A Stuttering Start

13/6/18. We eventually got our collective act together sufficiently by Saturday morning to leave Taunton and caught the train to Exeter where we set off heading for Weymouth (the larger of the two gaps in our Round The Coast trip).

It all started very pleasantly following a series of off road routes and minor roads to Exmouth where we stopped to get in training for Germany by indulging in coffee and cakes. While we sat stuffing our faces a young family (baby and toddler with Mum and Dad in tow) pulled into the market place on bikes + trailer so we went over for a chat. They were on their first long outing on bikes as a family and were suitably impressed when they heard we were on our way to Switzerland, although there was great merriment when they heard that we had started in Exeter, like them, which was less than 10 miles away!

The route to Exmouth had been alongside the Exe estuary and had been nice and flat. Once we started following the coast we were back in the Devon hills. It was a gentle introduction, particularly compared to the day from Ilfracombe to Minehead which, despite being where she originates from, Christine considers to be the most horrendous day on a bike ever! It was a series of 20+% hills which totally exhausted us with the downhills being equally traumatic with sharp bends and blind crossroads at the bottom meaning all momentum was lost and the next uphill was taken from a standing start. She has vowed never again to take a bike there!

Passing through the village of Otterton we saw signs to a camp site which, judging by the information from our phones, was the last one before Sidmouth so we headed for it. It was a good choice despite the 14% hill on the way and being a large “ holiday camp” type place. The lady in reception took pity on us when we pulled long faces at the initial price quoted of £24 and said that she could put us on a small site without parking (which we didn’t need of course) for £15. The only downside was the group of 10 twentysomethings on the next site who sat around drinking and talking until gone midnight – not that it affected us very much as we were both back in cycle-camping mode whereby we crash out quickly (just after 8 o’clock in this case) and sleep the sleep of the dead. They were still going when Stephen woke to answer a call of nature (courtesy of a rather nice bottle of Dartmoor ale from the camp supermarket) but he was asleep again as soon as his head hit the pillow.

The next morning we had to go back over the hill to Otterton which was just a loosener for what was to come. Stephen was more than a little nonplussed to find himself pushing up hills that were not as steep as those on that “horrendous” day in North Devon (all bar one of which he cycled up, albeit very slowly). It took some time for us to realise that we were carrying much heavier loads this time – full camping gear v. just enough for a long weekend staying in hotels.

As we made our way out of Sidmouth we followed the signs for National Cycle Route 2 (all along the South Coast) which pointed up a road called Salcombe Hill. We both had bad vibes. These were reinforced by the comment “Good luck with that one” from a couple of lightly laden cyclists tearing past us in the opposite direction.

It was a b*****d!

By the time we got to the top and a 10 minute breather in the National Trust car park, we were horrified to see that we had gone 12 km in just under 2 hours. Weymouth was starting to look an awfully long way away so we started thinking of alternative plans all of which involved trains!

The nearest station was Axminster which had a certain “call” for Stephen as it was here where he and a friend gave up on their attempt to cycle from Southampton to Exeter while at university when the rear wheel of their half renovated pre war tandem almost collapsed 40 years ago!

After a lot more pushing (and a very welcome consolation lunch in Seaton which involved large helpings of chips) we made it to Axminster nervous of our ability to get the bikes on the train (there being a limit of 2 per train on that line and the online reservation system being closed for the weekend). As it transpired, the bike spaces were unoccupied and the guard was unfazed by our lack of tickets or bike reservations.

We had investigated taking the train to Poole to at least complete one of the gaps (that to Southampton) but the combination of the Sunday timetable and the sparse cross country network meant a ridiculously long journey. Therefore we resorted to a successful last minute phone call to Stephen’s sister just outside Southampton “Please  can we come and stay with you?”

We had a very pleasant couple of nights with Jo and Steve before  decamping to Stephen’s other sister, Nicky and her husband Jonathan, near Leatherhead. Here, again, we had a lovely evening catching up before heading to Newhaven to catch the ferry to Dieppe mimicking the start of our retirement adventures 3 years ago as we set off to cycle down the Danube.

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