Going up and over: (Litton Cheney - Cheddar, Soms) - When we were two little boys - CycleBlaze

May 5, 2012

Going up and over: (Litton Cheney - Cheddar, Soms)

It was puffing even more than we were
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THERE IS a big hill out of Litton Cheney. I have no other way of putting it. It sort of looks down at you and laughs as you ride through the village. We'd already had a brakeblock-warming session to get there, the steep descent to Little Bredy being much enlivened by a mechanical digger occupying the whole road around a bend in the opposite direction. Now we were going to pay the price of our fun.

The hill started just on the village's edge. I don't suppose, measured merely by its length, that it's that remarkable. But, by its steepness, it is. The gradient sign said 25 per cent, which I don't wholly believe but which I feel little inclined to contest. A mere one per cent here or there counts for nothing when your legs are cold and your stomach laden down with Julie's copious breakfast.

And so we walked. We got off within a few pedal turns of the bottom and we walked to the top. As walks go, it was beautiful. Dorset is about the prettiest county I know and we plodded up between damp hedgerows and to the sound of birds who gave nothing for our presence.

Time to cover legs as the temperature falls
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I remember that we thought the distance from Litton Cheney to Cheddar was going to make it a short day. I also recall that it didn't turn out that way then and it didn't turn out that way today. It may seem like a sprawl in the hay to ride just 88km but every one of those was hard fought. We climbed 1,084 metres today and each one of them on a wall-like hill.

Those metres all piled into the morning. We were eager for a pub, for anywhere we could melt into a soft seat and drink until we'd recovered. Instead, we took an invitation to join a village open day at the back of the single shop.

We were the only men in the room and, apart from a dark-haired woman selling woven things and dressed slightly like a gypsy to our right, probably the only ones under 85. We were surrounded by women with rigid, silvery hair who had long since stopped looking for their waistlines.They carried trays of cakes covered by clear plastic and fretted over where to put them. Somebody thought it could be time to put water on to make coffee and, when an ad hoc committee of three had agreed that, yes, probably it was, two went off in search of a kettle.

The women referred to each other as "dear". They clucked and scratched and fussed so much that anyone more prepared would have thrown in straw and a handful of corn.

I got up after a while, observing that all this spin was producing no traction, an dinquired about the possibility of a lump of cake.

"Well, yes, of course dear," a grandmotherly woman said with slight astonishment that anyone had asked. Until then the most urgent question had been whether to put the cream cakes next to the strawberry slices or beside the Dundee.

"Now, how much are we charging for cakes?" she asked the woman heading back with the hot kettle. "I thought perhaps 50 pence."

I said that was fine and found 50p and offered it.

"Oh no,"the kettle woman said, "I think perhaps 60 pence, don't you?"I was afraid for a moment it would go to a committee decision. I'd happily have paid a full pound. Instead, I got out another 10p and made up the last figure I'd heard and put it on the table and moved towards the food.

"Oh, I do hope you like it, dear," the first woman fretted. I said I was sure I would. When I'd taken my slice, she arranged the rest to hide the gap that I'd left.

We rode through Glastonbury, where pop festivals were held and where hippie-like couples still walk the street with organically fed babies in papooses. Mike will tell you of an extraordinary woman, born long before hippiedom, whom we encountered there. Four legs and two cyclists were content to enter the fen that half-circles Glastonbury to the north. They had to put up with a more troublesome road to Cheddar afterwards but what is such a trifle to anyone who has survived the hill from Litton Cheney?


The other Little Boy recounts:

Leaving Litton Cheney, there was only one way to head north towards our next stop in Cheddar. This involved a difficult climb up a 1-in-4 hill for about a kilometre. This is not rideable and the fully loaded bike had to be pushed all the way. It took me about 25 minutes.

I was finding that for such climbs a certain minimum level of fitness was required. I managed these climbs with a relatively short recovery time, so I was pleased that the hours in the gym and training on the road during the winter were not wasted. The Dorset countryside continued to impress and the weather improved from rain as we set off to a benign grey day with a few bright spells. When we stopped for lunch I began to feel the result of the morning's stresses on my knees. Overall we had climbed 720m. I began to fear the steep downhill run as they always preceded an equally steep uphill climb!

The glory of rural Somerset
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We headed into Somerset towards Yeovil, almost passing it by as we took a westerly route. Léo's earlier maps showed this route to be outside the town, but now the urban sprawl had engulfed the west side. Heading north we took the Roman road to Ilchester then north to Glastonbury where westopped for tea. We noticed that the little tea room was closed but due to reopen after some event. As we arrived at the door, it opened and out came a chirpy but elderly lady in a wheelchair who had clearly been enjoying a family party for which the tearoom had been taken over. We were informed that the lady was celebrating birthday number 104. She had 29 guests and had organised the entire thing herself. Léo remarked that it must be incredible to reach such an age and know that everyone on the planet who was alive when you were born is probably dead now.

After Glastonbury, we passed through rolling hills, a sea of oil seed rape giving a bright yellow patchwork in contrast to the grey sky. The countryside was punctuated by small villages with beautifully restored thatched cottages.

I learned over time to drink on the move. This required good technique which I could by this time perform without wobbling. Our overnight stay in Cheddar was at Bramblewood, a beautiful B&B property, constructed by the owner himself. His wife had a wonderful sense of humour and we were made to feel very welcome. I highly recommend this B&B. The rooms were spacious and well equipped and the breakfast included plenty of choice.

Today's ride: 88 km (55 miles)
Total: 1,404 km (872 miles)

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