Of Gorges and Georges: (Cheddar - Clearwell, Glos) - When we were two little boys - CycleBlaze

May 6, 2012

Of Gorges and Georges: (Cheddar - Clearwell, Glos)

Some rode up Cheddar Gorge faster than we did
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THERE'S ONLY one reason to go to Cheddar. Or, anyway, there's only one reason that people go there. It's for the caves and then the gorge, a miniature mountain crossing that stretches beyond them.

Riding Cheddar Gorge is hardly crossing the Himalayas but it's the best that southern England has and there's no denying that it's spectacular even if it's brief. It can also be quite steep, especially at first as the road limbers up past the tourist attractions and the colourful tat and the extraordinary number of public toilets that such places involve.

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There is a notorious corner on leaving the village that is a good deal steeper than it needs to be. It sends anyone on a loaded touring bike clicking desperately down through the gears and it isn't to be taken too lightly on an unladen bike either. We shared the climb with a couple of hundred jambes rasées taking part in a cyclo-sportif, a mere 180km over the hills of Somerset, and our paths met at a junction of mutual astonishment. We admired they could get up the hill so fast and they marvelled we could get up it at all.

We left our bed-and-breakfast under the ever-cheerful smile of Amanda, who ran it with her husband.

"I think you've inspired Colin," she confided outside his hearing. "He'd love to do something like this. He was talking about it last night."Amanda used to work in marketing and her personality showed it. Colin is lighter of tan and hair, quieter, a man who worked for a helicopter company before deciding he'd be happier as a jobbing builder.

"People used to ask me if I could do something and I'd say yes whether I knew or not and then I'd go away and look up how it was done," he laughed. That was many years ago and his practical bent let him get away with it. Since then business has grown and grown and he is busy every day without ever having to travel far from Cheddar.

He and Amanda have been together for ten years - Amanda was married before - and they will get married later this summer.

"I want to get married in church," Amanda said, "because it's really important to me to stand there in front of God when I get married." After that they'll leave for their house in Turkey. Amanda was on the verge of sorting out a seating plan for the ceremony - she'd hoped for a casual reception outdoors, a buffet without formal seating, but the weather had made that too risky - but her heart wasn't in it. We had provided a good reason not to get on with it and the large sheet of paper on a spare table was as blank in the morning as it had been in the evening.

Cheddar Gorge wound through walls of rough dark butter before gaining enough height to approach the open plateau at the top. It led us to the plain which contains Bristol and it was near there that we had a date with George White, an acquaintance who had so despaired of my planned route round Bristol that he came out to save us.

Gentleman George
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George is a gentle man, a year younger than us, and with a father of 92 from whom he'd borrowed a car to reduce the journey between his house and the pub in which we had a celebratory drink.

"Not many people can say they borrowed a car from a 92-year-old father, can they?" he asked without much fear of contradiction. His father is still lively and independent but George keeps an eye on him, naturally, and his touring plans are on hold while he is still alive.

"After that I shall get out and about more," George said. "In Britain, probably, because I've never been one for languages, but you never know." Not that there's much of Britain he hasn't seen or, indeed, lived in. His family moved repeatedly because of work "and when people ask where I come from, I'm really in a fix when I try to tell them."

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George led us along a national bike route, one of many that have spread across Britain. Rather than pass through the centre of Bristol, as we had last time, or to its east as I had planned this time, it shadowed the Severn on narrow tracks and sometimes round giant industrial complexes on a route that was a tour in itself. It never lacked interest. And suddenly, without any sense of where we had been, we emerged at the end of the two bridges that cross the river into Wales. They hadn't been there when we last came this way. Instead there had beena little ferry which ambled between Aust and Beachley and saved the long journey round through Gloucester. The bridge, with its cycle path, isn't as romantic but there's no denying that it is an impressive structure.

George joined us for coffee and sticky buns in Chepstow, which being in Monmouthshire is in Wales although many, like George, call on history and tradition to deny it. We parted there and began the long, long climb through woods to Clearwell, a little beyond the castle in St Briavels where we stayed last time.

I didn't quite spoon Mike off the road when we got there but he was, er, noticeably puffed out.


The other Little Boy recounts:

I had a slight sense of foreboding about riding up Cheddar Gorge. First, I could remember little of the previous climb; second, I imagined that on a national holiday weekend the roads would be overflowing with tourists, other cyclists and cars. However, in the event although there were racing cyclists tearing up and down the gorge for fun but otherwise it was fairly quiet and I was able, in my own time to execute the climb.

The gorge is very steep to begin with and I was obliged to dismount and walk with the bike for a short distance, after which I was able to select the lowest gear and plod away until I reached the top.

After climbing out of the gorge we took a route towards Bristol. We approached Bristol well to the west via Yatton then picked up the national cycle route number 26.

In the planning stages of the trip, Léo was contacted by a fan of his, George White, who lives in the area of the Severn bridge, who offered to meet us en route south of the city. He kindly said he would lead us through by the easiest cycle friendly route to the Severn bridge which, of course, we needed to cross to reach St Briavels. In 1962 we took a ferry from Aust to Beachley but this no longer exists.

Now there's a bridge but 50 years ago there was a ferry
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We met George on the road and stopped at a pub to have a brief lunch before taking national cycle route number 41 for part of the way. Then we followed obscure tracks through industrial and residential estates then out to Aust. We passed close to the historical point where, in 1962, the only crossing was by ferry. The crossing jetties still remain. In 1966 the first road crossing by suspension bridge was opened between Aust and Beachley with an integrated second bridge crossing the Wye into South Wales. A second road bridge opened in 1996 carrying the M4. Our crossing was by a cyclist/foot bridge alongside the road on the 1966 bridge and is about 3km long.

We stopped for tea in Chepstow before completing our journey back into Gloucestershire and to a place just north of St Briavels (our original destination) in Clearwell near the Forest of Dean. We stayed at the Wyndham Arms Hotel, a hotel, pub and restaurant which was comfortable although we slept in the adjacent annexe.

Today's ride: 97 km (60 miles)
Total: 1,501 km (932 miles)

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