bikebritain News October 30, 2011

Greatest Cycling Climbs No.25 - 'Combe Gibbet'

The quest to climb 100 hills continues.....

I recently found myself in Somerset with an opportunity to metaphorically go left or right. If I went left, I would eventually arrive at a hill called Dunkery Beacon quite close to Porlock. However this also included a 120 mile detour and probably an additional 3 hours to my journey home. It is one of the toughest hills in Simon Warren's "100 Greatest Climbs" book and earlier in the week I had not been feeling well...it would take a big effort to manage a successful ascent of Dunkery...... Or I could head towards home and stop off at the small market town of Hungerford just off the M4/A34 interchange and climb Combe Gibbet. It also featured in the magic book, but was rated at 5/10. All things considered and the decision was made - all aboard for the Gibbet!

Hungerford itself is a picturesque town and worth a lunch stop if you're in the area. I found the short stay car park just off the main through road and did my usual trick of frightening the local people by changing into my cycling gear, basically in the street. I've finally worked out that the bike fits into the back of the car much more easily without the front wheel (obviously) and taking the seat post and saddle off. Within 5 minutes I was good to go, my first crack at a 'big' hill with the Zipp's on. Pumped up (the tyres that is, not me) - I rode off.

My usual navigational issues quickly arose as I once more didn't really know where I was meant to be going. A (very) small village called Inkpen was my initial target but there were no signs. I resorted to the modern miracle of GPS. Location fixed, I headed off in the direction of said village. I cycled through Hungerford Common, across a very substantial cattle grid and quickly found myself in the Berkshire countryside. The weak October sunshine beamed through some whispy clouds, strong enough to just about take the edge off an otherwise chilly breeze.

Inkpen is a tiny village made up of a clutch of houses and a Post Box. Blink and you'd miss it. Unfortunately, due to the combination of technical clutter I was carrying, having pulled out my camera out of my back pocket, my Iphone dropped on the road, chipping the screen. Not a good start. Coming up to a right/left junction I found a signpost for Combe Gibbet - just 1.5 miles away - so it was close. To my right and ahead I could see a ridge of hills. This had to be it.

I geared down and started spinning. The incline was minor to begin with. Just as well I had not attempted Dunkery because I was puffing and panting already. My chest felt quite tight. Maybe it wasn't going to be as easy as I had anticipated. The hill gradually became steeper and I cut my losses and stuck it in the granny gear.

However, unbeknown to me I had scaled the toughest part! The hill gradually eased off and I was rewarded with some commanding views of the surrounding countryside. I still wasn't entirely convinced that the hill was the right one so I continued down the other side, into the even smaller village of Combe. Realising my target had been accomplished I climbed back up the 'other' side to the top. Along the roadside were plenty of fowl of various types...and lots not looking quite so well on the road. In fact the hedgerow was positively teeming with feathered life.

After taking a few photos and doing another piece to camera I rode the route in reverse and enjoyed the descent. It had not been a standout hill climbing adventure and certainly nothing to get the best out of my new hoops. I thought my local Bostal Hill was much tougher than this though similarly rated. Nevertheless, the views were good and it felt good to get some autumnal air in the lungs. 12 or so miles later I was back at the car and ready to take the bike apart once more.

So now, back to the book......

To watch the bikebritain film of the Combe Gibbet ride, click here - http://www.bikebritain.org/video.php?id=66

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