September 25 – Sidmouth to Cirencester
We made Sidmouth our pitstop last night. We were there for a reason. We were there for a hill. A hill?? you may ask. Yes, a HILL, I say. We usually spend our time dreading hills and doing our best to avoid them, but this time we came because of the hill and we chose to climb it.
You see, we have history with this hill. When we were here four years ago, we met this hill on our fully loaded bikes and it has been an enduring memory. When we rode it that time, I remember a lady walking down the hill as I was riding up it. She looked at me pityingly and said, “I’m sorry, but it keeps going and it gets worse.” It did. Ever since then, I’ve wanted to return to the hill, so this time I said to Steve, once we have the van and we are mobile enough to get back down to Sidmouth, I wanted to see that hill again and I wanted to climb it again. Whenever we talk about our last trip, we only have to say “Sidmouth hill” and we know exactly what we’re talking about. Was it really so bad though? Was it really so steep? Had it just reached epic status over time and with embellished memories? I wanted to know.
We left the van at our hotel, which had been a delightful place to stay. It was a “country hotel” set in park like grounds and was like one of those English hotels from movies, where they might have people who are permanent residents. It seemed we were the youngest guests by at least twenty years and the breakfast was served very formally, but with the staff chatting to guests and asking about their day. “Hello gorgeous,” said one man to the smiling, jolly lady serving, as he sat himself down.
“Oh you!” she replied with a smile, obviously on friendly terms with the man, who happened to be sitting with his wife. They all chatted away, as she took his order for scrambled eggs and sausages with a round of white toast.
Everyone working there just took friendly to a whole new level. From when we arrived and the man who checked us in, said “Thank you very much indeed” at least five times, it had that special feel about it. “You booked with us just a short time ago. Thank you very much indeed. Just a signature there, thank you very much indeed…Now I’ll just show you up.” He escorted us up two floors, showed us the room, demonstrated the use of the lights, all the time beaming with the biggest smile that could possibly fit between his cheeks. It was all utterly delightful. But…I digress….back to the HILL!
We left the van at the hotel and pedalled out of the driveway, stopping to check for traffic as we began to run down the hill onto the road.
“Stop! Stop! Stop!” I called to Steve as I ran into the back of him with a THUNK. “My brakes don’t work!” I’m glad Steve could act as my crash barrier because my brakes were dead. I pulled on them and they went all the way to my handlebars and did nothing. The back of Steve’s bike had thankfully been my back-up braking system and I wheeled the bike off the road to check it. By then I could start feeling some tension in the brakes and all of a sudden they started working. All we could think was, we’d been transporting the bikes upside down in the back of the van and the brake fluid must have pooled, with the bike upside down and it took a while for it to get back through the lines. I must say, it made me very nervous to have started with dodgy brakes when I knew I had to come back down a doozy of a hill.
We pedalled down to the sea front of Sidmouth, through the pretty little streets and walked the bikes along the promenade to the base of the hill. The sign at the bottom, with the name of the hill and the beach was a reminder of what we were in for.
We started pedalling up and the gears cranked down.
“Eleven!” called Steve.
“We’ve barely started!” I called back. We were already at an 11% gradient and we were still near the bottom.
Up we went and it was a whole lot easier without the load on the bikes, but in no time flat we were in granny gear and pulling over for a breather.
“What are we at?” I asked.
“Fourteen,” was the reply.
We were already at 14% and had a whole lot more to go.
We passed a crew cutting trees on the side of the road and they waited for us to take a breather, then gave us the GO on the lollipop sign they were holding. We set off again, with the work crew giving us smiles as we pedalled past.
I stopped and waited for Steve to catch up. He came to a halt and stooped over his handlebars.
“I’m knackered,” he puffed. “We’re at twenty-one percent.”
We still weren’t at the top.
With some stops for breathers and a whole lot of puffing on the pedals, we made it to the top and that hill peaked at 24%. Yep, it was still a monster and it was still steep and it was still long! We’d done that with a full load last time though, so today was a cinch in comparison, but was still a pretty epic climb. Still, I smiled the whole way because it was just one of those things I’d really wanted to do again and the view from the top was as magic as ever. Even the ride up was lovely, through beautiful green tree tunnels.
After taking in the view, we started the ride back down, edging down so as not to slip in the wet. I stopped to take in the view from the other direction and then brake-cruise-brake-cruise-brake-cruised my way to the bottom. We’d done it again!
We pedalled back through the streets of Sidmouth and I was reminded of what a lovely place it is.
“I could live here,” I said to Steve. It had a quaint village feel to it, but is by the sea, with gorgeous countryside around. Village-ocean-countryside…ticks all the boxes for me! It also appears that the average age of residents is about seventy-five, so it’s nice and quiet too. Perfect! I decided I love Sidmouth and was so glad we were able to go back.
After the peace and scenery of time on the bikes, albeit for only a short time, we were soon back on the motorway. Booo! A few hours later though and we arrived in Cirencester, in the Cotswolds. We’re going to base ourselves here for a few days, so we can spend some time exploring the Cotswolds as a treat before leaving. We have seen some of the Cotswolds, but there’s so much we haven’t seen, so Cirencester is our base to set forth and see some more of this beautiful part of the country. Cirencester is one of the bigger Cotswold towns, but is still beautiful in its sepia cloak of Cotswold stone.
We walked through the streets on a mission to find some bike boxes. No luck at the first place, but we picked up one at another bike shop, carried it all the way back to our accommodation, then set off again. Found another one at a different shop, carried it back through the streets to our house, before heading back out again to get supplies. It’s dubious whether Steve’s big bike will fit in either of the boxes, so we’ll have to keep looking for a bigger one while we choof around the Cotswold towns and villages.
The bookends of today were fabulous. I loved the start in Sidmouth, a gorgeous little town and then climbing our memorable hill, through the trees and with glorious views, even though it was such a short ride. The bit in the middle, along the motorway, was blah, but I loved the bit at the end, arriving in another lovely place, walking through Cirencester with the Cotswolds around us. So…our brilliant days continue and our adventure goes on. We are draining every last drop of magic that we can and we’re not done yet!
Distance ridden: 5.2 km
Time in the saddle: 31 minutes
Weather: Grey, then rain, then just rain on and off all day. 17C
Our ride up the hill:
This is what the hill looked like on our complete ride, the last time we did it: