This was my second and last chance to explore Somerset. I set out with my usual hope that it would all work out, despite the weather forecast. But it wasn’t long before things started to go wrong. Not having taken the bike to Taunton since 2009 it just hadn’t occurred to me I needed to reserve it for the last segment. One of the train staff at Westbury told me helpfully I could leave it at the station. As if…
Still I made it finally to Taunton via Bristol. With the campsite only 2 miles away mostly on a cycle path, and bike satnav, it was never really a problem getting there. I was surprised to see another cyclist had just arrived, who pointed out the owner was not around; just had to leave my name on a register. He suggested just pitching up. That other lone cyclist had somehow managed to compress a tent and whatever other travel equipment into neat little pannier cases around his bike, whereas my panniers hung bulkily on a rear 30yr old carrier frame, holding an air mattress+pillows, bike accessories and enough cereal bars to last a week. But also I had 65litre rucksack with my tent, sleeping bag and clothes on my back. I must have looked a worrying site to most motorists!
The campsite itself – in an orchard – was not too bad considering it was near the town centre. Empty except for other biker. So I carefully had to calculate how I’d pitch my tent a fair though not obvious avoidance distance away from his – not completely at the other end of the field and a trekking distance from the shower block. It took me a while to decide. But anyway most on bikes only stay one night, as it proved.
Before I’d unpacked my tent the owner arrived, got his payment for two nights – £14 less than the last Quantocks site! And not here the rigmarole of searching for my address on a database. I did get the impression the other cyclist knew the owner, asking him how he was. Or maybe that’s just some people’s more sociable demeanour than mine.
Finally I was pegging down the tent. But somehow I snagged my middle finger getting frustrated at the hard dry ground and bent pegs. The skin ripped off deeply; these accidents always seem so avoidable, wondering how I could have been so careless. Still I didn’t think much about it till the next day. Tiredness to took over. Even the incessant squawking of peacock/hens wasn’t enough to bother me.
The next day started brightly. Sun shining. It filled me with something approaching optimism, a quixotic hope that the heavy rain forecast would not materialise, that in these hilly parts there are more unpredictable local weather systems. I didn’t think to take my rain jacket.
From the outset the sky darkened. An hour into the journey towards the Quantocks the rain became torrential. After sheltering under trees at a roadside for it to ease to merely heavy, I pressed on to a fire-road connecting the main hill. Stopped again; ate peanuts, a mini cheese and a cereal bar under a heavily dripping tree. Feeling cold, my optimism had ebbed away.
At least one section of the main route was sheltered. But then was faced with the open hills. Well, I couldn’t face them, so found another grouping of trees and listened to Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-Trump tirade on my pocket radio until that gave out. My phone at least should be ok, attached to the bike and wrapped in clear baggie. Checked forecast: showers but sunny spells in the next hour. An MTBr with a dog passed by. He returned ten minutes later. Maybe even the hardened locals were getting defeated by it.
Eventually it became light enough to be tolerable. Sky brightening, I headed off onto the hill. But now I was starting to notice my sore finger, pressed against the next on the bar grip. Had a tube of Germolene … left in my tent. Damn! Perhaps it wouldn’t make much difference anyway in these conditions, I reasoned.
Reached the top of a ceremonial ground, then down a steep hill. Rain had stopped. Clouds cleared, the sun illuminated the spectacular view. Did an about-turn, climbed on foot. When back at the gate trying to empty a bit of grit from my shoe, a runner stopped by, wanting to know if that was good route. I gave my impression that it probably was. The number of possible routes can be overwhelming. I headed to West Quantockhead. Some decent trails and the views were stunning! I stopped to put tape and tissue round my finger. It helped. A bit.
Mostly sunny, the long hilly journey back was a pleasure on the small roads. Satnav on handlebars really removed the anxiety I once had of getting lost.
Finally reaching the town after 40miles I stopped off at an Aldi. Depleted of energy I picked up way too much food – nuts, crisps, biscuits, chocolate. At the checkout I was guessing it would be a pound or 2 over £10. But the cashier I was sure told me £18.21, and seemed to be confirmed by the little display. Pulling out two tens I somehow dropped a pound coin. But what happened next seemed strange. Incomprehensible, even! A child – perhaps no older than 7yrs, with his dad – picked up the coin and handed it back to me. Then I thought I heard him say something to the cashier, who then re-quoted me the price as £10.21. The kid’s dad, full of pride, was praising him, saying ‘Yeah! You’re my Power Ranger!’ But I was left befuddle. Did that child really correct the cashier? Was he some mathematical genius, who knew the total price of all those items? Or maybe he understood that the scanning system can malfunction – that a zero wrongly displayed as an 8. In my fatigued state I wondered if I had only imagined it.
Back at the campsite all I could think about was eating, and resting. Not even worrying about that potentially tricky train journey the next day.