If I needed any reminder that this ride was not going to be a picnic, it came today! The hearty full English breakfast at the Maltshovel was eaten without haste and for some reason, I am expecting an easy day. I'm still positive about riding the Cheddar Gorge and head from Bridgwater on very familiar roads that were along the LeJO'G route in 2007. Unfortunately I failed to ride into the centre of Cheddar and missed the scenic road to the Gorge. A big mistake! Instead, I took the A371 (The sign post stated Cheddar Gorge) but only afater climbing for a couple of miles did I realise that something was wrong and that I was on the road to Wells.
The lack of a reliable GPS has an upside. One of the personal successes of the ride is that I am overcoming that terrible male phobia - asking for directions! If you are unsure as to where you are heading on a bike, you just don't trust to luck! The demoralising realisation of having ridden for many miles along the wrong road and having to retrace your track is devastating! Looking at the map, I see that if I make a left turn then I can reach the top of the Gorge without having to return to Cheddar. I confirm this with a local who simply says "It's a bit of a climb, mind" I soon realise that this gentleman is a master of understatement! An impossible gradient and I'm soon reduced to walking. The walk is neither pleasant nor easy. There's none of the scenic grandeur of the Gorge itself, and just a gloomy tree-shaded mountain track that seems to go on forever. Whenever the occasional car passes, I reach for the water bottle to pretend that I have just stopped for a drink! Pathetic!!
I regain the road towards Compton Martin having missed the great views along the Gorge itself and am feeling none to pleased. I had also overlooked that there isn't just the Cheddar Gorge climb to deal with here in the Mendips. I've lost the best part of an hour at this point and my ETA at Cardiff, optimistically given to Roisin Kavanagh, great family friend and host for tonight, as 1500hrs is already blown away.
As yesterday, it is neseccary to return to Bridgwater at some stage to collect the car, and so I want to make it to Cardiff as early as possible, with Vinny Pippet, Roisin's husband driving me back to Bridgwater. The luxury of coffee and lunch is therefore discounted as time hurries on. Not only do I regret the decision to ride the Cheddar Gorge, I'm kicking myself for setting more than 70 miles for today's ride. The redeeming moments come around Blagden when I encounter the beautiful church and just prior to that, stop to take in the glorious vista of the entire Bristol Channel estuary and the south Wales coast beyond. It all looks so close...
The rain that has largely stayed away for nearly three weeks decides enough is enough and a series of heavy showers ensure that the water-resistance of my clothing is tested - and found to be lacking! To ensure that I'm not going to get lost, I decide to take the A4 and A403 to the Severn Bridge crossing. For a busy road, it isn't bad, with good cycle tracks and the sight of the muddy sweep of the river Avon and of the Suspension Bidge adds plenty of interest. Crossing the Severn Bridge marks another major milestone but even though the the sun is shining, I trundle across without elation. I feel listless, my feet are heavy and there is a strong westerly that buffets the bike.
I must have missed the cycle track sign post on leaving the bridge as I end up on a rough track going nowhere. I notice that the main road is not too far however, so carry the bike across a muddy field and up a steep bank. The road, unfortunately, is the M4 - not welcoming to cyclists! The access roundabout however is just a few hundred metres back so I walk to regain the A466 and then dog's leg to get to the A48 and head west. The showery rain again descends to further dampen my spirits and checking with Google Maps on the Iphone, I'm depressed to see that my Cardiff destination is still more than 30 miles away. The time is 1700hrs. I am wet, tired and wish I could find a Costa! Throughout last week, heading towards Land's End, the winds were fairly consistantly from the SW. Turning the corner at Land's End on Sunday has provided a great push from the same winds for the last three days. The tables suddenly turn again, and I head towards the evening sun and into the same strong Southwesterlies for the rest of the ride.
I arrived at Roisin's to be greeted with hugs and the warm Irish welcome, and was reminded of the line in that great Irish song, Come to the Hills, where it goes "...and the cares of tomorrow must wait til this day is done."