Author Topic: ACME Grand as a DIY 1000km  (Read 2304 times)


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ACME Grand as a DIY 1000km
« on: 29 May, 2018, 07:56:30 am »
The ACME Grand as a DIY 1000km

Thursday 18 - Sunday 21st May 2018
I set off just before 9 from Dunmow and rode down to Witham to roughly mimic the 11:00 start of the calendar event. There were a couple of long weekends I could have used in May, but the forecast was good for this period and I would still have plenty of time to digest the experience and put some useful information out to riders in good time for 28th June start.

After controlling at Spa Road Co-op [these became a bit of a theme for the ride] and seeing ‘Other Steve’ there by chance, I headed back to Dunmow on the route proper. Aware of a fairly brisk northerly headwind, I consoled myself that it might help after turning west at St Neots, at around 130km. Cool and bright weather continued all day. St Neots was busy at ‘school’s-out’ time and after a brief stop at the ‘Subway’ I pushed on towards Towcester. There was a brief rush-hour traffic buzz around the Bedford Autodrome and associated industrial estates, north of Bedford, near the A5, then the route hooks up with the Hereward the Wake route at Sharnbrook. Much of this section will be very familiar to anyone who has done that ride, then the route turns off at the lovely Ouse valley town of Olney. A pleasant late afternoon run through Northamptonshire: Salcey Forest, Stoke Bruerne canal museum [where I stopped to take photos] and down past Towcester [‘Toaster’!] Racecourse and into town. Another Co-op shopping trip, remembering to use my ‘divi card’ for about £12 of food, mostly wraps and assorted Yorkie bars for night-time rations. I used a nylon bag slung over my saddlebag for the extra supplies.
More pleasant villages through into Oxfordshire and Banbury just before sunset. I didn’t need to shop here, so just had a look at the ‘Fine Lady’ statue at the Cross. If she were here today, she’d be riding a Harley with Bluetooth speakers, not bells on her toes…The B road run through to Shipston was quiet; lovely Cotswold stone villages, the wind dropping with the scent of wisteria hanging in the air. By Upper Brailes it was getting quite cold, so I stopped at the ’Gate’ pub for a cheeky pint of ‘Hooky’ and the chance to use their toilets to put on extra layers. The climb out of Shipston warmed me up, and the one out of Chipping Camden had me on the ‘granny’ for the first time [24/36/48 x 12-28 7 speed on ‘Ruby’ my venerable Holdsworth Mistrale]. I remembered to take it easy on the descent from the ridge towards Broadway, perhaps more cautious in the dark and with pothole sensors turned up to 11. [I nearly overcooked the sharp bend at the bottom once, with a full camping load!] Uneventful and fairly flat to Tewkesbury, I noted the 24-hour garage/M&S Food at Ashchurch, which would be a good alternative to Tewkesbury, where I just got an ATM receipt around midnight. The lovely run along the Severn into the start of the Forest of Dean was as pleasant by night as when I’ve been that way by day. If it’s clear and moonlit on 28th  June it’ll be even better.

The hills in the ‘Dean’ are unforgiving: steep, dodgy surfaces and relentless. The reward for climbing Pope’s Hill is a superb view along the Severn estuary, which again, should be good by moonlight. I admit to walking the last part – a combination of gravel at the turn onto the top of the lane and increasing gradient sapped my will. It was about 2 o’clock in the morning so feeling at a particularly low ebb; my excuse anyway. The hill from Littledean up to the ‘Mount Pleasant’ pub I’ve re-named ‘Mount Unpleasant’ as from this side the gradient continues to go up towards the top. On the return it’s differently tough. Due to potholes, parked cards and side roads [it’s the outskirts of Cinderford on that side], you can’t carry any speed into it and any motor traffic behind makes moving out for parked cars tricky. On the next hill up past the Dilke Hospital, there were signs of wild boars digging on the verge. Later I hear ‘noises off’ and caught sight of one as it moved into the forest. The descent from ‘Speech House’ is a cracker, with nicely cambered bends and a great whoosh to the bottom [and into the next climb, a grind up past Hopewell Colliery].

After skirting Coleford the route steps down gradually to Chepstow, just getting light as I crossed into Wales to be greeted by an intermittent hiss of escaping air…oh well, at least I could find a bench in the town to sit and fix it. On inspection, glass was the culprit and the front tyre felt a bit soft too, so both spares used. I decided to repair the tubes, only to find my glue had dried – shows how often I patch on the road! I pressed on with fingers crossed, through Newport on the roads rather than the cyclepaths past the steelworks, as traffic was still very light. To try and make up a bit of time I took the main road to Caerphilly: all the places I rode through seemed to have ‘please drive carefully’ signs, but was so disappointed I didn’t spot a ‘please drive caerphilly’ one in Carefully!

I opted for the scenic hilly route over Eglwysilian Common to Pontypridd, with its slightly scary, twisty 20% descent. I found a Halfords after asking directions a few times and acquired spares, then headed to the Wetherspoons for breakfast. I reckoned I was about an hour and a half down on my rough schedule – not that I was under any pressure, but I didn’t want to keep my hosts for Friday night up too late. I did a quick stop at the Co-op on the outskirts of Barry, then headed back up on the next stage to Tonypandy. The road out of Barry was one of my concerns, as it’s intermittently wide and fast, then almost laney and narrow, with a few climbs to slow any following traffic, but at the times I went through I didn’t have any problems. Perhaps not a road for large groups at rush hour though?

Tonypandy seemed a bustling but poor town; lots of small shops and a market in full swing. Typical of the former mining towns in The Valleys, I think. Again, a quick convenience store stop and an ATM for proof-of-passage. The valley road continued up through Treorchy and Treherbert; quite congested at times, being towards the middle of the day, so a little road-ninja technique required at traffic lights and other bottlenecks. As soon as the road climbed up out onto the mountain road proper the traffic reduced to almost zero and I settled into a rhythm on the first really long climb: Rhigos isn’t steep, but does go on a bit – like a mini-Yad Moss? There was an ice cream van in the car park at the top, but I pushed on over and enjoyed a high-speed descent down into the Cynon valley, with the next range of hills ahead in the distance. Sarn Helen is a very different climb: I didn’t see a single car on this beautiful lane. Something of a ‘Lord of the Rings’ character to the scenery, with ancient oaks dotting the fields, then up onto moorland beside the river and a large standing stone at the top. Then the vista opens out into a panorama of West Wales and a rather cautious drop down the ‘Devil’s Elbow’. After this, some quiet lanes down to the A40 at Sennybridge where I had an ice cream, Lucozade and a ten-minute rest of the eyes in the sun on the garage forecourt. The A40 was wide and smooth, and generally headed downhill towards Llandovery. The odd heavy lorry or group of cars, but not a bad road at all. Another Co-op stop in Llandovery [wraps, chocolate, Lucozade] – researching the route last year we happened upon the Sheep Festival, but this time the town was quiet in the late afternoon sunshine.

I was really looking forward to the Black Mountain climb. I last rode it many years ago [on an Audax] on the late, great Dave Lewis’ ‘Land of my Fathers’ 400km: midnight start, main roads through the night, out to far West Wales, then back over the Black Mountain and down The Valleys. I guess riding to Wales is a bit of a Land of my Fathers thing for me too, though the Deakins’ were from Radnorshire in mid-Wales. Great-Grandfather Reuben was the last of our immediate family to have been born there, Dad always thought of himself as Welsh, also as his mother had a Welsh father [and an Irish mother].
The views in the early evening light were great all the way up the mountain, and again a smashing fast descent, with the brakes on hard for a cattle-grid just before going down into Brynamman, so no chance of breaking the speed limit. More valley towns all the way to Neath, where I nearly went to the Burger King, but instead opted for a mooch around the town. The one-way system is complex and I did a bit of cheeky pavement riding to save time, but didn’t find a chippy, which I really fancied. I passed on the Wetherspoons as I didn’t want to waste any more time. An ATM sufficed and I found a good chippy, Whiteleys, in Cimla near the top of the climb out of Neath. They let me eat in the shop, though there was plenty of green space outside. I enjoyed the last of the daylight through more valley towns on A roads, mostly quiet, just the odd hot-hatch zipping around. I needed to stop at a bus shelter to add more layers as it cooled very rapidly after dark.

I phoned my host, David, another IBT [International Bicycle Tours] guide to update him of my progress. I knew I’d be well after midnight now, but he wasn’t bothered, as he said his wife was out on a works bash and would be back late too, so he’d stay up. Again to the Weycock’s Cross 24-hour Co-op at Barry, then negotiated the crowds of revellers and taxis in Barry – gosh it was lively! I got to Penarth at about 01:45, stayed up chatting too long, then had a good three-hour kip, waking naturally, before my alarm. The sky was light and dawn approaching, so I got up and had a snack they’d kindly left out for me before hitting the road well before 06:00, my scheduled leaving time. I wanted to test out an alternative route to Newport through Cardiff, so from Penarth, straight onto the barrage by the docks, past the Captain Scott memorial, BBC studios and onto the old industrial part of Cardiff Docks, dirty, scruffy and very unlike the redeveloped and hip area of the docklands. After the very flat Wentlooge levels I picked up the NCN4 route avoiding the A48, popping up by ‘Fanny’s’ in Newport, which was unexpectedly closed, so I carried on over the Usk bridge on the A48 cyclepath, to a double breakfast at McDonalds. The new route is a little longer than via either the A48 minimum distance or the hiller inland way, but easy riding and a little nod to the flatlands of East Anglia, with the interesting variant of Traveller/Romany caravans and piebald ponies.

Back at Chepstow in time for a second breakfast, I went to ‘Poppies’ café in the centre, for a generous helping of beans on toast and coffee, all for just over £4. No visitations from ‘She Who Must Not Be Named’ this time, hooray, so back over the Wye into England, with great views from the bridge to Chepstow Castle. It’s a long series of ramps up to the Forest of Dean and the day warmed rapidly. By Littledean I was in shorts, short sleeves and sockless sandals for the first time. I had an ice cream there to celebrate. The roads seemed abnormally quiet, then I remembered it was the Royal Wedding: aha so that was why some pubs and villages had the bunting out! After the climb through Blaisdon I knew that was the end of the hills for a while so I could relax and take more breaks. I didn’t stop at the lovely Red Hart pub there though – first time I’ve failed to do that as I’ve passed through the village many times on tours and it does great food, ales, coffee and is in a lovely setting.

I diverted off the route to another fantastic pub I know, the Lower Lode Inn, by the Severn near Tewkesbury, but the queue at the bar was out the door so I retraced, but not without the naughty thought of getting the tiny foot and bike ferry across to Tewkesbury, the tower of whose abbey was just visible over the tree tops. I really appreciated the flat section along the Avon in the Vale of Evesham, arriving in Pershore with a serious pie craving. I visited the bakers in the High Street and had two, plus a very solid chunk of lardy cake [a proper West-Country treat], then back to the Angel Hotel for a pint of ‘Wobbly Angel’ [Pershore Brewery – zero ‘beer-miles’] to drink the health of the happy couple. A relaxing half-hour in the beer garden, then back on the road to Wellesbourne, still relatively flat. The back way through Stratford avoids the traffic, just a throng of pedestrians near the end of the tramway cyclepath to the crossing of the main road by the Avon bridge. Yet another convenience store for wraps, chocolate etc and a few minutes kip in the shade of a tree outside and I was ready for the last proper hill…Warming up with Friz Hill soon after Wellesbourne, then to sleepy Kineton and the ascent of Edge Hill, 17% at its worst, but with fine evening light and views from the climb and on the ridge along the top. The road rolls on through Oxfordshire and into Northamptonshire to pick up the outbound route on the road from Banbury. Quiet roads and very attractive villages and countryside all around as the sun set, and once again I found myself in Towcester towards nightfall. This time I ate at McDonalds and stocked up at M&S Food for the night ahead.

Another rapid drop in temperature, so I started from McD’s well wrapped up, stopped again at Stoke Bruerne to photograph the canal in twilight and pushed on through the stillness of Salcey Forest, noticeably warmer than the surrounding countryside. I contemplated a nap here in my sleeping bag, but I knew the location of the ‘Park Lane Hilton’ of bus shelters. I can’t divulge the location – except perhaps for a fee – otherwise the entire field will want to go there! [You can’t miss it though, solid, large, stone-built and enclosed, though other ‘Audax Hotels’ are available.] Olney was still up as I passed through, but very quiet in the villages after, gently rolling round to St Neots. I still had plenty of supplies with me so didn’t go looking for hot food, just an ATM receipt in the centre as the last few drunks reeled round the town. After Potton my eyes started to go a bit, so I started to think about a pre-dawn nap. The boring straight lane down to Ashwell brought on the dozies big time and I struggled to make sense of interpreting the shapes of the vegetation on the verges. I stopped in Ashwell on the verandah of the cricket pavilion and got out my sleeping bag for a half-hour kip. [I’m happy to name this location as there’s room for an entire peloton.]

The climb up out of the village warmed me up; I remember how on my first LEL in 2005 this short ramp nearly broke me - but still not as bad as Royston Lane on the 2013 edition. [There’s always a sting in the tail on rides coming home over the chalk hills of the Essex/Cambridgeshire/Hertfordshire Alps.] Bouncing through Buntingford, I spurned the 24-hour garage and knew I was on for an early breakfast finish. I originally thought of ending at 9am with an Angel & Harp breakfast, but was way too early, so I went to the faithful ‘One-Stop’ for ingredients. Unfortunately, no one was up at home, so I had to cook it myself! I had a three-hour sleep in the middle of the day then started to return to normal life. Sorting out my brevet and multifarious receipts took all of Monday evening; much sympathy to DIY organiser Paul Stewart for his admin task to come!

Very glad of an easy day of work on Monday, the legs took their usual 3-4 days to feel vaguely normal again.

Kit carried in saddlebag/worn and nearly all needed except for waterproofs:
Coolmax base layer
Merino base layer
2 x short sleeve jerseys
1 x long sleeve medium weight jersey
3 x pairs shorts
Arm & knee warmers [Roubaix]
Windproof jacket
Waterproof jacket and rainlegs
Track mitts
ACME cap
Fleece hat
2 x buffs
Medium weight sealskin gloves
Wool socks
Sealskin socks

Thermal sleeping bag liner & first aid kit in dry bag on rack

Sudocrem, sunscreen, lip balm, insect repellent, bonk rations
Maps, routesheets, glasses, assorted bits and pieces in bar bag

More supplies in nylon bag on saddlebag

Oscar's dad

  • aka Septimus Fitzwilliam Beauregard Partridge
Re: ACME Grand as a DIY 1000km
« Reply #1 on: 29 May, 2018, 09:22:59 am »
Nicely done Tomsk  :thumbsup:


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Re: ACME Grand as a DIY 1000km
« Reply #2 on: 29 May, 2018, 11:23:58 am »
Cracking ride report Tom!. Cheers  :thumbsup:


Re: ACME Grand as a DIY 1000km
« Reply #3 on: 29 May, 2018, 11:04:53 pm »
I enjoyed the read, and well done on completing the ride whilst remembering all the features as you went along.

Knowing your pace, it's a little concerning to see what time you finished day 2. I'm pleased that I've elected for an earlier stop near Port Talbot, as I'm sure I'll be behind your schedule.

Eddington: 130 miles

Re: ACME Grand as a DIY 1000km
« Reply #4 on: 10 June, 2018, 06:04:47 pm »
Having *finally* sat down with a map and reading the above I have chosen a hotel halfway between Port Talbot and Barry just off M4 with a bit of rerouting to get me to Barry.... Should be doable on the general Tomsk distance plan (first night straight through and then push through on naps to sleep on 2nd night), leaving me late evening or very early morning to Witham. Where I will sleep.... ummm.... doh, need to sort that end out now... I can't imagine family coming to pick me up at 3am Sunday morning... Earliest train at 7am... Is there really no lovely place to crash at the end  :P