Friday, 29 April 2011

Not The Royal Wedding

The plan had been to get out early and avoid the whole wedding thing. I had arranged for a friend to come over at ten and we would then set off from my place, only returning when it was over. With any luck we could avoid the whole event. All that conspicious consumption and gushing over dresses just isn't my cup of tea. I am not as fervently anti-royalist as I used to be, mainly because, as with most things these days, I just can't be bothered to get worked up, but I would hardly put myself in the pro-Royalist category of someone like, say, Nicholas Witchell or Andrew Morton.

I have been getting on my daughter Anne's nerves as I keep asking: "Which one of those two boys is getting married? Is it Harry or the other one?"
"For goodness sake," she replies in an exasperated tone. "It's William mum."

Yvonne however is late, and by the time she arrives, Anne has put the telly on and is watching The Event.
"Shall we have a cup of tea before we go?" says Yvonne.
"Ok," I say.
Inevitably we end up watching the wedding.
"She does look lovely'" I say. "That dress is just gorgeous!"
"Mmm," say the other two - all eyes glued to the screen.

In the end we were two hours later than planned setting off. We headed off down the Chew Valley, following the path alongside the river to Compton Dando. The path crosses the old packhorse bridge at Chewton Keynsham, and forms part of The Monarch's Way and the Two Rivers Way. At Compton Dando we stopped for a drink outside the Compton Inn (outside because we had with us Yvonne's four legged friend, Alfie).

Once refreshed we took the footpath into the churchyard where we were unable to resist having a nose around St Mary's church before exiting the churchyard via an old stone stile. Following the path over the River Chew we crossed a meadow and entered Park Copse. I had found this wood by accident a few weeks before. The floor of the wood was carpeted with garlic flowers and with British bluebells, delicate flowers of the most exquisite colour. Alfie, evidently also impressed, wandered over to have a closer look and give them a quick watering. Well it has been very dry of late.
Garlic in Park Copse

Bluebells in Park Copse

We headed down the lane to Woollard and crossed the "new bridge" over the Chew. Woollard used to have a medieval stone arched bridge. Like Keynsham's main bridge, Wollard's bridge was washed away in the 1968 flood.

On July 10th 1968 it rained. A lot. It had been a wet summer anyway (are British summers ever anything but wet?) and the water table was already pretty full. On that night over five inches of rain fell on already sodden ground. The River Chew swelled and the water rushed down though the valley, carrying fallen trees and debris down the valley. Bridges that had stood for centuries were carried away and as the water flowed down the valley, the rush grew stronger. Upstream Pensford Bridge was swept away, Woollard Bridge followed and the water rushed on towards Keynsham.

The other day I talked to a man who, at the time had been living in a house in Dapps Hill. Keynsham, next to the river.
House in Keynsham showing flood level
(rectangular plaque next to chimney).
Also shows
an ammonite, very common in Keynsham.
"I remember it like yesterday," he said. "I was about eleven at the time. I woke up because of the noise, I thought it was a nightmare. I called to my mum, and she came up the stairs. All of a sudden the water rushed into the house. My mum, she clung onto the bannisters, if she hadn't held on tight the water would have carried her away. The people in the house opposite had to get into the attic and break out through the roof."

Farther downstream the flood carried away the Keynsham town bridge and along with it a car that had been travelling across at the time, containing a young woman, Alexandra Giles who was returning to Marksbury from a function at Bristol University, her fiance Charles Kaye and his parents. Charles survived by clinging to a tree for five hours before being rescued by an RAF team, the other three were never recovered.

All I remember of these momentous events was sitting in a very long traffic queue from Cheddar. Eventually my parents turned back and booked into a bed and breakfast for the night. At the time, being six, this was excitement enough.

Anyway, back to the walk. We crossed a field from Woollard, heading towards Pensford, and as we approached the next field a large dairy herd were blocking our forward advance.
"I'm frightened of cows," said Yvonne.
"So am I."
We edged back down the field and found a bridge across the river and walked on that side of the river to the hamlet of Publow, where the medieval bridge still stands, this one having survived the 1968 flood.

Like Woollard, Publow is an ancient settlement. Both Manors had once belonged to the important Abbey at Keynsham but by the seventeenth century they had come under the ownership of the influential Popham family who held the land until 1911 when it was sold off. The Popham's are best known for founding the shortlived Popham Colony in Maine, now commemorated by Popham Beach near the original site of the colony.

From Publow it was a very short walk down the lane to nearby Pensford, home of the legendary clarinetist Acker Bilk. Well there was no getting away from it, Pensford was having a Royal Wedding street party. As it was lunchtime and I was hungry I decided to gatecrash it. There was loads of food so I helped myself to some sandwiches and scotch eggs. And some cake. And a few crisps. Yvonne looked at me disapprovingly. "You can't just take their food," she said.
"Why not?" I mumbled, mouth still full of crisps and egg. "It's for everyone, isn't it? Its a street party."
"Yes but its not your street is it?"
Fair point.

We headed out of the village over a field strewn with thistles, Yvonne carrying Alfie in her arms to save his paws. Unfortunately at the bottom of the field were more cows and we had to take evasive action by climbing over a barbed wire fence. Off the main path the navigation went to pot a bit and it was only after another barbed wire fence and a balancing act along a fallen tree that we managed to regain the correct path back to Compton Dando and then retrace our steps home.

Compton Dando

You can check out the route we took here
The wandering about in the wood bit is optional.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Taunton to Bristol - Day Ten - Bristol to Cornwall round trip

Last night in the pub Mick made a confession. When we had been somewhere between South Molton and Bampton he had reached into his pocket for some gum and had found in there the key to the room in the Bideford B&B. He had forgotten to leave it on the table as instructed. He checked I wasn't looking and then threw it in a bush. Somehow, I did not think we would be returning to Bideford for a while.

Comfort Stop!
On leaving Taunton we found our way down the back of an industrial estate and onto the canal towpath to Bridgewater, not the quickest, but the most pleasant route and lovely and quiet. We stopped for a break in Bridgewater but saw no reason to stay long. The only way out of the town is on the A39 which we took as far Woolavington. This section of the A39 is used by motorists going to and from the nearby M5, and many drivers are still in full zoom mode. Being an ex-Roman road, it is also pretty straight which also encourage speeding. I was in front (for a change) and at the top of a hill I stopped to wait for Mick so that he didn't sail past the left turn coming up. I waited so long that I was convinced he had disappeared under the wheels of an articulated lorry. Eventually he appeared around the corner. "Bloody chain fell off again," he said when he had caught me up.

As always the Somerset Levels provided a welcome antidote to the A39 and we had a pleasant ride through East Harptree, Mark and Wedmore before arriving at Cheddar where we had - what else? - a Cheddar ploughmans.

We started up the Strawberry Line but then switched to the A38 to make up time. It was a fast road and we were soon speeding past the airport. Mick was craning his neck to watch a plane just coming in to land. "It's a Fokker!" he exclaimed. (Mick loves airplanes, he behaves like a small boy every time we come past here, jumping up and down and getting all excited - whereas I find planes incredibly boring unless I am boarding one to go on holiday.)
"No need for that sort of language," I smirked.

From here it wasn't long until we were coasting into Bristol, the A38 had improved our eta considerably although it is not the most relaxing of routes. Just over four hundred miles and only one day of rain and one accident (falling out of the bunk bed on day two).  All in all it was a most successful venture. 

Miles cycled today: 55
Total miles: 424

Our route is  here

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Bideford to Taunton - Day Nine - Bristol to Cornwall round trip

Before breakfast I tried to wash the curry stain out of the towel but nothing short of a wash cycle heated to 100 degrees was going to shift it. I gathered up the various takeaway containers and the empty wine bottle and stuffed them all into one of my pannier bags. The room smelt strongly of vindaloo so I also flung open the window.
"Shit," I muttered, "this is not going to go down well."

We went down to breakfast where Mick tried to make conversation with the owner with no success. He clearly was not interested in making small talk. I would guess what he wanted to say but couldn't was: "You've had your bed for the night, so eat your breakfast and hurry up and fuck off, so I can get on with cleaning the room for the next moron with a bike that turns up."

I worried that his wife would be sneaking up to inspect the room whilst we were tucking into our bacon and egg, which took the edge off my appetite. After breakfast I rushed upstairs and grabbed my things. I couldn't wait to get out of there.  I cowardly offered to wait outside with the bikes whilst Mick paid. He was gone a while and I became convinced that they were having an argument about whether he should pay for the laundering of the towel. Apparently not, he eventually emerged and said, on the contrary, the owner had (as usual) said very little.

We thought it prudent however to stay off the main road and we left Bideford by way of a convoluted route through backlanes and alleyways and a residential housing estate. just in case. As we climbed a steep hill out of the town, Mick said with satisfaction, "He'll never find us this way!"

The honourable thing of course would have been to confess to the towel incident and offer to pay for it. I had suggested as much to Mick that morning but he had vehemently opposed the notion. "Serves him right," he declared. "It was overpriced, unwelcoming and unfriendly. There's no way I'm 'fessing up to that!"

Having made our escape from Bideford we headed along minor roads towards South Molton. I wanted to clean my gungy bike chain but didn't have a cloth so I popped into a charity shop and bought a man's handkerchief for ten pence. "There, m'dear, that'll be a lovely hankie for you," said the old lady behind the counter with approval. I didn't have the heart to tell her that within two minutes it would be covered in oil and then chucked in the bin.

After a coffee and a couple of bananas we continued heading east. We briefly joined the A361 and quickly realised our error. The traffic was hurtling along at a terrifying speed. We quickly got off again and joined the B3227 instead. This was much more pleasant and reasonably quiet. On our left we could see the hills of Exmoor parallel with us. This road, although not flat was much less punishing in terms of gradients than the one on which we had travelled down the previous week.

The weather had been superb all week, warm and sunny and very pleasant for cycling. Now however, clouds rolled in from the west and it started to rain heavily. As we sped down the 250 metre gradual descent towards the Exe Valley I started to feel very cold as well. At the bottom of the hill we stopped for a quick route check and a garage owner there, overhearing us, told us to cycle round the valley to Bampton rather than up over the hill. We didn't need much persuading.

By the time we got to Bampton we were soaked and shivering. We dripped into a tea shop and sat for half-an-hour huddled over a pot of tea trying to dry off. I would have liked to have stayed longer but we still had a way to go. The less we cycled today the more we would have to do tomorrow. So we heaved ourselves up and cycled on along, still on the B3227, to Wiveliscombe. A quick inspection of the town did not indicate a huge choice of accommodation so we decided to continue to Taunton and then call it a day. A further consideration was that we knew that Taunton had at least one Wetherspoon pub.

Some people complain about Wetherspoons with their big barn-like establishments and their stack-it-high-and-sell-it -cheap approach. But I like them. Or rather I don't like paying £3.40 for an un-special pint of beer in an un-special pub as we had done in Glastonbury. Wetherspoons pubs may not be special but at least one only pays £2.20 in an un-special pub instead. And they always have a reasonable choice of beer, often from smaller breweries.

M'mmm beer lovely beer

Not long ago we had bought a polypin of beer from an independent brewery and had been charged£1.20 per pint. "Why do they charge so much in pubs then?" we asked the brewer.
He shrugged. "They don't have to," he said. No doubt publicans will cite overheads, rent, staff costs etc. etc. But the fact is, I and many people I know, simply don't want to pay, and can't afford to pay, a tenner for a round of three drinks. Anyway, rant over.

It was seven o'clock by the time we got to Taunton. I tried to use my iphone for the purpose I had bought it, to look up accommodation, but, as had been the case on the whole trip, it was hopelessly slow. So we went to the tourist information and started phoning some numbers from the accommodation list on the window. We couldn't believe the prices, many of them  were charging. £100 per night plus! This was Taunton for goodness sake. There's nothing in Taunton!

After dialing half a dozen numbers we rang back the first one we had tried which had  quoted us £69 and we said we would take it. They then said that the price didn't include breakfast. I was tired. I lost my temper. "I asked you the price for Bed and Breakfast!" I yelled. If I had wanted the price for just Bed I would have said so!"
"Ok, ok," said the woman on the other end of the phone. "I'll include breakfast in the price."

When we got there is was a very nice hotel and the receptionist didn't turn a hair at us dragging our filthy bikes in, providing a downstairs room for them to be stored until the morning. Mollified, I was extra nice to her when we checked in, thanking her profusely for everything.

She got the last laugh though. She had booked us into the room next to the central heating boiler for the hotel and it kept us awake half the night.

Miles cycled today: 59
Total miles: 369

Our route is here

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Great Torrington to Bideford - Day Eight - Bristol to Cornwall round trip

We only had a short journey planned today as we were going to visit my relatives in Appledore. We headed up the Tarka Trail,retracing the route we had taken in the dark the previous evening. This is a lovely section of the Tarka path and it it was easy to chew up the miles. Mick had lost his bell on the long run into Bude, he now improvised by shouting "ding-ding" when approaching pedestrians. One passer-by was particularly impressed. Laughing, she said, "lovely bell, where can I get one?"

At Bideford we took a minute to admire the magnificent town bridge known as the Long Bridge. The bridge has twenty four arches which are all different sizes. Originally oak, work begain in 1474 on the stone bridge which is a Grade One listed monument. The stone bridge followed the lines of the oak one, with the different size arches reflecting the different lengths of timber used for the lintels.

We cycled on along the front and up over the hill to Appledore. We were on my home territory now. My grandmother hailed from Bideford and for generations before that my relatives lived in and around Great Torrington. My aunt and uncle had recently moved back to Appledore and I could understand why, it is a beautiful place. It was the first time I had been here and I felt at home straightaway. I liked it very much indeed. Narrow streets of brightly coloured houses straggled along, linked by old alleyways and courtyards.

We stopped for a Hockings Ice Cream from the ice cream van parked on the front. Hockings is a proper local Devonshire ice cream, and is only available in their vans in North Devon. Made from a closely guarded recipe, the company was started by Dave Hockings in 1936 in a converted 1928 Morris Cowley van. Othre family members have since joined the business and thus far they have sensibly resisted the temptation to mass market their product. It was delicious: creamy and smooth and all a good ice-cream should be.

"This used to be the rough end of town", said my aunt as we wandered along a picturesque street of tiny cottages. "Your grandmother wouldn't let me come and play down here."
As my grandmother's family was not exactly well off, it must indeed have been pretty rough. Difficult to imagine now.

By the time we had settled in for some home made cake and tea at my aunties, time was getting on. We waved goodbye and headed back over the headland to Bideford, where we decided we may as well find a bed for the night. We asked in a local pub whether there was any accommodation nearby and were directed to a bed and breakfast establishment at the back of the town. The proprietor said we could bring our bikes through to the back but insisted on carrying them himself.
"Too many idiots rip the wallpaper or get oil on the carpet," he said.
"We looked at each other but said nothing as he lugged the bikes though one by one.

The place had the feel of a commercial travellers hotel, and there were stern signs instructing the guests on the many activities they were not to indulge in: no takeaway food in rooms, no alcohol in rooms, no noise, no having sex, no enjoying yourself in any way whatsoever. Ok, I made those two up but they may as well have been on the list. The spare bed had a large sign on it saying that if the bed was used then a charge for an extra person would be made. It all added up to an unfriendly feel about the place. Unfortunately, after going out  for a few beers we completely forgot about the instructions, bringing back a bottle of wine and an Indian takeway which Mick managed to spill over the white towel he was using as a napkin.

"I'll sort it in the morning," I thought foggily, as I went to sleep.

Miles cycled today:22
Total Miles: 310

Our route is here

Monday, 11 April 2011

Launceston to Great Torrington - Day Seven - Bristol to Cornwall round trip

We were late leaving Launceston as we dallied awhile drinking coffee with the lovely people at Launceston Cycles.

When we got on our way we took the main road to Holsworthy. We stopped for a break in the main square.
"Do you notice anything?" said Mick suddenly.
"No, like what?"
"No flowers," he said.
I looked around. he was right. It was the middle of April and yet all the flower tubs were empty. No hanging baskets either. Not a flower in sight anywhere.
"No money," said Mick dolefully. "Holsworthy might not be as poor as a northern town but it's still struggling."
After this bleak assessment we decided to get on our way. I decided to once again pick up Sustran's Route Three.

For a day out pottering around, Sustrans routes are great. However if you actually want to get anywhere then they should be used with caution. A Sustrans path will go to great lengths to avoid main roads. I can understand why, if you are out with your five and three year old, the last thing you want to do is suddenly find yourself next to lorries thundering past you at sixty miles an hour on the A30 or whatever. But sometimes a Sustrans path just feels like it is leading you on a merry dance. As we zigzagged our way out of Holsworthy we found ourselves, for a while, heading south. I have no sense of direction at all but Mick just sort of sticks his nose in the air and can tell more or less which direction we are headed. He did this now.

"Why are we heading south?" he said irritably.
"It's not for long," I retorted.
He then said something rude about Sustrans which I won't repeat.

I was relieved however when we turned left and started heading east. East was better than south although north-east would have been better still. We wandered around Devonshire lanes with Sustrans for a while through villages with lovely names: Cookbury Wick, Dippermill, Sheepwash before picking up the off-road Tarka Trail at Petrockstowe.

At Bude I had picked up a list of phone numbers for independent hostels and I knew that there was one at Great Torrington, Yarde Orchard. As we headed up the trail another ex-railway path, we saw signs for it. It wasn't in Torrington itself but in a village on the path a few miles outside. It was clearly a hippy-type eco place and was a bunkhouse rather than a hostel. The building was lovely, a recently built wooden structure, very light and airy....the place has won lots of awards for eco-tourism and apparently is "deep green".

Mick would have been in a bad mood anyway though, as the hostel was nowhere near a pub. He always gets crabby when we are away if he thinks he is not going to get a beer. I pointed out he was a total pisshead, to which he freely agreed.
"Anyway, we have to go into Great Torrington to do some shopping," he said, triumphantly.

We cycled along the road down a huge hill and then climbed up into Torrington.
"There's no way we're going back that route!" I yelled. "I'm not climbing up that hill."
Mick cheered up once we had sat ourselves in the pub. Across the room sat a very well dressed woman who must have been in her eighties at least. She was waggling her finger at us. I nudged Mick and we both looked across at her. Mick held up his hands in a gesture to ask what was wrong. She jabbed her finger at him again.
"Take your hat off!" she said severely. "Take your hat off indoors!"
Mick sheepishly removed his baseball cap and placed it on the seat next to him and the woman nodded approvingly before returning to her glass of sherry.

We returned to Yarde by heading out of Torrington in the opposite direction to the one by which we had entered, and picking up the Tarka Trail. It was rather eerie cycling along the wooded path in the dark but much, much better than tackling that hill.

Miles cycled today: 39
Total miles: 288

Our route is here

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Lerryn to Launceston - Day Six - Bristol to Cornwall round trip

From Lerryn we followed the back lanes to Couch's Mill and Trago Mills and then headed towards Bodmin Moor, the road gently climbing all the while.  Gradually the road levelled out and we were crossing the top of the eastern end ofthe moor.  All was quiet now as we gently cycled along. Scattered across the moor were ruins of tin mines, relics of a once lucrative tin and copper mining industry.
We reached Minions, which claims to be (and I have no reason to think otherwise) the highest village in Cornwall, at over 300 metres.

As we entered the village we could see on our left the three stone circles our friends in Lerryn had told us about. These were The Hurlers, three stone circles dating from about the Bronze Age. They are believed to have been erected in about 1500BC and so younger than Stonehenge by about 1500 years. And, as this one was free to wander around, cheaper for the two of us  by fifteen quid. We spent a pleasant half-hour wandering around the stones with only the local ponies for company.

By now we were a tad thirsty and were unable to resist a pint at the Cheesewring Pub, so named after the local tor just north from here, comprosed of a pile of granite stones apparently defying nature. In hindsight I wished we had taken the time to detour up for a look. Another piece of unfinished business.

In the pub we had a nice pint of Special from Sharp's Brewery which was far superior to the ubiquitous Doom Bar which can be bought everywhere these days and which I don't rate that highly. It's one of those beers that's tolerable if there is nothing else on offer except John Smiths Smooth or lager. Sharp's has recently been bought by Molson Coors. If you haven't heard of Molson Coors, you wll have heard of their products (I cannot call them beers) Carling and Grolsch. Obviously they think Real Ale is a lucrative market to be in.

Our thoughts turned to where we were going to stay for the night. We were hoping to be able to stay at Glencoe Villa in Launceston. Although we had not been over keen on Launceston last time we visited, we did like the B&B very much. Naturally, being Cornwall, O2 were unable to provide a signal but we spotted that rare object: a rural phone box which did NOT have "Coins Not Accepted Here" plastered on the side. And miracle of miracles! Not only did the phone box take coins, it had a phone directory in it! We stood there in speechless amazement for a while before collecting ourselves together and looking up the number for the B&B. Yes!!! We were booked in, all we had to do was cycle the few miles to Launceston.

The trouble with beer is that it is quite more-ish and so when we reached the Caradon Inn a few miles up the road at Upton Cross we were unable to resist popping in for another one. The pub was ok although we didn't like the modern decor and it lacked atmosphere so we only ordered a half. As we sat at the bar we got chatting to a friendly chap called Pete, who told us he was a builder and farmer. When we told him we were headed for Launceston he said,"Oh don't go down the main road, it's really hilly. I know a better way, which is very flat."
"Oh brilliant," we said eagerly. Pete then directed us down the back road to Rilla Mill.

Ok, it's my own fault. I had an OS map, had I bothered to look at it I would have realised what was going on. And I did think it was a bit odd when one of the other customers, hearing our conversation said, trying not to laugh:"You're not sending them that way, are you Pete?"

It wasn't flat at all of course. It was steep. Down and up.
"Bar Steward," said Mick.

 We felt compelled to call in the Manor House Inn at Rilla Mill to recover before heading on to Launceston and our accommodation for the night.

Me and Prince William at Rilla Mill

Miles cycled today:  28
Total miles: 249

Our route is here

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Rock to Lerryn- Day Five - Bristol to Cornwall round trip

This morning we were up bright and early, not long after nine! After a hearty cooked breakfast we bade our hosts goodbye and headed off to catch the ferry across the Camel Estuary to Padstow. A very enjoyable start to the day it was too. I craned my neck, hoping for a glimpse of St Edonoc church which is situated just up the eastuary from Rock, across the sand dunes from the ferry landing. Sadly the church was buried from view. Not literally, although in the past that has been the case. In the nineteenth century the church became almost buried by the sand dunes and the vicar had to enter via a skylight whenever a service was due. Luckily for the vicar they were only held once a year. St Edonoc is famous for being the burial place of John Betjeman. I made a vow one day to return here and seek it out. Hopefully it won't have got buried again or I'll need to abseil in.

We headed for the start of the Camel Trail. We were familiar with this part of the route from our End-To-End journey. Once again the weather was fine and the water sparkled in the sunlight. The Camel Trail is well used, it was great to see so many people out on bikes enjoying themselves, and we only had a couple of near misses with novices on hired bikes.

The path enters a park just outside the back of Bodmin Gaol (or Jail). What a formidable place. The prison was built in 1779 and closed in 1927. Over fifty people were hanged (not hung!) here including one John Hoskin, hanged for stealing a sack of wheat at Redruth in 1796, Michael Stephens who was hanged in 1820 for killing a ram and stealing it and Elizabeth Osbourne who was hanged in 1813 for setting fire to a corn stack. Ann Holman got off lightly. She was given a mere two months improsonment in Bodmin Goal in the same year for stealing milk from a cow. Nowadays of course things are different, and one can drink stale water in the 'Witness Box Wine Bar' or have a delicious meal of gruel and onion in the award winning 'Warder's Room Restaurant'. Only kidding....there's no onion.

Now all we had to do was to get from Bodmin to Lostwithiel. We got slightly lost in Lanhydrock estate but after cycling down the main drive I was unable to resist the tantalising little road to Restormel marked red and white on the OS map. Checking the key I surmised that red and white means "under construction."

"This map was printed in 2008," I said. "It's sure to be finished by now." We took the road. Which wasn't finished, in fact it wasn't a road at all, it was a path across fields.
"So much for a quick route," grumbled Mick as we dragged our bikes across the grass.
At Restormel we rejoined tarmac and cycled the last couple of miles to Lostwithiel where we met our friends and headed on down to Lerryn for a knees up in the Ship.

Miles cycled today: 27
Total miles: 221

Our route is here

Friday, 8 April 2011

Bude to Rock - Day Four - Bristol to Cornwall round trip

As usual Mick had taken very little interest in route planning, observing that as I was the one with a map case on my bar-bag I should plot the route.
"Oh, you choose, I don't mind," he would say cheerily, "you're the one with the map!"
This morning as he prepared to point his bike back the way we had come, I corrected him.
"Oh, we're not going that way," I said, "I thought we'd take the coast road. It's more scenic."
"Ok," he said nonchalantly.

To start with the route was gently hilly. On our right the blue Atlantic rolled in breaking into white crested waves as the sea met the beach. Between us and and sea, yellow gorse lined the road. Behind us we could see Bude receding into the distance. We coasted through Widemouth Bay where a gust of wind blew a whole load of sand in my eye and I hastily donned my sunglasses. Soon afterwards we turned a sharp bend and were confronted by a large hill.
"Ooh, time for a break," said Mick.

We ate some of the food we had bought in Bude before setting off and watched a car come round the corner, look at the hill and promptly execute a three point turn. We made a half-hearted attempt at cycling the hill before getting off and pushing the bike up. Mick was blissfully unaware that the next inch of road on the map showed half-a-dozen black arrows. Although I knew they were coming up, I had no idea quite how steep the road was about to become. We met a couple walking up the hill, puffing hard although they looked relatively fit and experienced walkers. Then the road tipped steeply downwards. I promptly got off my bike. The road was so steep I was too afraid to cycle down it. Mick disappeared around the corner and I walked gingerly down the hill for a while before gathering enough courage to climb back on my bike and roll down, clutching my brakes hard all the way.

At the bottom there was an equally steep hill up the other side. At one-in-three (or for Europhiles30%) there was no way we were even going to attempt it.
"Well I would have cycled up if I hadn't got panniers," said Mick, "but it's a bit tricky when fully laden."
"Liar," I said.

We spotted some magnificent zig-zag folding in the cliffs along the coastline, part of the Crackington Formation - thin layers of sandstone and shale created by tectonic plate movements at end of Carboniferous period; the same movement that created  the tors on Bodmin Moor.

Looking at the map, splattered in double arrows I chickened out of the next section of coast through Crackington Haven. Instead we detoured briefly onto the A39 before coasting down the magnificent hill into Boscastle.
"This is great!" I shouted as we whizzed down the hill.
Suddenly Mick skidded to a halt. He had spotted a sign for a fish and chip shop.  Unfortunately it turned out to be an advert for a chip shop twenty miles away.
"We don't need fish and chips, we've got sandwiches," I pointed out.
"Yes, 'spose so," said Mick, trying not to look sulky.

We wandered down the street alongside the river. This was the first time either of us had been to Boscastle and in the warm sunshine the River Valency trickled along looking thoroughly benign. It was hard to imagine that this river was the cause of such devestation in August 2004 when on 16th of that month a violent downpour caused the river to rise by seven feet in one hour sweeping away buildings and cars. a hundred peeople were rescued from rooftops by helicopter. Now the visitor centre and car park have been rebuilt as well as a new bridge. We liked Boscastle very much, with its attractive slate grey buildings. The road up the hill out of Boscastle was not as steep as it looked from the bottom and before long we were headed into Tintagel. We didn't linger long though, just enough time to look at the castle from afar. It was tackier than Boscastle we thought.
Mick, having until now paid little attention to the route planning, started to grumble.
"The scenic route is all very well, but shouldn't we get a move on? Where are we going to stay anyway?"
"Uh dunno, I thought Padstow or somewhere," I said.
"Padstein? Won't that be rather expensive?"
I agreed it might be. I looked at the map.

"Why don't we head for Rock instead?" I suggested. Being on the other side of the estuary we thought it might be cheaper. We rolled into Rock resort filthy dirty and tired having been on our bikes all day. Thank goodness I had now got the hang of the Whiz™ or I would have been smelling of piss as well. Even so, our hearts sank as we cycled down to the sea front. Rock was clearly very posh. How were we to know it is known as Chelsea-on-Sea? Or Costa-del-Sloane? Or that when they were younger Princes William and Harry were often spotted here during holidays from Eton?

Unsurprisingly there was a marked lack of B&B's. We called in at one premises that advertised accommodation and asked if they had a room for one night.
"Um, I'll just go and check the diary," said the rather snooty man that came to the door.
"That'll be a no then," hissed Mick. "Why would he need to check the diary for tonight, it's six o'clock now. He knows whether he has vacancies."

Sure enough it was a no. We began to feel dejected. We headed back up the road and then spotted a low white building which advertised acommodation, Tzitzikama Lodge. There was a sign asking guests to phone which we did, and the proprietor confirmed that there were vacancies. At £76 per night it was a bit more expensive than we normally like to pay but it did look nice, and the owner helpfully gave us a room where we could park our bikes outside. It was a lovely room and as we were feeling weary we appreciated the comfy bed, hot shower and plentiful cups of tea which we indulged ourselves with over the next couple of hours. We also took the opportunity to do some washing, making good use of the heated towel rails to hang out our kit to dry overnight. All in all I think you could say we made good and thorough use of the facilities available. And naturally I popped the complimentary shampoo and showergel in my bag for use at a later date.

Miles cycled today: 40
Total miles: 194

Today's route is here

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Exford to Bude - Day Three - Bristol to Cornwall round trip

Cannot believe the weather - beautiful sunny day again. After a lovely hearty breakfast at the youth hostel we set off towards Simonsbath where we turned left over the river and climbed up the hill. We passed a memorial cairn to John William Fortescue,
military historian and one timelibrarian at Windsor Castle. Sir John, as he later became, came from a land-owning family with an estate on Exmoor and he loved the area very much. He was also a keen naturalist and enjoyed studying local wildlife and, inevitably, shooting them.

As we reached the top of the more we were treated to magnificent views across Exmoor. The weather was glorious, warm and sunny.  Suddenly we realised that we were once again on Route Three.  It was strange - we would lose it and find it again all across the hills to Barnstaple.

Above Barnstaple we stopped in a quiet lane to have a snack. After we had eaten I needed the loo, and decided I would try out my Whiz Freedom™. This small piece of latex allows females to wee standing up and I thought it could be very useful given the number of times I am forced to pull over and climb into a field. I could be much more discreet using this little gizmo. Crucial to its efficacy however, is applying the Whiz™ the Right Way Round. Unfortunately I managed to fail this basic requirement and piddled all down the inside of my shorts. Mick fell around laughing.
"You women claim to understand the Offside Rule and now you think you can take this away from us too!" he chortled. "Peeing standing up is the one remaining male-only preserve we have left!"
"Just needs more practice, that's all," I muttered, changing into a clean pair of trousers.

We rolled into the town at lunchtime and wheeled our bikes through the main street in search of somewhere for lunch. And so we happened upon Butchers Row.  The street had a long iron canopy and was lined with old retail outlets. As we stood looking up the street an old gentleman, noting our interest stopped to talk to us. He told us that he remembered as a boy that the street was full of butchers shops at the time when Barnstaple was a major cattle market and the cattle would be brought in and slaughtered at the back of the market. Barnstaple has had a pannier market since Saxon Times.
(I have only seen pannier markets in Devon. Apparently named after the baskets which sellers used to use to bring their wares into market, I wonder why the term appears to be common in Devon but not elsewhere. Or are there other pannier markets I haven't come across?)

From Barnstaple we picked up the Tarka Trail around the River Taw Estuary. Apart from the obvious advantage of being flat, which in Devon is always something to celebrate, it was delightfully peaceful alongside the river apart from the occasional helicopter presumably flying in and out of RAF Chivenor on the opposite bank. The path follows the line of the disused Barnstaple to Bideford Railway. In 2009 James May used this section of the Trail to attempt a world record for his programme Toy Stories to build the longest model railway. The attempt failed, partly due to vandalism, but mainly due to the British weather, with torrential rain all day mucking about with the train's electrics. May said it was like "putting a hairdryer in a bath."

Hostel at Bude
Bude lock
We passed through the very attractive village of Instow with it's Grade Two Listed signal box. Across the river we could see Bideford climbing up the hill. We were now alongside the River Torridge rather than the Taw. After crossing the river we left the Tarka Trail and took a minor road alongside the River Yeo and then back roads to Bradworthy. Here we wandered into the fine convenience store on the main square where we bought some superb pasties and got directions for the best ie. least hilly route to Bude. A thoroughly enjoyable long coast down into the town was marred somewhat by a pointless climb out again on the wrong road in search of Northshore Bude Backpackers. It was worth the effort when we found it though, we had a lovely private room with en-suite for under twenty quid each.

Miles cycled today: 62
Total miles: 154

Our route is here

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Glastonbury to Exford - Day Two - Bristol to Cornwall round trip

Glastonbury Tor

The Somerset Levels 
We were up and out early the next morning, not wanting to tarry in Glastonbury any longer than we had to, grabbing some bread and fillings to take with us. 
As we headed onto the Somerset Levels and Moors the sun was shining and we began enjoying ourselves. The Levels (as we locals call them) are great for cycling on, practically traffic free and completely flat. they are also one of the largest areas of wetland in the country. We cycled through the nature reserve of Shapwick Heath which was glorious.  It wasn't the most direct route to Bridgewater but it was lovely. Naturally I was navigating.

"That's odd," said Mick suddenly.
"What?" I asked.
Shapwick nature reserve
"There's Cheddar over there, in line with us."
Damn. I had not let Mick see the map, and was hoping that he would not realise that we were now travelling exactly parallel with the road we had travelled along the day before from Axbridge to Glastonbury.
"Thing is, it's important to take the scenic route," I said. "And at least its flat!"
He gave me a hard stare. As long as the scenic route isn't too far out of our way," he said sternly.
The course of the River Parrett as it flows to its mouth at Burnham-on-Sea means that it is necessary to travel into the centre of Bridgewater to cross the river.  After crossing the town we headed back out towards the coastline of Bridgewater Bay rather than stay on the busy A39. At Combwich we decided we would like a rest and so we decided to swing into the village and see if the pub was open. It wasn't, not sure why. We were either too early, too late or on the wrong day. Still, the village was very pleasant, situated on the edge of the estuary. This had once been the site of an ancient river crossing, and is mentioned in Domesday Book as Comich or "the settlement by the water." In lieu of a pint of beer we had a Magnum ice-cream each from the village shop before heading off once more.

A few miles on we reached another delighful village, Stogursey. It was, we decided, time for a cup of tea. No wonder we were always so slow getting anywhere! Another local shop came to the rescue with one of those lttle drinks machines, and so we supped a cup of tea on the bench outside.

"Better make the most of it," said Mick gloomily as a supermarket delivery van trundled up the street. "No doubt the supermarkets will finish it off soon."

We had a quick mooch around the village and had a look at St Andrews Well, actually two springs which allegedly never failed to provide the village with fresh water. just down the road is Stogursey Castle, built by William de Curci in the twelfth century. The castle is in ruins but the gatehouse has been restored by the Landmark Trust as a holiday home. I could think if worse places to spend a week.
Cleeve Abbey, Watchet

Time, as always, was against us and so we decided to rejoin the A39 and press on. Our goal was Exford Youth Hostel in the middle of Exmoor. It was not long however before the traffic got too much for us and at Washford we turned off the main road. We had no idea, until we found it, that just around the corner is the impressive Cistercian monastary of Cleeve Abbey, which according to English Heritage is one of the best-preserved medieval Cistercian monastic sites in Britain. Once again, only five hundred yards away from the racing cars on the main road, it was like another world. A slower, more timeless world. For the thousandth time I reflected how much nicer it was travelling around by bicycle.

For some reason Mick thought this
street near Watchet was amusing
And so, to a different tempo, we headed up onto Exmoor along the quiet road that ran alongside the Washford River to Luxborough. It was here that we found The Royal Oak Inn. From the outside it looked fabulous, an old country inn. Mindful of past disappointments (including just about every rural pub in Berkshire) we entered with trepidation, fearful that the interior may have converted into a ghastly bistro or wine bar. Our fears were unfounded however - hurrah!!! A lovely unspoilt bar which looked like it had not been mucked about with for centuries awaited us. We noted with approval that the prices were clearly displayed on boards above the bar and that we were served a full measure of Exmoor Gold, not a 90% full "pint" as so often happens. Lovely!

It was only a shame that we could only stop for one pint. but it was now getting dark and we still had a few miles to go on hilly Exmoor terrain so we decided to press on to Exford YHA. Still, we managed to squeeze in a couple more pints at the local pub in Exford before turning in.
We had a private room with bunk beds and a single. Mick elected to have the single bed whilst I decided to go for the top bunk. Unfortunately in the night I decided I needed the loo and hauled myself over the rail, somehow forgetting that I was sleeping in a bunk bed. The beer may have been a factor...

"What the fuck are you doing?" said Mick blearily, as I noisily crashed six feet to the floor below.
"Forgot I was on the top bunk," I whimpered, as I limped off to the toilet.

Miles cycled today: 59
Total Miles: 92

You can check our route here

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Bristol to Glastonbury - Day One - Bristol to Cornwall round trip

Today Mick and I set off on a cycle ride down to Cornwall. It is a friend's 40th birthday party on Saturday which seemed a good excuse for a ride down there. We were, as usual, late setting off and didn't leave until one o'clock. Mick then immediately decided that he was hungry so it was gone two by the time we finally picked up Sustrans Route Three at the back of Temple Meads station. We had decided to follow Route Three to start with and then see how it went. It starts alongside "The Cut", the section of the Avon which was dug in 1809 to allow the water in Bristol Harbour to remain at a constant level rather than leaving ships hanging off the side of the dock wall twice a day. The Cut is not the prettiest of rivers, but at least it does not stink as it used to in the seventies. When I was a child we used to live about two miles away from The Cut, and on hot days you could smell the effluent, the aroma combining with the smell of hops from Courage Brewery, quite a heady mix I can tell you!

After winding our way through South Bristol we were soon on quiet lanes to Chew Magna, where Mick once again decided he couldn't possiby go on without something to eat. So we stopped at the village stores on the road to the lake and had a delicious pasty before heading on past Chew Valley Lake and into West Harptree, the same route I had taken a few weeks earlier on my abortive solo cycling trip. As before I turned right but this time, instead of then doubling back to Priddy we headed down one of my favourite roads, the winding descent down through Cheddar Gorge. I love this road, it is superb. It twists through the Gorge which towers above the road. Goats chew on the grasses on the side of the gorge whilst, above the cliffs, birds of prey wheel on the thermals. Nearer the bottom small groups of climbers gathered at various points at the foot of the cliffs, the Gorge is a popular area for rock climbing.
We headed on to Axbridge where we pondered our options. It was late afternoon now and I wasn't terribly keen to stay in Bridgewater for the night. We thought Glastonbury would be a nicer venue despite it not really being on route and so we headed south east. On the way we passed the Mere Fish House, a Medieval smokery. At that time the levels had been flooded and the monks of Glastonbury had accessed the fish house by boat.

We had no plans of where to stay but I knew there was an independent hostel in Glastonbury so we decided to try that. We asked at the bar attached to the hostel.
"I don't know about the accommodation side," said the Oz woman who was serving behind the bar. I only arrived an hour ago, I'm just helping out."
It turned out that the two members of staff had walked out that morning, we had no idea why. We hung around until the owner returned. he confirmed that he had vacancies. We decided to book into a shared dorm. I am glad we did, at least it meant we did not waste too much money on the place. The owner scrabbled around for linen for the beds, but could only find enough for one.
"I'll get some more," he said, disappearing off. When, half an hour later, no linen had appeared Mick went in search of him and found him drinking a lager and watching the football. The accommodation was, to say the least, basic. The place needed some money spent on it, clearly.

Up in our room, I decided that my bags needed a repack. Mick looked on in astonishment as I pulled a large jigsaw puzzle out of my pannier bag.
"Erm, I don't think we'll have time for that en route," he said.
I pulled a pirate outfit out of my bag.
"And you'll never fit in to that!" he exclaimed.
"Don't be silly, these are presents for the children when we get there," I said.

After sorting our stuff we went to look at the local pubs, but none of them looked great. We finally picked one and were ripped off with two pints of 6X at £3.40 per pint in an empty pub with no atmosphere.
"Glastonbury is shit," said Mick.
I nodded glumly, it was indeed shit. I suddenly recalled that I had been to Glastonbury only twice before, and both times I had not enjoyed it. On one of those occasions I had had the disturbing experience of being confronted by a rotund woman in her fifties, dressed as a fairy with pointy ears, trying to throw "fairy dust" on me. It's an odd place, Glastonbury.

We did cheer up when we got to Knight's Fish and Chip restaurant though. This is an excellent fish and chip shop, one of the best, with a nice seating area, friendly staff and excellent  fish and chips. It claims to be the oldest fish and chip shop in the UK which is still in the same family; it's been open for over a hundred years so they're obviously doing something right. This was more like it. We stuffed ourselves on fish, chips and mushy peas and then waddled across the road to the hostel. At least Glastonbury had got something right.

Miles cycled today 34

You can check our route here

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Exford to Tarr Steps

Typical! I set my alarm for seven o'clock this morning and hot-footed it sharpish into the dining room, determined not to donate my sausage and bacon to one of those freeloading mountain bikers. The place was deserted and the shutters were down. Hmm, maybe I had been a little too prompt. When she did open, cook assured me that she had gone shopping and that the kitchen was piled high with pig in various guises. As it was the mountain bikers didn't even put in an appearance. Oh well, at least it meant a nice prompt start for today's walk.

I headed up the road from Exford to the junction with the B3223, Chibbet Post, then headed down Sparrow Lane, a quiet narrow road lined with beech hedgebanks.

Tarr Steps
At Withypool I stopped for a coffee to fortify me before the next stage. The tea-shop was closed but the little stores had just that week installed one of those little drink machines like the one at Stogursey. 

I needed that coffee before the steep climb out of the village. I was now on the Two Moors Way, following roads and tracks across the moor to the wonderful Tarr Steps.This is a "clapper" bridge (from the Latin "claperius" or pile of stones). It is often said to be prehistoric, in fact it is more likely to be medieval in origin. This was the only busy place I had come across since arriving at Exmoor, probably since there was a car park right next to the bridge. 

Exmoor jeep crossing the River Barle
Most people when out for the day don't like to stray more than about fifty yards from their car.At Tarr Steps people had crossed the road and were setting up picnics on the grass, and were having a wander over the bridge and back. But that was pretty much it. Having not seen a soul for about three hours I now queued up to cross the bridge and then caused a bit of a backlog by refusing to cross until I could take a photo with no-one on it. The jeep of course, didn't have to queue.

By now it was lunchtime. I had sandwiches and a bottle of water, but temptation had reared its very attractive head in the shape of the Tarr Inn. The garden was packed with people enjoying a drink in the spring sunshine. I went in and bought a pint of Exmoor Gold and sat in the garden watching the numerous chaffinches which were perching on the fence.

If you look really closely you can just make out a chaffinch on the fence......
The walk along the river from Tarr Steps back to Withypool was delightful.This was the alternative Two Moors Way route and it wound its way through woodland and fields alongside the River Barle, crossing brooks and streams by way of footbridges. Near the end of the path which had now left the river to its own devices, a small waterfall gushed out on my right hand side and on the left was a beautiful view across the valley.

Time for a beer! I called into the Royal Oak Inn in Withypool and ordered a pint. Just as I sat down with it in the lounge one of the staff began vacuuming around me. This was, to say the least, irritating. I took my pint and wandered outside but the sun was shining and all the outside tables were full. I headed down the road, still clutching my pint, and found the entrance to the other bar.

According to the pub, RD Blackmoore wrote part of Lorna Doone in this bar when staying at the Royal Oak in 1866. (Although this is also claimed by the Rising Sun in Lynmouth and the Ship at Porlock, so I don't know how much truth there is in the claim. But apparently he did stay in several inns on his holiday in Devon in that year so maybe he wrote a little bit in each of them.) The bar was empty except for two farmers sat at the bar. If either of them noticed me come in and sit in one of the settles in the corner they gave no indication. Although I tried to distract myself with a copy of Hare and Hounds I couldn't help but overhear their conversation.

"She was gagging for it, mind," said the younger of the two, aged about thirty.
"Were she?" his friend replied in an envious tone.
"Ar she were. She 'ad 'er 'and on me knee all the way back from Tiver'on," said the first.
"So what did you do?"
"Well I shagged 'er in the "orse box didn't I?"
I wondered idly whether the horse had still been in it at the time. Assuming that it wasn't the horse to which he was referring.
"Blimey!" said his friend. "An 'er bein' so bleedin posh as well. Did she enjoy it?"
"Well put it like this," said the young stallion, "I never 'eard 'er complainin!"

At this I picked up my pint and quietly went outside. I finished it sat on the step and then retraced my route back of Sparrow Lane to the hostel.