Friday, 20 Sep 2019

Somerset Levels

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- A man with a seven-inch (18 cm) penis may proudly compare his organ to the average man’s five to six inches (12-15 cm) but be intimidated when learning another wields an eight-inch (20 cm) rod.

“Best 100 mile bike routes”

Chris Sidwells

Somerset Levels

Somerset Levels. The low-lying area south of the Mendips and parallel to them is the Somerset Levels. They should really be called the Somerset Moors, because away from the coast their surface is covered in peat. Their low level and proximity to the sea could be why the whole county got its name. In older times the area flooded every winter and could only be used and lived on during the summer, so it became known as Somersaete, the land of the Summer People. The ride starts in Wells, the second smallest city in England after the City of London, and a lovely place to wander around the old buildings near the cathedral. The first section heads west over the edge of one of the low-lying areas of hills that used to be islands when this place flooded. Somerset Levels.

Somerset Levels - photo 1

 Somerset Levels

Somerset Levels. There’s still a risk of that, as we saw in winter 2013–14, but to nowhere near the extent it did. An extensive drainage project of canalised and controlled rivers, fed by ditches, dried out the land and made it usable. Seventy per cent of the Somerset Levels is used for grazing today, with 30 per cent under arable crops. There used to be a lot of commercial orchards for cider making here, too, and willow was grown for basket weaving. Many cider orchards have gone, and willow is limited to a few fields, but a giant Willow Man standing by the M5 just outside Bridgwater commemorates the industry. You can see it as you go south to cross one of the main drains, the Hunstpill River, before entering Bridgwater. Somerset Levels.

Somerset Levels - photo 2

 Somerset Levels

Somerset Levels. Bridgwater is a stronghold of the south-west tradition of carnivals where groups or businesses make decorated floats to be driven through the streets. They are held around bonfire night, and one of the Gunpowder Plotters, Robert Parsons, was from Bridgwater. However, the south-west was largely Protestant back then, and the plot aimed to bring back Catholic rule, so Bridgwater and the other carnivals celebrate its failure rather than mourn the fate of the plotters. The ride now loops around the lower edge of the Quantock Hills for some glimpses of the sea and the nuclear power station at Hinckley Point, and then returns through Bridgwater and back onto the levels. You ride over another raft of low hills, then wander through a string of quiet villages towards Glastonbury, a place that looks all the more magical if you approach it from this direction. Somerset Levels.

Somerset Levels - photo 3

 Somerset Levels

Somerset Levels. Glastonbury Tor is a conical hill with a church on it that you can see for miles; add in a bit of mist or low cloud and it gains an ethereal air. Legend has it that this is Avalon of King Arthur fame, and that Joseph of Arimathea, washed across the levels towards Glastonbury by a flood, stuck his staff into the ground here and a holy thorn bush grew. There are many more mystical legends, and Glastonbury is a centre of New Age culture today. Their alternative-style shops certainly liven up the town centre. The Glastonbury Festival is held near Pilton, on the other side of town. You skirt the town, then head south for another level loop, this time around King’s Sedge Moor, before riding back to Glastonbury over a sharp ridge called Collard Hill. The route goes through the centre of town, from where there’s a straight run back to Wells. This is a great ride for a first 100-miler. There are some gentle hills to break any monotony, and you can really bowl along the flat sections on a magical ride full of history, mystery and legend in a quiet backwater of Britain. Somerset Levels.

Somerset Levels - photo 4

 Somerset Levels

Somerset Levels. Take the A371 and then follow the B3139 west through Wedmore and then Watchfield, where you join the B3141 going south. Turn right in Woolavington and go through Puriton and over the M5 to join the A38 south into Bridgwater. Follow the A39 west and turn right at the first roundabout out of Bridgwater through Canninton, Combwich and Stogursey. Turn left after Stogursey and go left onto the A39 at Nether Stowey back to Bridgwater.  Turn right onto the A372, then left after crossing the M5, and follow this road through Chedzoy and Stawell. Turn left, across the A39, then left again to Cossington. Turn right and follow this road through Burtle and Westhay to turn right onto the B3151 to Glastonbury. Turn right onto the A39, then go left at the roundabout before Street on the B3151 and turn right at the top of the hill. Take the second left, then the first right, then go left, then right before going uphill to High Ham. Ride around the west side of the hill and turn left onto the A372 and then left onto the A378 at Langport to follow the B3153 to Somerton. There turn left onto the B3151, and then go right then left in Compton Dundon, and left then right at the top of the hill. Turn left in Butleigh Wootton, then go right to Glastonbury, turning right onto the A361 and first left off it to ride around the edge of the Tor between it and the abbey. Go straight on at the roundabout onto the A39 back to Wells. Somerset Levels.

Somerset Levels - photo 5

 Somerset Levels

Somerset Levels. Start and Finish: Wells

Somerset Levels. Getting There: Wells is 15 miles east of Junction 22 of the M5 using the B3139. The nearest rail station is Shepton Mallet, which is six miles away.

Somerset Levels. Bike Shop: Bike City on Union Street

Somerset Levels. Cafe: Fenney Castle House on Castle Street in Wookey Hole

Somerset Levels. Local Delicacy: Somerset cider

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