter. I had even remembered to charge the head cam so with that clicked into place I set off into the evening sun. 

I was right, I had only marginally gone the wrong way and cycling in this locality was hardly a chore. I followed the signs into Cheddar Village and took in the views. There's not much to Cheddar village, one suspects it gets it's visitor traffic because of the Gorge and nearby Wookey Hole. 

Cheddar Gorge itself only scored 3/10 in 'the book'. Having recently scaled some 8 and 9/10 hills, I reckoned it would not prove too tricky. If nothing else I would have squeezed in a ride when usually I would have found myself in the hotel bar. (I still did, it's just that I was there later and I had actually completed some exercise to 'earn' my drink!). I cycled through the village and almost immediately started climbing. The Gorge began straight away and it looked quite impressive. I took it steady, knowing that the stiff part of the climb featured a couple of 16% bends.

I continued, sunshine casting areas of light and shade across it's rock faces. The climb had been fairly innocuous so far. I passed a car park with a Peregrine watch going on and continued upwards. Just over the lip of this incline and round to the left the road got steeper. These were the bends mentioned before. Sufficient to get my heart-rate up and draw more breathe, the climb, however, was quickly over. It levelled out thereafter and I once again enjoyed the views. 

A couple of guys I had passed in the village overtook me. I stayed with them for a while but my heart wasn't really in it. I made it to the junction that allowed me to traverse the road above Cheddar, ultimately leading to a small village called Shipham. After another brief climb, I had been well and truly dropped. I pottered along enjoying new roads and surrounding countryside. You could clearly see the Bristol Channel and across to Wales. I followed the old black and White turnpike signposts to Shipham and then onto the A38. I knew the way from here; this was the approach I'd made in the car. One very entertaining descent later and one other cyclist overtaken I meandered my way back to the car. 

It may have been because of the sunshine, it might be because people are more friendly in North Somerset, but it was great to see so many cyclists out, who would freely acknowledge each other. I think everyone I saw either waved or said hello. Sadly, not like home at all. Returning to the car, I once again scared the neighbours, changing in the street. By this time my colleagues, who were already at the hotel were calling me, wondering whether they should eat without me. When I turned up 'looking like a tennis played', I informed them I'd ridden up Cheddar Gorge. Shaking their head, I was pronounced 'Nuts'. Nice ride though. And 3/10 was about right. 

The Somerset Slog Part Two : Greatest Cycling Climbs #03 : Crowcombe Combe

Thing is, I had my bike with me.....and Taunton was on the way home.......and Crowcombe Combe was just 15km north of said town. Be a shame to miss out on another opportunity........

This time the ride would be quite different. The hill itself was an 8/10 featuring 20% & 25% slopes during it's course. Apparently it was used as a hill to race up. I wouldn't be doing that. The village was easy to find set in the foot of the quantocks. Definitely some climbs to do round here. 

After asking an older lady for some local knowledge, well, where the public Car Park was to be precise, I once more unloaded the bike. (Note to file, maybe I should buy an estate). This ride was going to be a splash and dash. I needed to get home relatively on time so it was a chase of saddling up and slogging. I was off!

The book reckoned I'd be climbing almost immediately. That was absolutely the case. A tasty 20% greeted me to start with a hard left hand bend giving way to Tarmac that just headed upwards. I got into a rhythm, and cycled steadily towards the summit. The road surface was wet causing me to wheel spin in places. Although steep the middle section was ok. A couple of locals and lost tourists past me by, but on the whole the road was quiet. 

The real test came just before the top. Again the road veered sharply round to the left - and there, waiting for me was a 25% incline, beckoning me on. Having climbed for what seemed like quite sometime (about 2 km) this presented a challenge. It was only about 30 meters but I felt every revolution. I have come to realise that whilst I can ascend this type of gradient, I cannot sustain it for very long. Today, 30 meters was more than enough. Breathing hard now, I trundled over the cattle grid and coasted past the wild horses and sheep for a short while.

A brief piece to video later I was heading back down Crowcombe's Combe. Usually I like descending but I needed to be more careful than usual. I was in the middle of nowhere and the road was wet - to the point of when I was braking I was not confident I could stop in time for, well, much. Gingerly picking the driest line I could I returned to the car park. I had barely ridden 5km but I had had a decent workout. Bike dismantled once more, I headed home. That had been tougher than Bank Road 8/10). Not quite as tricky as (9/10). Not far off though. Still another, another 2 hills conquered and during the week at that. What's next........?

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