Cycling climbs in the Mendip Hills.
Having only moved to Somerset in the early 2000s I wasn’t aware of the Mendips, in fact where I live, not many miles away from them, I was only aware of Cheddar Gorge by the number of brown signs on the roads and Wookey Hole by the references in Little Britain and the endless amount of posters and leaflets everywhere advertising it. Little did I know of the wonders right on my doorstep and the fun I could have exploring them.
After reading Simon Warren’s excellent 100 Greatest Climbs book and discovering I had the first one in the book within cycling distance I set off for Cheddar Gorge. I wrote about that adventure here. It’s the most famous of the Mendip climbs and most local cyclists have ridden it. I’ve passed allsorts on the climb, the ultra-thin Lycra-clad cyclists, mountain bikers, back packers and even tandems. So most people know it but others aren’t so well known, ones I have found by accident, ones that I’ve never seen other cyclists on, well not apart from the poor souls I’ve dragged along with me. I’ve wondered how many climbs there are on the Mendips and when I started counting I thought there’s enough for a leaderboard. That’s where Veloviewer comes in! I contacted Ben, king of the Strava stats and amazingly he agreed to have a leaderboard on his web site. So not only I could tick off all the climbs but everyone else can have a crack at them too.
What I also thought I’d do is add a bit of background to the climbs, what they mean to me and what is in store for you as you climb them. Cheddar has been perfectly summed up by Simon Warren already and if you don’t have his book already then you can buy it on his 100 Climbs web site. However I will give you a bit of background to some of the lesser known climbs. Some of which I’ve only discovered as I’ve made the list to submit to Veloviewer.
Difficulty 💪💪💪 Traffic 🚗🚗 Beauty 😍😍
I found this beauty trying to dodge the horrible A38 as much as possible, plotting the route on Strava I could see a lump there but I never realised it would be this good. As the name suggests, the climb starts at the edge of Winscombe as you head out in to the woods.
A fairly narrow road that has a building on the corner as the steep stuff arrives. The building really shows its steepness, with windows above you as you start but by the time you’ve reached the end of the building those same windows are by your ankles. This 20% section comes to an end soon afterwards but you’ve still got a way to go. The final third is easier with some respite but there’s still a patch of 10% to remind you that your work isn’t finished. Once you’re over the hill, there’s a nice downhill stretch that passes the car park at the bottom of crooks peak and then spits you out on the A38. Ready to head on down to Cheddar.
Difficulty 💪💪 Traffic 🚗 Beauty 😍😍😍😍😍
One of two climbs that I’ve found on the west side of the M5 and this one is a bit special. It’s a dead end so we’ll call it a summit finish and what a hidden gem. Shiplate Road runs along the south west base of the Mendips and the climb starts from the junction as you turn in to Mearcombe Lane. Rising slightly to start with it turns east with a sharp ninety degrees bend as a gate in front of you advertises the beautiful orchard you are riding through.
Now the work begins. You can see far in front of you where you will hit the tree line and the road will climb further. A beautiful curve at the entrance of a gated house now signals you’re in the toughest part of the hill. However it’s nice and shaded from the wind and while there is debris on the road, the surface is pretty good. There are small areas of respite but you’re not near the end until the treeline relents and the end is in sight. It’s not quite the 27% as shown on the segment, probably only just touching 20% at times but it’s a slog at the end. Only once you’ve reached a left hand turn in to the farm can you stop to appreciate the view.
Perched just below the brow, there is a beautiful scene of orchard, fields and sea. If the weather is kind then you can see down to Brean and Weston-super-Mare and across the Bristol Channel to Cardiff. You can now head down, knowing you’re probably the only soul who will have cycled up it all day.
Difficulty 💪💪💪 Traffic 🚗🚗 Beauty 😍😍😍😍
There’s clearly two types of climbs up to the top of the Mendips, the gradual, sensible climbs and the hellish, straight up, not deviation climbs. I’d looked at this climb briefly on Veloviewer before I set off and had put it down (disappointingly) as the former. Nothing stuck out on the gradients and I’d also taken one look at the wind on mywindsock.com and realised I was in for a bit of a slog in to a headwind.
Having already got some miles in my legs I arrived ready with my phone in hand ready to capture some of the climb for the blog post but I also thought I’d have a decent dig at it, why not? My friend Roman’s time ticked up on my Garmin, “no chance” I thought but as no one else had been up there, Roman’s it had to be.
Well that was a mistake. I was soon well behind and blowing, just like the wind in my face. The bottom of the climb was in a wonderful setting. Nice stone walls along the side of the road opposite retirement bungalows I could imagine grandparents looking out the windows watching the world go by. Ahead of me a beautiful clock tower that I’m told has the inscription Time Flies Don’t Delay around the clock face. My Garmin was letting me know that enough with a Victorian version letting me know that too. The clock tower is right on the junction as you dog leg from the High Street on to Middle Street.
The climbing is just gradual as you reach the end of the village, even flattening out at one point. So far, so average. Just as expected. However after that it starts to get interesting and as you reach a right hand bend you really are starting to get tested. This is where you know you’re on a proper climb and after that the test continues. This is more like it.
After a tough right hander it continues to punish your legs and lungs, going on long enough that when it flattens out you really feel you’ve earned the wonderful view to your left hand side. But you’re not done yet! You’ve now got one more kick and hopefully now you are recovered enough to attack it as there’s only a short distance before a steady ride out to the finish at the top of the Mendips. I finished way down on Roman’s time (and all of the Strava leaderboard), I’m going to blame the wind, hopefully it will be in your favour when you have a crack at it.
Old Bristol Road
Difficulty 💪💪💪💪 Traffic 🚗🚗🚗 Beauty 😍😍😍
Old Bristol Road is a hell of a climb, as the name suggests it has been replaced by a busier road and more major road that runs nearly parallel to it and thank goodness for that. The other road (Bristol Hill / Bristol Road / A39) is very busy and horrible to cycle on. Add that traffic to this road and it would be a death trap. Thankfully the traffic on here is pretty limited but there’s enough to cause the odd bottle neck.
The climb for me is in three parts. There is the steepsih drag out of Wells that is finished with a downhill section to recover. Then you have the gradul rise that nullifies any momentum you’d gained from the downhill. What follows next is what makes Old Bristol Road the climb that it is.
In front of you now is the long stretch of climbing that tells you exactly what you have to do. There’s not many climbs in the Mendips that go so straight for so long (I’ll come to Draycott later). Buckle yourself in and stomp those pedals and just get the pain over and done with. If you’ve attacked that first part hard and not taken the opportunity to recover you’ll be really feeling this now. But don’t worry, once you’ve got this section done, the end is just after the corner. Sadly there’s no view to reward you but you can collapse on your handlebars and roll down to the junction.
Difficulty 💪💪💪 Traffic 🚗🚗🚗 Beauty 😍😍😍😍
Another of Simon Warren’s Climbs of the South West. This is used by Bristol South Cycling Club for their Hill Climb amongst others and was the first (and only to date) interclub hill climb I’ve done. Having just recovered from tonsillitis at the time I was never going to do anything amazing – even when I’m fully fit I wouldn’t be challenging at the top end. However I wanted to give it a fair crack. The hill climb starts from a standing start (obviously) just after the cattle grid. From there you disappear around a corner and straight in to a steady slog (and on this occasion a headwind). You’re trapped between rocks on your left and trees on your right. Understandably the segment representation of this part of the climb isn’t quite true, with the GPS being so bad. The gradient is pretty constant but it does test you and you’ll go through tough sections on some wonderful bends – it really is a great descent if you get chance to do that too. You now have a pretty long straight before hitting cowbell corner – a section where supporters congregate and make as much noise as possible with pots and pans and the odd cowbell – there’s even an ice cream van there in summer. As you put the hammer down with them shouting in your ears, you’ll feel it in your legs as the road kicks up before levelling out somewhat at the cattle grid. Your work is not done yet though. It keeps going and soon you’re attacking probably the steepest part of the climb, it might only be brief but you will definitely feel it after the previous 2ish miles. On the hill climb I kicked for home at this point and it was the only point I go anywhere near to my previous best. Dragging myself panting and spluttering over the finish line to the crossroads.
Legend says that Burrington Combe is actually the setting for Rock of Ages, not the musical but the original hymn. Legend has is that the vicar sheltered on the combe during a thunderstorm. Having ridden up there in all kinds of weather then I can understand the need for shelter. At times it’s like riding up a rocky stream, other times the headwind can really put a dampener on your aspirations of a PB. Just choose your segment wisely. Some go from cattle grid to cattle grid, others prefer the whole slog, from the junction at the bottom to the very top by the crossroads.
Near the bottom there is a café but more importantly there is an excellent bike shop Bad Ass Bikes, a proper bike shop that really take an interest in your bike when they are servicing it. They made sure they knew the ins and out when dropping off the bike and gave me a full run down when I picked it up. They don’t open at the weekend – I’m told because they want to be out riding – so I can get on board with that. I fully recommend them if you’re in the area.
Shipham Hill Climb
Difficulty 💪💪💪 Traffic 🚗🚗🚗🚗 Beauty 😍😍
This is my cycling club’s hill climb. I say “my” cycling club but I’ve actually only ever tagged along to a Clevedon and District Cycling Club ride when there’s been a hill climb on. Pinning on a race number and going from a standing start for the first time was very exciting. I made the mistake of mentioning to one of the ladies cycling that my times on other hills were very similar to hers. I think she (rightfully) took it that I was aiming for a similar time to her on the climb. She went out and absolutely smashed it and my time too. To the extent that other people were saying “did you see her time!”. So I think I learnt a lesson there, while we’d ridden on the same hills on Strava, she’d probably just casually ridden over them while I’d given them full gas.
The climb itself is unrelenting; a steady, strong gradient all the way and attacking it from the bottom you have no option but to keep gasping for air once you’re in the red. It’s one of the quicker, main roads through the middle of the Mendips that serves the quarry so the traffic isn’t great. I set off from my standing start – “don’t worry I’ve got you” said the man holding me in place, “but who’s got you” I wanted to say but I’m not sure he would have got my Superman reference. I tried to get up to speed quickly and rattled up my gears. Soon I was clicking back down them nearly as fast and then out of the saddle as I hit the red big time. With the people who set off before me heading back down or shouting from the edge of the road it was a great thrill to be attacking it but oh how it hurt! Not knowing where the climb would end was definitely a disadvantage having only ridden it once before and not knowing what their finish line was. I’ve never felt burning lungs like that outside of winter before and really gave it my all. I finished middle of the pack and quite happy with how I’d done. I would return two years later and this time I knew what to expect. I managed not to blow up so early, stay seated for longer and although I didn’t realise it at the time, I set a PB. I’d managed to finish fourth in a much reduced field of… four.
Difficulty 💪💪💪💪💪 Traffic 🚗 Beauty 😍😍😍
There’s only one way to cycle up Draycott and that is flat out. It’s one of those climbs where you struggle with all your might just to keep going. I zigzagged across the road and just hoped to get to the next point in my periphery. The problem with the climb, apart from its brutally steep 20% slope is that it’s so straight. Just like Crowcome Combe on the Quantocks in Somerset, you see in front of you the task ahead and it doesn’t deviate, it doesn’t have bends or dips, it just goes straight up, without reprieve, no rest, no catching of your breathe. I was cursing Simon Warren for including it in his book Climbs of the South West, wishing I had an extra cog on my already massive cassette and cursing my friend Jon for keeping pace with me and allowing no satisfaction in climbing it.
You start off in the little village of Draycott as you turn in to New Road – never trust a road called New Road, my theory is that the reason it’s a new road is that they didn’t use to be able to build roads that steep and that’s why it’s a “new road”. Once through the small collection of houses at the bottom you’re on your own, a narrow single road ahead of you. I must have suffered on the hill as I don’t remember the tree lined route now in front of you. All I remember is my heart coming out of my mouth, only stopped by my lungs fighting it to get out first. All the while my neighbour (who I blame for agreeing to ride it with me) gurning right next to me, each time I edged forward he insisted on continuing to turn his pedals too. I was head but not by much, maybe a bike length. I’d gained it in the brief seconds at the start when the going wasn’t quite so tough. We were trading blows, with neither of us landing any punches but both still hurting so badly. Finally ahead of me I could see the gradient easing, just get to there and you can have a rest I told myself, you can swallow your heart and lungs and maybe even have some oxygen too. Reaching it I could finally ease off, only to have Jon pull level! Gulping down some organs and air in one go I fell on to my pedals to nod ahead for one last time.
What a feeling! To feel like I was going to fail all the way up, desperate to stop and walk and yet so keen to keep going. When I hit the top of the climb the euphoria of such an achievement way outweighs the hurt, where the massive rush of endorphins make you appreciate the pain. They say that pain is hard to remember but I haven’t been back since but I will go back one day.
Difficulty 💪💪💪💪 Traffic 🚗🚗 Beauty 😍😍😍
Starting on the excellently named road “Deerleep”, the climb skirts the Ebor Gorge National Nature Reserve. Having already ridden it once I was quite happy to have a steady ride up from Wookey Hole to the top of the Mendips. But what was this in front of me? I could see a steep start with some bends in it. I’d forgotten that but that was probably all I’d have to dig deep to get through. My riding companion, Jon, questioned whether I’d be able to take photos as I was going up. How hard was this climb?
I was soon to find out that this climb was way tougher than I remember. Not quite 20% at times but unrelenting. After that first bend it keeps going for some time, raising your heartbeat and certainly making it hard to take photos as I ride. By the time it relented I was half way up the climb and able to turn to my left for a beautiful view of the land below. But enjoy it while it lasts as you turn right slightly and the climb continues some more.
The road is mainly single lane with passing points but there are some car parks for walkers at the bottom middle and top so expect some traffic. We only had a van coming down to contend with, along with a very patient police car checking on the car parks and eventually passing me near the top. So it was a lovely, quiet climb at the time however on a hot sunny weekend I expect quite a bit more traffic.
Just when you think you’re done you reach a small section of downhill followed by a short uphill ramp, accentuated by the drop before hand. This is about three quarters on the way in to the 1.5 mile hill so you might want to go for it from here. Empty the tank and give it all you’ve got. After this kicker it keeps rising steadily but then levels out near the end. Keep going as the segment seems to end quite a bit after the climbing has stopped. Then you have time to turn around and take in the view.
Difficulty 💪💪💪💪 Traffic 🚗🚗🚗 Beauty 😍😍😍😍
This is a climb I did know about before I took up road cycling but I hadn’t put two and two together. I just remembered visiting Yeo Valley, the yoghurt and cheese company, years ago through my job. You can’t help forget the setting, half way up a ridiculously steep hill with the gorgeous Blagdon lake below. Yet for some reason I’ve never got on with the climb. I’ve never really done it justice and never felt the need to go back and give it my best. Is it because it’s so tough? Never giving you enough recovery time between steep sections. Starting just after the junction by the Seymour Arms, depending which way you’ve come from, you could already be climbing and out of breath.
Then there’s three patches of the red stuff (the way Veloviewer marks the steep gradients). You’ve got the choice of which way to go as the road splits in two but keeping left is the tough one. However there’s no dodging the first steep section, just after the pub and there is no let up until you hit the turning for Yeo Valley (they have a shop and restaurant on site but that’s no excuse to stop). If you were thinking of taking it leisurely then there is a great view of Blagdon lake lower down that my photos just can’t do justice to. Especially with the steepness of the hill in the foreground.
With only a very short slackening off of the gradient, you are soon back on to the back, leg and lung breaking stuff. Up around a steep corner and we’re (hopefully) you are soon at the fork in the road. As I mentioned earlier, left is where the real pain is and you’ve still got some way to go.
You now regret your choice of listening to me and going left, there is a long stretch of unrelenting, unforgiving leg pounding in front of you. Suck up that medicine that you’ve prescribed yourself and give it everything you have left. On my second attempt at this climb this is where I died, I was on course to get a PB only to die on this section. I ended up 15 seconds down. All I can say is stick with it because once you’re at the top not only will you have an excellent view to reward yourself with but it also drops you off at the top of the brilliant descent down Burrington Combe.
Sleight Lane (Dinder)
Difficulty 💪💪 Traffic 🚗🚗 Beauty 😍😍😍
Dean from Mendip Cycling Club got in touch with some suggestions from the club members and what great recommendations they are. I went to check out a couple of them but I’ll let Dean set the scene:
“This is one we’d go up in the club and is on the east side of the Mendips. We’d consider it gets you on to the Mendip plateau so is definitely a ‘Mendip climb’. It takes you up from the village of Dinder near Wells to Old Frome Road, coming out near Rocky Mountain café (a regular cycle stop). Gets reasonably steep early on, then gets fairly rolling until the top.”
He was spot on there, although the village is very small and you’re soon out of it and in to countryside. It really had a rural feel to it as we pedalled out of Wells (Hot Fuzz scene spotting including where they pull over the actors following a speeding check) and you feel out in countryside by the time you hit the bottom of the climb.
I was surprised by the length of the climb, it was steeper at the start but the next section goes on for sometime. Never putting you in trouble but always testing you, especially if you have a friend in tow chasing you down. I knew as we got further up it would suit his commuter legs and so I peddled away, all in vain as he pulled up to my rear wheel near the end and then towed us home.
The end of the climb is at the junction where it joins the top of Thrupe Lane and actually continues to rise slightly if you turn left. In fact at the next junction after that it continues to rise if you turn right and you’re treated to a great view. Well I assume you are we. We climbed it on a very cold day and we climbed above the cloud in to glorious sunshine, with only Glastonbury Tor in the distance visible above the clouds below.
Thrupe Lane (Crosscombe)
Difficulty 💪💪💪 Traffic 🚗🚗 Beauty 😍😍😍😍
Thurpe Lane, the second of the two climbs recommended by Mendip Cycling Club, has such a beautiful steep start. It goes through the gorgeous village of Crosscombe as you enter Rock Street you see the pretty houses made out of the local stone. It snakes around the houses as if it is following the path of a river and is a real early test.
Having checked it out on Veloviewer beforehand I’d mentally noted that the tough stuff ends after you leave the houses and enter the countryside but that’s not quite correct. There’s a little bit more of the tough stuff before you can attack the easier gradient. There were just two vehicles on the road the day we rode it, however one was a long wheel base white van and it pretty much filled the way ahead as it rushed down the road. Maybe he wasn’t expecting it to be quite so steep.
Further up the road feels very similar to Sleight Lane however it takes a more direct route up the same ridge. Levelling out near the top and you pass the junction on your left where Sleight Lane ends. It’s not long from there to the junction and the end.