At long last I got to go to a Rough Stuff meet. The South West of England doesn’t have a local group, with most of the membership in the north, which seems like a terrible shame (for the south-west I mean!). The Easter meet has a new location each year, and this time they chose Dunster, just a few miles from home. What better chance to meet up and find out more.
If you’ve never heard of them, the RSF is a cycling club for ‘those who prefer to cycle on byways and tracks’. It’s not mountain biking, but more a case of taking a regular bicycle somewhere slightly different for the hell of it. For those who prefer a comfortable mode of transport, a mountain bike is certainly an option, but no one is looking for adrenaline inducing thrills and spills. You’ll see plenty of bone shakers, road bikes, folders and maybe even a penny farthing. It could go by the tagline of ‘Whatever Happened to the Lycra Lads’, except for the fact that Lycra isn’t often the clothing of choice for many of the members. They’ve been peddling since before the advent of modern technical fabrics and even off-road capable bikes, so you are more likely to see knee length wool socks, knobbly knees and an interesting selection of headwear. It’s a fantastic sight, and one that often leaves passers-by befuddled, and no doubt thinking ‘whatever happened to the lycra, lads?’
The Easter Meet runs over the weekend, Friday to Sunday evening, with a few early arrivals and late departures doing their own thing on Friday and Monday. The dinners and meetings were held at the Yarn Market Hotel in the centre of Dunster. Friday night was a dinner and slide show of photos contributed by members during the year, judged and awarded for merit. Some cracking views from around the UK and much further afield.
Saturday there were several rides for different interests and terrain, some more road orientated, some more off road. I chose a group heading towards Selworthy comprised of Steve, Jim, Pat, Lorna, Graham and Jonathon. A younger dynamic than perhaps many of the RSF members, our ages probably averaging around 50, although Jim I think was doing his best to raise the average. Not sure of his exact age, but I suspect the pension started quite a few years ago! He is however, one of the fitter members of the group, and a long time Rough Stuffer.
As we left Dunster we crossed the old Packhorse bridge, which was somewhat obscured by roadworks. We then made a small navigational error and ended up on a footpath which meant we needed to cross a style to get back to the main road. We then started an ascent of Grabbist Hill, which was too steep to cycle, although some made an attempt on the less steep sections.
The ride along the top gives some lovely views across Minehead, North Hill, the Bristol Channel, and Wales beyond. After a couple of miles of undulating track we descended through the woods. Unfortunately Pat picked up a branch into the spokes which set him teetering off to one side for a low speed and ignominious dismount. No injury to the rider, but the mudguard stays got torn from the guard, which itself fractured and buckled (it being a aluminium guard – the bike itself a steel framed road bike). But zip ties to the rescue, we collectively fashioned a working repair and got back on the way.
Tea and sandwiches came courtesy of the Periwinkle Tea Rooms in Selworthy, marred only by the smoke alarms sounding for several minutes which the staff seemed unable to silence. No one seemed ready to evacuate and leave their lunch, so fingers in ears for all. After refreshments, we headed uphill on the climb onto Selworthy Beacon. The way was fair but quite steep, and one-by-one people reverted to walking, but I’m pleased to say that I managed to make it to the top, in the company of Jonathon.
As this was home turf for me, Steve was kind enough to allow me to guide the group, and we headed out across the beacon towards Bossington Hill, before the descent towards the village. I’d forgotten that this track, although a bridleway, was actually pretty narrow. Not a problem for a mountain bike, but it took some careful steering on the road bikes to avoid the steep drop off from the side of the track. Whilst raising the pulse rate, everyone made it and (at least said that) they enjoyed the challenge! The narrow path widened out to broad track, the only hazard was drainage channels crossing the track, which made for the occasional bump or dip to be careful over. On reaching the road near the Hawk and Owl Sanctuary, we headed along the lane towards Allerford. Steve volunteered to take a ride through the ford next to the lovely Packhorse bridge, and got a wet foot for his trouble, then goaded the rest of us into a try, so I took the bait and also got wet feet. No one else seemed to want to follow, so we headed on towards Horner.
On the way along the road Jonathon took a fall as he ran right into the back of Steve who had stopped for a technical adjustment to his freewheel, which had been being pesky most of the day. I assume Jonathon must have been enjoying the view and failed to spot the obstacle, but no harm done to either bike or rider.
Time for another pit stop, courtesy of the tea rooms at Horner, and a chance to sit and enjoy the sunshine for half an hour over tea and cake. From here we had several options on which way to go. Jonathon seemed very keen take the riverside track through Horner Wood, then head off along the lane towards Cloutsham and an ascent on Dunkery Beacon, but the day was getting a little short by this time, and some where starting to flag a little. We also decided to skip my first suggestion, which was the riverside track and a steep climb out toward Horner on a track I took a couple of years ago which was near vertical in its ascent.
Instead, we picked up a stretch of the Coleridge Way. A steep climb uphill and over loose ground meant that we all had no choice but to walk, but eventually the track levelled out and we were able to cycle through the woods to the parking area at Horner. Crossing the road here on a dog leg, we continued to follow in Coleridge’s footsteps and headed out across Luccombe Hill with great views across to Bossington, Selworthy, Wootton Courtney and as far as the Quantocks. A narrow and technical section meant that only those with mountain bikes could keep up the ride, the others taking a leisurely walk amongst the gorse and heather, enjoying the remainder of the fine sunshine and views.
Eventually we found tarmac again and then had a smooth ride home along the lanes between Wootton Courtney and Dunster for a great finale to the days ride. Everyone was pleased with the ride, and we peeled off in various directions to accommodation, or in my case the car and back to the van for a clean up before dinner.
Saturday evening was dinner and the AGM. Dinner was convivial with many animated discussions of the days various rides, and followed by the AGM. Annual General Meetings are often dull affairs, but chairman Steve moved through the various items at a good pace. There were more photos (the paper kind this time) to view, as well as back issues of the RSF journal and some merchandise. I picked up a mug for myself, and some leaflets which will get distributed around the area to encourage some new members.
Alas I couldn’t attend the Sunday ride or dinner due to other commitments, but then the weather wasn’t great all day so perhaps I was lucky there. I thoroughly enjoyed the weekend, and will be making a point of attending other rides during the year. I think I’m going to have to put my name forward and try and get something going in the south-west as well, as it seems such a shame its not represented well in the groups activities, especially given the variety of scenery to enjoy.