This Easter holiday I fulfilled a long held ambition to ride from Brighton to Bristol. It has always felt better to ride somewhere rather than just go in circles, but from Brighton the opportunity to ride out in one direction for the day are a little limited, with the sea to the south and London sprawling to the north, inevitably the armchair cyclotourist looks west. Just under 150 miles away, Bristol has always seemed a realistic objective for a days cycling and over the years I have spent many hours working out possible routes.I think I was partly inspired by one of my Grandads stories of a cycling tour that he took to Wales. It was before the war, shortly after he had bought a new bike with its 3 gear Sturmey Archer hub, in fact the very bike he is riding in The Photograph. The route was planned and the date set but disaster struck the day before they were due to leave, he came down Bear Road and his wheel got caught in a tram line on the Lewes road. He fell and suffered minor bruises and scuffs, but the rear wheel of his bike was badly buckled and needed to go to the bike shop. The plan was to leave for Wales in the morning so he went to find the friend from the cycle club he had sold his single speed racer to and borrowed it for the tour. After work the next day they rode to the New Forest and then on to Wales the following day. He often spoke about this trip, it was clearly one of the great formative adventures of his life.
I cross this junction everyday on my way to and from work and often think of My Grandad riding around Wales on his single speed bike.
I set off early, with my new bike loaded up with food, water and a change of clothes for the 5 hour train journey back home. I put my old saddle on the new bike, feeling that this long suffering companion should be with me for one final adventure.
There was a strong (17 mph) head wind all the way and by 50 miles in I realised I had completely misjudged the effort it was taking to ride into it. I was peddling just to go downhill at times and any schedule I had in my head was soon abandoned. I also realised that in my haste to swap saddles I had put the old one at a rather jaunty angle and my knees have not been the same since. The ride was a rather slow trudge through often flooded countryside. I found that as I got further west the fellow cyclists and drivers became friendlier.
I have been using MapMyRun on my phone to help simplify navigation and it has worked very well for me, allowing me to use my phone like a SatNav to help navigate some complex town centres and quieter, unsignposted routes. It has worked out very well and allowed me to explore routes I would not have had the patience to navigate using a map.
My phone allowed me to navigate to the start of the Sustrans NCN Route 24 to Bath. For much of the way the route was straightforward to follow and on very quiet roads. It took me through Longleat safari park. By this stage I did not have the legs to outsprint any big game so I was glad not to actually be in the enclosures, but the scenary was dramatic and the road surface beautiful. The final 14 miles of this route is along the new Two Tunnels Greenway into Bath. This follows the route of an old Railway line and passes over viaducts and though two really long and dimly lit tunnels (1700m and 400m). It was the highlight of the trip.
From Bath I followed another (thankfully flat) old railway cycle path 17 miles into the centre of Bristol. I was very impressed with Bristol as a city to cycle in but was glad to be on my train back home. I had ridden 162 miles, it had taken about 13 hours, my longest ever day on the bike.