I grew up in Somerset. I only lived there from when I was 14 years old, but I did turn from being a child to a man there. I’d say of all the places I’ve lived this place was the backdrop to the years where I found out who I am and where I wanted to go.
On this visit I raced through Somerset, stopping to see family, see some (to me) iconic places, and even return to the exact roads and trails that forged me into a mountain biker.
I met up with Andy Chamberlain, who sold my parents my first proper mountain bike and then gave me my first bike shop job. We started our ride in Cheddar and rode up the Gorge (which isn’t the deepest gorge in the world but it’s still pretty epic). We used this as the access point to the Mendips, which in February boasted the standard winter conditions of axle deep puddles, cow shit and relentless mud holes.
It was brilliant. Brilliant in the it’s-fun-for-a-day-but-thank-god-I-don’t-have-to-ride-this-everyday kind of way. It was a joy to slide around in the muck and be pretty unnerved by the greasy limestone rock. It was fun to retrace the roads and think back to how I thought certain hills were heroically hard to ride up when I was a kid but now seem pretty pleasant. It was also good to hang out with Andy and catch up on all the gossip.
Glastonbury Tor is where – depending on whether you believe the local druids or hippies – magic and mystery bubbles from. Ley lines, the seat of King Arthur, underground portal to another world, you name it, there’s a mystical theory about this place. There is a couple of springs that rise up from the ground the ground. There’s the white (calcium) and red (iron) springs. Somerset is also the home of great cider. Not fizzy sugar water like you get served in North America (usually with a straw, ice and slice of fruit – what the fuck people, it’s cider, not a cocktail!). I grew up on cider and I love a nice dry pint of scrumpy (the real cider). The best stuff is found fermenting in farmer’s barns. Some farmers do it for themselves, some farmers do it as civic duty. Farmer Wilkins is legendary in Somerset.
This next photo might be giving away a little too much about the precise location of this magic cider farm, but you ever do get to Somerset then make it a mission to seek out this place. It’s not easy to get to and it’s even harder to leave because here ferments the best cider in the universe. You’ll be greeted with a mug and asked how you’d like it mixed – dry or sweet, or a bit of both. You can drink pretty much as much as you want, for free, as long as you buy some to take home. And don’t worry, 2 litres will only cost you just £2, which is enough to get a really sore head.
This place isn’t an artisanal cidery with faux rustic charm, this is a working farm and there is absolutely zero airs and graces gone into it. It’s rugged, raw and bloody delicious. The photos I shot aren’t even of the most bucolic parts of the barn, in fact, it’s impossible to really show how perfectly unrefined this place is. If you have a fear of germs and like nice white, wipe-down surfaces then just don’t go there. You’ll be horrified. But if you want to try the best and most authentic cider you’ll ever taste then I challenge you to seek it out. Warning: no cider that passes your lips after a mug of Wilkins scrumpy will taste as good.