Why – I’d always wanted to ride the Wu’ze route. I was also miffed at having to miss out on Moonrakers – so why not combine them ? Also, Somerton was exactly half way – I could pop in on my in-laws!
So, what is the Wu’ze? Shawn Shaw came up with this 400 & ran it as a calendar event once – in 2010. The name refers to a legendary Dorset beast which had horns. These partly explain the route which resembles a pair of horns on the map. Coming from the mind of the man who created the taxing WessexSR, it is not for the faint hearted.
Moonrakers & Sunseekers is a recent 300 devised by ACB’s Will Pomeroy. Its premise is a night time ride from Bristol down to Poole via Salisbury Plain, taking in a route smugglers might’ve done to avoid excise men, and then cycling past the Sunseekers boat building yard in Poole.
I munged these two rides together, creating a 700 centred around Poole.
Leaving Bristol at 10 pm, after too little sleep (it was a glorified nap really), I was soon cycling along through a clear cold night on the first half of Will’s ride. Apart from the climb out of Bathford, it was all pretty straightforward – and fast. Quick quiet roads in top gear was the norm, until I started to notice my gear changes weren’t going too well. By Salisbury I’d realised my derailleur – or the cable – was frozen solid. It was difficult to change down but didn’t respond at all when I tried to change up. It was about this time that I noticed that my rear brake was similarly afflicted. It was very stiff to pull on and then wouldn’t release! My solution was simple – don’t use the rear brake (easy on these roads) and only change up on flatter roads – by physically pulling the derailleur outwards. What a faff! Still it meant I could keep going.
It all briefly thawed out when I took it into the Co-op at Amesbury’s Solstice services. But it seized up again shortly after and stayed that way until Christchurch when the temperature rose.
I’d been looking forward to riding along the promenade between Bournemouth & Poole but I’d forgotten about sand. There was plenty of it and in all states – dry sand, wet sand and frozen sand. This section had me racing with a fox and getting covered with sand. Climbing away from the promenade I stopped at a street light to investigate the grinding feel my drivetrain had developed. There was sand everywhere. I cleaned it down as best I could with some hand wipes (in other words, not very well) and resolved to go to the 24 hour Asda in Poole to get WD40, baby wipes & some oil.
After half an hour wiping all that sand off, repeatedly hosing down the chain with WD40 and lubing the drivetrain, I was good to go again. It was dawn by now and I was vaguely on schedule, so I wasn’t stressing aout starting the Wu’ze.
Riding out of Upton and Hamworthy wasn’t much fun during a weekday rush hour, but beyond Wimbourne Minster and into the countryside the frantic motorists became less numerous and the temperature continued to go up. The early morning frosts were impressive to see in the valleys though – everything was crisp and white and the skies were clear. Perfect !
Up and down the usual Wessex hills and lanes I went until by lunchtime I was really starting to flag. Fortunately, after dragging myself up another interminable hill, I was outside Compton Abbas airfield – which had a cafe with loads of swanky cars parked outside. I propped my bike up outside and wandered in to see what was on the menu. Coffee, cake, coke, a fry-up and a fair amount of being gawped at ensued, and then I was on my way again.
The plan was to get to Somerton by 9pm, so there was a fair amount of riding to go. I chugged along, retracing some other Wessex rides in places – the rollers between Cheselbourne and Cattistock, and Beaminster to Crewkerne – and before I knew it, night was drawing in again. I stupidly managed to deviate from the route to avoid traffic caused by a diversion. I actually ended up heading for the cause of the diversion which was off route. Does that sound convoluted ? Well, by that time, I’d had no real sleep for 36 hours and had been riding around – largely in the dark – for about 20 hours. I was in no fit shape to make much sense of anything any more. To top it all, when I did finally get back on track, I was directed onto a weird track/road on the outskitrts of Crewkene, that wasn’t suitable for HGVs according to a sign – nor any other traffic in reality. It spat me out into a recently slapped-up housing estate and into the town.
After that it was down onto the levels and on to Somerton and the in-laws where I had food lavished upon me and a few hours sleep. I was half an hour down on schedule, by this point, but stil making good time. Just as well as the next stage was an utter pig.
I’ve since spoken to riders who rode the Wu’ze as a calendar event. The fact that they remembered this stretch after 9 years and many other rides, tells you all you need to know. For them it must’ve been much worse, because the hills and the mast overlooking Wells would’ve been taunting them in the middle of the night before the sleep stop – which must’ve felt like it would never come. After coming off the levels, there were steep laney climbs and descents through villages I only vaguely knew existed. I was tired – mentally and physically, and I just kept turning the pedals in the knowledge that it would get better at some point.
Eventually it did, and I was through the Mendips and onto the levels again, re-tracing more lanes familiar from other WessexSR routes. But then another unfamiliar pig of a hill appeared. It was one of those laney hills that just never end – the climb off the levels up to Cricket St Thomas. I was truly flagging at this point. It was the small hours, I’d only had an apple to eat since I’d woken up and dawn was hours away. Once over that I had to stop for a resetting snooze. I knew it wouldn’t last long because it was cold, I was already wearing all my clothes I only had a bivvy bag. But it did the trick. Waking up shivering uncontrollably is character forming, but knowing that such desperate measures work sometimes is useful knowledge for later.
Dawn lazily crept up on me with its weak, wintry rays of daylight, but it was very welcome. It staved off the dozies for a while anyway. The route skirted just inland from the coast and I was expecting a village with a shop to appear at some point, but it never did. I don’t know how Shawn managed that ! I was desperate for food and warmth but it was all presumably just off route and I didn’t want to waste time looking, so I pressed on, soon going the reverse of the Porkers again through Litton Cheney, and the Bredys. After a uncecesarily gravelly and crazy descent into Portesham, I stopped for a massive feed at the Deli / Cafe on the main road between Portland and Abbotsbury. I was their only customer, but probably paid their expenses for the day … I was hungry
After that, it was just a case of rolling along a route similar to Porkers in reverse back to Hamworthy. Unfortunately, I found myself on the dreadful A35 for a while along with trucks, cars and the like, but I guess on a weekend calendar event it wouldn’t have been as bad … ?
A quick coffee stop at the Costa in Upton and I was heading back home on the second stage of the Moonrakers route. It’s a route I hadn’t taken back to Bristol before, so I was looking forward to it. I soon started cursing it though. Climbing up to Milton Abbas was a slog. My legs were shot, I was knackered and there was a chilling headwind. Although it was nice to see the abbey, the hills were starting to piss me off in the state I was in. I just wanted to get home. I kept reminding myself, that it was daytime and that it wasn’t raining, but then the on/off drizzle started that was to characetrize the rest of the ride.
After slogging my way via the delightfully name Hazelbury Bryan and King’s Stag, through Sherborne to Yeovilton and crossing the horrifically scary A303/A37 roundabout, I was back on the levels yet again and heading towards Cheddar and dusk. By this time, although I was knackered, I was starting to think my bike was feeling particularly sluggish. I stopped at the entrance to some nondescript cul-de-sac and lifted up the back of the bike to spin the wheel. It didn’t actually spin. Instead it moved, as long as I moved the pedals, and stopped abruptly, accompanied by much rasping and the spitting out of mud and grit from the seatstay bridge. I got a twig and cleared out as much as I could until it started spinning freely again. The damp, claggy lanes, tight clearances and a protruding rinko nut had helped my 38mm Compass tyres collect and deposit muck up there. Torrential rain would’ve cleared it out, but I wasn’t particularly in the mood for that either so I kept on going, only stopping to clear it out whenever necessary.
From Cheddar to Yatton, the route drops you onto the Strawberry line cycple path. It’s rough and ready in places, so there was plenty of stopping to keep my wheel rotating freely, but there was no traffic and I was nearing home. Soon, I was mixing it with rush hour traffic again in Yatton and Backwell, but soon after that, it was all over and I was home in time for tea. My winter Hyper randonneur was complete.