Thursday, 13 July 2017

CH2CH2CH - Day 3 - Wincanton to Clevedon and Yatton

Day three in the saddle and with 80 miles ridden each of the previous two days, Team Pannier were looking forward to a shorter, sixty odd mile ride back to Clevedon and the finish line at Yatton. They also had a schedule to keep as the football was on at 12:30. The big game in question was the play off semi-final first leg between Huddersfield Town (2 x Team Pannier fans) and Sheffield Wednesday (3 x Team Pannier fans). There were nerves on both sides, with the occasional conversation of the game broken up by the more immediate task of getting to the pub on time.

The first task however was getting to Frome for breakfast. As there was nowhere suitable in Wincanton the team had decided to eat what rations they had on them and rely on gels and chocolate to get them to their breakfast destination. That was estimated to be about 20 miles away using Google Maps. We all agreed we could just about do that on the two courses we’d had the night before.
However as we set off one rider wasn’t feeling the love. Jukebox, doing a good version of the Snickers advert, was not functioning properly on coffee and gels and was in no mood for talking, cycling or anything really. Add in some winding, climbing roads and he was not a happy bunny. Thankfully Rich chucked him a Frusli bar and within minutes, if not seconds, he was back to his old self.

Turning another corner, we rose again, another corner and another climb. Even the downhills were matched by turning and going back up, what was essentially the same hill. It was nothing major but with 160 miles in the bank from the last two days and not having any food for energy, the team found it hard going. By now there were aches and pains, with Chef’s knees causing him some trouble.
At this point the team weren’t in the mood when they came to a road closed sign. They had learnt from previous experience – there’s always a route through with a bike somehow. So on we pedalled, we were now in some beautiful grounds, with well-tended gardens and a lake below us. There was clearly something going on down at the lake but the team pushed on. Maybe they were in Longleat and further on than they thought, was that just wishful thinking?

They must have been half asleep at this point as it seemed like they had joined a triathlon. They had ridden in to the Stourhead National Trust grounds and they were clearly hosting a sporting event. Team Pannier were cycling right on to the course by the start and the people supporting and putting on the event were nothing but supportive. “You’ve missed the swim!” “Are you here for the triathlon?”. “Did we look like we were there for a triathlon?!” Andy responded. Off they rode, out the main entrance and on to the road, glad to have got out of the way before the “proper” athletes came through.

On the road the Team Pannier train was shifting at a decent enough pace and then all of a sudden a car passed. It was the vehicle at the front of the race, advising the stewards that the race leader was coming. Not only had the five of them found themselves in the race but they were now at the front of it. There were a couple of options and they considered stopping but thought that they might be there for a long time before the last rider went through. So the option was to try and out ride the person at the front until they could get out of their way. Hold on, there was another vehicle coming, this time it was the official Team Pannier support vehicle as Mule was making his way to Frome to advise on dining options.

One rider whizzed by and now they were well and truly in the race. Thankfully it wasn’t long before the route took the five off the course and they didn’t have to embarrass any more athletes for not being able to keep up with the might of Team Pannier!

Having thought they might have been in Longleat before, they were now at the gates. The gates that were closed to traffic. Spanners now decides to share his knowledge that the owner of Longleat had fallen out with Sustrans and the route through the grounds had been closed for a period of time. He assured (not very convincingly) that it had all been sorted and that it was allowed to follow the National Cycle Route. As proven with the last closed road, they weren’t afraid to try their luck and on they rode. After all, that previous road had only been closed for cars because of the triathlon.

The entrance and ride down to Longleat House was very impressive and it felt great to be riding as a team, heading towards the beautiful stately home. Arriving right in the middle of the grounds, our route took us alongside the house through a section saying “absolutely no access” or similar. Finally we took a hint and re-routed around that part. However our new route took us directly in to the house’s grounds, past the maze and food stalls. It was very surreal to be in there and, we think, allowed to be in an area you normally pay entrance to get in to

We didn’t hang around and started to head out of the area immediately adjacent to the Elizabethan Mansion. We were now passing members of staff in cars and none of them seem to be bothered, just smile and wave boys, smile and wave.

Now back on course it was time to take a left out of the grounds. “Strictly No Access” Oh come on. Really? What’s the worst that can happen? The team would soon find out. Now eighteen miles in to the no breakfast riding and it didn’t feel two miles away from Frome. The road rose and everyone creaked at the effort. Littlehorn and Spanners riding side by side noticed something along the route. There were little passing points on a road already wide enough for two cars. It had a familiar feel to it, what was it? Was this the safari park? Were the team about to be eaten by lions? “I’m not worried about the lions” said Spanners, “I just have to ride quicker than the others”.

Mule was ahead of us, scoping out potential places to eat. It had come down to another all you can eat at the Premier Inn or a local greasy spoon. The team opted for the latter and thankfully it was right on the scheduled route. Not only that but the milometer ticked over to twenty miles as the countryside turned in to the suburbs of Frome.

Now on a National Cycle Route, the five riders circled the town, heading down some off road paths that were shared with walkers. It slowed the pace and meant a bit of weaving and map reading. The front two passed a blind man being guided by his daughter. Ironically not seeing him until late, Andy braked hard and that was it for Chef. With nowhere to go he was on the ground before he knew anything about it. He now had cuts and bruises to match the pain he was getting from his knee.

Following directions sent by Mule the team suddenly found themselves in the middle of the town and able to see the café up ahead at the top of a small rise. Finally, food! You’ve never seen bikes parked up and locked quicker. What a treat we were in for. Fried bread. FRIED BREAD! Chris Froome can only dream of getting such performance enhancing nutrition in the Tour de France. “Full English” after “Full English” as the team made their way down the line. Not for Mule though. Oh no he hadn’t earned his, he had to make do with a sandwich.

As everyone finished their breakfast (and Spanners finished his additional piece of cake!), Mule Googled, phoned and eventually booked a table at a pub closest to the route around the time of the game. It was to be in Stanton Drew at the Druid Arms.

Straight out the door and straight up a hill. Can anyone taste fried bread? A tough start after breakfast and it was due to be a bit bumpy for a little while. Tired legs and heads were starting to show and with one of the navigators now in the car, there were just two people who knew where they were going. It meant keeping up everyone together was important and each wrong turn was keenly felt. The stress of keeping the team on track and with minimal map reading stops fell to Littlehorn and Spanners.

They were relieved after they found the Colliers Way (even if they did overshoot it slightly). This route would take them to Radstock. No more map reading for a little while and the team were able to ride two by two to chat on the traffic free trail. Signalling that a walker was coming or a dog was in the way was left to the front rider.

Spanners approaching a couple went right then left, signalling to the team behind to go left. “How rude!” said the lady as we passed. “Excuse me?!” said Spanners, unaware (as the rest of the team were) of what he had done wrong. Going back to “discuss” with the lady what her problem was. It turned out he’d muttered under his breath “make your mind up” but didn’t realise she heard him. Oops.

In to Radstock and Jukebox was on the front and, powered by breakfast, was leading the way as they went through the town centre. A small town, it was soon disappearing behind and below us as we began a climb up a long, steady climb. Jukebox really was on a mission, whether that was because he wanted to watch the game or have a pint no one knew but he hammered away at his pedals like an angry man. Every time the pedal came around he slammed it down and the same on the other pedal. He got to the top and turned around to see the devastation he’d caused on the Team Pannier peloton. Like Nairo Quintana he had ridden himself into form during the three week (read day) tour.

Time was now ticking down to the half twelve kick off and everyone was motivated to get to the pub in time. We were pushing on, stopping just to regroup to make sure we were on track and together at major junctions. Now on undulating main roads we kept spreading out and then regrouping. Going over a major roundabout the two navigators shouted over the wind “have you seen that next right” “yep” and with that Spanners road on and waited at the aforementioned right to wave everybody down the correct route. Jukebox and Littlehorn turning and heading down the road towards Stanton Drew.

It had now been a little while since they’d seen the others behind but time was tight and Spanners was waiting for them. There were no junctions for them to turn off so the pair got to the pub and quickly parked up to get their pints and join Mule in front of the screen. At this point the pair realised the mistake. Kick-off was 12 not 12:30 and the first half was nearly over. Oh and hang on, where are the others?

It turns out they’d missed the whole conversation in the café of where the pub was and had turned off and carried on the original route. Either that or it was an excuse for Spanners to get some extra miles in while disguising it as anger when the three arrived at the pub. Not only that but Andy and Chef had a coming together on their bikes with more blood and injury for Chef. Their reward was a beer and nice food in a welcoming pub, oh and a dull second half where nothing happened.

Saying goodbye to Mule as he headed off home, the five were on the final leg. No stopping until they hit the sea. While that wasn’t exactly true, it was a case of digging in and riding out those last miles. Cycling in the sun and heading to Chew Valley Lake. With Mule dropping everyone’s panniers / rucksacks off in Yatton, the team were travelling light. Down to essential supplies for the last hours, stripped of unneeded clothes and snacks.

Turning and crossing the edge of Chew Valley Lake, it afforded the team an excellent view of the massive reservoir – the largest artificial lake in the south west. From here they were in Littlehorn’s riding playground. Knowing the route from there, he promised only three more climbs before nothing but flat.

Chew Valley Lake
The first climb was from the other side of the lake and as they uphill, they headed towards dark clouds and the airport. By the time that rise had plateaued the wind had got up and the heavens opened. The only issue was that some had given their coats to Mule. This included Jukebox and Littlehorn who had been happily cycling along in their short-sleeves ten minutes earlier. Sheltering under the trees, others donned any extra clothes they had.

Now as they cycled towards the airport up the second climb, they faced a headwind and more rain. Waiting to cross the busy A road by the airport the cold air was there for all to feel. Still facing the wind they cycled along to the site of planes landing and taking off. Spanners let out a whoop and was off. He knew that the side of the airport signalled the start of perfect descent, winding through trees, safe enough to push on and so quick that the cars struggle to keep up or pass. The team regrouped at the bottom with Spanners declaring the ride down his favourite part of the ride that weekend.

Now was the tough part mentally, Team Pannier were to ride past Yatton, their final destination, in order to get to Clevedon and put their front wheels in the sea. Definitely front wheels. Isn’t it? Suddenly the team had a deadline. Littlehorn’s wife had to leave at 5:40, could they make it to Clevedon and back in time to look after the kids? Jukebox, always the gentleman, offered to go straight to Yatton “I’m soaked through and I only have a short sleeve top on”. The rest of the team gave short shrift to this offer and on they pedalled.

It was now typical Somerset level riding, with the remaining climbing merely a blip on the horizon as they crossed the M5. With a deadline focusing the mind, Littlehorn deviated the team away from the proposed route to hit the pier and beach as soon as possible. The only problem was going down a one way street. Mounting the kerb and crossing like a pedestrian. A right up a slight bump and there, in front of them was the sea “is that where we started on Friday?” one person asked. Clearly made an impression on them.

We Made It!
Photos were taken but there was no time for hanging about, there was a deadline to meet. Chef by now was feeling battered and bruised, with a bloodied leg and a grumbling knee. It can’t have helped with the increased speed. Suddenly rattling along at two miles an hour faster, at the end of a long ride, the team were chatting but pushing on.

Round the back rounds, a slight wrong turn (don’t you come down here all the time Littlehorn?!) and speed through Kingston Seymour (butts). Over the bridge by The Bridge Inn and they were on the home straight. Round the corner, in to suburbia. Bang on time they pulled up to the door.

The deadline had meant the end was a bit of rush with not much chance for nostalgia over what they had achieved over the past three days. The team celebrated with a cup of tea and a piece of toast. The bikes were loaded ready to head back north, showers were had and that was it.

Another great trip with a wonderful team. Chef battered but never complaining, Andy now seeming like he’s always been part of it, Jukebox not quite the broken man of previous years, Spanners guiding and fixing as always and Littlehorn still wondering where his next meal is coming from. Mule? Will he ride again? Will we always make him carry our stuff? Only time will tell.


  1. Excellent account of a fantastic three days! Always a pleasure to read John, thanks!