Looking back at my previous adventures, each one has been done with company. In addition, I have apparently relied on others to various degrees to help me in each adventure. I like my own company; in fact, I need my own company to recharge my batteries.
My lack of planning meant that I didn’t pack my panniers until the night before the trip. It was then I discovered that I couldn’t find the second one. A quick Google search showed that the larger stores weren’t open until 9am and that didn’t guarantee me making my train. The cycle shop at the end of the road was open earlier and I popped down.
May I have your cheapest pannier please?
We don’t really sell that sort of thing very often but let’ s see what we have around.
Out comes a gorgeous waterproof pannier with integral laptop sleeve….yum! A bit more than I wanted to pay but I needed a pannier for my sleeping bag. I chatted about my year of Microadventures and how, as a non-cyclist I was about to embark on a 100 mile trip, with no training and apparently no preparation!
Do you have spare inner tubes?
Yes, I’ve got one already packed.
Two seconds later I had 2 more inner tubes thrust into my hands
Have you got fuel?
I’m just gonna eat where and when I can, you know creams teas and ice cream!
Two seconds later I have bunch of gels in my hand, together with the inner tubes.
Consider it sponsorship from Bike Motion!
I was overwhelmed by his generosity. He had been broken into a few months back and some gear stolen and he was handing me his way of making a profit. I doubted I would have gotten this from the larger “generic” stores on the business park!
This was the first instance on generosity and human spirit I saw that day, and it wouldn’t be the last.
I packed the new pannier and got ready to cycle to the station. I had to push the bike out of the estate as I quickly learned that you can’t stand on the pedals to climb hills with fully laden bike! She was a bit heavier than I expected. I had thought that I would try to bivvy camp, like Alastair Humphreys would do. But a solo trip and solo wild camping was a bridge too far for me, so I packed my trusty and ancient Khyam tent. It sat neatly on the luggage rack but it didn’t half add to the weight of the bike!
My anxiety grew as I waited for the train. I wasn’t allowed to book a bike slot in advance. I hadn’t travelled with a bike before. As I waited towards the back of the train, I found that the bike storage was at the front and I had to hoof it up the length of the platform while those aboard waited for me. I hauled her in the door to find a neat and speedy looking thing already in the bike slot. I’m sure my fellow lobby-standers would agree that I didn’t smell too good already from a mix of anxiety and a warm morning!
Someone offered to help me off with the bike, but unfortunately that was at the wrong station. But I appreciated the thought, young lady!
Apparently, travelling without a ticket is frowned upon in these parts! I hadn’t seen the conductor and I didn’t get one in advance in case I wasn’t allowed the bike on the train. I was advised to go and get one. Only when I returned with my ticket was I asked if I paid the fine. Fine??!!
Oh, yes. If you don’t have a ticket at the barrier and need to purchase one from the track side of the barrier, some of them add the fine to the cost of the ticket.
I hadn’t needed to explain my lack of ticket or flirt.; just good, old fashioned generosity and human spirit.
As the train pulled out on my way to Barnstaple, I felt that I had been on an epic journey already and I hadn’t even left the city. I relaxed into my seat with my second breakfast, until the bike fell over at the front of the carriage with a whopping great clatter. My bungee cord just wasn’t going to hold it in place, so I stood with it while my fellow passengers glared at me for spoiling their reverie.
On arrival in Barnstaple, I needed the facilities and asked the guys at Tarka Trail Cycle Hire to keep an eye on the beast. It was against all my instincts to leave all my gear on the bike. Years of conditioning fought with the desire to make life easy. Clipping those panniers off and on with the tent in the way was a phaff and one that I wanted to avoid as often as possible. So I went as quickly as I could and was rewarded with a full bike!
One of the problems as I see it with the Devon Coast to Coast is that the start of it is not accessible by public transport. Barnstaple was as close as I could get to Ilfracombe. I had an idea that I would cycle along the Tarka trail to Braunton and then follow the A road to lfracombe to get there and get started as soon as possible on Day 1. I asked the guys in the shop if this was the right idea, or whether they knew of another way to get to Ilfracombe.
I can take you up there in the van after lunch.
Awesome! The thought of cycling part of the Tarka Trail to turn and come back on it only a few hours later was a real mind bender for me. I thought 100 miles was enough without adding another 13 miles to it, never mind battling with the surfers and the caravanners on a sunny Friday!
I walked into Barnstaple and stopped at the nearest eatery with a view over the great and good of Barnstaple. It was a good spot for people watching and carb-loading! The waitress could see that I was loitering with intent but I couldn’t attract her attention to get some caffeine. So I took my empty glass inside to get a coffee, only for two lunching ladies to jump into my chair before the seat had cooled any. I scrapped the coffee and settled up.
As I dandered around Barnstaple, I thought about what it was like to be single. Who keeps your seat for you if you go to the loo or go and get a refill? You have my sympathy in that regard because I had already encountered the “who is going to look after the bike while I pop to the loo/go the ATM/buy a ticket and a second breakfast and would you take my grave as quick ladies!”
In addition, there is a certain trust you place in people. I was about to jump into a van with a guy I’d “met” only a hour or so earlier. Again, years of conditioning meant that I considered texting home to say what I was about to do. But isn’t it strange that you put trust in like-minded people; a cyclist helping a cyclist. I would do the same with my fellow campers in due course!
Paul and I chatted about what a microadventure was, the upcoming Chagford Music Festival and adventure racing. All the while, I looked at the traffic and the hills and was mightily relieved that I wasn’t cycling it. Paul took me all the way down to the quay in Ilracombe to the start of the trail. I bade him a fond farewell, repacked the bike, put my lid on and then took the obligatory photo of the start. I had really wanted to put a wheel in the water but that wasn’t really possible.
With map in hand, I dodged the ice cream-eating tourists who had come to see Damien Hirst’s Verity statue at the entrance of the harbour. The climb out of Ilfracombe had been a source of worry when I saw the cross sections on the map. But really, it wasn’t as bad as I had expected. Fuelled by lunch and adrenaline, I got out of the town. Perhaps if I had have had that coffee I wouldn’t have had to push the bike as much!
It was a long, slow drag up an old railway line but I could see the glimmering sea to my right. It was really at that moment that I knew that I was really happy and was enjoying myself. I had made the climb, the sun was shining and it wasn’t too hot. All was right with the world. I watched the signs of summer around me as I made my way over the North Devon plateau.
I had cycled the Tarka Trail before to Braunton and it was familiar territory for me. Luckily this time the wind was kinda at my bag and I made good progress back towards Barnstaple. I wanted to stop in with the Tarka Trail Cycle guys to tell them how much I was enjoying it, but a clock in my head invited me to push on.
I shared the track with commuters between Barnstaple and Instow. Some were on speedy little racers while I lumbered with my Giant.
I have to say that at some points along the Bickington to Yelland stretch, the trail was a little monotonous. Perhaps I should have stopped on a sunny kerbstone and eaten my jelly babies earlier. Perhaps that would have given a sugar-rush haze to the passing scenery. My brother taught me about the life-giving force of jelly babies during our Half Marathon. A life-lesson I packed in the top pocket of my old pannier!
Paul at Tarka Trail Cycle Hire had recommended a good refreshment stop at Instow, so I pushed on. There were gorgeous properties alongside the trail just on the approach to Instow and gorgeous glimpses of the sandy beach and people enjoying the last of the suns warm rays. I wish now that I had turned around and explored a little, but I whizzed past with that same old clock ticking in my head.
I stopped at the Quay Inn at Instow, pushed my way past the throng enjoying the sun near the door, grabbed a pint and retreated to the other side of the sea wall. The sun was still warm and the views across the estuary to Appledore and fast pushing tide was lovely!
This was where being on my own was a bonus. I had no one to talk to so I got to listen to the conversations around me. Two guys where talking about their relationships like girls! It was really enlightening. Perhaps if they didn’t add a swear word to every other sentence, they would be even more attractive to the opposite sex than they think they are! The arrival of a rowdy bunch put pay to the easy listening and when their conversation turned to what I presume to be someone’s community service, I thought it was high time to get some food.
The lamb was amazing! Fuelled and ready to go again, I emerged into the softening sunlight to make the 13 or so miles to the camp site.
After Bideford, I kept stopping to look at the light on the salt marshes. It was amazing. I have recently wondered about creek-side living a la Dawson’s Creek, with the scenery constantly changing with the ebb and flow of the tide. The sunlight was soft and golden and I did my best to capture it with the camera phone.
I pushed on as I wanted to see Great Torrington. I had seen a photo in the guide book that would be a great vantage point to see tonight’s sunset. Somehow I managed to cycle past it! Another site I would have to return on a different day to see.
Instead, the sunset passed generally unnoticed as I seemed to be cycling though a continual gorge. I didn’t get much chance to see something other than trees for an hour. For interest, I kept an eye out for wild camping places, just as if I had decided to bivvy. I didn’t see any that would have made be fell comfortable.
As I peddled on, the traffic on the trail lessened until I had the realisation that I was alone on a trail, in a wood in the dusk. Again, that age old conditioning was telling me that I shouldn’t be.
On the long drag up to East Yarde, there were a number of trail-side sculptures that kept it interesting.
East Yarde Cafe kindly have little signs to tell you how far away from them you are…I was counting down by this stage. It was technically a long day but it hadn’t felt like a long day.
As I screeched to a halt outside the cafe, I could see the occupants peer out into the gloaming to see who was out on the trail this late. I got to stay in the camp site with no neighbours.
It was a beautiful night. The Kyham is a quick pitch tent, so I was soon back in the cafe tasting some of the cider they were setting up for the cider festival the following day. Just a pint to help me sleep and it was working until the farmer decided to bale the hay at midnight! There is nothing like tractor lights and noise in what felt like the dead of night to chase away the sweet dreams! I didn’t take a sleeping mat either, but I’m blaming the tractor!
After not exactly the most restful of nights, I had to leave camp without a proper breakfast at the cafe. While I benefited from the cider festival on the first night, the set up for the festival was the reason I couldn’t get breakfast. I nearly didn’t have water either! I had leaned my bike on the little footbridge while I tried to leave no trace in the camp site. The weight of the load toppled the bike over and my water bottle flew into the stream! I couldn’t see it. A little panic set in as I tried to work out how I would climb the climbs I had on Day 2 without a supply of water! One last look before I went to see if there was a spare one at the cafe, and there it was, in the nettles!
All was right with the world again and it was downhill for the first 3 miles. By the time, I met the first hill, there was no energy in the legs. I really missed that breakfast, but I broke out the rhubarb and custard gel that Bike Motion had given me. Boy, I needed it and it tasted good!
I climbed (well pushed the bike) up into Petrockstowe to the crossroads. There was a sign there that noted a pub to the left. As I debated how far away it might be and whether it would be open, I could hear the squealing brakes of two cyclists coming down the hill. I waved them over the crossroads so they didn’t have to lose some speed. I thought that they didn’t trust me, but rather, they stopped to say hi.
I had the delight to meet two Australians who were cycling from Lands End to John O’Groats while their wives were meeting them at strategic places with the motor home. They had already quite a few miles under their belts while I had been looking for a water bottle! We chatted about my accent and they couldn’t get over how much gear was on my bike. Somewhere in Sydney there is a goPro video of me talking! Took my back to the video someone has of me in Algonquin National Park because they liked my accent! I passed on Paul’s recommendation of the Quay Inn at Instow and decided that I would try to get breakfast at the pub.
The Laurels Inn wasn’t too far from the crossroads. I disturbed the landlady hoovering before opening but she very kindly made me a bacon sandwich and a cuppa coffee. We chatted over the coffee and swapped stories. With a banana in reserve for the hill climb, she sent me on my way refreshed and fuelled. Having sold the pub, I hope she finds her own microadventure. Good things come to good people, even if it is eventually.
I stopped on the edge of Hatherleigh to watch some cricket and spoke with what can only be described as an international cricket star, or at least that was the impression I was left with. I extracted myself to look for somewhere to eat. My next stop was Okehampton. I had left one of the charger leads for the phone at home and thought that I could be a cheap one in the town.
For a town on the trail, it didn’t have a lot of cycle racks to leave a bike. I tried not to block the pavement with my wide berth as I shopped for a sleeping mat and was robbed blind getting a charging lead! Still, hot, sweet coffee and sticky bun in the courtyard in the sun while I added some juice to the phone was a welcome chill out!
Some pushing the bike up the hill towards the Granite Way (the sugar hadn’t kicked in yet) and I was on my way to the next overnight stop. The sun was out and I felt really happy. The path was good and the views came and went. Then I got my first view of the Moor! It sent a thrill up my spine, I’ve got to say.
I had the trail to myself again, with easy riding, even getting the opportunity to take a video whilst riding! As I crossed a country road to get onto the trail again I noticed it was lined with trees. It reminded me of the “Dark Hedges” at home in Northern Ireland (somewhere Game of Thrones fans will recognise). Perhaps not as dramatic as the Dark Hedges, these trees spoke to me (if that doesn’t sound too odd!).
Not far to the campsite. A sign and the gate panicked me that there was no room at the inn! At the closed reception, I stood and contemplated what to do next but the warden/owner stepped out of her caravan and warmly invited me to stay. There were ample tent pitches left!. We chatted as we climbed up to the tent field and as I turned around to pick my spot, the view of the moor was amazing. I pitched the tent quickly and took her advice about where to eat for dinner. Wrapping myself in my warm Rab, I walked down to the pub.
I had a great meal at the pub and didn’t feel like too much of a tool eating by myself. I did resort to the tried and tested method for dining alone; I pulled out the guidebook and the map and checked what the last day would bring me. As I walked back through the village, I will admit to a little thievery. I pinched a honeysuckle flower from a garden wall. The smell was so divine and I walked past. I put it in the tent with me and I have to say it was a great counterbalance to sweaty cycling gear. A better night’s sleep was had with the self-inflating mat, a full tummy and the pleasant aroma of honeysuckle.
As I left the next morning, there was a guy in a high vis vest at the junction in the village, waving me through. There were spectators at the roadside. I hollered that I hadn’t realised that me getting out of my bed was such a celebratory occasion! Little did I know that I was soon to find myself in the middle of the Dartmoor Classic! Just a mere 107, 67 or 35 miles around Dartmoor in a day! There I was pottering through Lydford, getting my bum, lungs and legs warmed up when I just heard them. That unmistakeable noise of wheels (lots of them) on tarmac. I glanced over my shoulder (dangerous enough on a front-light/rear-heavy bike) and there were the lycra-clad men on their flying machines! Some were jolly to a fellow “biker” and some had their game face on! Where I could, on hills, I pulled over and added a few words of encouragement. Most were more than courteous but I was rather taken aback at some of the litter I came across that quite clearly came from those cyclists. Gel packets and water bottles strewn where they fell in the glorious landscape of a National Park.
Years ago I had spotted a moody photograph of a church on a rock that I wanted to see and I was sure that it was near the route. I diverted off the trail to visit Brentor Church. It was certainly worth the visit! I donned the Rab again as it was windy on the top and grabbed a breakfast bar to have breakfast with a view. By jingo what a view!
On my way back into North Brentor, I chatted with the Marshall of the race and understood just a little better what was going on. I was about to join the fray again. What I did understand was why some of the racers were not streaking away from me. They had done about 60 miles already whereas, I was barely 4 miles out of the campsite! I cheekily stopped for a refill of my water bottle at one of their water stops.
Somewhere near Peter Tavy, I stopped to chat to a Plymouth couple who were also doing the c2c. I realised that I recognised them. They were eating (and staying) in the same pub I did last night. They were training for a long distance ride to France and were very surprised at the weight of my bike! Bolstered by the kudos I set off again for Tavistock where I would get lunch.
Where the trail kicks you out into the town, again, like Okehampton, there were few bike racks to park up and explore. I spotted a national bakery chain that would fit the bill nicely but I wondered if there was something more local or with a nice outlook. I dandered towards the church and spotted some awnings in the square – a food festival! I pushed the bike through the crowds and spotted a cider sausage and potatoes stall. It is difficult to hand over money, collect food and add condiments when trying to balance a bike against your thigh but I managed to struggle back to a nice looking bench beside a coffee stall. I feasted while taking in the comings and goings. It turned out that one of the coffee orders was wrong and I jumped up and said I would take it, rather than it going to waste. As I turned around to return to my spot with the coffee (a distance of some 4 foot), I found that the bench had been filled and someone was in my seat beside the bike! I had deja vu back to the lunching ladies in Barnstaple. I forced my way back into my spot and muttered something about taking my grave as quick!
As I sipped my coffee, I thought about how being on my own on this trip was both a benefit and a hindrance. I think that being on my own on the bike meant that people would stop and talk to me. Fellow bikers stopped to talk or wave or nod a hello. I had already met the cycle hire and campsite owners, the cycling Plymouth couple and the Australians this way. I think being solo makes you more approachable. Mostly this is good and rarely is this bad. Whilst it is tough balancing a bike and leaving it unattended, together with having no one to save your seat, the perks have been outweighed by the sense of freedom and the interactions I’ve had with some awesome people.
I really liked Tavistock as I cycled through it. I’d like to go back there too one day without an overbalancing bike. The next big milestone was getting to Yelverton, the top of the climb. From there it was downhill all the way into Plymouth. I met a few ladies from Plymouth going through the gates near Yelverton who stopped to chat about what I was doing.
It was easy going all the way down to Plymouth, sharing the trail with families on a Sunday day out. I got a bit lost after the Lara Bridge but managed to find my way onto Sutton Harbour. Much more difficult to cycle here and I was getting frustrated with meandering tourists. The buzz from the Hoe was both invigorating and jarring having experienced rural Devon for the last few days. I got lost again as I tried to find the end of the trail but I finally rolled my wheel into the sea at the Cremyll Ferry point. A few selfies later, I was trying to find my way back to the central train station. Again, around the centre of the city, I experienced unsettling city life (a street argument and some heckling) so I was happy to buy my ticket for the next train and be on my way. The miserable train guard nearly ruined my buzz. How can you book a cycle spot in the carriage if you don’t know when you will finish your day’s ride? I’d not travelled with a bike before this weekend and I didn’t know I was meant to take the panniers off before I put the bike in the rack.
When I went to collect the bike again, she took me aside and explained it. I have to say that I don’t feel I will be winging it with a bike on a train in the near future. But I can’t let one person’s grumpiness outweigh the awesome acts (both great and small) that I encountered from the time I woke up on the first day to the moment I lay my head on my own pillow on a proper bed on the last day of this microadventure. I shouldn’t be surprised that there a kind and decent people out there, I just need to interact with them more than the a@@holes!
All in all, an enjoyable experience not marred at all by a tight Psoas muscle just as soon as I got out of a hot bath!
Another Stellar photo box here!