On the outskirts of the village of Butleigh Wooton, near Street in Somerset, is a small lane called Westfield Lane. It's a fairly innocuous narrow lane, single track, with verges and fields either side.
Today I saw one of the most stupid, as opposed to malicious or aggressive, bits of driving that I have witnessed for many a time. Doubly unfortunate because it came in the middle of a fantastic ride that I was part of, eight of us doing an undulating loop around that part of Somerset, enjoying some very pleasant Autumn sunshine.
Steve, Martyn, Russell, Stu, Rob, Mike, Paul and me had set out from Axbridge around 9AM and meandered over the land, via Cheddar, Westbury-sub-Mendip, Easton, Wookey Hole, Wells, Shepton and Evercreech, before rolling over the topsy-turvy landscape that stretches between Ditcheat and Glastonbury.
Our plan had been to head for Somerton for coffee, before heading back via High Ham and Pedwell Hill. Then came the incident on that lane.
The road in question is long and straight, about 4-500 yards clear visibility in fact. We were heading up a very slight gradient as we came onto the straight bit, as a white van rounded the corner at the other end, coming slowly towards us.
I was riding in the second position behind Stu. I thought the van was going to stop at first, at the big clear area at the corner, but no, he kept coming towards us. He was going so slowly that I thought he would pull over onto the grass verge to let us pass in single file. He did not. He wasn't going that fast, but there was so little room on the road, and any manoeuvres would be complicated as the road was coated in very thick mud.
Ahead of me Stu got through a tiny gap, I was going to pull over at a gap I could see ahead of me, only to find when I got there that the gap was filled with deep potholes on either side, a terrible camber and about three inches of mud/puddle. Somehow I squeezed through in the gutter, just after the said gap. I was about six inches from the side of the van.
Five second later, Steve must have also got through, but the rest of the group encountered the van with no gutter to squeeze by in. Whoever was first just had to break, and on that slippery surface, he had no chance of staying upright.
I heard the resultant crash as four went down into a collected pile of bodies and bikes, and fortunately the van-driver then decided to stop. If he had been going much faster he would have hit them, as it was a couple came to rest up against his vehicle.
Paul had banged his head on the ground, split his helmet with a follow through impact that had cut open his temple above his eye. Mike had a cut and swollen elbow and leg, Russell had cut his leg and Rob had cut open his elbow. All had varying degrees of mud over their kit, and the odd tear or too, a few minor adjustments needed to be made to the bikes.
Martyn had managed to unclip and stayed on his two feet, but the four most affected were all naturally shaken to some degree. Eventually all were dusted down and on we went, regrouping at the top of the hill, and decided to head for home the most direct way we could. As we were doing this the van appeared again, having turned around and come back up the hill.
The driver? Well it turned out he was driving some kind of works van, he was probably about 20-25 and he seemed to have no idea what was going on, or how he had contributed to the accident. His passenger, a young woman, offered us the use of a first aid kit, which I'm sure was well-meant but we politely declined. I did calmly point out to the driver that next time it might be an idea to pull over and wait, but I don't think he really took it in. The lights were on but no-one seemed to be in.
So we decided to do what cyclists always do in these circumstances and head for Sweet's café. As usual there were loads of other cyclists about, including some who had been participating in a hill-climb competition on High Ham, so just as well we hadn't gone there after all.
It's amazing what coffee and cake can do for you. The injured four all headed off together across the levels for their respective homes, looking for a chance to bathe their wounds, and get the sympathy of their families, no doubt. Rob head for home, and the Martyn, Steve and I decided to do some hill-climbing of our own. We all safely dispatched the steep ramp round the back of Mudgley, but shamefully Martyn and I had to climb off our bikes 100 metres before the top of Draycott Steep.
Hats off to Steve for holding up our honour with a fantastic climbing performance. There was just time for another near-death experience involving a mobile-phone-using driver of a people carrier as I went down Cheddar gorge, before we all headed home.
My route looked like this. You will have to connect with me on Garmin to see it, but I can confess that I have finally come over to the dark side and joined Strava, more for the comparisons with myself than anyone else. It's very interesting to know that I am ranked 329th of 600 or so people up a steep climb on the outskirts of Shepton Mallet, but I am more interested to know if I'm getting better or not. I hope it's moderately interesting as a way of displaying routes to readers like this one!
Anyway, here is the gang, relaxing and recuperating back at Sweet's! Fortunately, I decided not to photograph any of the MAMIL blood!
And of course, open goal and all that, this post wouldn't be complete without this.
Stay safe out there.