Five reasons to ride the Mendips

Hannah Pole outlines five great reasons to take a trip to the Mendips Area of Natural Beauty

Whether you’re seeking bucket-list climbs, or eyeing up a triple-figured milestone for your next achievement, the Mendips should absolutely be on your ‘to ride’ bucket list.

Packed with a variety of terrain from 20 per cent corners to exposed flatlands, with limestone cliffs, gorges, dramatic valleys and lakes around every corner, not to mention a few lumps in between, this Somerset haven is a region of the UK that should be on every cyclist’s must-do rides. 

If you want to make sure you explore the best roads of the area, why not sign up to the UK Cycling Events (UKCE) Sigma Sports Mendips Sportive, on Saturday July 27? There are routes from 34 to 100 miles and the UKCE team has planned rides which promise to bring you the very best of the Mendips. 

Breathtaking scenery

Consistently voted as one of the best locations for cycling in the UK, cycling doesn’t get more dramatic than a ride through the Mendips. 

Even on a rainy day its quaint far-reaching vistas can offer views over the Somerset Levels, the Quantocks, Glastonbury and even Wales that will have you aching to peel the bike out with curiosity.  What more could you expect in a land littered with so many dramatic gorges and ancient woodland?  

Both epic and standard routes even cut their way through Cheddar Gorge which possesses a beauty, and a climb, that will take your breath away.

Incredible climbs

Thanks to natural ridges like Banwell and Cheddar, this is a region bursting with iconic hill-climbs, some of them gruelling. 

UK Cycling Events has featured three in its 103-mile epic route and each one can present a challenge depending on how you want to tackle them.

Cheddar Gorge

Though certainly not the most mountainous, Cheddar Gorge is one of the most visually spectacular climbs not only of the south west, but arguably of the entire UK, largely owing to the way it weaves through imposing sections of rock that easily resemble something out of Jurassic Park.  

Not that you’ve barely time to consider the vast walls of sheer limestone brilliance, as once through the town, the climb starts to ramp its way up to 16 per cent. Steep and punishing through the lower bends, it’s hard work at first.

The further you ride, the easier it becomes. But as the gradient relaxes to 4 per cent, it forces you to choose whether to attack and ridden at full gas it can bite, especially if you sprint to the junction.

Ebbor Gorge

This ascent begins gradually, and you can get into a steady rhythm as you rise away from the A371.  Before long, turn left at a T-junction and it really kicks up. 

For the next 1.5km this silently misleading beast averages nine percent but has you twisting through corners with some cheeky 20 per cent slopes. Though brief they’re enough to require some proper gas if you want to maintain pace.   

Burrington Combe

Not as visually spectacular as Cheddar Gorge, and not as steep as Ebbor Gorge, this 4.3km climb sits somewhere between. With its position on top of a high point in the hills running alongside Beacon Batch, it has a five per cent average gradient. Don’t be fooled however. You’ll still gain over 200m of altitude and it’s perpetuated with a series of tough little ramps, the steepest at around 25 per cent, making for an undulating ascent.

Variety of terrain

Don’t be fooled though; it’s not all lung-busting climbs and Strava segments. There’s something for every cyclist. The hillier areas of the Mendips are blissfully offset against the Somerset levels to the south, an area which is blessed with pan-flat roads that can look like something straight out of West Flanders. 

If you opt to try the sportive, the first half-hour is much like this, with a view of the Mendip ridge as you turn north. Opt for the epic route, and aside from the climbs you’ll take in a series of secluded Somerset villages and all the delights of Chew Valley Lake. Even if you avoid the infamous Cheddar, it’s still breathtakingly beautiful.

Off-road, there’s miles of trails to cater for novice to more experienced riders. With a network of hills, bridleways, singletrack and county roads, they’re best ridden through spring and summer when they’re dry. Beacon Batch, the main ridge, is popular with cyclists and there’s more bridleway near Burrington Combe. 

Plenty of coffee and cake opportunities

For a region packed with so much drama, it’s only fitting that it should harbour several great pit stops to soak it all in. The climb up Cheddar Gorge is easily soothed with a delicious cream tea at The Mousehole Cafe at Cheddar, offering great-value food and friendly staff, with an outdoor area that is well-used by the local cycling clubs. 

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Venture further south to the heart of the Sedgemoor Levels and you’ll discover Sweets Tea Rooms at Wedmore, a popular stop with cyclists open Wednesday to Sunday, with home-cooked breakfast, delicious food and a wide selection of cakes to keep you going those extra miles.  

For something more simple and rustic, why not stuff your pockets with farm-made pies and scotch eggs from Priddy Good Farm Shop? A small and family-run cafe and shop with local produce in the heart of the Mendips, it also serves breakfast and light lunches and is a bit of a hidden gem.  

>>> Enter the Sigma Sports Mendips Sportive at UK Cycling Events here

Historical significance 

Riders take on the iconic Cheddar Gorge climb in Somerset (Picture by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

Designated an official Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty, this medieval landscape packed with gorges and caves has long been famous for its relics of prehistoric history which are scattered around its plateaus and woodlands. 

It’s even attracted the pro cyclists, since the iconic pass through Cheddar Gorge featured in the 2018 Tour of Britain, so with a bit of help from Strava you can even test yourself against a few Tour de France winners.

Add to that some curious place names like Dundry Downs, Pudding Pie Lane and Dag Hole, and you can’t help but feel like you’re taking a journey through time as you pedal through this ancient and epic corner of the UK.

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