Exeter to Cardiff

Torquay to Plymouth.  2nd May 2014

Felt as though the holiday really started last night as we caught the train from Dorking. I cycled from home and got absolutely drenched in a heavy shower over Box Hill. The train was very busy, especially from Guildford as far as Wokingham. Quick change at Reading, and as soon as we were on board I went to the dining car and managed to get the last 2 places for dinner. Apparently we were really lucky as it is usually full from London. It felt very luxurious to have a lovely meal in first class seats watching the countryside go by. It was something I could get used to. As Stephen pointed out it was a cheap way of getting an upgrade, as the meal, despite the expense, was still cheaper than buying a first class ticket. Fillet steak was lovely! And then after changing at Newton Abbot we arrived at Torquay shortly after 9. It was lovely to see the stretch through Dawlish after it was destroyed in the winter.

Palm trees in sunny Devon, at Dawlish!
Palm trees in sunny Devon, at Dawlish!

So on to Friday.

Set off from the hotel along the seafront, and the first stop were some new tubes and puncture repair kits, which took a while. Then it was on to the seafront and there were lots of brightly coloured beach huts. Obviously some work had been done to try to build a cycle route, and at times we could follow it. At Goodrington the sands looked as though they had been swept. Cycled around towards Brixham, along Bascombe Road, and past the Bascombe Court Retirement Home. Then uphill and across the top before descending into Kingswear, where the little vehicle ferry was waiting to go. So straight on and over we went. It was a very steep climb out of Kingswear, and then along the top a bit, with lovely views of little coves at Blackpool and Strete, and the down and along the flat at Slapton, which is a nature reserve. There was a lagoon on the land side, and later I read that it could get washed away in the future. There was also a memorial to the American troops and an old tank as this was where the American troops practised for the D Day landings. Then it was up another steep hill out of Slapton and along little country lanes heading for East Portlemouth and the ferry to Salcombe. It involved descending steps down to the ferry. Lovely views up the estuary. Stopped for lunch time sandwich and baguette at a lovely little deli. Can tell Salcombe is upmarket by the shops and the deli; I had chicken with pesto, salad and pine kernels! The road out of Salcombe was a nightmare, very long and very steep. It just seemed to go on and on!! By now it was gone 3 and the 2 small ferries operating across estuaries on the way to Plymouth would not be operating when we reached them so the only alternative was head down and along the main A379 to Plymouth. It was not a fun ride. There was a lot of traffic, bits of the road were steep, lots of the drivers were hurrying home at the end of the day. Glad when it was over. At the very edge of the city there was a cycle lane, but that then disappeared at a set of traffic lights and we were left to cycle along a dual carriageway. We cycled all around the coast of the city hoping to get somewhere to stay near the ferry we needed in the morning. Near the continental ferry terminal there’re were quite a few. B&Bs, but all were full. Then we saw a 3* hotel! The Duke of Cornwall – just what was needed. Good room, bikes stored in reception and a lovely meal!

Dist. 88.44  Ave. 12  Max. 39.8  Odo. 8144.6  Time. 7’21’12

Plymouth to Mevagissey.  3 May, 2014

Stephen got the bikes from reception to find they both had flat front tyres! His wasn’t a surprise as he had pumped it up twice the previous day. He put a new tube in his and decided to see if mine would hold as we wanted to catch the 9.15 ferry. It didn’t. Straight out of the hotel and down it went. I started walking but then needed to ride, so rode on the flat for about a K, and cut the wrong way down a one way street and just made it onto the ferry to Cremyll. Good views of the sound as we crossed. Stephen mended my puncture on bike and I dread information boards to discover that the ferry had been in existence for over a thousand years! On the Cremyll side was a large house called Mount Edgecombe, and the family had held the rights to the ferry from 1493 to 1946! There was an inn right by the landing, proudly flying the Cornish flag, and the welcome sign to the big house was bilingual, English and Cornish. We were now in a different country! It was a disappointingly long climb (push) out of Cremyll, with a surprising number of cars for road that seemed to lead nowhere! From the top there were lovely view of bits of the sound and bright blue water below. Finally most of the cars turned off and we were left on a lovely quiet lane, like so many we would find over the next couple of days. High hedges at times, masses of flowers, birds flying across the road. All the way there were lots of primroses, wild garlic in white flower, pink campion and cow parsley bursting into life! Trees, some in leaf, some just coming into leaf, and ferns just starting to unfurl, some looking just like sea horses! The road led down to a little village called Downderry, which seemed like a hidden village! Then down to sea level and a little beach at Seaton. Then of course, having descended, it was time to go up. Stopped near the bottom and chatted to a man who had sailed round Britain with his wife, once in each direction. Said going clockwise was a lot easier than anti-clockwise due to the winds. But then, it was a very long push up a steep hill yet again! Yet more steep up and downs, my heart sank every time I saw we would cross a river as I knew it would mean a steep down then up! More little lanes, then we joined a B road towards Looe, but big signs blocking off access to the town. We went down a very steep descent into the town and suddenly there were people everywhere. I could see why they discouraged cars, the road was very narrow. We picked up lunch and swapped texts with my sister who was also in Cornwall, staying in St. Austell where we hoped to be near in the evening. Over the bridge in Looe, and then up the main road out, which was horrible. Narrow, steep, busy. It was busy all the way to Polperro, where most cars stopped. Very relieved to follow the little road to the delightfully named Crumplehorn! It was a steep lane, but quiet, just the odd car, and a horse-box!! Little roads all the way to Polruan. To access the ferry it was down some steps, and then across to Fowey. Stopped part way up hill for afternoon cake stop and discovered Lynn and Clair in Fowey with friends. Ensued our ride up the hill, and was loudly heckled from a passing car; Lynn and Clair. What a coincidence! Main A road to St Austell, but wasn’t too bad, then at Par the road flattened out, went under the railway line and turned off to Carlyon Bay. Remembered cycling along there when we visited the Eden project and had breakfast in the Carlyon Bay Hotel. The route went along by the coast, missing the town itself, but taking in St. Austell’s smartest road, private with large houses, a couple with columns that you could imagine Scarlett O’Hara coming out of. Then as coming out of town saw a cycle route signposted to Mevagissey, saying 30 minutes. Well, maybe if you’re a serious speedy cyclist, but for a pootler more like an hour. At first up a steep, pushing hill, then it did join the ‘Coast and Clay trail’ along a valley on a shared path, which was lovely, but hardly speedy. Then turned off the valley on a detour along forts trail, sometimes muddy, to Heligan, and then down a steep gravely hill, which I thought it was safer to push, and finally descending into Mevagissey. Saw the Fountains Inn and got a lovely room. Clair and Lynn drove over from St.Austell and had a lovely evening with them, full of laughter.

Dist. 73.77  Total dist. 162.21  Ave. 10.7  Max. 40.7  Odo. 8218.4  Time. 6’51’36

Mevagissey to Penzance. 4th May 2014

What a day! Started with a very long hard push out if Mevagissey. Took 25 mins to do the first 2.5 km! Then along beautiful quiet lanes again, but hilly, and ended up going the planned route, which we had decide to skip, and surprisingly suddenly found ourselves at the coast in a little bay at Caerhays, with a castle there. But it did look like a modern castle! Then up and up again and along the top and joined the main road to St. Mawes. This wasn’t a as bad as feared, not too much traffic, and we rolled along. It felt a bit like when we cycled from Penzance to Land’s End. The cycle into St. Mawes itself was hairy. Down a 1 in 3 along morrow streets, so I walked! There was a lady pushing a pushchair up, and I wouldn’t have fancied that!! The road brought us out right by the ferry. We had a drink and cake, but had to take some of the cake with us as we had less time than thought, and then the £5.50 ferry ride across to Falmouth. Saw castles on both sides of the estuary and up past a very large navy vessel and into Falmouth. Awkward getting on and off the ferry as it was steps down, and after the previous cheery friendly ferrymen, this one seemed uninterested. Falmouth was bursting with people and cars and again I couldn’t wait to get out. Picked up a sandwich and then S navigated the way back on to the coast road. Saw a sign to Swanpool, which rang bells, and as we passed it I recognised it from a childhood holiday there. My only memory of which is rain! From Swanpool it was yet another push up, along little lanes and then the descent into Helford Passage and straight onto the ferry…the expensive ferry.. £12. £4 p.p plus £2 per bike. Still no waiting and we stopped to finish lunch looking at the river below. Wheeled the bikes up a little path and came to thatched buildings looking lovely. Road led through the village and up a steep hill on the other side. Village seemed pretty isolated as only the one narrow steep road in. Up and up, and along a few lanes and along what felt like a hidden valley. Road in looked like a farm entrance, road had some pot-holes and vegetation growing in the road, and then felt like a hidden, secret valley. Appeared and went up, and suddenly on Goonhilly downs and a completely different landscape. Moorland, with just a few stunted tress, the large satellite dishes at Goonhilly and a striahtish, lev elvish road which we bowled along in complete contrast to the rest of the trip. This led us to the road to the Lizard, which we visited. Most northerly and southerly points on mainland Britain now done. Very touristy, which we added to by having ice-creams!

Then followed the main road up to Helston. Sailed along with a tail wind, and especially to begin just flew along. As we neared Helston the road got a bit hillier, and we decided to push on to Penzance. It was 6, but a beautiful evening, and we looked forward to the last few miles along the coast into Penzance itself. The A road from Helston to Penzance wasn’t too busy, Bank Holiday Sunday evening, I suppose. S booked a hotel in Penzance, so we knew we had somewhere to head to. Again the tail wind seemed to blow us along. I felt high, rather than tired! Coming over the hill saw St. michael’s mount in the mist below. What a welcome sight.joined the coastal path at Marazion, and then found it closed. Tried to go along a bit, but it had been completely washed away last winter. I imagine it will cost a great deal to repair. So ended up on the roads again, followed the railway line, past the station and on the promenade to the hotel. Tired but delighted! Looking forward to a nice relaxing morning before the train home!!

Another gap filled. Now only 3 small gaps, Cardiff to Swansea, Liverpool to Lancaster and Grange over Sands to Barrow, to fill, and we will have done Poole round to Inverness!!

Dist. 104.79 Tot. 267.01 Ave. 12.8  Max. 40.8 Odo. 8323.2 Time. 8’07’28

Barnstaple to Ilfracombe. 26th April 2011.

Royal Wedding Day – but we’re not off to the Mall to wave our flags. We’re travelling from London, on what we had expected to be a fairly empty train, but we were sadly mistaken. We joined the train at Reading, and after putting our bikes in the luggage car, barely managed to squeeze ourselves into the carriage. There was bunting up, and a ladies rugby team celebrating. Luckily we had reserved seats, but many were standing, possibly all the way to Penzance. First stop Exeter, and then onto the little train to Barnstaple. Again jammed on as it was only 2 carriages instead of 4.

Finally we arrived at the end station of Barnstaple, with its quaint old green signs. It looked more like a station on a heritage steamline, rather than on the main route network. Right . beside the station ran the traffic free Tarka Trail along the old railway to Braunton. Firstly out across the River Taw, and then alongside the estuary to Braunton. We went into the centre so I could see the town where my mother’s forefathers come from, so I assume, with Braunton as her surname. It was interesting to see on the edge of the village, one of the few remaining traces of the old medieval strip farming system.

From there the road climbed to give us views over Staunton Sands, with the first sight of many surfers. Then around the headland and more surfers enjoying the waves on Croyde Bay. We descended down to sea-level, and then ascended the other side along a footpath, cutting the corner to Woolacombe Bay. This brought back memories as I remembered going there on Sunday School outings, including 1966, on the day England played in the quarter-final of the World Cup.

The route up out of Woolacombe was very steep; a foretaste for the next day. Up and up to 600m, and then we joined the old railway route into Ilfracombe for a lovely leisurely descent into the town, and an over-priced B&B. Looked around the little harbour, but the town seemed to have seen better days, and views were dominated by the new theatre, which looked like 2 cooling towers from a power-station; not appealing!

Dist. 34 km

Ilfracombe to Minehead. 27th April 2011.

Not a long day, but a very hard one. It started with a route through the town, and then the climb up giving good views of the ugly theatre. And once we had gone up, it was down again to sea-level; a pattern that was to be repeated throughout the day. On we went to Combe Martin, where the real hills started. We turned right off the main road through the village and immediately the road went very steeply up, and up and up. It was narrow and windy, and being negotiated by a lady on her mobile phone! I pushed and pushed and kept thinking the top would be around the corner, but it was many corners later the top was finally reached, with wonderful views of the sea on the left and the green hills of Exmoor on the right.

Then again it was down to a road junction at the Hunter’s Inn. I expected to Stephen waiting for me, but no. The turning up to Martinhoe was almost behind me and I did wonder if Stephen might have sailed on by. I waited for about 10 minutes before deciding I better just follow the road to Martinhoe. I breathed deeply and set off up the 1 in 4 lane! A while later Stephen appeared behind me, having missed the turn, and pushing his bike. That shows how steep it was! The road flattened a bit, only 1 in 6 now! Before rising to 1 in 4 again. Eventually, after a very long slow push we reached Martinhoe Church. We stopped to look at the church and churchyard, where I hoped to find some mention of my ancestors. Stephen found some headstones of Thornes. My ancestors were here. Whilst cycling I had noticed other names of places I recognised in this corner of north Devon as places my ancestors came from.

From Martinhoe it was down again almost to sea level at woody Bay, and then up another steep hill towards Lynton. Each climb was about a 1000’, and soooo steep. I was suffering by the time we reached the edge of Lynton and needed food to stop me bonking [Ed:  That’s the cycling definition of “bonking” meaning lack of food I should hasten to add!]. After nourishment and recovery time, it was down the very steep 1 in 4 into Lynmouth. Quite hairy as it was a very busy road with a junction near the bottom. We had taken so long, we didn’t stop to use the water powered funicular, which was a shame. Instead, joy of joys it was straight up the 1 in 4 Countisbury Hill out of Lynmouth. Another long slow push to the top. At last there did seem to be some respite from the continual ups and downs as we cycled across the top, but nothing was that easy as we were into the fierce headwind that had plagued us all day.

Then a decision, down the 1 in 4 Porlock Hill, or a more leisurely 4 ½ miles descent via the Toll road. The descent felt like a reward for the rigours of the days, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. At the bottom we paid the toll, heard a clap of thunder, and set off for Porlock and Minehead. We took the main road to Minehead, which seemed much busier than earlier. The ‘Coastliner’ bus running between Minehead and Lynmoouth passed us for the 4th time! The driver must have thought that we were completely mad. We had noticed that there were comparatively few cyclists on the road; not hard to guess why! But, by contrast there were hundreds of walkers on the coastal path.

Finally, after 6 we reached Minehead. Far less mileage than we had hoped for and so we had to hunt for somewhere to stay. Managing to get the last room in a lovely hotel and a welcome tasty evening meal, after what felt like one of our hardest cycling days ever, despite the paltry distance.

Dist.  62 km

Minehead to Weston-Super-Mare. 28th April 2011.

No respite from the Easterly wind when we set off. Why couldn’t we have had easterly winds when going along the south coast? Before leaving Minehead, town of my birth, we visited Minehead station, which still has a good number of trips by renovated steam-engines, including the beautiful Braunton which was standing by the platform when we visited. Again I felt nostalgic as I remember taking the steam train at Williton on this route, before Doctor Beeching did his worst. The route out of Minehead was along a good cycle route past Dunster Castle, now a way from the sea, but earlier built on the coast. We went a little way inland before turning back to the coast at Blue Anchor, and then on to Watchet. Again this was filled with memories for me as up to the age of 9 I had lived just a couple of miles away. We cycled in past the paper factory and down to the little stone harbour, past the station and the Methodist chapel where I remember going to some services.

We made our way up out of Watchet and headed up towards the Quantock Hills; fortunately nowhere near as steep as Exmoor yesterday. At West Quantoxhead we joined the main road from Minehead to Bridgwater, which was narrow, windy, busy and unpleasant. I was delighted when we turned off, at a turning I remembered well. It was here that we had a puncture when travelling to a cricket match, and I watched as the rest of the cricket team travelling in a car behind stopped and lifted the car up so the tyre could be changed.

We cycled along lovely country lanes and little villages, before descending to the flatlands around Bridgwater, which we managed to skirt. At Bridgwater we turned North and had to cycle along a main road, through a village which pronounced itself ‘cycle friendly’. This consisted of occasional bits of cycle lanes and some red warning triangles painted on the road. I doubt it would be classed as cycle friendly in Germany or Holland!! There was a quick dash through Burnham on Sea, which didn’t seem to make much impression.

We then carried on North on a small country road, which seemed surprisingly busy. Obviously most were going to or from the holiday camp, whose attractions we could see as we cycled past. It was then up and over the last hill and down into Weston. We passed a pleasant hotel on our way to the seafront. We tried finding a room along the seafront, but it was full. Stephen found a room through the tourist office, and it was back along the front to the hotel we had passed on the way in. My childhood memories of Weston were not great; miles of muddy shore predominantly. Today however it looked lovely. Lots of sand, and the donkeys still providing rides up and down.

Dist.   78 km

Weston-Super-Mare to Bristol. 29th April2011.

A lovely start to the day all along the sea front and up around the headland at the Northern end. Good views were afforded out to Flat Holm and Steep Holm, islands in the Bristol Channel, and all the way over to Wales. We then turned inland to cross a small river. We had to go across the M5. Stephen’s planned route showed an alternative to the road, which we followed. It turned out to be more footpath than cycle route. Including a narrow bridge, which could only be negotiated by standing behind the bike and pushing, followed by little paths along the levels. At least it shortened the distance.

It was then into Clevedon, and then up out of the town with great views of the ever narrowing channel across to Wales. On towards Portishead and onto new and good cycle routes, including around a vast car park for imported cars. We went up and over the river Avon alongside the M5. I wish I had known the path was there when we did Land’s End John O’Groats, it would have saved us going the longer and hillier way around through Bristol city centre. After crossing the Avon, we managed to lose our way, and wandered around some backstreets, before regaining the cycle route alongside the A4 right into the city centre. The waterside was very pretty, as we wheeled our bikes along with the people out enjoying waterfront Bristol, past the SS Greta Britain and onto Bristol Temple Meads Station.

Dist.   65 km

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