Quick ride up to King Alfred’s Tower – A coldie but a goodie

Just a quick post this morning. Continuing my ‘exploration’ of the South Somerset area – and Somerset in general, having only moved here from the distant land of Wales just three and a half weeks ago, I decided to go for a quick ride on the road bike up to renowned local landmark, King Alfred’s Tower last night. Obviously it was Thursday, and therefore Webtogs Bike Night – but as some of you will be aware, after my little mishap on our ride last Thursday, I was unable to join in with the mountain biking fun (I intend to fix my stricken mountain bike this weekend in time for next week). Anyway, to fill the time and get in some excercise after work I went for a road ride. I’d been told by Mike that the Alfred’s Tower/Kingsettle Hill climb was one of the toughest in the area, so I thought I’d give it a crack!

 

The huge and surreal construction that is King Alfred's Tower
The huge and surreal construction that is King Alfred’s Tower

Though hardly L’Alpe d’Huez – this is Somerset after all, it did indeed live up to the billing. Three miles in length, it takes the form of a gradual lead-in of steadily increasing gradient, followed by a steep and painful section in the last 2/3 of a mile or so. All the while you can see King Alfred’s Tower at the top, almost at touching distance, which gives the very false impression that you’re nearly at the top, for the majority of the climb! Half way up the steep final section there is also the false respite of a flatter bit, which gives the impression that the slope is leveling out at the top… only for it to ramp up once again to the very steepest part of the climb, averaging a 14% gradient over a third of a mile! Once at the to however, the rewards make it all worthwhile, not only in terms of the pure satisfaction of having made it, but also the view.

 

Proof that I cycled there... either that or drove there and put my bike in front of the tower.
Proof that I cycled there… either that or drove there and put my bike in front of the tower

Take a quick walk from the road to the right onto the grassy common, and you get a surreal treat: the hulking construction of King Alfred’s Tower itself, 49 metres in height and constructed from over 1.2 million bricks. What’s even more impressive is that this building serves, and has never served any real purpose; a ‘folly’ built by wealth banker and landowner Henry Hoare II (known to his family as ‘the magnificent’) from 1770-72, to commemorate the Anglo-Saxon King Alfred’s victory over the invading Danish Vikings in 878AD. He is the very same chap responsible for the numerous fantastical, Greco-Roman ‘temples’ on the Stourhead estate within which the tower also lies, and I couldn’t help but think as did at Stourton last week, that he truly must have had a lot more money and time on his hands than he knew what to do with. I am certainly glad of this though, as the Hoare family’s extreme approach to garden design adds even more interest and appeal to an what is already a very scenic area.

 

It's all downhill from here... thank goodness
It’s all downhill from here… thank goodness

Although the temperature is rapidly falling as we power though October, I would definitely recommend any cyclists who haven’t been up to the tower yet, to give it a go. I had a great time, even though I did nearly freeze to death on the dark ride back to Wincanton thanks to the very chilly Northerly wind, and my complete lack of winter bike wear. I tracked the route that I took on cycle-tracking app Strava, for anyone who fancies giving it a go themselves. The various quiet country roads and green lanes make for endless route possibilities – the only bit I’d be sure not to miss is the Kingsettle Hill/Alfred’s Tower climb:

King Alfred’s Tower Ride – Strava

 

Why not try it this weekend?
Phil

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