Friday, March 02, 2007

Quantock Hills Boy's Weekend

Introduction - By Ian
The Boys Weekend started with a group of 13 at Alan Miles' stag weekend at Litton Cheney Youth Hostel in January 1998. This takes advantage of the YHA's 'Escape 2' scheme whereby you can hire the whole hostel for your exclusive use out of season. It was a two night affair formed of friends and acquaintances and culminated in a gourmet Indian food feast of all you could eat for a fiver at Tesco in Dorchester. The pub next door to the Hostel came in very handy and was really appreciated by the Guinness drinkers on our return visit in 2004. The inaugural event was such a success that it has been held for ten years and taken in venues in Somerset, Devon, Leicestershire and Buckinghamshire. It usual centers around a day and half walking with an afternoon in the pub watching Six Nations rugby - provided (unlike this year) we correctly guess when the fixtures are when booking the hostel. The success of the weekend is down to good planning, camaraderie, plenty of beer and good basic food. Four years ago the group was augmented by the "biker boys" a more youthful group mad keen on taking to their mountain bikes, leaving the older members to enjoy the walking.

The 2007 Boys: Left to right
(Top) John, Al, Ad, Jon, Matt, Barry, Alan Q, Jeremy, Brian
(Bottom) Graham, Pete, Ian, (missing) Alan M, Phil


Thursday 1st March - Arrival
Ad and Al both bunked off work a little early to make tracks for the Quantock Hills Youth Hostel and, after stopping to ask directions at the nearest house, were surprised to find all the lights already on at 19:00. The first arrival was not however one of 'The Boys' but an electrician who was replacing all the fire alarm sensors. Supplies and equipment were offloaded, beers put on ice and the sound system set up in the sitting room while the repairs were made upstairs. Soon after the first can was cracked Ad and Al were joined by Barry who had a similar adventure finding the hostel. Ad and Al received a tutorial on the intricacies of resetting the fire alarm as Barry made himself comfortable but it was not long until they were all enjoying a drink together.

Over the next two or three hours various participants drifted in, introduced themselves and opened a beer. The bikers (above, left), keen to fuel-up with all the appropriate nutrients pre-ride, were last to bed at 01:30 after an ill-advised cocktail of white wine, beer, whiskey, beer and red wine. They even managed a sing-along as they bunked down for the evening.

Friday 2nd March - The Big Ride
We woke to the sounds of walkers making tea and fettling equipment ready for their hike. With military organization industrial quantities of porridge, bacon, black pudding, sausages, toast, beans and scrambled egg were cooked by the well-drilled team. Alan Quilter was getting agitated by 10:05 as the walkers missed the deadline for their departure; the bikers were some way further behind, nursing sore heads they sprayed and squirted lubricants on the various moving parts of their bicycles to protect them for the day ahead. However, by 10:30 the hostel was deserted and the bikers shot off down the hill at full speed, in the wrong direction. After much checking of GPS and map we turned round and walked the bikes back up Pardlestone Hill, abandoning the intended start of the route that had taken Al weeks to plan.

On a more positive note the weather was glorious after a rather damp evening the night before; we took a breather once we were up on the ridge to admire the view across the Bristol Channel all the way to Wales to the north (above, right) and across the plains to Glastonbury in the east and Exmoor in the west. Heads were pounding but spirits were high; out in the open air rather than stuck at work! The four riders made steady progress across the ridge (below, left), past Crowcombe Park Gate and over Great Hill without incident. We skirted the edge of Great Wood and had an exhilarating descent to Hawkridge reservoir about 90 minutes into the ride.

Diverting from the published mountain biking routes we followed the road round the southern edge of the reservoir and turned right onto a steep bridle path over Hawkridge common, which required the dismount-and-push approach up the hill. Things didn't get any better at the top of the hill as the path turned into a quagmire. We had calculated that our lunch stop was only 4km away but we pushed our bikes for at least one of these. Eventually the boggy bridle path turned downhill and we were able to slither to the road at the bottom. After a brief stop to remove the worst of the mud from our bike frames, brakes etc we followed the network of country lanes to Enmore and the Tynte Arms (below, right).

Bowls of soup and ploughman's lunches were ordered and followed by a selection of home-made puddings with custard. At 15:00 we left the pub having seriously revised the intended route which was meant to take us west via Broomfield and Cothelstone hill, picking up our outbound route at Triscombe. Instead we headed by road back to Hawkridge reservoir as the rain started to fall. The road route took us back to the Great Wood through Plainsfield; or should that have been ‘painsfield’, as the climb back up to the ridge was a tedious slog. Al, puffing and wheezing, had not completely recovered from his cold and scrabbled desperately for his inhaler in Ad's backpack every time he managed to catch up with him. By the time we reached the top of the ridge the rain was persistent, the wind had picked up and the temperature had dropped by several degrees; the boys needed a shower and a cup of tea but instead had 8km of trail ahead.

After a breather morale sank further as Adrian snapped his chain soon after setting off on this final leg. With little fuss and impeccable teamwork the old link was removed and a new link replaced in a matter of minutes, morale was restored and we were back in the saddle (a far cry from a similar incident four years ago which took more than an hour to resolve!). Puddles, avoided on the way out, were driven straight through on the way back to avoid delay (above, left). A strong easterly wind had picked up help push the riders home but the mist was descending to make the conditions even worse. Before long however we were at the top of the last major descent, a steep path down through the woods to the hostel.

Cyclists regrouped and checked the map a final time (Matt at this stage realising that his phone was completely water-logged). We then rode the last leg of our journey together and posed for photos, like four creatures from the black lagoon, for the incredulous walkers. Ian explained that fish and chips, and skittles had been organised in a nearby real ale pub; there was no dissent from the bikers. After hot showers Ad and Jon (christened 'The Chummers' by the rest of the group for renaging on the 'go hard or go home' ethos of the day) went for a nap in their bunks. Matt and Al enjoyed a cup of tea and uploaded the track from the GPS - 24 miles all told - and shared accounts of their day with the walkers, whose fellow GPS users had recorded about 9 miles, or 509 miles depending on whose unit was refered to.

The bikers return (left to right: Al, Matt, Jon, Ad)

By the time we piled into cars and headed off for the pub the conditions had completely deteriorated so we were glad to be in Graham's Land Rover Discovery and not back on bikes as we battled through the fog, rain and wind. Fish and chips at the Carew Arms were superb, the walkers generously (although not without some abuse from certain quarters) let the exhausted cyclists, even The Chummers, have the first portions.

Ian and Alan (right) declared skittles would be a battle of 'Old' versus 'Young': Predictably the veterans won hands down on account that the four 'young' cyclists made up a significant part of the juniors team and could hardly focus on the skittles let alone pick up a bowling ball. After two or three pints cyclists were home and in their bunks by 22:30, asleep by 22:32, woken briefly at 23:00 by Jeremy who decided to join their dormitory, and asleep again shortly after. It had been a tiring but satisfying day in the saddle and a brilliant way to unwind.

Route Map (click to enlarge):
Outbound Elevation:

Inbound Elevation:

Saturday 3rd March - The Walk

With aching limbs but a clear head Al got up, keen to make amends for his poor efforts at breakfast time the day before. All except Jon were grateful for a cup of tea bought to them in bed by Al before he took over the porridge duties (he had had serious issues the day before with Ian's method of microwaving a sloppy mixture of oats and milk until it was lukewarm then declaring it fit for purpose). Following Al's traditionally made hob-heated porridge the main course consisted of bacon croissants. With time to discuss the various options on their trek the day before the walkers had already hatched a fine plan for the day's activities, and a much more leisurely start to the day. 10.30 saw us pile into the cars again to catch the West Somerset Railway steam train from Watchet to Minehead at 11.10.

On arrival at Minehead the bikers and walkers again went their separate ways as Matt wanted to buy a replacement phone. While we failed to find any phones we did managed to buy some delicious pork pies before finding our way to the coast path around Blue Anchor Bay, which would take us back to Watchet and the cars. It was a glorious day; sunny and unseasonably warm; the bikers put their best foot forward and caught up with the rest of the part just as they decided to stop for lunch at a very dodgy looking pub - The Smugglers.

The bikers, fueled by pies, decided to push on without lunch but could not resist the lures of the more cosy looking Blue Anchor a little way up the coast. We were joined a few minutes later by the rest of the party; apparently the Smugglers not only looked dodgy but was staffed by a menacing rottweiler-owning landlord. After a couple of pints and a catch up with the football scores it was back onto the path which wended it's way through pleasant woodland at the top of the cliffs overlooking Warren Bay (above, right).

Al lets the other bikers test the way

The party had regrouped over a pint at the London Inn in Watchet before the short drive home. A traditional night-in was planned for the evening's entertainment with curry and beer bought in industrial quantities from Tesco.

After dinner the group retired to the sitting room for games of Scrabble (from left: Alan, Ian, Phil, Barry) and cards (cribbage and the more dubious 'shit-head', taught to the group by Ad) but the total eclipse of the moon trumped the lot at about 23:00 with everyone leaving the hostel to view the spectacle - widely reported as the best view of this phenomenon for 15 years (below). Concurrently, and almost to the exclusive interest of the two participants, a 'battle of the DJs' was waged well into the evening by Ian and Al, armed only with their MP3 players.



Sunday 4th March - Home
With arguments still raging about the use of 'zo' and 'wizen' during the scrabble the evening before [both later verified as valid, Ed.] the well-oiled machine ground into action for a final time. With breakfast of porridge and hot cross buns out of the way Peter and Alan Q bid farewell leaving the remaining Boys to clean the hostel from top to bottom. With everyone helping this was accomplished by 10am before bikes were lashed back onto cars, routes were devised and everyone was on their way.

The bikers would once again like to extend their thanks to all The Boys for the invitation to join this institution again - we had a magnificent time, the best yet!

Map of the area (Quantock Hills, near Bridgwater) Click to enlarge:


(Posted by: Al)

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16 Comments:

At 4:42 am, March 08, 2007, Anonymous Mrs BB. said...

Bacon Croissants!!! That's a bit poncey isn't it! Sounds like a fun weekend!

 
At 4:51 am, March 08, 2007, Blogger TCA said...

Soup, ploughmans and home made pud with custard THEN a fush and chup supper later! F**k me, when did you do the cycling? I agree the Smugglers looks a bit dicey.

Hey John looks semi pro with those goggles on.

Looks like it was a gooden, good to see the TCA biker boys out in force.

 
At 10:22 pm, March 08, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great yarn makes me feel young again. Is that little Alun Fowler in there? Last time I saw him he was on a tricycle!

 
At 10:32 pm, March 08, 2007, Anonymous Sloppy porridge maker said...

Is Mr BB looking at this? Send me that CV asap we need a good planner. Incidentally you missed a great time. The TCA has been invited to Strontian in the West Highlands for March 2008.

 
At 7:51 am, March 10, 2007, Blogger simon said...

what a great ride! looking forward to trying some of the beer in May!

 
At 9:21 am, March 10, 2007, Blogger TCA said...

Oi! Mrs BB, shut it! You should have seen the SIZE of the croissants!

 
At 3:58 am, March 11, 2007, Blogger TCA said...

Yes Mr B.B is looking. It looked like a good one despite the lack of rugby and sloppy porridge. Strontian eh? now that sounds like some serious off roading. No games of Killer this time?

B.B

 
At 8:14 am, March 11, 2007, Blogger TCA said...

BB, Already have the maps for Strontian but not planning a route, the plan went down the toilet after 5 minutes this year!

In fact we DID play k.i.l.l.e.r. this year - but with the skittles not the darts. All had 3 lives and you had to get a skittle down to save a life, skittles were only re-racked when they'd all been knocked down. Ad survived until quite late but fell at the final hurdle... close but no cigar.

Al

 
At 10:57 pm, March 11, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When is the next tca meet and where and at what time will refreshments be taken? Some of us wossies without bikes want to cut straight to the beer!

 
At 7:09 am, March 12, 2007, Blogger TCA said...

Anonymous: TCA Rule 6, subsection d - No Bike = No beer.

 
At 6:11 am, March 13, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fair enough. I'll stick to Rule 6a No bike = drink Creme de Menthe washed down by a snowball chaser.

 
At 7:52 am, March 13, 2007, Blogger TCA said...

SNOWBALL?!

I'm not sure you're cut out for the TCA.

Al

 
At 10:20 pm, March 13, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeh Snowball - that horrible coloured yellow dutch drink we used to drink when we were young.

 
At 1:44 pm, March 15, 2007, Anonymous casual browser said...

Just found this blog site - well done the TCA and the walkers. Seems to me that anonymous is pushing things - snowballs for god's sake! Just the sort of person to give the TCA a bad reputation stick to real ale drinkers only after all they are the real men and real women.

 
At 1:45 pm, March 15, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey don't slag off snowballs - the dutch know a thing or two you know. Mind you they would be hard pushed to find some hills to climb on their mountain bikes.

 
At 2:58 pm, March 15, 2007, Blogger TCA said...

CB, Thank you for your comments; fine sentiments indeed. Get a bike and come along - you are obviously cast from the TCA dye!

 

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