Bristol Belter 2015

I saw the sign

So that was “summer”.  Hm.  It would appear to be September already.  The mob are back at school.  So, typically, the weather last week was pretty good, if not that warm.  I rode up hills with Alan, and went for coffee with George.  But I didn’t have much to do last weekend, other than doing my civic duty opening the Somerset Showcase on Saturday.  An weekend devoid of riding, people, things to do, with a reasonable weather forecast.  Sad face, etc…

Cycling time: 4:12
Distance: 61.1 miles
ODO: 10919.0 miles

Hello Thursday night.  A meeting and a few drinks later.  A sofa and a laptop.  Tipsy internet shopping?  No.  Well, ok, yes, actually I did do that.  A girl can never have enough frocks, right?  But I also pinged off an email and got me a press place to do the Bristol Belter on Sunday *grin*.  With nothing better to do I might as well be riding the bike, or maybe riding the bike is better than doing nothing.

So, civic duties done on Saturday, I cooked myself scallops and trout for tea, thanks to the Farmers’ Market part of the day, and got an early night.  I even managed to sleep better than usual, which made the early alarm call somewhat less objectionable than usual.  Though it’s still not exactly pleasant to wake up in the dark…daylight, daylight, wherefore wert thou?  But when it did make an appearance it was clear, and bright, and full of promise.  It was also blinding as I drove into the sunrise all the way to HQ at The Fry Club in Keynsham, which made driving interesting!


The car park wasn’t large, and it was still fairly empty.  Not a lot of riders expected?  It was probably more due to the way the event is/was structured.  The Belter has three routes.  Short – c.44 miles.  Medium – c.63 miles.  Long – c.100 miles.  Both the Short and Medium routes head south to the Mendips.  But the Long route starts with a 37 mile loop around the Cotswolds back to HQ before doing the Medium’s 63 miles.  So only the long route riders were the ones daft enough to get there for the 7:00am start, what with that first hour’s start slot being reserved for Long Belters.  The other routes got a lie-in – lucky s*ds 😉

start line rider briefing

So HQ was sparsely populated.  Having faffed in the freezing sunshine and put on all the layers I had with me, there were no queues for anything – neither registration, the toilets, or to leave.  Riders were leaving as and when they were ready, so I was one of just three when my ‘group’ was briefed and let go at around 7:30am.  Bye bye HQ, and very shortly bye bye fingers, bye bye feet!  Yes it was sunny, yes there wasn’t much wind.  But me oh my, it was cold!

Castle Combe pub Castle Combe church

It was odd out there.  It was very early.  The sun was, though rising, still very low, and casting exceedingly long shadows.  It was either very bright or very dark.  Chiaroscuro.  After a stretch of cycle path, the roads were deathly quiet.  As was the world really.   It all felt a bit unreal, or maybe even surreal.  Like I was just aimlessly cycling around waiting for the day to actually begin and it hadn’t yet.  It was also a bit worrying.  What with the sun being so low and in front of me it would be blinding any motorists coming up behind me…so it’s a good thing the residents of the Cotswolds hadn’t really woken up yet.  Furthermore, what with the signs for the long route being black arrows on a red background, they really didn’t stand out, and spotting them in the shadows was a bit tricky, so I was worried I’d miss one and get lost…

me and my shadow first food stop

It was very pretty out there though.  And, as I’ve mentioned, very very cold.  I was almost grateful for the fact that, in dribs and drabs and then one biggish hill, we were going up in the world, as it at least generated some internal heat!  Up on the top there, there were views over to the Severn Bridges and beyond, fields of gold with straw bales dotted around, blue skies, green hedges, and even a hot air balloon in the distance.  All very idyllic.  As was the cutesy chocolate box village of Castle Combe which the route then went down to, and which marked the turning point of this loop.  What could have been a nice descent wasn’t as, being in a wood, it was just too dark to see the dodgy road surface.  Still like I said, the village was pretty, and the climbing back out again wasn’t too bad.  Time to head back to HQ, with the sun behind me and no longer in my eyes, making it even easier to enjoy the scenery.

In an ideal world I’d have warmed up by now and, being back at HQ which was also serving as a food stop, I could have stashed my superfluous layers in the car.  Sadly I still couldn’t feel my feet so that wasn’t going to happen!  I did nip to the toilet and grab a bit of flapjack before heading off for the Mendips loop though; this time following white arrows on red which stood out a bit more.

waiting waiting waiting aquaduct

There turned out to be rather more climbing today than I’d expected.  And it wasn’t obvious either, various and numerous climbs lurked amongst the country lanes and under trees.  Deceptive.  And slow.  Scenic though, I even got to ride under a viaduct!  I gave in to the inevitable and accepted that today’s ride was going to take me a long time, and that I should stop fretting about it.  Well, I really didn’t have anything better to be doing, and I was riding my bike in the sunshine so…time to sit back, enjoy, chill out, etc.  Actually, less of the chilling, things were finally starting to get warmer.  At 11:17am precisely I realised I could feel my feet again, which cheered me up no end! 🙂

second food stop resting pair

I was heading for the very familiar but in the meantime all the back country lanes had me feeling a bit in the middle of nowhere, and a bit lost, and at one point actually lost.  Somewhere before Chew Magna I climbed up a gritty muddy hill to a t-junction and…nowt.  No sign.  Hm.  So I went back down the hill to find a few other riders riding up it.  So I went back up with them.  More climbing is good, right?  Still no sign at the top though.  Cue much consulting of maps and gadgets, before resorting to some semi-educated guessing!  We went left and hoped for the best.  Which worked.  Judging by how the next sign we saw was displayed we should have been approaching it from a different direction, but hey, at least we were back on the route.

bike break top of Westbury

From here on in I was going to be on home territory for a while so although I’d lost confidence in the signage somewhat, I knew I couldn’t actually get lost, which was nice.  After a steepish climb up to Hinton Blewitt, and some more wiggling, I popped out on the road to Litton and prepared myself for the long climb from Chewton Mendip to the top of the Mendips.  Which, at the top of the nicer way up there, up the delightfully named Torhole Bottom, is where the next food stop was.  Not that there was much food left.  It was staffed by army cadets of some sort.  Rather more of them than you’d have thought necessary, who were larking about rather more than necessary.  One of them topped up my water bottle though, whilst another counted the remaining bananas.  All 18 of them.  Make that 17 after I’d grabbed one and eaten half, having decided to take a seat for a few minutes in the sun and take a little time out, in keeping with the enjoying it spirit.

time for the Gorge with Guy riders behind on the Gorge

Right then.  Time to head for Priddy, and the descent to Westbury.  Which I do like.  Especially on my own.  Here however signage once again let me down.  Apparently I missed a sign to turn left on the way down.  Didn’t even see it.  Possibly because I was trying to avoid a u-turning MX5 at the time, or because at the speed I go down there at I need to be concentrating on the road surface ahead..  Either way, I missed it.  So having had much fun flying downhill, I ended up at the bottom, at the junction with the Wells road, with no signs to be seen.  Well more climbing may be good, but I certainly wasn’t going to climb all the way back up that particular hill just to see where I’d gone wrong – it’s a killer hill!  But I wasn’t lost per se, as I knew exactly where I was, I just wasn’t where I was supposed to be.  Having seen some of the route signs the day before when out and about, I knew where I could pick it up again, so rather than try and figure out where the route had actually gone, I cut across to Cocklake instead.  Ok, so I missed out a few miles looping through Easton and Theale and Wedmore, but I didn’t miss any hills out, and I cycle through there at least once a week, so I figured I wasn’t missing out on anything much.

overtaken on the Gorge rocky Gorge

Back on route, en route to Cheddar Gorge then.  Having made my short cut I had managed to get ahead a bit and actually found myself with quite a few other riders for a bit.  Two of whom turned out to be Jon and Guy.  Jon was actually on the ride, Guy was just along for some of the ride.  I only realised it was him when I recognised his as the voice of the rider apologising to the driver of the car that he’d just rear-ended…*grin*.  No harm done though.  Guy was actually supposed to be on a recovery ride and keeping his heart rate down to whatever b.p.m.  This didn’t stop either him or Jon from leaving me for dust up the Gorge as usual though!  Ah well 🙂  I did actually overtake some riders in my turn, wiggling my way up beneath the cliffs and through the shadows.  The Gorge was a tad busy, plenty of cars, riders, grockles and sheep that look like goats, but we all seemed to be getting on amicably enough, even around Horseshoe Bend which I always go up in the middle of the road.  The cars behind me didn’t seem to mind today, and I waved them thankfully by once I was done.  And soon Cheddar Gorge was done too, and I was back up on the top of the Mendips again, basking in the sunshine, and chatting to Guy and Jon who were at the third food stop here.

top of the world third food stop

It’s good to talk, right?  Especially as a lot of today’s riding was just me.  Normally it’s not until later on a sportive that I end up on my own, after the shorter routes have headed for home and left me out there.  This one works the other way around.  There’s always fewer riders doing whatever long route it is, and having been set off the way we were, us few were pretty well spread out.  And then later in the day on the other loop, all those shorter route riders were so far ahead that I never saw much of them either!  This also means the food stops later in the ride have been pretty thoroughly ravaged.  I think it might work out better the other way around – Mendips then Cotswolds?

lake view classic Chew

Right then, time to get back to it.  Having earnt a decent descent I was disappointed to be given the narrow wiggly gravely one to Compton Martin which was not at all fun.  *sulk*.  Still, at least I was on the home stretch now, and going pretty well, even if that home stretch did turn out to contain a couple of nasty hills, one around Nempnett Thrubwell and one really steep kicker at Norton Malreward which I was actually quite proud of myself for not walking up – it hurt!  (By the way, have you noticed what cool place names we have here in Somerset?)  That last final up also meant it was pretty much downhill from there for the last five miles or so back to HQ – always the best way for a sportive to end IMNSHO 😀

thatched Keynsham church

Finally my Bristol Belter was done, albeit a slighter shorter Belter than it should have been *grin*.  I was rewarded for my efforts with a rather nice Bristol Belter mug – which is far more use than a medal and far more interesting than a water bottle.  As it turns out, it was a very nice way to spend my Sunday after all 🙂

Cycling time: 6:49
Distance: 93.4 miles
Avg: 13.7 mph
ODO: 11012.4 miles

Bristol Belter mug