When you roll into Cheddar from the south you would be forgiven for feeling a little bit disappointed by what greeted you for the climb.. Especially one that Cyclist Magazine included in their top 100 in the world. Cheddar is the home of the famous caves, home to Britains oldest complete skeleton estimated to be over 9,000 years old. With all that history and heritage, you think it would have worked a little harder to resist the bright acrylic shop-fronts that framed the kebab shops, sweet shops and frankly other tat that on this COVID19 Saturday fortunately remained closed and tourist free.
It’s a real shame, as amongst them are some really interesting and historically important independant businesses that still sell some amazing cheddar cheese (now you know), wool, leather and other domestic industry items that you can imagine being traded a few hundred years ago.
Nonetheless, as you progress slightly through into the village you start to sense and see the road lift in front of you. Although comfortable in a big gear, you start thinking about what chain ring at the front will suit your needs and slow slightly as you compose your bike, body and mind.
As you turn left away from Costa Coffee (another blot on the landscape), everything changes and for the better. The near vertical cliff face that now surrounds you on both sides is a welcome site in many ways and not least because of their scale and beauty, but because of the silent encouragement they provide on every pedal stroke.
As you look up to the climbers hanging from safety ropes 100ft or more above you, you are distracted from the pain now squeezing the energy out of your legs as the gradient ramps up to 16%. The tight S-bends, narrow road and shadow black tarmac somehow squeeze you through what took nature over 1.2million years to be make. At that precise moment, it feels like that is how long it is going to take to get to the top too!
Weirdly, it’s a beautiful feeling. The more you push and pant, the better it feels and I honestly wish I could explain that better than I have here. I guess, if you are a cyclist, and you probably are, you will already know exactly what I mean. This climb rewards you not punishes you. Sure, it hurts, it is hard if not very tough. But however hard it gets, you still manage to burst out the neck of the climb and find some good speed – even when the gradient remains around 5-6%. Having spent a few minutes beforehand thinking about the top, you now don’t want to reach it as your legs and lungs and now dance on the pedals to the same tune.
How it stands physically, compared to the scale of more classic climbs such as Ventoux, Tourmalet and others is not what this climb is about. Cheddar Gorge is not about the statistics as you won’t remember how long it took, how high you climbed or even the gradient (I had to look it up to write this). You will remember riding it, and that in itself is why this is a great climb.