Home to Wotton Hill

Evening of September 9, 2018


On the handful of occasions I have tried to leave Bristol by bike it has felt like a long, arduous process. So it was setting out north to Wotton-Under-Edge via the Avon Cycleway on an overcast late September morning. There is a maze of bike routes entwined around Bristol ring roads that do in fact connect, probably quite logically, but Google maps (which I followed from my phone strapped to my handlebars) seemed confused between path and road and more than once I had to double-back on myself to find the proper route.

The very edges of Bristol are small villages and dotted houses which carry the marks of urban life – old farms and barns repurposed as minor factories, gardens as storage facilities for out-of-season fairground rides. I felt I had finally passed out of Bristol only by the time I got to St. James’s Church at Tytherington.

I left that town by a small, steep road passing Tytherington Hill and an old stone building to my left. More to discover at Tytherington I thought as I cycled out of it, assuming I would be passing back that way. As it turned out I didn’t, so will have to go back another time.

Between Tytherington and Cromhall there was virtually no traffic, except for a handful of morning runners. Farm slush muddied the roads and gave me and my bike our first and last taste of dirt for the day. I looked for a place to stop and take my first notes of the day and spotted a stile into a field of horses. I quickly stopped and my phone flew out of its £3 Halfords cradle, smashing a corner in the process.

My bike leaning against the fence, I wrote quickly and looked up to see one of the horses had made its was across the field and become interested in my handlebars and saddle. I moved my bike on, said hello to the horse with a brief nose scratch and went on, nervous of my now very mortal phone sling.

After Cromhall there was little of note until I reached Wotton, the road being faster and with less to see along the edges. I had found that I had come to my destination much quicker than I expected (about an hour and 20 minutes with stops) but the entrance to Wotton would prove to be hard as I laboured up a incline approaching the town from the west and landed at the base of Wotton Hill. I found I had to sadly dismount my bike and push the rest of the way up the dirt footpath, through the trees and up out onto the clear top of Wotton Hill. This practically did me in but the sight of the hilltop and the thought of sandwiches spurred me on and finally I parked my bike and found a bench.

I started my lunch and surveyed the panoramic countryside. If you are interested, looking S by SW from Wotton Hill at midday on a cloudy September Saturday you can see patchwork of fields, a handful of distinct (still) villages, wind generators, Saturday sports being played and both Severn Bridges with the Brecon Beacons behind.

As I was finishing my food I was approached by a springer remarkably like Brown who was intrigued by me so I gave her half my cheese sandwich, not sure whether she was friendly (who knows) or whether she had an owner (no collar) and I’d have to befriend her in order to rescue her. Mossy turned out to be very friendly and most certainly owned by a couple sitting on a bench on the other side of the hill. I chatted with them for a few minutes and found they were both Bristol University graduates living at the bottom of Stinchcombe Hill a little farther along the Cotswold Way.

Leaving Mossy, her owners and Wotton Hill behind I cycled the 3 1/2 miles to Wickwar with tired legs. I stopped at the brewery there for a pint which was given to me gratis on the basis that there was a large tour of 14 women coming later in the afternoon who were bound to spend a heap of money.

Leaving the brewery about 40 minutes later I discovered that stopping for that amount of time and consuming alcohol in the middle of a ride when one’s fitness is still very much out with the jury is a bad idea. The rest of the ride felt like a slog.

I had plotted Rangeworthy and Iron Acton into Google Maps for the return from Wickwar. It seems that, for small villages, Google plots the church as the centre of things. As such I found myself at a T junction in Rangeworth with the blue line on the GPS going right and then back on itself left. I guessed that the church was a few hundred feet to my right and that I could simply turn left and skip those few hundred feet. But something in me told me to see it to the bitter end and I was so glad that I did.

Turning down a small lane in the heart of the village I passed the primary school and finally came to the end of the lane by the Church of the Holy Trinity to the sound of screeching. I soon saw that the screeching was coming from a large bird of prey a man was holding on his glove, jesses and all. Putting my bike down I approached man and bird and found that this was a 14 week old goshawk who was feeling “pissy” because she was expecting food from her handler. He was trying to train her to catch all her prey so the screeching continued throughout our conversation except for a brief moment when the hawk stopped still and layered in on a bird flying past. I told the handler I’d just read The Goshawk by TH White and asked if he had. He had indeed. I asked if I could watch him let the hawk fly but he said he was going to travel deep into the fields before he let her off so he bid me farewell while noting that if I was in these parts a lot I would surely see him and his hawk again.

A tiring headwind between Rangeworthy and Iron Acton was symptomatic of my ride of two halves and I sloped into Iron Acton finding a beautiful, slightly twee village with a mill and a lovely bridleway out of the village and into Frampton Cotterell which was populated by horseriders and Saturday walkers.

The rest of the ride was notable only for my exhaustion and general discomfort. I suspect I have adjustments to make on the bike, particularly in terms of reach. Reentering Bristol through the same mazy cycle paths was almost as problematic as it was on the way out. Finally I found myself on Romney Avenue, speeding down the slope from Cheswick Village and back home.

Ride was on September 8, 2018.
Left home 10:15am, returning 3:15pm.
37 miles


david on December 24, 2018
Hey Josh! Thanks man, appreciate that. Do you know I was massively inspired by your work when I designed this site! I had been looking at some of your book designs and admiring the 'American' typography, which is quite different to British. I'll check out his new book.
Josh on December 6, 2018
Hi David, I really like how you've designed this site. I wanted to comment on the post about Fire Season, but comments were closed. I think I read that book around the same time you did, in 2013. I still enjoy picking it up every now and then and opening to a random page and reading a few paragraphs. He has a new book that came out a few months ago.