Driving through the UK on long-weekends away from London, I'm often left gawping out of the window and wondering at what might of been were I moving through them on two wheels instead of four.
It's not always possible (not to mention practical) to have a bike permanently strapped to the back of a car you don't own, ready and waiting for any eventuality. Roads and routes are noted down and saved for later until the opportunity to revisit comes around.
With a bike squeezed into the back of the car and a short window of opportunity, I had the chance to tick one of those off my list.
In the depths of Somerset, sandwiched between two towering walls of craggy, grey cliff faces are several miles of winding, inclining tarmac snaking its way up to open expanses of countryside.
Starting in the town of Cheddar itself, the matter-of-factly-named Cliff Road — which brings you through Cheddar Gorge itself — kicks suddenly and aggressively, throwing up gradients of 16% within the first few bends. The road pulses as you push your way along it; thinning to squeeze through the jutted outcrop of an overhanging cliff-face; widening once more to frame the twists and turns of the next few hundred metres.
Levelling out, the road looked to be proffering a truce. I started to settle back into the saddle and my breathing levelled out. My legs settled into a steadier rhythm. With sight of the top came the realisation that the apparent truce was in fact a pause the breath, as the ground rose rapidly before me for one final attack that brought out of the saddle and over my handlebars once more.
From the top of the climb, I veered ninety degrees to my left, taking me onto narrower, still quieter lanes (and through a few more hills for good measure). Turning left at every opportunity, I closed the loop on the short blast of a route and soon began to keep the rewards of the climb. The fast, steep descents provide the first real test of the ride on my 1980’s, steel-framed commuter bike. As my speed moves up towards the 70kph mark, I feel myself physically fighting with it. The handlebars shook; the frame fed back every lump, bump and divot in the roads surface; the brakes let out a pained, high-pitched squeal.
This wasn’t just a fast and fun descent. It was a wrestling match.
Quickly finding myself back in there trough of Cheddar, I moved slowly behind the cars of passing sight-seers, past the cheese-based souvenir shops and tourist-trap coffee stops to bring myself back to the car. Front wheel off, boot open, bike in and, as quickly as I’d arrived, I was off again to head home to London.
One to be repeated and extended.