The radio woke me from a dead sleep with rap music and I groggily swung my legs over the side of the bed. I couldn’t afford to dwell in the warmth because there was no snooze on the alarm. I stumbled about, trying not to make too much noise but couldn’t seem to co-ordinate myself. I sat back down and rubbed my face in an attempt to wake up.
It was only then I realised that the rap music was still playing and the reason I was stumbling about so much was because it was dark. A car door slammed shut outside, slightly muffling the rap music, there was a squeal of tyres and the music receded into the distance at speed, accompanied by a roaring engine.
At this point my brain reminded me that I didn’t have a radio alarm on my wrist watch. And it certainly wouldn’t be playing rap if I did, unless Radio 2 had changed dramatically in the last few days. I checked said watch and it showed me it was 01:30. Time to go back to sleep! When the alarm did go off I think I might have felt even worse. And there was no kettle so I couldn’t have a nice ‘wake me up’ coffee. I had to rely on a caffeine gel. Not very palatable.
Despite trying to get out as quickly as possible I was still a minute slower than the day before! Must be getting more tired. Still, only today to go and then it will be the final day. Good as there really.
I creaked my way back onto the A49, which I had been following since Winwick, about 65 miles back, and was destined to continue along until just after Hereford, a further 56 miles down the road. Hopefully by then my body would have warmed up and I’d feel more like tackling the other 100 miles or so. The area I was cycling through was much more countrified than the day before and the A49 bypassed most of the towns along the route. As usual in the early morning, I was not feeling too good and was loath to turn off the road in search of refueling stops: I just wanted to plod on, churning the pedals around waiting to feel a bit more alive. But after 3½ hours or so I was running dry and knew that I would have to find somewhere to stop in Hereford.
As luck would have it I came across a roadside burger van a few miles before Hereford. A huge bacon bap and a large mug of coffee quickly rejuvenated me, both physically and mentally.
After Hereford I left the A49 for the A466 to cross the Welsh border and on to Monmouth. The route from here to Chepstow wound through the Wye Valley and proved to be one of the best stretches of the tour. It was very scenic, peaceful after the busy main road and was very easy riding.
From just south of Monmouth the border follows the River Wye so every time I crossed the river I changed country. Fortunately there was no border control or I would have been there all day!
Despite it’s charms the Wye Valley is lacks re-fuelling places and I was running on dry again by the time I reached Tintern Abbey. It was a warm day and the place was fairly busy as I cruised up to the gift shop. When I made my way inside there was a bit of a gathering around the chilled drinks cabinet where a group were deciding what to buy. Scanning the cabinet through a gap between the throng I spotted that there were hardly any bottles of water left. So with a brisk, ‘Excuse me!’ I reached through the press of bodies and grabbed the last 4 500ml bottles of water in the cabinet. They cost a fortune but at that stage I was more than happy to pay.
I was pleased to have filled my bottles before Chepstow because it meant I didn’t have to sidetrack into the town: having recently visited Chepstow Castle with my family I remember it as being very hilly. All I had to do was cruise down to the bridge and trundle across.
The trouble was I was in urgent need of a wee and everywhere was a bit urban. There didn’t seem to be anywhere to hide myself away. In the end, in desperation, I did a Paula Radcliffe and squatted down behind my bike in a layby, pretending to fiddle with the gears, with one leg of my shorts pulled up and a gush of wee hitting the tarmac. Not very dignified but at least there wasn’t a TV camera broadcasting my shame to millions around the world.
The cycle track on the bridge is a separate structure hanging of the side of the main bridge so you do not have to compete with the traffic in any way. Having said that I was surprised when a motorbike came speeding past. I’m not sure if they were supposed to be on the cycle track mind.
What you might have to battle with is the wind. The bridge is very exposed. In fact a couple of hundred metres on to the bridge there is a sign showing that the bridge is closed to cyclist in high winds with a gate ready to be locked to prevent entry. It was open on the day I went over – the idea of having to re-route via Gloucester [an extra 55 miles or so] didn’t bear thinking about. If I was planning to cross the bridge again I would make sure I had the 24/7 helpline number [01454 635 060 at time of publication] to check if the bridge was open long before I got to it so I could re-route early if required. [This is a pre-recorded service but if you wait until the end of the message you can speak to the Supervisor on duty, apparently.]
The A403 from the bridge to Avonmouth was badly cut up when I cycled it. It takes a major pounding by very large trucks as they thunder up and down the road. I turned off onto the A4 Parkway somewhere around Avonmouth, which follows the River Avon upstream into Bristol. This road was also very busy and I really had to try and keep my concentration up. On some stretches of the road there was a cycle lane but it would keep disappearing, forcing you out into the dual carriage way. The problem was that a lot of the road was too narrow for two lanes and a cycle lane. Quite frankly with the number of heavy lorries using the road it wasn’t really even wide enough for two lanes. But they put a cycle lane in where they could, sometimes with cars parked on it when the road passed through residential areas. It would have been safer if they hadn’t bothered. A cycle lane tends to encourage motorised road users to think it is perfectly safe for the cyclist if they drive right up to the line. Sadly cycle paths are rarely as wide as they should be, often with obstacles such as storm drain covers taking up the entire width in parts. So other road user are not expecting you to cycle close to the line or even have to cross the demarcation to avoid such obstacles. But don’t get me started on cycle lanes…you haven’t got the patience. I was grateful to turn off the A4, even if it meant a stiff climb up to the iconic Clifton Suspension Bridge, the engineering marvel of its day, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel in 1831. [Due to a number of complications the bridge was only completed in 1864, after (and in memorial to) Brunel’s death.] The bridge is more photogenic from a distance but I didn’t intend to descend the hill again so risked life and limb by standing in the middle of the road to take a picture.
I had nabbed the next bit of my route from somebody else who obviously had local knowledge. It took me off the public road and had me cycling through Ashton Court Estate, which was nice.
After re-fuelling at a small supermarket on Long Ashton Road I headed, via very minor lanes, towards the A38 which would take me all the way to Taunton. Sadly I suffered a momentary lapse of concentration.
I managed: 174.3 Flw Long Ashton Rd (-> Wstrn Rd) 2.5 km whr L – Wild Country Ln (if train – too far). But on the tiny lanes I thought I had done: 176.5 s/o @ staggered X onto Hobbs Lane but it must have been a cross that was unmarked on the bikely map. So when I hit the A370 where I should have gone over the staggered X onto Hobbs Lane I thought it was: 177.3 R @ X onto A38. So I turned right down the busy road which I thought was the A38 but was actually the A370.
It took me seven minutes to realise I had gone wrong. I know this because I texted home at 15:23 on joining the ‘A38’ to say I was near Bristol Airport, which was meant to be 2½ miles down the road. At 15:30 I was on the phone saying I was lost!
In my very fatigued state I couldn’t work out where I had gone wrong and it was only later that I pieced things together. I had tried the sat nav but came up against the same problem as the previous day: I rerouted and it was now sending me via Weston Super Mare [of course the real problem was that I didn’t know how to use it!]. So I called home and tried to describe where I was and my wife got out the road atlas and gave me directions to get back to the A38.
The directions were entirely correct but my interpretation of them on the ground wasn’t. I ended up going round in circles a couple of times and called home again. This time I worked out where I was going wrong and was soon on a very direct road to the A38 and back on route.
Now, if I had had a map with me I would have been able to see very easily how to get to the A38. But that was the choice I had made at the beginning and now I would have to live with it. My navigation team had done a wonderful job but the whole episode had cost me nearly an hour and added an extra 20 km to my day. Fortunately all I had to do was follow the A38 until near the finish so I wouldn’t have to keep mentally adding the extra distance to my route directions.
The next part of the route was very flat and I pushed hard trying to make up some of the lost time. I must have zoned out because all I can remember is wondering why the road always seemed to get busier whenever I approached a junction feeding onto the M5. I could understand it potentially being busier after the junction, if fresh traffic had joined the road, but couldn’t work out why it was busier before. I imagine it was a case of sod’s law, like you always notice that the other queue is moving faster, and it only seemed busier near the junction because I was more aware of it (because I had to avoid it). But in my fogged state it just kept rumbling through my mind, over and over, because my brain was too tired to process it.
Despite my fatigue my energy levels were pretty good. My appetite had finally caught up with me and I had made significant inroads into the pile of surplus energy bars and gels today. It felt very strange: my body was feeling really tired, beaten and bashed but I had loads of energy and could easily keep the pedals spinning around, even though I felt like crawling off the bike for a sleep. [At one point I even speculated that if I just had to cycle home (about 100 miles down the road) and not to Land’s End, I could probably just push on and not stop at all.] Thus I managed to keep up a good constant speed right to the finish at the B&B.
Having said, that the last few miles are literally a blur in my mind. My concentration had gone almost completely and the last bit was down some tiny lanes with a number of turns and junctions. I knew I wasn’t really up to it and was at risk of becoming completely lost in the lanes. If I did it was highly unlikely that the home navigation team would be able to save me from the tangle using a road atlas. So I switched on the sat nav. It showed me that I was on route with a lovely pink line for me to follow. So I followed it.
I knew fairly soon that it was not taking me in by the route I had programmed. There were a couple of junctions that I had looked at in detail using the satellite view on Google map and the sat nav was bypassing them completely. But, too exhausted to do anything else, I blindly followed the pink line. I’d been mulling over in my mind why the sat nav had been sending me by strange routes and the penny had finally dropped that when I asked it to rerouted it wasn’t taking me back to my original route but just getting me to the finish. At least I hoped so.
I hit the lanes. But they weren’t the lanes I had planned. Spin on. Twist, twist, turn, turn. Deeper and deeper into the spiders web. It was probably a good thing I was so tired, otherwise I would have worried more.
Hours later [it was probably a few minutes at most] I came to a junction I did recognise as part of my route. And then, a few hundred metres down the road, the B&B. More like a country mansion!
I scrolled through the bike computer menu: 265 km (165 miles) and an average speed of 23.4 kph (14.5 mph). By far the longest day. But only one more to go!
I checked into my suite [yes, suite] and collapsed in my lounge and watched the sheep through the window whilst I decided which bed to sleep in. Life is full of tough decisions.
When I had planned the trip I had envisage that each day I would find a local pub or similar to eat an evening meal at, although this never happened. This B&B was about 4 miles out of Taunton and when planning I didn’t think I would want an extra 8 mile round trip just to eat. So I had booked an evening meal at the B&B. Let me tell you that after a week of energy bars, protein shakes and the odd bacon roll, a pasta bake, salad and glass of wine finished off with an apple crumble and custard was like nectar from the gods. The only shame was that I couldn’t pack it all in. And this suite and evening meal combined had only cost £30. Bargain!