Saturday, 24 November 2012

The way I laugh there way up high

I have had a busy week with trips to London on Tuesday and thursday, both of which necessitated me being on the 6AM train from Temple Meads. Which means getting up at 4.30AM, and enjoying the delights of First GReat Western to Paddington, tube hell, and "don't know, don't care and I gotta go mate".

That is not a complaint, it's a FACT. When you add in yet more terrible weather, a dizzying spell of vertigo, which seems to come and go with varying symptoms, all add up to not much opportunity or inclination for riding the bike. And it's junior's birthday weekend (when a simple party transformed into a whole weekend requiring my presence I can't remember, especially since most of the time these days he does his best to not be with his parents) and yet again as it's persistenly raining I'm not out today or tomorrow either.

But yesterday I thought I'd go back to my cycling roots and try a bit of night riding. OK I was tired, it was Friday evening and pretty cold. But it had been sunny all day, I didn't have to get up in the morning so I thought I'd give it a go. I vainly tried to persuade the Cycling Mayor to come, but she wasn't having any of it, so it was just me and the night.

My earliest proper cycling forays were back in Devon, I rode my bike everywhere (a Raleigh Arena bought in a bike shop in Burnham for some reason).

Not just for fun but as a means of transport, and particularly in my part time job as a paperboy. The landscape of Torbay is not exactly flat, so every evening and on Saturdays I would cycle a round trip of 6-7 miles and a fair few feet of climbing to deliver the Herald Express to a disparate group of customers.

Most of this took place in the dark, or so it seemed. I had a set of lights driven by a dynamo which seemed to make more noise than my wheezy chest, but it kept me seen and seeing. I certainly had no thought of hi-viz or helmets in those days, and I'm sure the Highway code was fairly peripheral to my cycling.

When I got back into cycling about 10 years ago, the main time I would go out was after baby Junior was tucked up in bed at night, and though the lights and clothing had moved on, the darkness seemed to be much the same. Somehow I have got out of this habit, I think it's because I can't really be bothered to do short distances anymore, and the early starts with work are not conducive to hard efforts the night before.

Somerset has been inundated this week, but I wasn't expecting it to be quite as wet as it was. After warming up through Winscombe and Sandford I headed up the road towards Burrington, which was still full of the same type of large puddles that had hampered my journey home the night before on the A38. In a car. Being at the bottom of the Mendip slopes there was still plenty of water still coming off the hill, despite there being no rain for over 24 hours.

As I turned up the Coombe itself it soon became apparent that these were not normal conditions. The cattle grid was submerged, and once over it, the road soon took on the characteristics of a river. Which didn't make the climb any easier. It was only when I was about halfway up that the road surface went from torrent to damp, and I was free to enjoy the peace, quiet and spectacular views of a moonlit night ride.

I carried on along the road at the top, heading for Green Ore lights, periodically having to slow down for more deep puddles in the dips, occasional gravel and deep, thick banks of mist. As you would expect, the temperature would suddenly plunge every time I hit one of these, and my goggles would mist up immediately.

I headed over the first set of lights and then took one of the back roads into Wells, past the old Slabhouse pub. The mist played havoc with the vision, so I had to take it fairly easy, despite the good surface and there being few cars about. I tried to take a few pictures on my phone, but the camera isn't good enough, so you will have to take my word for how beautiful a night it was.

I had intended to take a flat route back, but realised that any of the roads on the levels could be flooded, meaning possible detours and delays, and although I had plenty of life in the lights, I wasn't too keen to cycle slowly, which I would have had to have done with all the debris about.

Nothing for it, I would have to go home over the top of the Mendips and headed for Old Bristol Hill. Which was OK because the slowness of the climb made it relatively easy to avoid the muck, water and gravel on the road. I would not be going down there at the moment though. I decided to stick to main roads and head for the gorge, only to find it shut when I got there. I thought about risking it, but had heard it was closed because cars were getting punctures. As the temperatures were plunging because of the absence of any cloud cover I really didn't fancy that, so I circled back up to Charterhouse and then down Shipham Hill. Which was also full of gravel, so I came down there with my hands on the brakes too.

A ride in the dark can be great fun, and I was pleased I went out, enjoyed the scenery, didn't get too wet and managed to get in a couple of proper hills to boot. And the timing looks to have been pretty good too, as I write there is more water tipping out of the sky and I can only imagine more gravel will be washed onto the roads and the lanes of the levels will be flooded. So good luck to anyone venturing out tomorrow, wrap up warm and take your flotation devices and pontoon bridges.


  1. Night riding on the mtb is always fun, and sounds like you might have benefited from same on your journey. Did you stop off in a back street to buy yourself a snort when in that Strange Town?

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