We are fortunate to have the Cotswolds and the Chiltern Hills on our doorstep, but it can get a little stale riding the same routes week in, week out, yet there is some great cycling to be had in areas that lie just a little outside our usual club run striking distance.
Every now and then, OCC offers members and non-members alike, the option to head out from Oxford in a fleet of cars and ride some unfamiliar roads, enjoying fresh scenery and new challenges, so when the first mini-OCC Tour to the Welsh borders was muted in June, there was a swift and enthusiastic take-up!
Having decided on a route starting in the Royal Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire and taking us over the Wye River and into the Welsh hills, the majority of the group met in a lay-by outside Eynsham at 8am, before driving in convoy under clear skies past Burford and Cheltenham, though Paul Antony was ‘dropped’ just outside Gloucester, after his single passenger, Mark Howard, (somewhat inevitably) requested a toilet break.
By 9.15am we were parked up at the rendezvous point deep in the Forest of Dean, and after some faffing about, we were off, threading our way southwards past Canop Ponds and out of the ancient oak forests, before negotiating the first climb of the day up a quiet valley of woods and pastures to the village of St Briavels.
From there we enjoyed a long descent down to the Wye valley, before crossing a bridge into Wales, spinning up another gentle, woodland climb, followed by an exhilarating, twisting descent into the village of Tintern.
Now Tintern is famous for the ruins of the Cistercian monastery, (pictured above) but more importantly for this group of cyclo-tourists, it is also the location of the very cycle-friendly Filling Station Café, where we were given a warm welcome by owner, Lou Kennedy, who serves up a pretty mean macchiato too! We even made it onto their Facebook page!
Tintern was also where we met up with Paul Lewis, who a few in the group knew from his days as a Zappi’s CC member. Paul, born and bred in south Wales and recently relocated to Abergavenny, joined us as we headed further west into Wales, enjoying lush, green countryside, panoramic views of the Black Mountains and wonderfully quiet and very rural roads. We didn’t meet a car for close on 30 miles, only having to slow for a horse and rider and a couple of tractors!
The route took us in a long loop that brought us back to the town of Monmouth, nestled on the banks of the Wye, which was the perfect stopping off point for a late lunch. Some tucked into pasties, others healthy cous-cous salads, but Webby, in flagrant disregard of Team Sky’s nutritional tips, tucked into ‘a small portion’ of fish and chips, perhaps not realising that we would have to negotiate a long uphill slog back into the Forest of Dean immediately after we set off!
Before heading back to our cars, we decided to make a 3-mile detour to Symonds Yat Rock, which offers what has to be one of the most stunning views in England. The viewpoint from the escarpment above the Wye River, overlooks a sweeping, text-book meander below, with wooded hills and fields disappearing into the distance. On a clear spring day like the one we were enjoying, the view is simply breathtaking.
Photo opportunities over, it was time to head for home, but the day’s fun was not quite over. The Forest of Dean offers some excellent trail riding and it would have been rude not to enjoy a few miles of the gravel tracks that make use of the old railway lines that once carried coal from the mines that used to abound in this corner of Gloucestershire. It was a final blast that took us back to the car park.
An absolute belter of a day: 72 miles and over 2,000 metres of climbing on wonderfully clear and great quality roads – far better than anything we experience around Oxford and no punctures or mechanicals.
The smiles and laughter at the end of the ride said it all and as we enjoyed a well-deserved beer in the garden of The Speech House pub in the centre of the Forest of Dean, the talk inevitably turned to “Where next?”
Watch this space!