Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Keynsham - Ilfracombe Day 2

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After yesterday's 65 mile ride we reckoned we only had around 40 miles to cycle today. We had a more leisurely start with a full cooked breakfast at the Royal Oak. Afterwards we chatted to one of the staff about our cycling.
'How far today then?' she asked.
'Oh, only forty miles,' I said breezily.
'How far do you go before you stop for a rest then?'
'Well, we stop about every ten miles or so for a rest and maybe a snack,' I said.
We fetched our bikes from the garden and loaded up. The pub was on the corner at the bottom of a steep hill. I decided we would go back through the village and up an alternative hill in the hope it would be less violent. This hope was a vain one and we were both much too full of bacon and eggs to try and struggle to the top. We immediately dismounted and began pushing the bikes up the hill. No sooner had we done so than a car came past. It slowed and the woman from the pub leaned out.
'I thought you stopped every ten miles!' she said, laughing.
'Ah did I say ten miles? I meant ten yards! In fact we're walking to Ilfracombe really.'
She laughed again. 'Still, you make me feel guilty, I only live up the road and I'm driving.'
Mick pretending to read the local notices
to sneak in a rest.
Given the gradients around here I thought she was pretty sensible. We puffed our way on up the hill. 'Couldn't we have gone up the easy way?' complained Mick.
'This is the easy way.'

Once the hill had been conquered the route followed pleasant lanes to Couple Cross where we turned left and headed down to Heath Poult Cross and the junction with the B3224. It had started raining and the surface was wet. A car was stopped just back from the junction, and as we passed it I noticed they were looking at a map.
'I think they're lost,' I said. 'I'll just wheel round and check.' As I did so my back wheel slipped and I toppled off the bike. Mick did what he always does in these situations, he looked embarrassed and tried to pretend he wasn't with me. 'Don't wander over there, help me up!' I said crossly.
Once I had dusted down I looked back at the car. 'I think they are lost, you know.'
'Who cares? Just concentrate on staying on your bike.'
'That's not nice.' Just as I was about to go over, the car rolled forward. As he passed us the driver leaned out of the window. 'Would you like some help with directions?' he asked. 'Do you know which way you want to go?'
'Ah no, thank you, we're fine,' I said. After they had gone Mick turned to me. 'You see? Mind your own business!'

We needed to drop down off the escarpment to join the A396 which winds its way through Exmoor from Dunster to Tiverton along the valley, following the line of the River Quarme. We headed down a tiny and very steep lane which dropped us 200 metres in a very short time indeed but did little for my brake blocks which had already been worn considerably by this little jaunt. Following rivers is often a good idea if the intention is to avoid hills so, on leaving the Quarme, we followed the Exe to Winsford. By now it was really hammering down and I was grateful for the cape which I had been given free by Belfast tourist information centre a few weeks earlier. It was emblazoned with 'Belfast 2012 - Our Time Our Place' in big black letters which seemed a bit incongruous down here in Devon but it certainly did the job in offering another layer of weather protection. The only thing was that with my hood, buff and then helmet on, I couldn't hear a single thing Mick said. Oh hang on - maybe that was an advantage.

Wet weather gear

The village of Winsford is hopelessly pretty, with thatched cottages and pub and a stream that runs through the centre of the village. The pub claims to be 'one of the most photographed inns in England,' which may well be true. It was another Royal Oak, probably not surprising as (depending on who you ask) it's the second or third most popular pub name in the country, named after the oak tree where Charles II famously hid from Cromwell's men at Boscobel in Shropshire. The name Winsford comes from the ford over the Winn Brook. With all the rain we had it was quite deep and we had an enjoyable ten minutes cycling to and fro through it, before deciding we had better get on.

As we climbed out of the valley we were treated to spectacular views of Winsford Hill and 'the punchbowl', a glacial cirque basin.We joined the B3223 which swept over the moor from our left. When we reached the junction with the 3224 Mick was very impressed. 'We've bypassed Exford!' he exclaimed. 'I was dreading that hill out. 'Well done Routes, I may buy you a pint later, after all.'

The Punchbowl

The weather forecast has said that torrential rain was expected at 14.00. At 13.59 the heavens opened and the rain came down in sheets. At that moment we were just coasting down the hill into Simonsbath, and so no discussion was needed. We swung into the carpark of the Exmoor Forest Inn. I dashed inside expecting Mick to follow me. He didn't so I went back out. He was looking in his panniers for his wallet. 'It's not here,' he said. He goes through this performance about five times a day.
'It is there,' I said. 'You always do this.'
'No, this time I really have lost it!' he said crossly.'It's not funny! It's gone this time! I've bloody well lost it!' He started pulling all his clothes out of his pannier bags. 'Oh, there it is.'
'Can we go in now? I'm getting soaked.'
Devon Dymspy was on the pumps and it took all my will power to order a pot of tea. For once though, we decided to be sensible. The weather was foul and we still had a way to go. After tea and a ploughmans we had dried out slightly and decided to press on. It was looking decidedly dark for three in the afternoon.
Mick is pleased to be back in his adopted county
For the final few miles we had no choice but to use the A roads and got a good soaking from the passing motorists. The rain was still driving down. 'Are you alright?' I yelled to Mick.
'I'm fine!' he yelled back. 'This is what it feels like to be alive!' The wetter he got, the more he appeared to enjoy himself.

Ilfracombe is a sod to get out of but getting in to the town is a pleasure - a long, long coast down. 'I need some milk,' said Mick, 'we'll go to the shop on the way.' He turned the corner. The road to the supermarket was a climb up. 'No.' I said. 'I'm not going up there. I'm not doing it.' I stuck my chin out and Mick knew he was beaten.

'Lets take the bikes back to my place and go to the pub. We can get a pint of milk in the Co-op on the way.'
'Now that,' I said, 'is more like it.'

Our route is here