Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance (DSAA) is a registered charity to provide relief from sickness and injury to the people of Dorset and Somerset by provision of an Air Ambulance. There is no direct funding from the Government or the National Lottery and they rely totally on the generosity of the public to run the service.
The service was launched in 2000, and since then over 11,000 missions have been flown. The helicopter can be at any point in Somerset or Dorset from its airbase at Henstridge in less than 20 minutes and then at any one of the major trauma centres in the South West within a further 20 minutes.
Operational costs exceed £2 million a year with each with mission costing £2,500.
The Coast to Coast Cycle Challenge is an annual fundraising event organised by DSAA. The event is not a race…
…and involves cycling through fabulous rural Dorset and Somerset mainly along quiet roads, through picturesque villages, cheered on by local residents. There are some demanding climbs on the route and a couple of technical descents to keep the route interesting and challenging. The event offers two routes. The Coast to Coast 54 mile ride starts at the historic Somerset port of Watchet and takes a direct route south finishing in the sea side resort of West Bay in Dorset. There is also an 11 mile route commencing at 2pm and also finishing at West Bay.
The event has become very popular over the years. In 2015 there were 600 riders and £64,000 was raised though entry fees, sponsorship and donations. The 2016 event had 600 places and they were all sold within 3 days of on-line registration opening.
The official event is a one way ride and there are a few options for transporting cyclists and their bikes from West bay to Watchet so they can ride back. I had not booked onto any transport so decided to ride up on the morning of the event. The challenging 54 mile (87 km) bike ride had become a very challenging 108 mile ride. In the end, the tally was 114 miles (185 km) with 2190m of elevation. (7214 feet).
I left home at 05:45 on a very chilly morning just as the sun was rising…
…and met up with Jo in Bridport. We set off on the route North following the return route initially but then avoiding Windwhistle Hill by going through Crewkerne on bigger roads. There was very little traffic so early in the morning. It was a beautiful ride up through Dorset into Somerset and on through the outskirts of Taunton. The chilly wind was north-westerly and therefore in our faces all the way. Once through Bishops Lydeard the route climbs over the Brendon Hills. We were quite excited to get our first glimpses of the Bristol Channel, with Wales beyond, in the early morning sunshine. As we dropped down the exhilarating descent from Elworthy Cross we were well aware that in another hour we would be climbing back up it!
We arrived at Watchet at 10:15…
…which left just 45 minutes to register and find some breakfast. Watchet was really buzzing with cyclists everywhere and a fantastic atmosphere.
The Air Ambulance volunteers were very well organised and the registration process was quick and efficient.
The Corner House Cafe in Watchet provided us with veggie breakfast and we were ready to go with the other 598 cyclists at 11:00. There was a fantastic atmosphere at the start with everyone lined up behind the banner raring to go.
The Town Cryer had us on our way at 11:00…
…and off we went – climbing up out of Watchet.
Somehow the hills don’t seem so bad with a number on your back and surrounded by other cyclists. Jo and I were at Elworthy Cross before we knew it and both felt that the climb was not as bad has we had expected. The views are fantastic on the B3224 and after a few miles of undulations we had the lovely, long descent into Bishops Lydeard. The villagers had turned out in force to welcome us and there was also the first of the pit stops provided by Air Ambulance volunteers. Jo and I continued along through Yarford, Kingston St Mary and Cheddon Fitzpaine before emerging on the A3259 on the outskirts of Taunton. There had been marshals at all junctions on the route so far and the traffic had been managed to keep us safe. Sometimes we had waited and sometimes the cars had waited.
On the A3259 one motorist was quite impatient at having to share the road with the cyclists but we were soon on our way as our route turned off the main road after a few minutes. The second pit stop was passed at Taunton Rugby Club but we were still going along quite well so we didn’t stop. We continued to wiggle our way through the urban area with efficient, clear marshals getting us to the relative quiet of Creech St Michael where all was once again calm.
There were some very pretty easy level stretches interspersed with the occasional climb before we reached the next pit stop at Ilminster. There were enthusiastic cheers as we rode through, once more deciding to keep going despite knowing that we were heading towards the biggest challenge of our day. There is a steady 5km of climb up to Windwhistle Hill on the A30. It has some steeper section of up to 15% which with 157 kilometres in our legs was very hard work. We made it though and once across the A30 we plunged down the technical descent into Purtington and up the short but steep hill out again despite dodging casualties who didn’t make it up for one reason or another.
The long, steep descent into Clapton went without incident and now we were on the home straight with just 20 kilometres to go. All downhill to West Bay on the Dorset Coast. Ha ha. It never is!
The last stop is at the Royal Oak at Drimpton. Jo and I were both short of fluids so we stopped and drank some water and topped up our bidons. We topped up our dwindling energy with a banana and after thanking the volunteers profusely we zoomed (?) off to Broadwindsor. This last 20km of the route is very familiar to us as we were definitely on home territory and although it is prevailingly downhill there are a few little bumps to climb over which we know only too well. After a long day – the bumps had just become a whole lot bigger. So it was with some relief and joy that we rode down to the Bay to be greeted by hundreds of cheering supporters.
There was a fantastic carnival atmosphere at the finish and we were delighted to be there to receive our well earned medal.
All that remained for me was the final 3km home to Burton Bradstock.
Inevitably there was a hill involved!
Many thanks to everyone involved in the organisation of this excellent event.