Nick Livermore discovers some of the smaller, grittier roads Somerset has to offer, taking wrong turns, enjoying plentiful food and falling foul of multiple punctures along the way.
Distance: 97 miles (classic)
Terrain: Mostly Hilly (3 main climbs)
Event Size: Medium
Cost: £27 (classic & standard), £22 (short)
Now in its 5th year – and powered by Giant – the Bristol Belter has become one of the city’s better known sportives. Styled as ‘the ideal event to celebrate the end of the summer’, it was with some anticipation that we rolled along to the event HQ at Bristol Cathedral Choir School Sports Grounds. Upon arrival we were met with a relatively modest set up, though the feeling was friendly and the supplies generous, with coffee, cake, fruit and – slightly sour – energy gels to be had.
The route plotted out was ultimately to take us south of Bristol and over the Mendips – numerous times – but first, we struck out west through the small lanes of Failand and Clapton-in-Gordano; the type of road that was in many ways to define the entire ride.
Following the obligatory red and white arrow signs the group traced the outline of the sea, by-passing Portishead and heading south towards Clevedon via a tricky little climb out of Weston-in-Gordano.
The views over the Bristol Channel and into Wales are always exceptional – except on the most inclement of days – and made for some enjoyable scenery as our trio buzzed along nicely towards Clevedon.
Just outside Clevedon we struck the first of what would be several ‘navigational issues’, as we missed a somewhat hidden signpost pointing in the direction of the famed Hand Stadium, around Kenn and back east through Kingston Seymour. Luckily, my wits were somewhere in tow and I quickly realised that we’d missed the turning, enabling us to about turn and get back on track.
Continuing out of Kingston Seymour and towards Cleeve – once again along narrow roads – we met the second nasty climb of the day in Cleeve Hill. Heads down, legs whirring and me wishing for the second time that week that I’d kept my 12-28 cassette, we bested the climb and in doing so met with the first feed station of the day.
My aim that day had been to come in under 6 hours and claim the Belter gold medal, a perfectly achievable feat… before wrong turns and punctures set upon us. After a quick descent into Wrington, following the arrows religiously, all race directions seems to disappear as we joined the rather unpleasant A38.
Confusedly looking at the less-than-clear supplied map for the best part of 10 minutes yielded nothing until a group of SAS riders we had passed miles back confidently cycled away, up a gravel-strewn road and up the devilish Burrington Combe. It soon became abundantly clear that we’d missed our planned loop of Blagdon Lake to the confusion of all involved; a real shame. Even if we did come in under 6 hours it wouldn’t count.
Still, things soon picked up with an incredibly enjoyable and fast descent into Cheddar, before climbing back up onto the Mendips via Cheddar’s famous gorge. Disaster! Perhaps inevitably, given the choice of small roads, my front tyre struck a slow puncture. Hoping it would last until the imminent feed station we quickly climbed, but it gave out a mere few hundred metres too early and I had to clamber off and make the necessary repair.
A quick stop and a little more air in the front tyre at the next feed station and we headed back down onto the Somerset levels for a speedy loop, before climbing back onto the Mendips once again via Wookey Hole; tiring to say the least.
From there we knew the ride’s end wasn’t too far hence and most of the difficult climbing out of the way. Heading back towards Bristol via Chewton Mendip and Bishop Sutton, the ride inexplicably took us along all too dimpled back roads, instead of perfectly good larger roads.
This time it was my rear tyre, which seemed to lose all pressure over the course of 1-2 seconds. Luckily, the gradient wasn’t too unpleasant and I managed to hop off safely, carry my bike to a safe spot and replace my rear tube while facing disbelieving heckles from my riding buddies.
Happily, the remaining 20 miles went by without issue via a last remaining food stop not far past Chew Valley Lake. Thankfully, the route found sense and turned away from the much-hated road surface of Long Ashton (when on earth will that be fixed?) and instead took us home via the newly tarmaced Belmont Hill. Long but not too sharp, we wrung our legs for all they were worth, before sprinting for the finish and a warm cup of coffee. Needless to say we didn’t make the 6 hour gold medal time, but we weren’t far off.
So, should you give the Bristol Belter a try? Well, if you can handle small, gravelly roads and the odd puncture then there’s no real reason not to; just make sure to keep your eyes open for slightly hidden directions. The climbs, views on offer and well-organised feed stations make the ride well worth it.