Welcome to the south-west

Moving to a new area of the country means a chance to explore new places on my bike. My criteria are hills and views. After asking around online – where are the best places for cycling in the Bristol and South-West area? There was one answer that kept coming up – Cheddar Gorge.

Cheddar Gorge is on the south side of The Mendip Hills, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It has been on my radar since my friend recommended we go on a rock-climbing trip last summer. After seeing pictures, I just had to go.

Gang of 1

The plan was to do a ride with Dee to Bath for a croissant and a coffee. However, she wasn’t feeling up for it. It was a bummer, but that did mean I could be more adventurous with the ride.

I included an additional 60km detour to Cheddar in my plans. Making this bad boy my first 100k ride with my new bike. It would be a test, and I hoped the hills wouldn’t be too outrageous. My usual habit of overdoing it seemed like it was on the cards.

I was going to need all the calories I could get. Dee was on the money with a king-sized breakfast, a hearty 8-stack of pancakes with all the trimmings. I was buzzing with anticipation, and by the time I was ready to go, the sun had broken through the clouds, matching my vibe.

Breakfast pancakes made by Dee.
Dee’s delicious pancakes – Cycling In The South-West – Cheddar Gorge

Bristol – Bath – Cheddar

Distance 102km – Elevation 1396m

Just another idiot, needlessly suffering

It was sunny, but the wind made sure it never felt warm. It was typically deceptive spring weather. I was cycling in shorts and a short-sleeve because I am an idiot that only learns the hard way.

I joined a couple heading the same way. The guy looked like he was having a miserable day, but his partner was enthusiastic and chatty. She said I was brave to be rocking shorts in this temperature. But I knew that was a polite way of her telling me that I would be freezing soon enough. It was my plan to put my jacket on ASAP.

I’m here for the pastries

The cycle to Bath was over before I knew it. It was time to part ways with my new friends and seek out what I came here for; I am hunting coffee and pastry. Today my search would have me low-key scrutinising Mokoko’s, in the town centre.

For the past couple of years, I have been on a casual quest to locate the best coffee shops. I have a theory that there is no place that is a master of both. Usually, they tend to specialise in one or the other. It is my life mission to find a place that disproves this.

The Inside of Mokoko looking out at the Roman Baths
Mokoko, Bath – Cycling In The South-West – Cheddar Gorge

Mokoko, Bath – Review

I picked up an almond croissant, a long black, and a cinnamon bun for later. One thing that stands out in my memory was the charming courtyard of the Roman baths and Bath Abbey. It was the perfect place to stop for a chill.

The pastries were crack-a-lackin’! The almond croissant was light, fluffy, and filled with frangipane. Crispy as you like and I was already glad I made the trip. A little bit too heavy on the icing sugar and a touch dry, but I am being picky. The coffee, however, tasted watered down, and the flavour was lost. Waaaaay too much for a long black. Maybe the barista was having an off day. Too much water makes that bitch an Americano.

Rating

Pastries – Very respectable 8/10.
Coffee – A lacklustre 4/10
Venue/Location – 9/10
Overall – 7/10.

Those pasties and that surrounding area are definitely worth checking out. They also do some fantastic looking sourdoughs. But get your coffee elsewhere.

What a treat!!! Delicious Almond Croissant and a watery long black.
Cycling Fuel – Cycling In The South-West – Cheddar Gorge

Here comes There goes the sun – du du du du

Back on the bike, and straight away, I was confronted by a hill. A smack in the chops courtesy of the A367, that went upward for 150 meters. Unfortunately, the sky had swallowed the sun and replaced it with an ever-growing, grey, gloomy cloud.

Welcome to The Mendips

I passed a dirty looking stone sign that officially welcomed me to The Mendips. Towns and cities had been replaced by farmland and hamlets. The roads that draped over the land became lumpy. But the prize for taking them on was a delicious scrolling view of the Somerset plains.

An old stone sign that reads - Mendip Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
Welcome to The Mendips – Cycling In The South-West – Cheddar Gorge

My friend once told me, The Mendips are full of witches and bad spirits. He was on acid when he came here, so I tossed his opinion out and will give you my sober thoughts instead.

The roads aren’t simply a means to travel from A to B. This place exudes an aura as if it was placed here for enjoyment. You are no longer just riding your bike, but the road as well. That sounded wanky, right?!?

The hills of the Mendips aren’t the longest or steepest, but there are lots, and the uphill meters quickly accumulate. It has been a long time since I have done a real bike ride. This was turning out to be a proper assessment of my fitness levels.

Welcome to Cheddar, baby

Soon, I was descending from the top of Cheddar Gorge. The road snaked downwards, twisting and turning between the gigantic rock faces. The further down you go, the higher the valley towers above. Shooting upwards from the edge of the road, the rocks are distracting. The technicality and the 16% gradient demand respect. One false move on this road can turn you into people pizza.

The massive cliff faces of Cheddar Gorge
The Cliffs of Cheddar Gorge – Cycling In The South-West – Cheddar Gorge

It was getting spicy. The danger increased because instead of looking at the road, I was craning my neck looking upwards. I shat myself when I overshot a corner and went onto the opposite side of the road. It was time to stop and safely admire how wonderful this place was. I could also scoff that cinamon bun I was saving.

Dessert - A cinnamon bun from Mokoko.
Delicious Cinnamon Bun – Cycling In The South-West – Cheddar Gorge

Racing the rain

Next time I come, I will bring my running shoes and get up there and explore. But right now, the sun was long gone, and the sky was threatening. I had a race on my hands. Still 40 kilometres from home and doubted the rain would hold off. It was the incentive I needed to push for home.

The climb out of Cheddar Village was the highlight of the day. It was a mix of pain and pleasure. A hefty punch in the thighs and I breathed deeply from the depths of my lungs. The scenery remedied the suffering, and I cycled home with a smile. My only criticism is that it was not long enough.

I passed through lots of quiet backcountry roads on the way home. With no traffic around, I felt free. This 2 wheeled machine provides a sense of freedom that makes me feel high in a way that I don’t see witches hiding behind the trees.

The clouds burst 20 minutes before I got home, but I didn’t care. I could handle a little bit of rain, knowing that I would soon have a cup of tea with a hot bath chaser.

Tom Hanks

Thanks for reading. Please share any unmissable cafes, bike rides, hills, or views that you know in this corner of the country, in the comments. You can read more of my cycling adventures here, or check out coffee shop reviews here.

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