It was another solo ride, a bit of escape, a little pedal turning as the wind-down week to Strathpuffer starts. 18 very muddy miles, finally putting together a decent, mostly off-road, link between Stinchcombe and North Nibley downhill trails.
The ride started with a steady warm up through the Woodfield estate before hitting the tough bridleway climb to the golf course. Rather than follow the usual route, I braved a little singletrack exploration, following a lovely trail which undulated along the side of the hill, eventually dropping to converge with the main bridleway run to Stancombe.
A little road work brought me to another new adventure, a byway leading off the main road, identified that morning on Google Streetview. "Ah, why not have a look?" It was great; an easy off-road pedal up to North Nibley, and, from the look of it, a sneaky bit of swoopy singletrack running alongside, obviously ridden in by the local mountain bikers, perfectly placed for some fun on the way back.
The main climb up to Nibley was much easier than expected, My memory held visions of pushing the heavy downhill bike up a barely-walkable hill. In fact, it was a steady spin to the top, past the large number of walkers, all of whom were pleasant and happy to make way to let me past.
The view across the extensive Severn floodplains to Bristol is wonderful from Nibley, even more so from the top of the Monument.
I spent some time checking out the current state of the downhill trails, which are better than I have ever seen them. The trail pixies are a hard working bunch in those woods. Despite this, I didn't do a lot of riding. I just wasn't really in the zone for big stuff, riding solo, in XC kit, on a trail bike, with no pads and no recent downhill practice. The head was definitely saying 'no, not today' and so I headed back over to Stinchcombe, pretty content that it would be there for another day.
Stinchcombe downhill trails, however, are on the opposite end of the spectrum. Not because the trail pixies there are lazy, far from it, it was a fantastic (albeit smaller scale) play-place. No, it is now 'no more' because of mass felling. It's mortifying to see. So much hard work lost, just like that. Even the main bridleway has been torn up and overlaid with hardcore.
At least the field edge path had been given a reprise and it was still a nice pedal over to Breakheart Quarry.
Breakheart Quarry is a fantastic little community project. There is a range of facilities, including walking trails, a field centre, play areas for children and a purpose built mountain bike trail.
It's not a long loop, but it drops the entire height of the hillside with some great corners, a few small jumps and interesting traverses, before climbing out again on a very well constructed switchback climb. I have still not got over my surprise at finding such a great little gem in Dursley, and it makes me smile every time I ride it.
There is also a small café, with a coffee machine, honesty box, handcrafted seating area and recycling facilities for the cups.
The light was dropping. I had the lights in the rucksack, but the mud and steep climbs had made the ride feel tough and I was just about ready to call it quits. I cruised the easy Cotswold singletrack along the top, looking down over Cam, Dursley and the surrounding hills.
No matter how long I live in Malvern, Dursley will always feel like home. I sat on this bench as a toddler, and here it still is, 35 years later, overlooking the Severn and the Forest of Dean beyond.
Before the drop back to Woodfield, I rode over to the Weatherhouse, and just sat there a while, watching the light fall as the birds tried to out-sing the rumbling traffic of the M5.
It was so loud, and so peaceful, all at the same time.
Riding back to Mum's, I passed the tiny Quarry chapel. It is indeed 'small' and not 'far away'
A familiar field, planted and five minutes from home. Or twenty, as the case may be. Sticky, heavy, red clay took less-than-no-time to clog up the bike and stop the wheels turning. I cleaned the mud off. It plasticined itself back on. Eventually the field drops away a little, but only just enough to keep the bike rolling slowly to the gate.
More cleaning with a luckily available branch followed
But it wasn't enough and the chain spat itself off in a big mud-induced tantrum. I resorted to pushing, with a big grin it has to be said, through the estate and home to a horrified mother. Heh. 37 years old, and I have yet to grow up.