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Tuesday, 25 November 2014

EVERYDAY CYCLIST (4) - A LOOP AROUND BATH

November 2005

I finally bought an alloy bike with carbon forks, seatstays, chainstays.
It was a Bianchi Nirone 7 with Campagnolo components, the Italian Job.
At work we kept talking of more adventurous rides, of trying something that wasn't London based.
With my colleagues Sam and Mike, we picked Bath. I knew the area as it was there I spent my first year in Britain back in 1990.
I had mixed memories of the place. I spent a year there at the Foundation Course in Design and the architecture is remarkable. But I had my interview for the College in July 1990 at the exact time that Italy was hosting the World Cup and ironically my hometown would host Brazil (of all teams) and Scotland and the stadium was a mere 10 minute walk from my house... while I was 1,600km away of course!
Back to the ride.
The journey there was filled with banter and loud music, as it should be.
We parked at the western edge of town where the tarmac section of the Bristol and Bath Railway Path starts. This disused railway has been converted into a cycle path and recently spruced up. I knew of it as I used to take walks there in my College days. It's basically flat and about 18km long, taking a roundabout route anti-clockwise west of Bath and up around Bristol to then drop straight into the centre of the town of Clifton Suspension Bridge fame.
The speed was curbed by the narrow path, which was also dotted with walkers, dogs and the occasional abandoned station, but it was an amazing way to start a ride.
We were bathed in countryside colours and smells (the good ones, not the manure kind).
The first part cuts through fields, it's flanked by trees and it follows the River Avon downstream, then along the Avon Valley Railway, a heritage steam train for the occasional tourist.
The path veers gently Northbound as it enters the outskirts of Bristol, in Kingswood. There we had to negotiate a few detours due to some works on the road adjacent to the path. It was here that I had a puncture. Now, if I have to pay a pound for all the punctures I've had over the years I'd be skint. Back then, however, it took the three of us a good twenty minutes of hard work with a stupid useless hand pump... that's our excuse, anyway.
After that came a rather chilly, dark and damp tunnel. With only one light between us we took it easy for the 500m of its length. Once out, it was almost all gently downhill until it came to a sudden stop at the rather downbeat Newtown Park.
From there we were going to ride properly, by that I mean Mike and Sam would go off at pace while I would struggle to keep up with them for most of the way.
We turned left and headed up the hill on the long slog that is aptly called Two Mile Hill (it does exactly what it says on the tin) on the A420 to Chippenham. It's not a hard climb by any means but we tried to take it at tempo, well Mike did with Sam's complicity, thus making hard work for our fairly inexperienced legs.
Like with most rides, the landscape was king.
The views from the top were mesmerising and once we crossed over our earlier route the road started descending, only to rise again, this time with more purpose, to the crossing with the A46, which takes the people of Bath to their cars' playground, commonly known as the M4, the artery between London and the Wales. Onwards we went down the next descent, this time gloriously long but the weather started changing and rain falling on us. As Mike was regularly stopping to make/receive phone calls (thankfully an excuse to recover) and the temperature dropped, we started to feel cold and in need for food. We opted for a pub stop.
On the fringes of Chippenham, it was time to turn away from the main road. Straight away we spotted a lovely country pub, the White Hart, set near the local brook and built in stones and classic slate tiles. It looked magnificent and to make it even better, it had a fireplace in the main dining room. We settled by a table right next to it and peeled off the wettest layers. A good hearty lunch was drowned with local ale. Before rejoining our route, we took a picture outside the pub to immortalise this bonding moment. Let's just say that the photo became memorable for all the wrong reasons: my lycra was not as thick and as concealing as it should be, as Mike has since frequently reminded me.
The road pointed upward straight away and we had full stomachs, not the best combination. Another experience to learn from, right there.
After this short sting, we hit a fairly flat section but the roads had a juicy combination of mud and manure, which made for a nice camouflage once splattered on our garb while riding through it.
A wide straight road took us to Lacock. It's an enchanting village, with half-timbered and stone houses, used in the set of many films. Entering its streets is entering the past. It is also the site of the first photographic negative, engineered by Henry Fox Talbot at Lacock Abbey.
No time for visiting, though, and on we went towards Melksham and from there to Bradford-on-Avon. It was on this section that I experienced my first proper bonk. There was nothing on the legs and I tried my first energy gel. That got me through the steep, yet short climb inside Bradford to take us on the ridge that trails the Avon. A short descent offered the view I did not want to see... another climb over Bath. I panicked, I really didn't think I could take one more.
Then the vision, a blue sign offering an escape route: the towpath along the river. By this time the evening was drawing closer and it was more or less dark. It was perfect, the route would be flat from now on and I was the only one with the light, which meant Mike and Sam would have to follow at my pace.
It was a lovely way to enter Bath, it felt intimate as it sinuously snaked in the middle of the town, peering in from a lower level from the roads.
We were elated, it had been a good ride with unforgettable sights. We finally reached the car and loaded our bikes. All that remained was the two hour journey back to London.
Or so we thought.
As we reached the motorway, my car decided to take it upon itself to ruin the journey.
For whatever reason, the car started to emit a very annoying beep every few seconds. We tried everything, undoing the setabelts, checking the boot, the aircon, airbags, everything but to no avail. Every 10 seconds or so, the beep. That damn beep.
We stopped at a service station half way through to grab something to eat and in the hope that on our return the noise would have stopped. But no. Not a chance.
When we reached West London, I dropped off both Mike and Sam at the station for they would continue towards central London by train. I shut the door, started the engine and... no beep. And it never made it again.
The irony.

RIDE STATS
ride length: 95km
ride time: 3h52m
average speed: 26.1km/h
total elevation gain: 466 metres
highest point: 216 metres


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