Different BritainsJuly 17th, 2015 | Posted by in UK
cheddar to Tintern
Climbing Cheddar Gorge is a good warm up for a day’s ride. We’d set off early before the sun was high enough to reach through the high walls of the gorge, offering us a quiet, cool road to climb. Goats wandered across, nibbling at the grass, the cats eyes, the white painted lines, indeed anything they could find to nibble.
Forget the famous climbs of the UK, someone should really compile a list of the top 100 descents and the one from the top of the gorge should be on the list. It felt like my ears were going to pop. We covered miles in minutes as we swooped down past grassy fields towards the Yeo valley. Home to yoghurt and sunshine. Finally, after days of rain we had glorious, glorious sunshine.
For most of the morning we followed the Strawberry line towards Bristol. This old railway used to take strawberries from the south facing hills of the Mendips to be sold in Bristol and London, but now in takes a mix of young and old cyclists past mini nature reserves and round suburb parks. We followed the Sustrans bike path behind Bristol, up and over the M5, past the landmarks that we see from the motorway that are still as unexciting up close: a bridge, a car park full of brand new imported toyotas, Gordano service station etc.
We cycled past thick grasses and wildflowers, ditches and hedges full to life. Behind, the concrete towers of a chemical plant, or a quarry full of dust. The bike path weaves together this patchwork of lives, the urban and the wild. The old and the new.
We had a relaxed lunch stop on a funny looking bench under the shadow of the Avonmouth bridge. I dried out my tent as we munched plenty of cheese and biscuits while we watched the cyclists go by. Two folks from Birmingham who were cycling to Cornwall. A Mamil out on a day ride who looked at us enviously. Only when we got up to leave did I notice the celebratory plaque which marked out that we had been sat on a sculpture rather than a bench.
I will skip over the bit about cycling over the Severn bridge. Because I am terrified of cycling over big, high bridges with strong cross winds. Needless to say, it was big, high bridge and there was a strong cross wind. Thank goodness that’s now over.
We then made my shortest ever trip to Wales. It lasted for two miles before we turned right into Chepstow and pedalled over the river Wye and up a massive hill towards the campsite.
The Wye is wide, fast flowing and deeply set in its forest-covered valley. The valley is so deep such that, perched on our campsite at the top of the eastern hills, we could not see the river but looked straight across to the fading hills on the far bank.
After dinner we set off down the hill to see the ruins of Tintern Abbey which sits opposite the Wye. The light was failing as we walked back through the woods. First I heard the scurrying noise of fast footsteps through the bush. Then the badge runs into the clearing on the path ahead. Stops. It’s head turns ninety degrees to look at me dead on. White and black stripes. Then it turns and run off. In the time that I can yelp to my Dad, another comes running out the woods and dashes across the path and disappeared after the first badger. In all my life I’ve only seen roadkill badges or, just once, some glowing eyes staring out from behind the bushes. In all the bridges, hills, buildings, and power plants it’s easy to miss and forget about this nocturnal life, hidden in the undergrowth, silent and yet unmistakably as much a part of the country as the landmarks of the day.
Now sat outside my tent, I watch the last bit of rainbow light fade. A few whisks of cloud on the horizon sit over over the hills. There is a faint smell of woodsmoke. The air is silent like a pool of tranquil water, each sound – a bird calling, a bell tinkling, a sheep baaing – is like a droplet falling from a stray branch that breaks, just briefly, it’s perfect stillness.