Yatton to Cheddar (night ride 11 miles)

It was that time of year again where we did a Christmas night ride. We were going to ride the Strawberry line starting at Yatton, 15 miles west of Bristol, it’s a traffic free route through mid-Somerset. The train to Yatton was packed to the brim; something I should’ve expected on a Friday teatime. When we got off the train, it was dark, damp, and bloody freezing. The previous few days had had the whole country engulfed in sub-zero temperatures; with a low cloud base today, the weather was slightly more clement at just 5°C.

We rolled under the Strawberry line gantry and plodded along the shale path, we both had good Cree lights, but visibility was low due to the freezing mist. In 2014 I rode this route in the opposite direction, but today was in the dark causing my sense of direction to be a little unsettled. As I was looking down at my ‘Garmin sat nav’ for a bearing, my mate cried out, and I’d thought he’d fallen off his bike, but his scream was in ecstasy as his beam of light illuminated a sparrow hawk flying off just five feet away from us. We crossed the Western road and carried on, there wasn’t much to see in the murk, but the blackness didn’t stop our olfactory senses from working; oh my God, the smell was rank. It wasn’t until the return journey (in the daylight) the next day we discovered what the pungent smell was; a sewage farm. If it smelt that bad in the winter, what’s it like in the summer?

On the other side of the ‘stinky pools’ (as the locals call them) is a road bridge over the original Strawberry line route. A little way on we turned right onto a permissive path through Thatchers cider orchard and I had visions of the gate being shut on the other side of the orchard, thankfully; it was open. We plodded on to Sandford station (now encompassed by Sandford retirement village), the entrance was open and I just wanted to show my mate the old station, but by the time we came back, a security guard had locked the gate. We rode back through the retirement village and retraced our steps back to Sandford station gate and continued on the cycle path. We went under a road bridge, barely visible in the dark and onto Winscombe green station, where there’s some station buildings inlaid into the platform.

Next was Shute Shelve tunnel; damp, and musty, it seemed to absorb the very lumen from our powerful lights and dripped cold water onto us as we rode through, at the other end is the busy A38. Across the road, there’s a short distance on the trackbed, before descending into the narrow streeted medieval town of Axbridge. This is a slight detour from the original line, but a pleasurable one, past King John’s hunting lodge and a massive Christmas tree. We continued on and turned right, back onto the original railway path now skirting Cheddar reservoir. Ten minutes later, we arrived at the chaotic Bath Arms hotel, our dwelling for the night. Every year on the first Friday in December, all the shops, pubs, and cafes of Cheddar open late into the evening, celebrating Cheddars annual festive night. In front of our hotel was the Cheddar male voice choir singing joyous Christmas carols, still in our cycling gear, we had our first thirst quenching pint (Thatchers cider of course) of the night while joining in with the carols.

We rushed into our room, had a quick shower, and strode back out to a blaze of fireworks. Once the starbursts fizzled out, Cheddar choir started singing again, only to be drowned out by Santa coming past on his slay. The whole town was shut off, bands and other musicians were dotted around the village, and nearly every house had some festive agenda going on. We wandered into the Christmas market and were immediately sidetracked by a little stall containing live owls, five in total including; a tawny, snowy, and a massive European eagle owl, two foot tall. My mate couldn’t resist holding one, and with permission he put a leather glove on, then ‘Thaw’ the gorgeous tawny owl sat on his hand. Later he tried to stroke the European eagle owl, this owl was obviously the reincarnation of Ebenezer Scrooge and thought the festivities were humbug, so he bit my mate (much to my amusement), but bear in mind; if it really wanted to hurt him, he could have effortlessly taken his finger off. We had a bit of grub and a few more pints before retiring back to the Bath Arms.

I forgot my ear plugs and couldn’t sleep because of the rigorous ear-splitting snoring of my mate. It was times like these, I envied people with hearing aids because they can switch them off! I couldn’t stand it and eventually had to drag my mattress into the bathroom where I had a good night’s sleep. In the morning, we checked everywhere to see if we’d left anything before we left- there were two sets of earplugs in the draws supplied by the hotel. We had a hearty breakfast and set off to retrace our steps back to Yatton.

  • Gallery

    gallery page Why not have a look at the gallery relating to this ride. Click the image or the title.

  • Cheddar station

    Cheddar station The Cheddar Valley Line became known as The Strawberry Line because of the volume of locally-grown strawberries that it carried. Built by the East Somerset Railway in 1858 and later operated by the Great Western Railway, it closed in 1963.

  • Thatchers cider

    Thatchers pub Stanley Thatcher was born in 1910. Stan was the real cider business pioneer, he was the person who decided to start making draught cider and sell it to local pubs. Since then there’s been several generations of the family, still making cider at Myrtle Farm.

  • King John’s Hunting Lodge

    There’s no evidence the medieval house in Axbridge, popularly called ‘King John’s Hunting Lodge’ ever belonged to the King. The building dates from the late Middle Ages, probably around 1460 and was a wool merchants house.

  • The European eagle-owl

    The European eagle-owl is one of the largest species of owl, and females can grow to a total length of 75 cm, with a wingspan of 188 cm. This bird has distinctive ear tufts, with upper parts that are mottled with darker blackish colouring, the wings and tail are barred. The facial disc is distinctive with orange eyes.

    Besides being one of the largest living species of owl, it is also one of the most widely distributed. Found in a number of habitats, but mostly in mountain regions. There have been confirmed sightings of the European eagle owl in Scotland in Galloway, and Invernesshire.

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