Day 8: Monday 24 May : Bridgwater to Bristol : 62km and 650m of climbing

Rain was predicted for this morning but it was overcast but dry.  We got up and got going by 8 and saw Bridgewater on the way to work and school as we cycled through.  First impressions are that Bridgewater is a drab town; but it has a theatre and arts centre and is the home of St John’s Street Cycles where we got tandems many years ago.  No doubt it has other attractions too but none jumped out as we cycled through on a pretty grim day yesterday..

Once out of the town we had “hillock” to overcome (i.e. a lump sticking 50m above the dead flat surrounding land) as the route took us over that. Then flatness and more flatness of the Somerset levels.  A relief after hilly Devon.  The sun was shining as we passed through a series of villages that were mainly former council housing – maybe agricultural workers.  Not the twee Somerset villages in the hills but working places with schools and community centres where bingo is played – and yes we saw adverts for this (but sadly our timing was amiss).

After about 28km we reached the village of Cheddar, at the base of the Mendip hills.  The Mendips rise abruptly from the Somerset levels, with Cheddar Gorge cutting a line through the hills.  At its base, the town of Cheddar seems mainly to be built on tourism, with the gorge as the main attraction.  It had the usual array of cafes and tea shops (almost all closed), gift shops and a few other places catering for the passing hordes like us.  We found one café that was open and sheltered there with coffee and an overpriced bacon sandwich whilst witnessing a cloud burst.  The rain came from nowhere, fell in buckets and then it was dry again.  It was quite a remarkable 10 minutes.

At one point we were in the gift area of the shop in lycra, rain jackets and cycling shoes when a brother and sister teenager pair came in (same red hair gave the genetics away).  They picked up some cheddar cheese and tried to pay us for it, and then acted slightly astonished when we said we were not serving staff!  Honesty overcame us as we directed them to the till.

Once the rain subsided we tackled the gorge.  The first 2km was advertised as steep – about 12% –  but hey, it was not Devon and so seemed pretty straightforward to us.  We had to pull around a few steeper corners but it was not too bad at all.  The scenery of the gorge was impressive, with the mist rising from the recently fallen rain now that the sun was out. 

The upper stretches were lovely and remote.  Not many people from the world of the tea shop make it to the upper parts and so we were on our own in this limestone landscape. 

The top stretched out for a few miles and then we dropped steeply down to Chew Valley, where the reservoir proudly told us it was started in 1950, was opened by the Queen before we were born (same Queen as now – totally astonishing given I am now 61) and contains 20 million litres of water for Bristol.  There was abundant birdlife, swans with cygnets and a tranquil air about the place. 

We ambled on, stopped for a picnic lunch on a bench in a village between Chew Valley and Bristol and then made our way around the outskirts of Bristol to our friends’ house where we were due to stay the night.  Embarrassingly, we were so early I had to go round the back to let Joyshri know we had arrived!  It was lovely to see them – the next stage of reconnecting with people post-lockdown. We stayed dry all day – missing the forecast hail showers in Cheddar and arriving before the persistent rain in Bristol.

We then experienced Joyshri and Parthar’s wonderful hospitality – more lockdown lifting.

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