Day 16. This is the end

Travelodge are in independent Hotel chain not attached to any pubco and they, I’m sure, will say, that that allows them to focus upon providing good cheap accommodation. I will not argue: the room in their hotel at Cribbs Causeway, north Bristol, was large enough to take me and the bike with room to spare, the in bath shower worked well and the bed was very comfortable. You can order a breakfast at extra cost but I didn’t knowing that there were plenty of opportnities in the area. You have to pay £3 extra for 24 hours access to Wifi but it was blisteringly fast and well worth the cost.

I walked five minutes in a light drizzle to Redwood Farm, a Greene King restaurant. Plenty of choice and an ordering App a la Wetherspoon, the only problem being that it did not recognise my table: however they weren’t busy and ordering from a human being wasn’t difficult. I opted for tomato soup and chilli with rice and chips and some garlic bread – all very good. Having had an energetic day without a proper lunch I followed up with a huge portion of jam sponge with ice cream which was excellent. Adding a couple of pints of Greene King IPA gave me a bill of about £25 which was perfectly acceptable.

The downside of most hotels of this type is that they are next to major roads and if you want the window open you will have to put up with the noise. As a result I slept fitfully and didn’t feel fully rested in the morning but for £35 including the Wifi it was good value for money.

Today was always going to be an anti-climax. I’d completed my circumnavigation of Wales but I still needed to get back home to South Somerset. I thought about ringing one of my sons to come and fetch me but I thought that would be unsatisfactory. I’d left home on my bike 15 days ago and I should return on it, but my enthusiasm was low and that translated into difficulty in getting going. I set off at about 0930 and made for Morrisons to buy some Ibuprofen to cope with the saddle sore and a breakfast sandwich. My route took me past Filton airfield which played a huge role in the development of Concorde, indeed the first flight took place from Filton. Airbus use part of the site but the airfield is now closed. For some unknown reason the route I had planned took me out of my way and I found myself on major roads bypassing the city. I took stock, knowing that I wanted to end up on the old railway path to Bath and plotted a new route that cut the corner. Eventually I found the railway path which is the first cycle path in the country, developed by Sustrans between 1979 and 1986 and which I have used several times. It’s well surfaced and easy cycling. There were plenty of users, both on foot and bikes, in the sunshine. The wind was light but it was quite chilly in the shade.

I was making for the twin tunnels cycle route which burrows deep under Combe Down in Bath. The two tunnels were built in 1874 to extend the Somerset and Dorset Joint railway into the centre of Bath: unfortunately the cost effectively bankrupted the Company which was sold to the Midland Railway Company. The subsequently nationalised railway was closed in 1966 as part of the Beeching cuts and the tunnels remained closed until Sustrans formulated a plan to use them as part of the national cycle network. Combe Down tunnel at 1672 metres, is the longest cycle tunnel in the UK and was opened, together with the shorter Devonshire tunnel for public use in 2013.

Combe Down tunnel

It’s a quirky experience with low level lighting throughout and music playing at certain points.

The track emerges at Midford where it crosses a viaduct and the cycle route continues to Wellow where it finishes in the middle of a farmyard and joins the public highway. Unfortunately for cyclists, like me, who want to continue south the road dips down sharply to the Wellow brook before climbing steeply into the village. If Sustrans had been able to secure the route over the Wellow viaduct it would have saved me a great deal of energy.

Wellow Viaduct

I was now crossing the Mendip Hills with lots of steep ups and downs, some of which had me off the bike pushing but I was making progress, albeit slowly. With the weight I was carrying I knew that Gare Hill would be a challenge and I had to GOAP for about 100 yards but was pleased to be able to manage the top section in the saddle.

Next point of interest was Stourhead, former home of the Hoare banking family but now owned by the National Trust. It is famous for its 18th century pleasure gardens which, curiously, can’t be seen from the house.

Stourhead gardens

The cycle route runs straight past the front of the Palladian mansion house and then up a public road before turning right across the old airfield at Zeals which was operational for Spitfires and Hurricanes from 1942 to 1946 when it was returned to farmland. The main evidence is the old control tower that has been turned into a house.

I was now only about ten miles from home but feeling sore and tired. I gritted my teeth and continued past my grandchildren’s school in Bourton and up one more hill until I swooped down into the Blackmore Vale and the last five miles to Home farm, arriving very weary at about 4pm.

It’s been quite an odyssey. I’ve travelled 997 miles but age has caught up with me and 16 days (during which, extraordinarily, I was only caught in one rain shower) without a break is too much. Maybe I should consider an electric bike to help me up the more extreme slopes. There’s lots to think about as I recover from this trip and I won’t be back on a bike for several days but hopefully I’ll think of a suitable project for the future.

Thanks for reading. I hope some of it has been entertaining and educational. Wales is a lovely country and well worth exploring.

Chris

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