There’s a book by Tom Fenton called “Cotswolds mountain biking – 20 classic rides”.I had picked up a copy cheaply at the MBSwindon bike jumble earlier in the year thinking it would be a good source of route ideas. Imitation is a form of flattery after all.
I spotted an ideal solo training route in it: 59km (36miles) long with 1600m of ascent and looping from Nailsworth to Wotton under Edge. That would also serve as a recce ride for a future MBSwindon club ride since the last one had gone down well.
I live about 9km from Nailsworth so my total would be 77km (47miles). At 8km/h that would take 10 hours.
Noah’s Ark, my local bike shop, were having a 30th anniversary sale on Saturday so I wondered if I could add a detour there as well. This would require an early start on Saturday so I spent Friday night doing domestic admin and preparing. I fitted a new gear cable to my preferred bike for the job (Specialised Stump Jumper). Then I noticed that the brake pads were nearly down to the metal. Would I take a chance on Noah’s having them in stock on the Saturday?
As it happened I didn’t climb out of bed until 10am on Saturday. I had a massive breakfast and then sat around for a bit. Obviously the plans had changed a bit then. I didn’t feel bad about this – I was clearly knackered after another heavy week.
I finally set out at mid day with the intention to invent the route as I went along. My average speed on the old railway was 20km/h which was promising. I started with a hilly option over Minchinhampton common and down to Noah’s. At the bike shop I bought a half price rain coat, waterproof….anorak. Another big climb to check out some cheeky trails, over the common and down to Nailsworth where the route started.
After startling and then embarrassing a woman who was squatting in a gateway I followed increasingly muddy tracks to the summit of the hill. Passing my favourite descent (North through Hazel wood to the pie pub) I took a new option into Avening. I found a short trail through some bomb holes beside the track too.
I followed a series of muddy bridleways before turning onto a country lane. A massive headwind was trying to push me back down the road and I had to drop a few gears to maintain a steady speed. Apart from the wind which was generally being very annoying then weather conditions were pretty good: warm and not raining. The wind strength near Chavenage House was enough to make me a bit scared. Definitely the sort of conditions where branches could fall onto my head.
My updated plan was to make it to the Veleton bike shop in Tetbury before 4pm.
As I approached Tetbury I decided to take an extended route past the town. When I reached my turning point I decided that I could extend it a bit more. I continued extending until I reached Westonbirt Aboretum. The track outside the arboretum was several inches deep in sticky mud across its entire width so when I started out on the pristine pea gravel of the park I had mud and leaves stuck to most of the bike. This caused a few stares. Visitors pay to enter the aboretum but there’s actually a few bridleways and footpaths through the middle of it.
My map stopped at the edge of the arboretum so I took a bit of a guess as to whether a bridleway linked to a road. That meant I reached Sherston before I could turn east back towards Tetbury. I followed my nose down an interesting looking bridleway , powered the bike through several soggy fields and a big barn came into view that looked very familiar from about fifteen minutes earlier.
After my second trip through Sherston the light was fading so I powered up the lights and focussed on just ticking off a few sections of lane. I wondered if Veleton closed at 6pm rather than 5pm but even the later time was looking optimistic.
I was close to Shipton Moyne when the rear chain stuck a bit. I back pedalled and it fixed itself. But then it got stuck again. I’d had a few issues with the gears jumping during the ride. This was due to mud and leaves engulfing the bike until the front derailleur was completely hidden. I’ve done plenty of rides like this in the past.
My patience was a bit challenged when the chain stuck for a third time so I just powered through it. This did not have the desired outcome because the rear mech got dragged right round into the spokes and up round on itself. I stopped and reversed the wheel. The mech didn’t look right. I put my head torch on and took a closer look. I’ve had a rear mech before where a pin falls out and it all falls apart. This time all of the pins were there but the mech wasn’t going to work because the actual casting had fractured and split into two. Looking back, I should have stopped and taken a look at what was wrong but it was dark and wet.
I decided to make some mechanical modifications: I removed the mech and cut some links out of the chain to make the bike into a single speed. I reasoned that even a low gear would allow me to crawl home. With this completed I got back onto the bike and started pedalling just as the skies opened a heavy rain lashed down. My single speed conversion worked! Not for a long though – the chain tried to ride up onto the next gear and then went very tight. I’ve had this happen before and there’s not a lot you can do.
With the heavy rain, dark and now cold I wasn’t in the mood for messing about with chain splitting tools via headtorch so I made the decision to walk back. I guessed on about 20km aka 12 mile, so 3 hours of walking. That would get me home by 9pm which wasn’t too bad relative to a mid day start. I didn’t want to think too hard about how far I it was; I just needed to start on it.
The actual walking part was actually fun in an odd way. It was a wet and windy night but I was warm enough (once an extra layer was put on), I had food, water, light and a map. I had a large bag filled with 9 bars, Nakd bars, Mule bars and Carman’s Muesli bars. I should easily be fit enough, so it was just a matter of putting the hours in really.
A short section of main road was quite unpleasant on the way into Tetbury due to traffic. Once out the other side the route was quiet and in the dark blue sky of the stormy night I could see fireworks being launched from several directions. I walked past a road blocked by fallen branches at Chavenage. A tractor was being used to push them out of the way.
My route took me out into the fields via bridleways before linking to the main road from where I rolled down into Nailsworth. I then finished off with a tedious walk along the old railway line back to Stroud and finally made it home for just after 9pm. The walk at least had some symbolic value – my parents lived in Shipton Moyne when I was born and I lived there until I was a few years old.
- Total: 74km (45miles), 8h27m, 8.6 km/h (5.4mph) av moving speed 10.6km/h, 628m of ascent
- Ride: 50km (31miles), 4h31m, 11km/h (6.9mph)
- Walk: 23km (14miles), 3h56m, 5.8km/h (3.6mph)
- Proportions by time: 53% ride, 47% walk
- Proportions by distance: 68% ride, 42% walk
- Also a bonus 2 miles not recorded on the plot