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Nature Connection on the All Terre Bristol Rally

Image by Leigh Rose

Writer Chris Hunt joins the first kilometres of the South West’s brand new TFT Approved bikepacking event.

Under dappled golden light, rolling along dry, dusty byways, I cut a line through a swathe of green popping with life. Somewhere south of Bristol, climbing through a dense mix of ash, beech and oak, the air is thick with the last of spring’s wild garlic perfume, the woodland bathed in birdsong.

Beneath my tyres, the trail is technical enough to keep me on my toes but relaxed and familiar enough that between conversation, my mind is free to wander. Climbing a short section of steep double-track, around me the forest opens up and I’m met by a group of riders, laughing, chatting and sharing snacks.Among them is TFT Community Coordinator Leigh. In his hand a set of cards each with a prompt or a question inviting riders to pause for a moment to look around, take notice of a particular feature or perhaps reflect on a poignant memory of nature. With it a platform for conversation and connection.

Image by All Terre

A 300km bikepacking event, The Bristol Rally is designed to showcase the best mixed-terrain  riding of the West Country. Hand-picking the best elements of ultra-racing formats, rallies like this are an antidote to the pressure and discomfort of their more urgent counterparts, prioritising experience and connection over performance and competition.Having joined events like the Rapha Pennine Rally, and the komoot Women's Rallies further afield, its organiser Claire Sharp of All Terre Adventures, was inspired to see how something similar could work on her local trails.

‘Each one had a profound effect on me because the environment we rode in was so open, collaborative and welcoming. They were pivotal in building my confidence, giving me the chance to push myself while making new friendships, especially as I hadn't long started cycling,’ says Claire. ‘I wanted to put on an event that mimicked the ones I loved being a part of while showing off our amazing backyard. Once I realised you could visit the Mendips, Longleat, Stonehenge, Salisbury Plain and Avebury in just 300km, I knew I had a rally.’

On a Friday morning at the tail-end of June, with coffee and doughnuts in-hand, an agile group of 40-something-riders — with them an assortment of bikes, tyres, handle bar shapes and various bag combinations strapped to frames and racks— gather before rolling out in the direction of Ashton Court and the city’s green peripheries. 

‘For me, events like these are a chance to unplug from everyday life and get outside, to appreciate how magical the natural world is. Whether that's on your doorstep or further afield, there’s a lot to be enjoyed and the more time we spend enjoying natural environments, the more compelled we become to protect and nurture them,’ she says. ‘After being at the TFT Summit last year and taking part in nature connection activities, I knew I wanted the Bristol Rally to be a part of the movement and have riders appreciate the natural environments they were moving through. Having Leigh facilitate nature connection moments creates something really special that I haven't experienced on other events.’

Image by Leigh Rose

Covering hundreds of kilometres at no set pace, the nature of rallies like this sees its riders organically merge with other groups in sync with the natural ebbs and flows of energy, terrain and elevation. Amongst them is sustainability professional recently qualified mountain bike guide Grace Compton from Bournemouth. Sharing a few kilometres together, I ask about her motivation to join.

‘I trusted Claire would have made a brilliant route, with her knowledge of local trails, and the rally format is great because I want to meet new people, and also have the flexibility of riding alone if that’s what I fancy,’ she tells me. ‘[Being TFT Approved] is really significant too, it shows that the organisers are mindful of their impact on our environment, and are hopefully making other positive choices in their organising. 

‘I’ve been learning about the research on all the great things about nature connection for our wellbeing and how it can make us want to do better for the environment,’ she continues. ‘I was so pleased to meet Leigh and see him expertly demonstrate a range of approaches. The invitation to stop and pause each day was a welcome reminder to fully appreciate the beautiful route, and I’m definitely going to use some of the activities both myself and when guiding.’

Under a kilometre from where it had all started less than 72 hours previously, with the full 300 kilometres under their belts, riders congregate at Bristol’s Left Handed Giant, trading Friday morning’s coffee for a well-earned Sunday afternoon beer in the sun to share experiences from across the route. 

Among the tell-tell content rosy cheeks of those clearly having spent the entirety of a weekend outdoors I find Leigh once again.

‘Reflections in the group sessions were really magical,’ he tells me. ‘Riders were so open with their thoughts and feelings which opened up healthy discussion and reflection with the group. The biggest thing for me was the smiles of those who took part in a mindful minute. Figuratively seeing their brain cogs turning, thinking about nature which manifested as full-face grins as they clipped into their pedals to embark on their final mission of the weekend.’

Find out more about the All Terre Bristol Rally here. Learn more about TFT Approved here.

Image by Leigh Rose


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