Travel · Uncategorized

Week 115: Bristol and Bath

In the early hours of Monday morning, Jacqueline and I woke up to an alarm and got on our bikes to head into the centre of town to the infamous Red Door. Annika had spent the last few weeks, and especially the last few days working very hard getting her thesis finished, and was now ready to hand in. Her deadline was supposed to have been the end of last Friday, but as the post is not checked between the end of Friday and the beginning office hours on Monday, she technically had a few extra hours to print, bind and hand in. Unfortunately, last minute technical errors meant that her appendices were rather messed up, but she had to hand in anyway. Jacqueline and I arrived as Krish brought in Annika, fresh from the printers. It was four in the morning, but Annika didn’t seem to care. For her, it was over. She handed it in to the out of hours box, and celebrated with a few photos lit by my very light bike light. From there, she went home for some much needed sleep.

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After signing in with the Trust the next morning, most of the rest of the week proceeded normally, with the caveat that by the next week Jacqueline and I would be jetting off for the Christmas period. But I was sick of being cooped up in Cambridge and needed an early getaway, so the two of us agreed to heading out on a weekend trip west. Early on Sunday morning, we got on our bikes and headed for the train station to head down to London, before riding over to Paddington. We had booked a weekend away in Somerset, and the first destination was to be Bath. The train was comfortable, except with the stress of trying to find a bike-accessible carriage on the GWR coaches.

When we arrived in Bath, we parked our bikes on the bike racks next to the train station and headed in to the centre of town. It was very busy and bustling, as it was the last weekend of the Bath Christmas Markets. We walked past them quickly, intending to come back later, before lining up to see the main attraction in Bath, the eponymous Roman Baths. I had been once before, back when I was studying in Exeter, but it was Jacqueline’s first time visiting. We took our time exploring the museum, reading about life in Roman Britain and getting our heads around the way the site had been maintained and restored. The main feature is the large open air bath, which has a viewing gallery around a top level. Down by the waters edge is enough space to get right up to the waters edge, but you cannot get in because of contamination in the pipes. The lower gallery also has views through two thousand years of history from the baths, up to the large abbey on the street above.

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After visiting the baths, we went out to a pub to get some lunch, which was much needed on a brisk and cold day. We then spent most of the rest of the afternoon exploring the Christmas Markets, which lined all through the the old streets in the centre of the city. It was full of people, and the stalls varied from old trinkets and antiques, to seasonal food and beverages, to furnishings and much more. It was easily one of the better Christmas Markets I had been to in Europe. After sitting for a while at the Parade Gardens on the river watching people filing into a rugby match, it started to rain, so we packed up and headed for the train to Bristol. Upon arriving into Bristol, we rode our bikes the short distance to our hotel, opting to grab dinner at a local Indian restaurant.

The next day was intended to be a day full of physical activities. We left the hotel early and cycled through the nearly deserted streets of Bristol. Unfortunately, the route we chose featured the devilishly steep Constitution Hill, which is much steeper than anything in Cambridge. But when we did get to the top, we got to ride over the famous Clifton Suspension Bridge, a beautiful bridge which is an icon of Bristol and crosses the River Avon in a large gorge. Across the other side was the Bristol Real Tennis club, on the grounds of Clifton College. Both of us had arranged a game on the court, which is one of the newer courts in the UK. Notably, it featured a viewing gallery high on the main side, which can be closed off for raucous club dinners and gave a rather unique view on the game.

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After our matches, we headed back across the Clifton Suspension Bridge to our hotel, where we got changed and ready to head out again. This time, we went to the train station and caught a train to Weston-Super-Mare, a nearby seaside town. We were going to go for a bike ride through the beautiful county of Somerset, with the goal of finishing back in Bristol. Just out of Weston-Super-Mare, there was a short climb up Bleadon hill, but otherwise it was a quite country road that hugged the base of the Mendip Hills. The first major town we reached was Cheddar, home of the famous cheese. We stopped here for a while, firstly going to the Cheddar cheese shop in Cheddar to buy some Cheddar Cheddar cheese. We sampled quite a few before Jacqueline found a spicy one that she liked. We then had a bite of lunch in a local cafe before heading on once again. Aside from the cheese, the other famous feature of Cheddar is the Cheddar Gorge, which features a nice road for climbing on a bike. We split up, agreeing to meet again at the top of the climb. It was really pretty, with sheer rock cliffs and a road that twisted and turned its way up the climb. Unfortunately for me, near the base of the climb I heard the characteristic twang of a spoke breaking in my back wheel. I got off to do some emergency repairs, trying to do whatever I could to true up my wheel so it would clear the rear brake pads. Eventually I reached a point where my bike was rideable, but my wheels would be nearly written off. Jacqueline had passed me when I was repairing my bike, and I caught her up again just as she was summiting the climb.

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For the next hour of the ride, we were up on the plateau of the Mendip Hills, battling with the wind and a bit of exhaustion before finally getting a bit of a descent at Harptree Hill. We had one more bit of climbing to do up Limeburn Hill, but we hadn’t made as much ground as we had hoped and it was starting to get dark by the time we reached the top. Jacqueline wasn’t too thrilled about climbing and descending in the dark, but fortunately as soon as we had descended Broadoak Hill we were in the streetlight suburbs of Bristol. We had our lights with us, so we were able to get back to our hotel fairly easily. I had been hoping to do a short detour to Vale Street, allegedly one of the steepest streets in the UK, but with a heavily buckled back wheel I didn’t want to risk it, so we went to the hotel instead. After getting changed, we went out in search of dinner, but most places were closed. We ended up on a strange detour not helped by Google Maps before finally arriving at a curry shop that would only give us takeaway. Nevertheless, we took it back to the train station to eat up. We took the train back to Cambridge via London, and had one more day to get everything ready for our bigger trip west still to come.

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