Wells, Mells & Old Rail Trail
Riders took with them a Brevet Card, they get stamps and answer questions as they go to prove they’ve done the distance and the hills. My Limpet, Red the Rocket, had helped me stamp the cards with ‘Start’ a couple of days before. So he got to ride a ‘helper’s ride’ with me the following weekend.
R has done hills before, some absolute crackers, often fully laden including in far off lands (Ireland – still writing that one up, check back soon). But he’d never done an Audax that qualified for AAA points, this would be his first.
Saturday March 14th
I picked him up from his mum’s fully fed and ready to go. Starting to the south of Bristol I decided to drive and park up for the day near the official start so as not to add to the distance. We set off just gone 09:00 in the cool of the morn; slightly overcast but the out look was good for the day, maybe a shower or two. A few rollers and we descend to Chew Magna and pass the Lake with The Mendips on the horizon and R’s first test, West Harptree Hill; we’d been down it several times but not up. Post ride I’ve found this is a Category 3 climb if you begin it from the West Harptree turn off before the main road crossing. R likes that!
He handled it sterlingly! Up over The Mendips we went, still climbing, chatting away. I’d set the RWGPS app to call out our progress every 15mins, R likes to know how we are doing; distance done, distance left, time, average speed etc. We’d donned our jackets as an early shower had got us at the bottom, confined to the heights of the hills and the only one for the day, but being March it was still cold and we kept them on for the rest of the journey.
What goes up must come down and it is a great down into Wells, on the Old Bristol Road, for our first stop for a brunch in a cafe by the market. We sat inside rather than use the actual control on the event. As we leave I stop off and thank Love Coffee Cafe for the caffeine service the week before.
Once through the market throng we skirt the cathedral close with its moat. R want’s to come back and have a look around at a later date.
Leaving Wells behind R spots Glastonbury Tor on the horizon; not sure if the event riders had such a good view last week…
A steep ‘bump’ ensues; R has defined terrain to his own specifications.
- Rollers: 1 – 30m
- Bumps: 31- 90m
- Hills: 91 – 325m
- Mountains: 326m+
We’ve done a few mountains; LEJOG day 26 and several on our trip back from Snowdonia.
We cross an old railway bridge, part of the old Cheddar Valley line, known locally as The Strawberry Line; this section was originally built by East Somerset Railway linking Witham Junction to Shepton Mallet and then on to Wells which this was part of. Wells to Yatton was constructed by the Bristol & Exeter Railway and was a separate entity, there being two stations in Wells; until the Great Western Railway amalgamation which made it a through route. Not sure if R actually listened to my history lesson but hey ho!
Another fast descent. This is the busiest section of the route but R holds his line and we soon fork off onto the B road through Evercreech. A special triangle spotted so we have to stop! Don’t worry, we were between parked cars…
The descent keeps going, gradual now but again a hill looms on the horizon; Creech Hill. Steep in a few places but more a slog offering a great view back across the Blackmoor Vale; don’t think R got to appreciate it too much though thanks to the hedge! Then whoosh, down into Bruton and back out the other side climbing once again before descending ready for the biggest test of the day: King Alfred’s Tower!
Slowly ramping up, with a small interlude of not quite so steep, before the final bit through the trees being oh so steep, with glimpses of the tower on the right. This is a Category 4 climb. R manages it without a foot foul, I’ve obviously got the gearing on his bamboo rocket just right, but he does find it tough; so do most!
What a grimpeur!
We arrive at The Red Lion shortly after, on the event this had a quick service audax menu of jackets with beans or chilli which the riders loved, today though the wait would have been too long and there was no seating available for kids so we continue and would grab lunch a little later. Another cracking descent follows down Gare Hill…
…as we make our way to Nunney and stop at a cafe near the castle. Food ordered we go for a quick glimpse of the castle before nestling back into the cafe to await our food. There is only another couple there but food still takes an age. We get chatting, they’ve done Audax before, The Flapjack is their favorite, they are mightily impressed with R!
Paninis devoured we move onto cake; courgette and pistachio, absolutely lovely!
But we are now on the limit of the minimum average speed; not that that really matters as for a Brevet Populaire it is an arbitrary number that I will probably reduce anyway in the future as I’m at the Arrivee during the event till the 200km riders return anyhow.
We whizz through Mells and on to the Colliers Way, the Old Rail Trail, a shared path that still has the track along one side. This is part of the old Bristol & North Somerset Railway; the northern end now The Whitchurch Way into Bristol. At Pensford it went over its spectacular viaduct, under which we went on the Avon Cycleway 130. This section is flat to begin followed by a lovely gentle decline into the old mining town of Radstock where the Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway also once crossed; forming the other part of the Colliers Way linking up with te 2Tunnels into Bath. This area was a hotbed of railways in adjacent valleys in the past with competing lines serving each.
I’m often asked if I’m a train buff. Not really, or I wasn’t, I just like maps and through my research for Great Western Randonnées I’ve picked quite a bit about old lines and infrastructure; oh, and who doesn’t love a steam train? I’m not interested in the numbers though…
Anyway, R loved it and soon we we’re in Radstock ready for the final assault. So far the route had been mainly big climbs, big descents with a couple of bumps thrown in. Now there would be the final steep bumps & hills in fairly quick succession. The first one we actually went off route and straight up the main road leaving Radstock, a more consistent gradient but still with the final left bend brute.
I’d been trying to get R to spin his gears more on the ascents rather than grinding up, it clicked on this one making the next ones an easier task. A short interlude along the tops of the hills followed by one last long descent through Hunstrete and we were at the final kicker of the day; I’d named this Woollard Hill in the past as it rises from that village but geographically it is actually Publow Hill, named after the village slightly west. It catches people out on the event and ramps up right at the end, a necessary evil a few kilometres from the end. Again R does it and I manage to capture an air punch at the top! Albeit a little blurry…
103km done, 1587m climbed (AUK calibrated), 1x 100 closer to his Brevet 2000 badge and his first 1.5AAA points. R is well happy with himself. Love him!