Tag Archives: cycle touring

Leg 71 – to Wimborne via Weymouth

11 July 2013

Chris does a good fry up, a most excellent start to what I was planning on being a long day in the saddle. Sam had to leave for work early however Chris, Matthew and I had a more relaxed start to the day, taking in a bit of CBeebies whilst I packed up. I do find kids TV a little disturbing at times, a bit of a sensory overload with colours and sounds. You end up having kids songs stuck in your head before you know it, accidentally humming or singing them in inappropriate places which can sometime attract odd looks.

So humming a tune involving a dragon eating lots of pies, at least I think that’s what it was about, I bid my hosts goodbye and was on the road by 09.00. Thanks for putting me up Chris, Sam and Matthew, and hope to see you all again soon.

Chris and Sam live halfway up one of the biggest hills in Torquay, so I immediately had a tough climb to get up the other half and down the other side to the road out of town. There followed a stretch along the A379 over rolling hills and through lovely countryside, before crossing the River Teign to Teignmouth.

Crossing the River Teign

Crossing the River Teign

It was slightly cooler than yesterday, with a few clouds in the sky, however I suspected the sun would soon burn them off and it would turn into another hot day. I continued on to Dawlish and Cockwood, before arriving in Starcross where I intended to get the ferry over to Exmouth, rather than trek all the way inland to Exeter and back down to the coast again; a route that would have involved negotiating some very busy roads for no real benefit.

The ferry leaves from the other side of the railway line in Starcross, and I had to carry my bike and panniers over the pedestrian bridge to the jetty on the other side, a good work out which left me feeling hungry. I had to wait 20 minutes for the ferry to arrive so topped up my energy levels with a few snacks, as more passengers arrived on the pontoon.

Starcross Ferry pontoon

Starcross Ferry pontoon

The passenger ferry arrived about 11.00 and we all piled on for the trip across the River Ex, a voyage that cost me £5.50 which I thought a tad pricey, but bikes always seem to cost extra.  There was a duty ship’s dog who seemed very at home on board the boat, and who was fairly interested in my panniers which must have smelt good. Unfortunately there was another dog on board who got very upset about being on a boat, and about the presence of another canine, so it was a bit of a noisy ride across with one dog threatening to tear away from its owner and chase the calm and somewhat bemused ship’s dog around the ferry.

My bike and I were safely deposited in Exmouth, from where I rode along country lanes towards Sidmouth. Shortly after passing through Otterton I started encountering lots of cars jammed up on the narrow country road.  The sheer volume of traffic trying to go in either direction had just brought things to a standstill, with not enough passing places. It was a bit like one of those square puzzles with lots of tiles you have to move around to make a picture, where there’s only one space you use to try get things all lined up. In this case there was a rather bewildered policeman standing in the middle of it all, trying to work out what to do. I don’t think he was helping at all, and his parked car was taking up one of the passing places. The road really isn’t suitable to be used as the main route from Sidmouth to Exmouth, and I guess the extra traffic from tourists following sat navs meant it just couldn’t cope. Feeling somewhat superior and failing to suppress a grin I was able to slip through all the cars, passing a couple of cycle tourers going the other way who judging from their expressions were finding the experience just as satisfying. I decided to be helpful as I rode past stationary and gradually overheating cars, informing their equally overheating drivers that no there wasn’t an accident, there were just too many cars on the road and it would be a better idea to turn around and find another route. They seemed appreciative of the information, and I was probably more helpful than the slightly lost policeman.

Countryside near Sidmouth

Countryside near Sidmouth

Out of the traffic I rode through more beautiful Devon countryside down a steep hill into Sidmouth, passing two more cycle tourers struggling up the hill in the other direction. The two young ladies in question had the most stuff loaded onto their bikes I’d seen all tour. They were pushing their bikes west, into a region consisting mostly of more hills, so I wished them a hearty good luck. I reckoned they’d be lightening their loads shortly.

I had my own steep hill to contend with out of Sidmouth, followed by several more on my way over to Lyme Regis. I passed a Donkey Sanctuary and the village of Beer, hmmm beer, before crossing the River Axe at Seaton. I was tempted to ride up to Axminster, a few miles inland, and have lunch at the Axminster Canteen which is part of Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall’s River Cottage empire. It would however have to wait for another day, as I was keen to get a lot more miles done and see if I could make it all the way to Bournemouth.

I stopped for a break in Lyme Regis, eating a couple of banana’s instead of a posh deli lunch at the Axminster Canteen, and attracting the attention of a seagull who was slightly disappointed I only had fruit and not fish and chips. Lyme Regis was packed with tourists enjoying the beach and town, and hunting for fossils for which the area is famous. I was in Dorset now, and making good progress.

Leaving historic Lyme Regis I pedalled along the coast road, having to take the A35 for a bit before turning on to the less busy B3157 just past Bridport. The Dorset coast is stunning, but the hills are relentless with continuous ups and downs as I rode along the Jurassic coastline.

Jurassic coastline

Jurassic coastline

With Chesil Beach on my right, an 18 miles shingle bank which joins the Isle of Portland to the mainland, I rode on towards Weymouth, the site of the Olympic sailing competition a year before. Chesil Beach is another good place to go fossil hunting, and Lucy and I had visited it several years before when her parents lived in Weymouth, and a few years before that for New Year, with our friend Wayne who’s parents also live down here. I don’t know if it still is but it used to be a great place to go out for New Year’s Eve, with everyone dressing up in fancy dress and the whole town coming alive, with a great atmosphere. I remember Nigel, who joined me for the first evening of the tour, carrying Lu out into the sea on New Years Eve (the bay is very shallow in parts), and thankfully not dropping her. Happy memories.

Dorset countryside and Chesil Beach

Dorset countryside and Chesil Beach

The Isle of Portland slowly appeared out of the haze as I rode east. Despite the bright sunshine it was a cooler day, and although I’d slowed up over the hills the miles were still passing at a good rate, mainly because I was ignoring any promising looking pubs. I kept seeing the same vintage Spitfire sports car for a while, which seemed to be going backwards and forwards along the coast road. A great day to be out driving with your top down, but I was getting slightly paranoid they were stalking me.

Isle or Portland in the haze

Isle or Portland in the haze

For some reason I decided I’d include Portland on my tour, I’m not sure why seeing as there’s a big hill you have to tackle just as you get onto the island. The Isle has a rich history having been inhabited since the Mesolithic era. The Romans had a settlement there, and Henry VIII built a castle to defend against the French. Portland limestone has been used for centuries, Sir Christopher Wren having built St. Paul’s Cathedral from it. Hundreds of thousands of gravestones were also made from it post the two World Wars.

I struggled up the initial hill, stopping half-way to visit a Co-op and refuel on two pints of chocolate milk, before performing a quick circuit of the island. I passed the turning to the famous Portland Bill lighthouse, but had been before so decided to press on back towards Weymouth. The coast around here has claimed many a ship so the lighthouse, now like so many operated remotely, has provided an important service over the years.

Portland Bill

Portland Bill

I was quite glad to get off the island, having been slightly abused by a few impatient and aggressive drivers.

View from the top of Portland looking west

View from the top of Portland looking west, Chesil Beach clearly visible

View from the top of Portland looking towards Weymouth

View from the top of Portland looking towards Weymouth

I rode back down the hill and across the land-bridge to Weymouth, passing Portland Harbour which is one of the largest man made harbours in the world. It used to be a naval base, and is now a civilian port.

Weymouth was packed with holiday makers enjoying the town and beach, and had changed quite a bit since I was last there due to the building completed for the Olympics. I pedalled along the seafront and out of the town, deciding I would try and make it to friends living in Wimborne, just outside Bournemouth, rather than find somewhere to camp.

Weymouth Beach

Weymouth Beach

Weymouth Bay - sailing boats out

Weymouth Bay – sailing boats out

I still had a fair few miles to cover and realised I would be cycling into the dark, but my legs were still feeling fresh at this point, and I was keen to push myself to see just how far I could go in one day. I passed the familiar white horse carved in the hillside just outside Weymouth, and the turning to the Smugglers Inn at Osmington Mills, of which I had fond memories from visiting with Lucy and her family.

The terrain flattened out somewhat over the next stretch, as I rode down the A352 for a bit before turning off it at Wool down to Combe Keynes and East Lulworth. The light was starting to fade as I pedalled across the Purbeck Hills, entering an army exercise area. It was getting on for 21.00 and there was no-one else around, leaving me alone in beautiful surroundings. For company I just had cows, deer and a fox than ran down the road ahead of me before dashing off into the gorse chasing a rabbit. The air smelt really fresh and delicious, and I stopped for a break after climbing the Purbecks to watch the sunset.

I continued on out of the MOD firing range and down to Corfe Castle, with the light fading further and making the castle look impressive.

Corfe Castle 1

Corfe Castle 1

Corfe Castle 2

Corfe Castle 2

The castle was built by William the Conqueror in the 11th century, and ended up being mostly demolished in 1645 after Parliamentarian forces assaulted it in the English Civil War. It was one of the last remaining strongholds fpr the Royalists, and they obviously didn’t want to have to go to the trouble of another lengthy siege in the future.

I had to turn on my lights as I pedalled across the Isle of Purbeck, which isn’t an island as far as I can tell, making my way to the chain ferry near Studland. My legs were starting to get really tired now, having been on the go for over 12 hours, and I had to break out the Haribos just to keep the wheels turning. There were quite a few cyclists out enjoying the evening, and making there way to the ferry at a slightly quicker pace than I. I texted Steve to let him know I was on my way, and not far from the ferry, and that I might need some directions after I got into Poole Harbour.

After what seemed like a long time I finally made it to the chain ferry, eating a Bounce Bar whilst I waited for it to clunk its way across from Sandbanks. There was a party going on at the bar/restaurant next to the ferry station, with Cuban music echoing across the otherwise peaceful landscape. I liked the music and it sounded like people were having a lot of fun, but it seemed a little out of place in the tranquil surroundings.

Party going on near the ferry

Party going on near the ferry

The camera on my phone doesn’t take photos too well in the dark, and I accidentally left the flash on which immediately drained the last of my battery. I really needed my phone to communicate with the Headley’s, with whom I was staying this evening, and to use Google maps to make my way to their house. It was at times like this I needed my Garmin Edge to be working, however that hadn’t happened for weeks and I still needed to get in touch with them to organise a replacement; their phone lines are always jammed and it cost me money to hang about on hold. Thankfully my PowerMonkey battery was fully charged, there having been lots of sunshine of late, so I was able to plug my phone into charge.

The ferry over to Sandbanks and Poole Harbour ended up being quite busy, as I was joined by several groups of slightly the worse for wear party-goers returning home, and a group of male cycle tourers who’d been out for a days ride. I chatted with the latter for a while, learning one of them had done his Jogle a few weeks before. I described some of my journey to date, realising I was fast approaching the end of my own tour, especially after riding well over 100 miles today.

I rode into Poole Harbour, one of if not the most expensive place to live in Britain outside London. It’s a huge natural harbour, and I could make our Brownsea Island where Red Squirrels still find a home as the Greys can’t get to them.

Poole Harbour is another place humans have lived for thousands of years, the Romans having launched there invasion of England around-bouts, and it being an important port ever since. It’s an ideal venue for lots of water sports too.

My energy levels had been somewhat boosted after consuming a vast number of Haribos, so I pedalled quickly towards where I hoped Wimborne was. After travelling a few hundred yards from the ferry I heard a loud shout from behind me, which I initially ignored thinking it was probably drunk kids being funny, although that would have been a little out of place somewhere like Poole Harbour. The rich kids around here probably don’t need to hang about outside a local Spar drinking dodgy cider, they don’t know what they’re missing; not sure they even have Spar’s in Poole Harbour, probably only M&S and Waitrose.

I was further alarmed when I heard a rider approaching me rapidly from behind, however on glancing back I recognised the familiar face of Steve who’d cycled down from Wimborne to meet me. This was very much appreciated seeing as my phone wasn’t really charged as yet, so I wasn’t sure of my route, and being very tired would have probably ended up somewhere odd.

I followed Steve down cycle paths I’d never have found on my own, around Poole Harbour and off towards Wimborne Minster. At one point we were stopped by police who were looking after someone that had collapsed on the path just ahead of us, and who didn’t want us running them over. We think they were just drunk (the injured party rather than the police) rather than anything more sinister, and we were able to just cycle around them.

We arrived in Colehill just outside Wimborne at about 23.30, after a final hill climb that stole the last of my energy. I was tired and very thirsty having run out of water a while back, but extremely satisfied to have covered what I later worked out was 128.5 miles,  the longest leg of my tour. The Headleys are old family friends and it was great to see them, and great to have made it before Pete and Diane left for Scotland the day after. I was welcomed with warm hugs, several glasses of water, a cold beer and some thai curry, all of which I was extremely grateful for.

In Colehill post 128.5 miles

In Colehill post 128.5 miles

Tomorrow I’d be pressing on towards Chichester via Portsmouth, and hopefully meeting up with my friend Ian who was joining me for a day or two. I was a little worried about what sort of state my legs were going to be in the morning, but for now I just hit the sack, and slept very deeply.

Leg 70 – to Torquay

Only 52 miles covered today, including two ferries, but probably the hardest leg of the tour hill wise. Beautiful weather and scenery more than compensated though.

10 July 2013

I woke up slightly stiff, with a few bruises on my legs after yesterday’s altercation with the Volvo, and decided to give my bike a good check over before doing anything else just in case I missed anything last night.

Upon closer examination I discovered one of the pannier rack struts had snapped, on the front right and in the same place that went back on the east coast of Scotland, on the front left. I suspect this wasn’t as a result of the crash, but had probably been like it for a while and I hadn’t noticed. It appears to be a weak point in the design, but the Blackburn racks allegedly have a lifetime guarantee so I’ll see if I can replace them when I get back to Norwich. In the meantime I bound up the break with some wire and gaffer tape, plus a few cable ties for good measure. One of my rear pannier bags also had a dodgy clip, but nothing major, so aside from the slightly bent forks I already knew about I’d got off lightly. The Ridgeback was good to go for another day of riding.

It was already pretty hot as I had breakfast, followed by a shower and quickly packing up my tent. By the time I was ready to go I already had a bit of a sweat on, so it looked like it was going to be a day of frequent stops to rehydrate.

On the way out of Briar Farm campsite I bid goodbye to two other campers, one of whom was walking the coastal trail to St. Ives. He’d had a bit of a tough time of it for the last couple of days, but was hoping to make good progress today. I assured him the hills do get easier with time…mostly. Hope it went well James!

I was on the road by 10.00, cycling down country lanes to the A379 through such places as Smutty Moor Wood and Holbeton, which I initially read as Hobbiton. Sadly there were no Hobbits about and a serious lack of potential venues for second breakfast. Undeterred I pedalled on through the glorious Devon landscape, with a slight north easterly cooling me off. The tall hedgerows also lent a certain amount of shade which was most welcome.

The hills steadily increased in size as I passed through Modbury and rode down to Aveton Gifford. I tried to avoid the A379 as much as possible as it was proving very busy with traffic, but at times it was unavoidable on the way down to Kingsbridge. I turned on to the slightly less busy but hillier A381 which took me to Salcombe, past the turning to Hope Cove where I’d been on holiday a few years back. Hope Cove had been the inspiration for an episode I’ve written for the Ravenskil audio drama we’re recording as part of our It’s A Trap productions. Hopefully Wayne and Chris will finish getting it recorded this year, and it’ll be out next year post the editing process. Should be a good tale and slightly different to our previous venture into audio drama, ‘Jack Steel and the Starblade’, which was more tongue in cheek. Ravenskil is more a combination of X-Files and Cthulhu (H P Lovecraft).

Anyway, I digress, but I did have time to think about a lot whilst on the road, including more possible ideas for It’s A Trap.

Despite the tough climbs on the way to Salcombe, it was well worth the effort. A few other cyclists were out and about, but no tourers, and I exchanged smiles and hellos with several on my way down into the small coastal town. I was more than ready for a break by this stage, so bought a tuna, cheddar and chilli jam baguette from one of the several delicatessens ‘pedalling’ their wares. Tuna, cheddar and chilli jam seemed like a very odd combination, but it was the daily special and hence cheaper, and it turned out to be delicious. Although to be fair being permanently hungry on this tour I found pretty much all food delicious. Who knew tuna and chilli jam went together though?!

Having forgotten to take any pictures so far I had a wander around Salcombe, investigating the town’s narrow streets, boutiques and harbour front.

Salcombe is another lovely Devon coastal town, and worth visiting if you’re in the area. It was very packed with tourists, several of whom I nearly ran over as they stepped out in front of me without looking. Despite judicious use of my bell they just don’t hear bikes, and people have a habit of subconsciously not looking if they don’t hear anything coming.

I managed to avoid running anyone over and carried my bike and panniers down to the ferry to East Portlemouth. The ferry was only a couple of quid, and took me over the Kingsbridge Estuary, past moored yachts and other river traffic. I unloaded on the other side, before carrying my kit up more steep steps to the road.

East Portlemouth jetty - looking back to Salcombe

East Portlemouth jetty – looking back to Salcombe

Whilst recovering from carrying my stuff up and down steps, I gave a friend a call. Ian was due to meet up with me on Friday for a couple of days riding. He lives in Hastings so would get the train down to wherever I was, before cycling back east. We hoped to make it to Hastings by Sunday, in time for work (for Ian) on Monday, something that thankfully I didn’t have to worry about quite yet. Plan arranged I turned back to the pressing matter of navigating my way through the next rather complicated bit of Devon.

Salcombe from East Portlemouth

Salcombe from East Portlemouth

I cycled from East Portlemouth alongside the river, the road sticking to the side of the estuary to begin with. It looked like parts of the road are frequently flooded, and I had to cycle through a shallow ford at one point.

Ford near Waterhead Creek

Ford near Waterhead Creek

The next section took me up to Chillington and the A379, via South Pool and Chilvelstone amongst other small villages. The confusingly signposted country lanes took me over some of the hardest hills of the tour, due to their gradient, length and frequency.

Narrow country lanes out of Salcombe

Narrow country lanes out of Salcombe

It was really satisfying to make it over the hills, but extremely hot, and my progress slowed considerably as a result. I had to push up one particularly steep climb after having to stop to let a car pass. It was impossible to get going again without rolling backwards or falling off. My legs were completely exhausted by the time I got to the top, and I stopped for a tactical banana break, noticing the shadow of a buzzard circling on the road next to me; the scavengers were moving in already!

After making it back to the A379 and avoiding the attention of any raptors looking to make a snack of a fainting cycle tourer, I had a nice descent down to Torcross, enjoying the cooling breeze. From Torcross there’s a flat stretch along to Slapton, past Slapton Ley, with Slapton Sands on the right and the lake on the left.

Slapton Sands, looking east

Slapton Sands, looking east

Slapton Ley is separated from Slapton Sands by a thin stretch of shingle, along which the road runs. It’s the largest natural freshwater lake in the South West England, and an important nature reserve being home to Bittern, amongst other interesting species of flora and fauna.

Slapton Sands looking west

Slapton Sands looking west

I stopped in Slapton for a break at a small trailer cafe offering cold drinks, propping my bike up and sitting down on the shingle, looking out over Start Bay. The cold lemonade was extremely well timed, and I spent 15 minutes resting my legs and enjoying the sunshine before moving on.

There followed another steep climb up to Strete, during which I was encouraged on my way by a friendly cyclist on a super-light road bike. I appreciated the sentiment but could have done without the ‘I’ve done this climb dozens of times’ comments; try it with a bike weighing in the region of 60kg. More hills followed, with some wonderful scenery, as I made my way over to Dartmouth.

Blackpool Beach, Devon

Blackpool Beach, Devon

I rode past Blackpool beach, which beat it’s namesake up north by a good measure. It’s a truly magnificent spot, set in a sheltered cove and surrounded by woodland.

I made it round to Dartmouth with my brakes squealing on the last descent. I was glad I wasn’t going the other way as the hill down into the naval town was particularly steep and long. I’d have to adjust my rear brake later and check the pads didn’t need replacing again. I was pretty knackered by this stage, and running low on water but couldn’t see anywhere convenient to top up.

Dartmouth 1

Dartmouth 1

I needed to get the ferry over the River Dart and was glad to rest for a bit whilst I waited for it to arrive, remembering I had a bottle of Lucozade in my panniers which didn’t last long. What I really needed was some chocolate milk, the best sort of recovery drink.

Dartmouth 2 - looking towards Kingswear

Dartmouth 2 – looking towards Kingswear

The ferry over to the other side cost 50p, and I chatted to a young cyclist on the way over who was having trouble with his pedals – they kept falling off. I suggested he had them the wrong way around; if you put the wrong pedal on the wrong side it’s likely to come undone as you cycle along. He’d check it out when he got home.

Dartmouth Chain Ferry 1

Dartmouth Chain Ferry 1 – on its way over to me

Dartmouth Chain Ferry 2 - looking back to Dartmouth

Dartmouth Chain Ferry 2 – looking back to Dartmouth

My companion on the chain ferry was able to advise me that after a long climb up from the ferry it was relatively flat over to Torquay, my destination for the day, encouraging news.

The River Dart

The River Dart

The climb was indeed long and somewhat tricky on already tired legs, however I just got into a rhythm, putting the Ridgeback into a low gear and spinning my way slowly to the top. The traffic slowly increased in volume and decreased in patience as I made my over to Paignton, where I was able to scoot around several traffic jams thanks to my two wheeled method of transportation. I did however have to take care of my wide load when squeezing through some of the gaps between the cars, especially with one slightly dodgy pannier clip – a small bash could knock it tumbling to the tarmac.

I was feeling very hot again by this stage, and had run out of water, but spied a Sainsburys ‘local’ by the roadside which beckoned me into its air conditioned interior. I spent a good 5 minutes in the freezer isle cooling off, which must have looked slightly odd but I really didn’t care, it was lovely. I followed this up with a litre of deliciously cold banana mild to get some energy back, before calling Chris in Torquay to let him know I was nearly there. I was really looking forward to seeing Chris and Sam, and their son Matthew, having not been properly in touch for about a year.

I pedalled along the final stretch of the coast to Torquay, past throngs of holiday makers on the beaches getting sunburnt, eating ice-creams, and swimming. The water did look pretty inviting.

Torquay 1

Torquay 1

I hadn’t been to Torquay since Chris’ stag do a few years back, and hadn’t seen it properly in the daytime as a result. It looks lovely in the sunshine.

Torquay 2

Torquay 2

After faffing around slightly navigation wise I made it to Chris and Sam’s by about 17.30, completing a pretty slow but satisfying 52 miles. I’d need to do more miles tomorrow to make up for it, however it was good to be staying with friends, and to have an early stop.

There followed a great evening of chilling out and catching up, and meeting their son Matthew properly. Matthew had a very challenging first year, with serious heart problems that needed surgery. It was touch and go for a while but he’s much better now, and very lively which was ace to see. He does however have slight OCD when it comes to making sure doors are shut, which was a little inconvenient during the several trips I made to carry my stuff inside. It’s funny the habits children can pick up; my nephew Seb loves cleaning, whether that be mopping, brushing or wiping, he’s there. It was fab to see Chris and Sam, and I was looking forward to seeing them again in a field a little later in the year, presuming I made it back to Norwich.

After a huge amount of Chinese food and a few beers I was ready for sleep, even though it was boiling still. I thought there must be a storm coming but it didn’t materialise overnight as far as I could tell, however I could easily have slept through it.

I had vague plan to try and cycle all the way to more friends living near Bournemouth tomorrow, which would be a leg of at least 125 miles. It might be a little ambitious in the heat and if the hills continued to be as challenging, which I was pretty sure they would be, so I’d just have to see how it panned out.

Leg 69 – to Newton Ferrers via 4 ferries

Link to map of today’s route: http://connect.garmin.com/course/4124115

09 July 2013

What an ace day, covering 85 miles through Cornwall and Devon, over 4 ferries, in gorgeous weather. And my legs seems to have acclimatised to the West Country hills too.

My tent was pretty hot when I woke up, indicating another great day was on the cards weather wise. I rolled out into the fresh air, quick to get out of the oven like conditions the Akto can create in direct sunlight. One drawback of sleeping in a tent is you can’t really have a lie in when it gets hot, unless you want to emerge slightly hard boiled. Mind you when the weather gets good you don’t need a tent, unless there’s an abundance of midges or mosquitoes as there had been in Scotland.

After a shower and a quick breakfast – I was still full from last nights feasting – I packed up and was on the road by 09.30. My objective for the day was to use 4 ferries to cross rivers along the coast, and get back into Devon.

My first stop was Helford Village, a picturesque spot on the banks of the Helford River. It’s a lovely small village with a great pub, the Shipwrights Arms, but it was a little early to be frequenting a drinking establishment.

Helford Village - another bright day

Helford Village – another bright day

There’s a bit of a ford you can ride through, but there wasn’t a lot of water in it.

Helford Village - picturesque spot

Helford Village – picturesque spot

Helford Village Pub

Helford Village Pub – bit early for a pint

I followed a narrow path down to the ferry landing, and had to use the orange disk to summon the boat from the other side of the river. You just open up the disk, which can be clearly seen from the other side, when you want to cross. Better than a phone with little reception in the area, and more fun.

Orange Disk of ferry summoning

Orange Disk of ferry summoning

After unloading my bike to get it down the steps to the jetty, I sat on the wall to wait for the boat, idly swinging my legs to work some of the latent stiffness out of my muscles. It was a perfect morning and a perfect spot.

The ferry duly arrived, and as the lone passenger I loaded my panniers and bike on board with help from the ferry boat skipper Stephanie (think that was her name anyway, apologies if not). Stephanie comes down from Cambridge each year to work the ferry for a few months, which sounds like sounds a pretty idyllic way to spend your summer. I only just had enough money to pay for the crossing, which costs £6 with a bike, however it was worth it for the scenery and experience and saved me a long trek inland to find a bridge. It’s only a short crossing over to Helford Passage, the village on the other side, where I disembarked and a group with an enormous dog got on for a trip back. The dog really wasn’t sure about the whole thing but was eventually coaxed into the boat.

I added Helford to my list of places to come back to , as I pedalled off up a big climb out of the village and took the road around to Falmouth and my next ferry crossing of the day. The Cornish countryside looked and smelt lovely in the sunshine, as I passed through Mawnan Smith and Penjerrick, very Cornish sounding place-names.

Falmouth is a much bigger town and I stopped to get some cash out, as well as pick up some supplies. I bought six ripe bananas for 48p from a greengrocers, a bargain, as well as some more sun-cream and multi-vitamins. After a cold drink I headed down to the harbour to find a ferry over to St. Mawes.

After a bit of a circuit of the town I located a promising ferry, and had to carry my bike and panniers down some steps to get to the boat on Princess Pier. I only just made the 12.15 sailing, and thankfully the crew were on hand to help load everything into the boat, a slightly bigger affair than the Helford ferry.

It was a nice crossing over to St. Mawes, during which I chatted to one of the crew for whom today was his first day on the job. It’s a long day and hard work but nice being out in the sunshine and fresh air, providing the weather stays good. It was good to relate a few of my experiences and learn a bit about the route ahead over to Fowey. There was a guitarist on board who entertained us with a few melodies on the way across, made me miss my guitar but it really wouldn’t have been practical to bring it on tour.

St. Mawes harbour

St. Mawes harbour

I stopped for a bite to eat in St. Mawes, fish and chips; sustainably sourced Icelandic Cod from the Watch House. I don’t usually eat Cod however as the restaurant had gone to great lengths to promote the fact it was from sustainable resources I thought it a safe option. I was glad I’d decided to opt for the traditional seaside delicacy, as it rivalled that I’d had a couple of months back in Whitby, which felt like a long time ago now.

St. Mawes - looking over to St. Anthony

St. Mawes – looking over to St. Anthony

With my energy levels restored I pressed on, deciding against using the ferry across to St. Anthony, it was getting expensive on the wallet, and instead taking the A3078 up the hill to St. Just in Roseland. There are a lot of towns and villages around here named after saints.

There followed a long stint along country roads towards St. Austell. The lanes are a little maze like around this neck of the woods and I took a wrong turning up to Grampound. I also had a few close encounters with the drivers of large 4×4’s and vans, including one interesting altercation between a farm tractor and a shiny Chelsea tractor. As with other day I slipped through leaving them to sort out who was going to back down. Things would be a lot easier if people would just buy smaller cars, half of them only had one or two people in.

Back on track I headed past St. Austell and down to Fowey, drinking copious amounts of water due to the heat. I paused in Fowey for what I reckoned was a well earned cold pint after tackling a lot of hills, then had a quick look around. Fowey is another lovely small coastal town, with a ferry that runs across the River Fowey to Polruan.

Suitably rehydrated I took ferry number 3 over to Polruan, after negotiating steep steps down to the stone jetty. I was developing a pretty slick process of loading and unloading the panniers from my bike as I carried it and my kit to and from ferries, often up and down steep steps to jetties or piers.

The road out of Polruan involved a leg burning hill climb. I made it up but attracted curious looks from quite a few villagers and tourists, who obviously thought I was slightly mad for not just pushing my bike up. I pedalled on to Looe, via a slightly roundabout route due to bad map reading skills and warren like roads…again.

Looe 1

Looe 1

There’s a bridge over the river at Looe, rather than a ferry, which I crossed before heading up the A387, intending to join the B3253.

Looe 2

Looe 2

Unfortunately the B3253 was closed so I had to take the long way around, continuing inland on the A387 over rolling hills on my way to Torpoint.

B3253 closed - not a sign you want to see on a cycle tour

B3253 closed – not a sign you want to see on a cycle tour

After a lovely ride through more great countryside, and waving to several other cyclists, I made it to Torpoint. I was impressed with my stamina today, my legs seemed to be working well taking on one hill after another without too much trouble.

I met another cyclist whilst waiting for the chain ferry across to Plymouth, who advised on the protocol for boarding. The ferry is free for cyclists, and seems like a far better option than tackling the busy main road which runs further inland around the north side of Plymouth.

Torpoint 1

Torpoint 1

Chatting to the fellow cyclist on the way across I learned she worked for the Department of Fisheries, so I asked her what she thought of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. She agreed that he’s done some great work in challenging the fish discard rules, but needs to be careful with some of his more recent Fish Fight campaigns which could just result in putting honest fishermen out of work; as always it’s important people follow expert advice and not just reckon one knows best. I feel quite passionately about giving the oceans a chance to recover, and banning irresponsible fishing techniques, but like everything you need to know the facts to make an informed argument.

Torpoint 2

Torpoint 2

She also recommended a good campsite, just on from Plymouth in Newton Ferrers. There was allegedly a very nice pub in the village, so I decided to take her advice and head there for the evening. Where a nice pub is concerned I don’t need a lot of convincing.

Bike on board the Plymouth chain ferry

Bike on board the Plymouth chain ferry

Riding off the ferry at Devonport I successfully negotiated Plymouth and some pretty intense traffic, heading for the A379. There are several cycle paths running alongside the road which I was able to take advantage of. These are great aside from when cars decide to park in them.

I was cycling along minding my own business, well actually I was looking down at my map trying to work out where I was, when I looked up to see the rear end of a Volvo estate a couple of metres in front of me. Unable to stop in time, but taking the edge off my speed by slamming on my brakes, I smacked into the back of it. I didn’t go over the handlebars, but did end up on my cross bar, and my rear panniers came off in the impact. It would have been a lot worse if I hadn’t looked up. Unfortunately I bent my front forks in slightly, meaning my fuel bottle would no longer fit in its cage without interfering with the front mud guard. I think my front wheel was bit battered too, not to mention me. After relocating my fuel bottle and reattaching panniers I was able to continue. The Ridgeback proved its toughness by not being otherwise adversely affected, as far as I could tell anyway.

The Volvo was of course completely unharmed in the altercation. There was no-one in it at the time, and whilst it’s a bit annoying to have someone stopped in the cycle lane it wasn’t illegally parked, so it was completely my fault.

With a slight case of bruising in my nether regions I continued on out of Plymouth via Pomphey, taking the bridge over the River Plym on to the A379. I turned right at Yealmpton, on the B3186, down to Newton Ferrers and tackling the last hills of the day with my bike still running well despite the collision.

I arrived at Briar Farm campsite as afternoon turned into evening, quickly pitching my tent and heading down to the pub to find something to eat. Newton Ferrers is a pretty village, and evidently home to quite a few people with a lot of money, there being a yacht club and expensive looking houses. There’s one shop where I was able to buy a few supplies for the morning.

Newton Ferrers

Newton Ferrers

I met the campsite owner in the Dolphin Inn where apparently he spends quite a bit of his time, so paid the £7.00 site fee, before enjoying the food that had been laid out for the pub quiz. I’d arrived a bit late to participate in the actual quiz, however they were quite happy for me to finish up some of the food, which I proceeded to do with some gusto over a couple of pints. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening, listening to the quiz whilst chatting to Ed the bar manager. Newton Ferrers was the birthplace of the famous pirate Henry Every, who plied his trade in the late 17th century in the Atlantic and Indian oceans. He was never caught and retired very rich, somewhere unknown, inspiring others to take up the pirate way of life.

Dolphin Inn, Newton Ferrers

Dolphin Inn, Newton Ferrers

I was somewhat amused to hear one of the younger patrons talking to her friends about her busy day planned for tomorrow. She needed to visit the solicitor to sign the papers for the house daddy had bought her, alright for some.

Newton Ferrers Cross

Newton Ferrers Cross

After a great day encompassing 4 ferries and some beautiful coastline and countryside, a long with my fair share of hills, I retired to my tent ready for sleep. Tomorrow I planned to head for Torquay to stay with friends, Chris and Sam, which meant more ferry crossings and more steep climbs. Bring it on.

Leg 68 – to Newtown-in St.-Martin, via Land’s End and the Lizard

08 July 2013

Everything ached when I woke up at about 08.00. I think the last few days of Devon and Cornwall hills had finally caught up with me. My legs were stiff for the first time in ages, and my forearms and hands ached from all the hill climbs.

A warm shower helped alleviate the muscle fatigue, followed up with breakfast at the campsite cafe. Over a fry up I worked out I still needed to cover about 70 miles a day to get to Latitude on time, but could afford a slower recovery day today. I think I needed it physically as well as mentally, having somewhat run out of steam.

After packing up I was on the road by 10.30, cycling down to Land’s End via Sennen and passing the First and Last Inn on the way.

The First & Last Inn

The First & Last Inn

I pedalled into the Land’s End visitor centre, which is slightly on the tacky side with attractions such as King Arthur’s quest. The coastline however is fantastic affording superb views out over the Atlantic. Consequently I took rather a large number of photos which I’ve put into a gallery. I even managed to get the horizon straight on some of these, will wonders never cease.

I met another cyclist whilst at the famous sign-post, which was massively crowded with people wanting to get their photo taken. He was visiting Land’s End by car today, and took my photo for me next to the sign. He lives in Exeter and is recovering from kidney cancer – yet another person affected by this disease. It was nice to have a chat and good to hear he still gets out on his bike, doing some big distances albeit not as quickly as he used to due to reduced lung capacity. Good on you!

I spent about an hour at Land’s End enjoying the perfect weather, and despite it only being the morning had a beer to celebrate completing a Jogle, albeit a very long winded version thereof.

After having a walk around a bit of the coastal path I got back on my bike, ready to tackle the South Coast of Britain. It felt like I’d reached another milestone on the tour, and that I was really getting into the last stages of my ride. Unfortunately the wind had changed direction to a North Easterly, which was a little frustrating considering I’d been looking forward to a prevailing South Westerly. Fingers crossed it would change again soon.

I hit the hills once more, pedalling past Porthgwarra and Porthcurno, both sites of childhood escapades. I stopped at the Merry Maidens, a late Neolithic stone circle, for a quick break. I’d driven past the circle many times, but can’t remember ever actually having visited it properly, so took a wander up.

The Merry Maidens

The Merry Maidens

The circle has other standing stones called the Pipers associated with it, and legend has it that the Maidens and Pipers were turned to stone for dancing on the Sabbath. This is a little odd as I’m pretty sure they didn’t have the Sabbath in Neolithic times, Christianity not having arrived in Britain until a lot later. This tale is not uncommon, apparently being associated with other stone circles, and is probably adapted from earlier tales not involving Christianity.

The Merry Maidens - panorama

The Merry Maidens – panorama

Whatever the truth the circle is a nice relaxing spot, and it was nice sitting in the grass listening to the ever present skylarks after the busy road from Land’s End. It was quite bizarre touching the sun warmed stones and thinking they were erected thousands of years ago. I wondered what the people were like who lived here at the time, and what they used the circle for. Perhaps it was a calender to mark the passing of the seasons, or a site to perform religious rituals, or maybe something more mundane like a UFO landing site, or stone age drive through. The stones will no doubt be year for thousands of years to come.

I pedalled on to Mousehole, scene of a childhood fishing misadventure, and stopped for another walk about.

Mousehole 1

Mousehole 1

My brother and I were fishing off the end of one of the piers, many moons ago, when everything went slightly awry. I cast the line, which sailed out across the mouth of the harbour straight into the wooden beam on the other side. I reckon the wind must have taken it. The hook on the end of my line became thoroughly embedded in the wooden beam, and despite much cajoling would not come loose. Worse was to come in the form of a motor boat that wanted to get into the harbour, but was obstructed by my line. I should have just cut the line, but being very young panicked and tugged harder, which just resulted in embedding the hook further into the wood. More yanking resulted in a sickening crack as I broke my Dad’s wooden fishing rod, which he’d had since he was a child, and the end slipping down the fishing line. Calamity! Eventually a group of kids on the other side came to my rescue and unhooked the fishing line so I could reel it in. Not my greatest ever day’s fishing, however Dad was quite sympathetic.

Mousehole harbour 2

Mousehole harbour 2

Despite the bad memories from that fateful day Mousehole is a lovely fishing village, and it was good to have a walk around the harbour, passing the Ship Inn where I’ve enjoyed scampi and chips several times.

I continued on to Newlyn where we stayed whilst on holiday. We used to fish off the South Pier, but that’s closed to the public now due to health and safety I think. Health and safety rules are pretty vexing at times.

Newlyn - South Pier

Newlyn – South Pier

There definitely aren’t as many fishing boats in Newlyn harbour as there used to be, which I guess is down to fishing quotas making it very difficult for fishermen to make a living. I agree that fishing needs to be controlled to allow stocks to recover, however it’s sad to see a decline in the traditional way of life for so many people around the coast.

Newlyn Harbour

Newlyn Harbour

Despite the lack of fishing boats compared to yesteryears, Newlyn hasn’t changed a lot, and it was nice to stop and remember some fun times fishing out in all weathers, or walking down to the old harbour.

Newlyn harbour and old harbour

Newlyn harbour and old harbour

I rode on around to Penzance, where feeling a bit peckish I stopped for a baguette on the seafront. It really was a gorgeous day and really hot, however I was still feeling pretty tired so was glad to be taking it easy.

After lunch I pedalled on to Marazion, passing St. Michael’s Mount where people were paddling across the partially submerged causeway to the small tidal island.

St. Michael's Mount 1

St. Michael’s Mount 1

St. Michael’s Mount is called Karrek Loos yn Koos in Cornish, which means ‘grey rock in the woods’. The island was once surrounded by forest rather than the sea, but at some point the sea flooded in and cut it off from the mainland. There are varying accounts of when this may have taken place, and various interesting historical facts and legends associated with the island. Was it part of the fabled ancient kingdom of Lyonesse, or the island visited by the Greek geographer Pytheas in the 4th century BC?

St. Michael's Mount 3

St. Michael’s Mount 3

The Mount has been the site of a monastery in the past, and still boasts an impressive looking castle.

St. Michael's Mount 4

St. Michael’s Mount 4

From Marazion I cycled round to Helston on the  main road, the A394, up and down several hills which were pretty challenging in the heat. The buzzards were circling waiting for exhausted cyclists to fall by the wayside and provide a tasty meal, although by this stage of the tour there was far less of a meal to me that when I’d started. I seen a lot of buzzards since entering the west country, along with a variety of other birds of prey.

Drinking a lot of water and taking it easy in the hot weather I turned on to the A3083, passing Culdrose Airfield, and cruised down a comparatively flat road to the Lizard, the most southerly point on the UK mainland.

The Lizard wasn’t as busy as Land’s End but there were still a lot of tourists about, and a decided lack of lizards which slightly confused and disappointed the Lobster who I think may have been suffering slightly from sunstroke.

The name ‘Lizard’ may originate from the Cornish name for the area, which means ‘High Court’, so it may have been an important settlement in the past. Or it may be to do with the serpentine rocks which stretch down into the sea and look a bit lizard like. It’s a lovely spot, with Kynance Cove on the western side of it, and well worth a visit. The whole coast is worth a visit when the weather is good, or bad if you’re prepared for it; visually stunning and emotive in all seasons . When conditions are bad and the sea rough you can well imagine why it’s hazardous for shipping, the coastline around here being known as the ‘Graveyard of Ships’, hence the many lifeboat stations including one at the Lizard.

After a break I rode back up the road, before turning off to Goonhilly passing the ‘Satelite Earth Station’.

Goonhilly 1

Goonhilly 1

The satellite dishes looked like something out of Star Wars, and I half expected to see an Ewok pop out of the long grass. Maybe Lobster wasn’t the only one suffering from a bit of heatstroke. Chief Chirpa did not make an appearance as I pedalled past.

Goonhilly 2

Goonhilly 2

Feeling tired I decided to stop early after covering just 51 miles, my shortest day in a while. I found a campsite in Newtown-in-St.-Martin, not far from the Helford River which I planned to cross tomorrow. The campsite was a bit of a find, also being a pub – the Prince of Wales.

The Prince of Wales in Newtown-in-St.-Martin

The Prince of Wales in Newtown-in-St.-Martin

I set up my tent and had a very welcome shower, before making my way to the pub to celebrate completing the full set of cardinal points; I’d been to the furthest points north, south, east and west on the UK mainland.

Tent set up at the Prince of Wales

Tent set up at the Prince of Wales

As a morale booster I treated myself to a meal in the pub too, going the whole hog and ordering a starter, main course and dessert. A spectacular home-made burger followed fish-cakes, with the meal rounded off by treacle tart and clotted cream. I’d really needed the early stop and thoroughly enjoyed my evening in the pub.

I intended to be up in good time the following day to take a series of ferries along the coast, starting with the Helford River crossing, before cycling on to Falmouth and beyond. The weather forecast looked like it was going to be another hot one, so I had one more pint of Cornish Ale (Lance) to ensure I was properly hydrated before going to bed. I can also recommend the Rattler Cider.

Leg 67 – to Trevedra Farm, Sennen, via Padstow, St. Agnes and St. Just

07 July 2013

After a very chilled out evening at Sundowners I was somewhat reluctant to surface, however the heat eventually drove me from my tent into a cool northerly breeze. It looked like it was going to be another hot day for the pedal towards Land’s End.

Southwinds - another lovely day

Southwinds – another lovely day

I had a shower and packed up, loading up my bike and heading back to Sundowners for breakfast. I’d been reliably informed by Matt that it would be just what I needed to get over the Cornish hills today.

Packing up again

Packing up again

Me ready for another day

Me ready for another day, and loving the sunshine

Breakfast was large, very large. I chose the Sundowners special which consisted of 2 sausages, 2 poached eggs, bacon, beans, mushrooms, thick cut toast, and a pile of pancakes that follow a recipe Matt has perfected over a number of tasting session. The pancakes were delicious, as was the whole breakfast, although I could perhaps have squeezed in some black pudding too.

Sundowners breakfast

Sundowners breakfast of champions

I could have quite happily hung around the bar and Polzeath for the day, having a rest and eating more pancakes, however Land’s End was beckoning.

Perfect pile of pancakes

Perfect pile of pancakes

Sundowners

Sundowners

Bidding Matt and Sundowners adieu I rode down the hill to the village of Polzeath, which I still can’t pronounce right. It was very busy with beach goers, including a lot of surfers. It looked like a good day for surfing, with a decent swell.

Polzeath beach

Polzeath beach

From Polzeath I cycled down down country roads, past the turning to Rock which is allegedly quite posh. I had to squeeze past several expensive cars, including a number of Chelsea tractors who showed little in the way of consideration for a laden cycle tourer, meaning I had to get friendly with the hedgerow a few times. I have a deep suspicion that a lot of people owning these huge 4x4s can’t actually cope with their size or drive them very well. When it comes to manoeuvres such as reversing, or knowing where the edges of your vehicle are on narrow roads, they panic and just sit in the middle of the lane until the person coming the other way does something. It’s quite interesting when you get one coming from either direction, with neither willing or perhaps able to get out of the other’s way. In one such situation I quickly slipped by before the stand-off got ugly.

I crossed the River Camel into Wadebridge, then rode down the Camel Trail to Padstow. It’s about 5 miles on the trail to Padstow, or Padstein as it’s often called nowadays due to the influence of the famous local chef Rick Stein.

On the Camel Trail alongside the River Camel

On the Camel Trail alongside the River Camel

The popular cycle track follows the course of another old railway line, alongside the river through some lovely scenery. It being Sunday and gorgeous weather there were loads of cyclists out. You can hire bikes at either end of the trail as Nadia and Simon had done, two of my friends from Norwich, just a couple of weeks earlier. They took their son Yared on his first cycle trip down the trail, although being a baby he was only a spectator and probably slept for most of it. It was Nadia’s first outing on a bike, or a trike in this case, in a long time, and she got a puncture; should have insisted on Marathon Plus’. Well done for getting out there though!

Camel Trail - old railway bridge

Camel Trail – old railway bridge

I think the Camel Trail was the only flat bit of the day’s ride, however it was so packed I got caught in traffic a few times and was glad to reach Padstow.

Camel Trail - approaching Padstow

Camel Trail – approaching Padstow

Latterly I came across two kayakers out on the river having a rather tricky time of it. They’d obviously misjudged how deep the water was going to be, and with the tide out their kayaks were grounded. There was really nothing anyone could do to help them, they were just going to have to get out and push. I left them to it hoping there was no sinking sand about.

Arrival in Padstow - Stein's fishmongers and fish and chips shop

Arrival in Padstow – Stein’s fishmongers and fish and chips shop

Rick Stein has several restaurants in town, most beyond the budget of a humble cycle tourer. Lu and I had fish and chips from his shop when we visited, and whilst I was tempted to repeat the experience it was still a bit early, and I was still pretty full after my huge breakfast. Instead I had a stroll about and bought a cold drink and some flapjack, the latter for later, down by the harbour.

Padstow Harbour, nice boat

Padstow Harbour, nice boat

Padstow was really busy, thronged with holiday makers, however it was nice to pause and cool down a bit. A random passer-by stopped for a chat as I was sitting by the harbour, intrigued by what I was up to with all my panniers and slightly dishevelled appearance. We had a quick chat after which he offered me his garden to pitch up in, should I be passing at the right time of day. He lives near Exeter so it could’ve worked as I pedalled up the south coast.

Padstow Harbour

Padstow Harbour

Padstow Harbour 2

Padstow Harbour 2

I pedalled up out of Padstow and into the Cornish hills, then down the coast to Newquay. I didn’t stop in Newquay, not wanting to get embroiled in the town. As mentioned before it’s a bit grotty these days so I continued on my way.

My speed today was low, perhaps averaging only 10 miles an hour due to the hills and tired legs. I was however thoroughly enjoying the ride along the north coast of Cornwall, taking in some great views and feeling in holiday mode. I rode through Perranporth passing another gorgeous and packed beach.

Perranporth 1

Perranporth 1

I noticed there were lots of mini tents on the beach, presumably to give people somewhere to get changed, and for infants to get some shade from the sun. Are these a new thing as I can’t remember seeing so many before? The beach was packed beach goers, either laying in the sun, surfing, playing ball games or building sandcastles, all good fun.

Perranporth 2

Perranporth 2

From Perranporth I rode up a steep hill and down a bit of a windy road to St. Agnes, passing through the picturesque village before reaching the cove and beach, which funnily enough was also packed with holiday makers. It’s a lovely spot and somewhere I hadn’t been before, so I decided to have a break, it being about 15.00 and well past lunchtime. I found Breakers Cafe, as recommended by Matt, and consumed a tuna melt panini with a cold drink, whilst watching the surfers and body boarders enjoying the waves.

The sea looked very tempting, however I still had miles to go and didn’t want to get sand in places sand didn’t need to be – not good when cycling. Whilst it was lovely today the cove is a completely different environment during a storm, as evidenced by a picture on the wall from a few years back, which showed huge waves crashing into the cove and the front of the building. Apparently the waves were so fierce buildings were damaged and anything not tied down washed away. In fact a load of surf boards that had been tied down weren’t there any more after the storm had passed.

After refilling my empty water bottles at the cafe I was ready to go again, setting off back up the hill through St. Agnes. It was so hot today I was going through water very quickly, so the refill was well timed. The melodic strains of folk music greeted me from outside the attractive village pub, where a live band was playing; what a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon. The experience was repeated several times during the course of the day, with lots of bands playing in pub gardens.

Portreath..I think

Portreath..I think

Sticking to the coast I pedalled on to Portreath, Gwithian, and then around St. Ives Bay to Hayle and St. Ives itself. My legs were really starting to ache from the constant climbs, which I seemed to spend the majority of my day tackling, the downwards stretches not taking very long.
With time ticking on I paused briefly in St. Ives to eat an energy bar (Bounce), and then set off on the B3306 to St. Just.

St. Ives

St. Ives

I really am going to have to get better at holding my phone straight when I’m taking pictures – another wonky horizon!

The coast road wound up and down hills along the beautiful Cornish coast, and through places familiar from childhood holidays and the more recent trip down here with Lucy. I passed a sign to Paradise Park, somewhere my brother and I had loved visiting as children. It’s a large wildlife sanctuary, with lots of tropical birds, although the we liked the birds of prey more than anything else. Good to see it’s still going strong.

Road to St. Just

Road to St. Just

I rode through Zennor and on to Pendeen, site of the famous Geevor tin mine. Tin has been mined here for thousands of years.

Pendeen - tin mine

Pendeen – tin mine

Geevor Tin Mine

Geevor Tin Mine

I passed a cow by the road side. They always make me slightly nervous due to their tendency to start following me as I cycle past. I still haven’t worked out why they do this, maybe it’s my red panniers. In any case this particular bovine was fairly docile and left me alone.

Cow on the road

Cow on the road – always makes me slightly nervous

From Pendeen it was a short ride to St. Just, where I paused to buy a few supplies for dinner. Despite it only being a couple of miles to my destination I had to have a break to try and get some energy back, drinking some chocolate milk from the Co-op, and topping up with a banana for good measure.

I finally made it over the last few hills to Trevedra Farm campsite, arriving about 20.15. Reception was closed but I’d called earlier and they’d said just to pitch up and we’d sort out paying in the morning. I got my tent up as the sun started to disappear, then settled down to the serious business of eating.

Trevedra Farm Campsite

Trevedra Farm campsite

Following a large pork pie, houmous and pitta bread, fruit and chocolate, I was feeling a lot better, especially after a couple of beers. I called my parents to report that I was almost at Land’s End, and learned Andy Murray had won Wimbledon, excellent news.

The campsite overlooks Whitesand Bay which runs around to Sennan, and I could see the Longships Lighthouse off the coast from Land’s End. I grabbed another beer and sat in the grass watching the sun go down. I was hoping to see the ‘Green Flash’, which is allegedly more visible from here. Mr Worth, the father of one of my Mum’s friends from University, fished the waters off the Cornish coast for many a year, and reported seeing it one several occasions. It’s a phenomenon only visible for a few seconds at most, as the sun sets. I didn’t see it this time around, however the sunset over the Atlantic Ocean was glorious in its own right.

It had been a good day’s ride, covering  around 82 miles and bringing my total close to 4,500. The route tomorrow would take me to Land’s End, another milestone, and on to the Lizard, the most southerly point on the UK mainland. It might even be a bit flatter after today’s hills, however I wasn’t convinced. I’d got a bit sunburnt today due to sun-cream just sweating off in the heat, so would have to keep an eye on that lest I end up looking like Rudolf.

After the sun had gone down I gazed up at the stars for a bit. The sky was amazingly clear, and with little in the way of light pollution I could quite clearly see the milky way. It’s times like these when you can end up feeling remarkably small against the backdrop of the Universe.

Feeling pensive I retreated out of the north wind, which was chilling things off. I was very tired after the day’s exertions, and somewhat emotionally drained too. I kept falling asleep as I tried to write up my journal, so gave up in the end, drifting quickly off into a deep slumber.

Edited with BlogPad Pro

Leg 66 – to Polzeath (near Padstow)

– 4,352 miles covered by close of play today, with about a 1,000 to go.

06 July 2013

I was up early to another day of sunshine, so got breakfast, bike checks and a shower out of the way quickly, before packing up. I headed to reception to drop off my toilet block key and get my deposit back, and to do some planning via my iPad; they have free wifi around the reception building which is handy.

Polzeath looked like a good destination to head for today, and the Southwinds campsite, so I gave them a quick call to book in just in case they got busy. It was only £7.00 for the night so good value compared with some.

Before leaving the campsite I met up with Mum and Dad, who returned my phone fully charged, and donated some homemade cookies to the cause – all calories gratefully received. It had been great to see them and I waved them off as they departed for home in East Sussex. All being well I’d be seeing them again in a couple of weeks anyway.

I bid goodbye to the Hele Valley Holiday Park and their wonderful staff, who also made a donation to the Big C, thank you! Ilfracombe was my first destination, only a mile down road. It was pretty busy with a lot of traffic and holiday makers, so I cycled straight through and out the other side, only stopping to use a handy cash point, and to take a pretty uninspiring photo as I realised I’d forgotten to take one at the campsite.

Ilfracombe

Ilfracombe High Street

Next up was a steepish ascent, followed by a long descent down to Braunton. I was able to take the cycle path for some of it, arriving in Barnstaple after about an hour and a half of pedalling in perfect weather. I had a quick walk through the town before picking up the Tarka Trail down the coast. It’s a tarmac’d cycle path running, as so many do, along the route of an old railway line.

Tarka Trail out of Barnstaple

Tarka Trail out of Barnstaple

There were a lot of other cyclists and walkers out in the sunshine, including a large group of girls on a hen party. They looked like they were having a lot of fun, although they freely admitted they were making pretty slow progress due to stopping for frequent breaks. I’m not sure their dresses were best suited for cycling, very entertaining though.

Tarka Trail to Bideford

Tarka Trail to Bideford

I bid the girls goodbye and sped off down the trail, before coming to a rather abrupt halt after I heard a distinctive pinging noise. The wheel destroying Spriggans were at work again, resulting in another broken spoke, and on the drive side this time which I couldn’t deal with; the cassette is in the way, I didn’t have the right tool, and I didn’t have any spokes of the correct length anyway. The wheel had immediately buckled, and pretty badly, so I pulled over to do what I could to temporarily fix it. Of course the hen party passed me shortly afterwards, which was slightly embarrassing after I’d zoomed off.

To fix the buckle in the wheel I had to tighten the spokes either side of the break, and slacken off a few on the other side. The rim had also developed a bit of a flat section which didn’t help matters. All in all it was looking like it was well and truly b*ggered, but I managed to get it into a state where I could continue, hoping there was a bike shop that could rectify matters in the next town along.

Limping to Bideford - still a lovely day though

Limping to Bideford – still a lovely day though, that’s probably Appledore over the water

River Torridge estuary

River Torridge estuary

I was reasonably concerned about how I was going to get this fixed as I limped to Bideford, crossing the old bridge over the River Torridge into the town. Using my phone I located a bike shop that stocked Ridgebacks, and was also a specialist. Fortune must have been smiling on me. Cycles Scuderia was completely on route on my way out of Bideford, and I quickly found it, interrupting Malcolm the owner and his wife as they were having lunch.

Cycles Scuderia - a lucky 'break'

Cycles Scuderia – a lucky ‘break’

After discussing the symptoms and conducting a preliminary exam of the patient Malcolm reckoned he could fix it. The flat section in the rim, as well as some of the spokes being slightly different lengths (I’d been sold shoddy spokes somewhere) meant a complete rebuild was needed. Patching it up would have just meant more spokes breaking at any given moment, but the good news was the wheel could be saved. This was especially fortuitous as he didn’t have any spares in stock. The nearest alternative shop would probably have been in Wadebridge which was miles away.

It was a busy Saturday in the shop, and they had customers backing up with new patients arriving all the time, so I was a extremely grateful that Malcolm was able to fit me in. Whilst the operation was in progress I retreated over the road to a cafe in the park, to get out of the way and grab some lunch while I had the chance.

Lunch at Le Cafe du Parc

Lunch at Le Cafe du Parc

The Cafe du Parc is run by a group of French chefs, who did me a great cheese and pâté platter. After a hectic and worrying morning it was good just to sit down and relax for a while, waiting for the outcome of surgery. I sat in the sunshine for a bit talking to my brother on the phone, before heading back to the shop.

Fortunately the operation had been a success, Malcolm having been able to rebuild my wheel. The flat section had popped out during the procedure and I now had a hand built wheel with new spokes, which I shouldn’t have any further issues with on the tour. From now on it will be hand built wheels all the way, it’s just not worth getting factory built ones which won’t last with all the weight on the bike over a long distance. The cheaper spokes they use in the factory built versions will break after a while, and after one’s gone more are likely to follow, like a zip undoing. That was probably the best £47.00 I spent on the tour, thanks Malcolm and Cycles Scuderia.

Bike back to fully working order I was ready to go again, but stopped briefly to chat to another customer who was on his way from Land’s End to John o’ Groats on his new Dawes tourer. It was his first tour and his gears had seized up, so needed Malcolm’s expert ministrations. He advised the roads ahead were hilly but good. I advised the roads ahead were much the same, and to beware the wilds of Wales if he was passing that way. And sheep, always watch out for the sheep.

I pedalled out of Bideford feeling somewhat relieved, however having spent 3 hours getting my wheel fixed I needed to make up some time. To get some miles done I took the A39 around the coast, up and down the rolling hills of Devon, before passing into Cornwall and reaching Bude, where I took a slight detour.

The A39 to Cornwall

The A39 to Cornwall

Welcome to Kernow

Welcome to Kernow

Bude was very busy with holidaymakers going to and from the beach and enjoying the various pubs, the river looked a bit manky though. I rode along the coast road, Marine Drive, to Widemouth Bay which was a lot nicer, and a big spot for surfers and body boarders.

Widemouth Bay 1

Widemouth Bay 1

I stopped for an ice cream to celebrate everything being in working order, and still being on track despite mechanical failures.

Widemouth Bay 2

Widemouth Bay 2

Widemouth Bay - surfers aplenty

Widemouth Bay – surfers aplenty

Widemouth Bay 3 - photo needs straightening!

Widemouth Bay 3 – photo needs straightening!

Post Widemouth Bay I rode around to Boscastle, ignoring Crackington Haven this time around as it was a dead end, with big hills that I didn’t really have time for after my sojourn at Cycles Scuderia. In any case there were plenty of hills to keep me entertained as I pedalled down the A39, then on to the B3263.

Boscastle

Boscastle

Boscastle is another picturesque village, and home to the museum of witchcraft which sounded intriguing was closed by the time I passed through. The village was badly flooded in 2004, and to a lesser extent in 2007. I remember seeing pictures on the news of people being rescued by helicopter, and of cars being washed down the river. Luckily no-one was killed but looking at the gorge you can see how the river gets funnelled down to the village, and how it could flood in extreme conditions. You can also see the high water mark from the floods, pretty scary.

Road out of Boscastle

Road out of Boscastle

There was another hen do out in Boscastle, all dressed in pink and sounding pretty raucous, also pretty scary so I gave them a wide birth.

Road to Tintagel - sun getting lower

Road to Tintagel – sun getting lower in the sky

I rode on to Tintagel, somewhere I’d explored thoroughly with Lu several years ago. I stopped at the top of the path going down to the castle, which we’d visited at the time. Looking out over the bay I remembered a great holiday, although Lu hadn’t been too keen on the camping side of things. I’d be passing through a lot of the places we’d stopped at back then, so there’d be a lot of happy memories to come.

image

King Arthur’s Arms – something for the tourists

Of course Tintagel Castle is also one of the places that could potentially be the site of King Arthur’s Camelot, if such a place ever existed, or is strongly associated with a lot of the stories anyway. There’s a lot of King Arthur based paraphanalia in the town, including the pub in the above photo, and Merlin’s Cyrstal Cave. One can well imagine how the countryside and coastline around here inspired some of the great tales associated with King Arthur and his knights.

I also stopped at the Old Post Office, a 14 Century stone building owned by the National Trust now.

The Old Post Office, Tintagel

The Old Post Office, Tintagel

I took the coast road out of Tintagel, having to deal with a massive and unexpected hill near Treknow where the road suddenly dips down into a gorge like cove. My heart dropped slightly when I saw the downwards slope appear around a corner, totally unexpected as it wasn’t marked on my map with the usual chevrons. I descended on squealing brakes, and had to push up the other side to Trebarwith Village, it was just too steep; my feet were spinning let alone my wheels.

With the sun starting to dip towards the horizon I pedalled on down the B3314 to Polzeath and the Southwinds campsite, a few final hills making my legs ache. It was great cycling through the countryside as the sun started to set, lighting up the sky with some wonderful colours. I arrived at the Southwinds at about 21.00, a late stop but I was feeling good after covering 85 miles, with the bike running well again.

Sun sets over Southwinds campsite

Sun sets over Southwinds campsite

I booked in and set up quick, then had a shower to wash away the day’s grime. This was a particularly pleasant experience after getting very hot and sweaty in the gorgeous weather.

Tent up quick at Southwinds

Tent up quick at Southwinds

There’s a bar/restaurant just next to the campsite, Sundowners at Carruan Farm. It’s owned and run by Matt and was a great find after a hard day. I arrived once they’d stopped serving food officially, however Matt was able to knock me up a hearty sandwich, which with a pint of cider was just what I needed anyway.

Sundowners is a lovely establishment, only having opened fairly recently. It’s a basically a big wooden barn structure, with a bar and restaurant area, and great views out over the coast. I spent a couple of hours winding down, chatting with Matt about various things. I’ve always had a slight yearning to run a bar or cafe/bar, with a theme to it, and Matt brought me up to speed with some of the challenges, such as what to do in winter time when business can fall off. Bad weather can also have a big impact, especially down in Cornwall, however it looked like the summer was starting to shape up so it should be a good one for Sundowners.

Matt is also a lifeboat man, for the boat based out of Padstow which is just across the River Camel from Polzeath. As expected most of the incidents the lifeboat is called out for are to rescue people that have got in trouble on runaway lilos, or after being trapped by the tide somewhere, rather than boats getting into difficulties. One of the big issues the lifeboat crew faces these days is land based, with a lot of the local houses being bought up as second homes. This means the crew can’t necessarily live close enough to the lifeboat station to provide a fast response. I’m not really sure what you can do about that. You can’t stop a local from selling their house to someone from London for well over the odds, but likewise it’s a shame that communities and services can suffer as a result.

Chatting through my route for the next few days Matt advised I skip Newquay, which has become a bit of a dive over recent years. I visited about 18 years ago when it was still relatively nice, but I think it’s gone a bit tacky since then. He recommended I drop in to St. Agnes. a village a bit further down the coast where there’s a cafe he owns, so I added that to the agenda for tomorrow. Tomorrow would also hopefully bring me to, or within throwing distance of, Land’s End.

After a very pleasant evening I retreated back to my tent, loaded with a complementary bottle of Scrumpy courtesy of Matt.

Scrumpy - could be dangerous

Scrumpy – could be dangerous

I’d meant to do some writing, however I couldn’t keep my eyes open and drifted off to sleep, hopeful of another day of good weather tomorrow.

Leg 65 – to Ilfracombe

A great birthday, with fab weather and some lovely countryside.

05 July 2013

I had a few strange dreams overnight, no doubt due to the cabaret performances I’d born witness to at the Beachcomber Inn. Still, it had been a thoroughly enjoyable evening, if not always for the right reasons, and I’d got a tenner from Pauline for the Big C so all good.

I only just remembered it was my birthday, 38 today, so I had a lie in until 08.30 to celebrate. For some reason I’m more of a fan of odd numbers than even numbers, don’t know why, so I wasn’t particularly excited about being 38, I’m pretty much stuck at being 33 anyway.

Warren Farm Holiday Park - a lovely sunny day

Warren Farm Holiday Park – a lovely sunny day

I spent 30 minutes checking my bike over breakfast, then had a shower and packed up. I had to take advantage of that plush toilet block one more time. Somewhere in between finishing my bike checks and getting back from the shower another spoke had managed to go ping. It was the non-drive side again so I thought I had spares, however upon trying to fit a new one I discovered I’d been given the wrong length spokes; maybe that bike shop in Cardiff wasn’t so good after all. This was pretty annoying as the shop had measured them up, but I should have checked myself rather than just trust that they’d got it right.

Instead of fitting a replacement spoke I had to tighten those adjacent to the break to get rid of the slight buckle, and hope they held out until I could reach another bike shop.

As I loaded up my bike more punters were arriving for the weekend in an almost constant stream of cars, caravans and motor-homes. The good weather must have been encouraging more people to get out in the fresh air. Due to bike fixing I didn’t get away until 11.00, with someone else immediately taking my vacated pitch. It was a bit like a full car park with people driving around waiting for someone to leave, and made me realise I was going to have book sites in advance if I wanted to guarantee a space now.

From Brean I rode along to Burnham-on-Sea and stopped at a small bike/car accessories shop, but they didn’t sell spokes and claimed I was unlikely to be able to buy them individually. To be honest I’m not sure he was the world’s foremost expert on bicycles, however he was able to recommend a good shop in Bridgwater where they build their own bikes, so were bound to have spokes for sale.

Burnham-on-Sea - seagull

Burnham-on-Sea – seagull

I rode down the seafront in Burnham before heading off towards Bridgwater, which was en-route anyway. I needed to swing inland slightly to find a crossing over the River Parrett.

Burnham Pier

Burnham Pier

Burnham seafront

Burnham seafront

I passed through Highbridge and pedalled on to Bridgwater, which has a slightly confusing one way system. I eventually found the bicycle shop, SJS Cycles, on St. John’s Road. They’re also the home of Thorn Cycles, who manufacture touring and tandem bikes. Each bike is assembled specifically to an individual’s requirements, and they carry a massive stock of frames, brakes, gears etc. and more importantly spare spokes. I had a chat with one of their engineers who noticed the majority of the spokes on my rear wheel, aside from those I’d replaced, were pretty poor quality meaning they’d probably break as well. I need DT spokes apparently, which are much less likely to break down at the elbow as the angle is better, and they’re just stronger. I bought half a dozen new spokes, all of the correct length, for a few quid, and replaced the broken one in the shop.

After straightening my wheel I was ready to set off, having learned more about wheel maintenance again. I stopped briefly for a lunchtime snack and then rode west from Bridgwater, fighting through the busy traffic and confusing roads to the A39. There followed a long stretch back down to the coast and Watchet, through pleasant Somerset countryside, and then along to Blue Anchor, followed by Minehead. I think there’s supposed to be a cycle track from Blue Anchor to Minehead but I couldn’t find it, so had to rejoin the A39. It was great to be cycling in good weather for a change, and I felt my morale rise accordingly after the hard slog through Wales.

I entered the Exmoor National Park after Minehead, and things got hilly. I was pretty certain the easy cycling since the Severn Bridge was now coming to and end, with the steep gradients of Devon and Cornwall in front of me. I’d been pondering these hills for a while now, surely they couldn’t be any worse than those I’d tackled along the west coast of Wales…surely…

Pausing in Porlock, a picturesque village in the heart of the national park, I refuelled on bananas and crisps in preparation for the Porlock hill climb. There are two ways you can tackle the hill out of Porlock, which is somewhat renowned amongst cycling circles. You can either take the A39 which has a really steep start to it (25%), followed by a long climb that isn’t for the feint hearted, or you can take the toll road which is longer but less steep. The main road was absolutely jammed with traffic so I opted for the toll road.

Porlock Toll Road 1

Porlock Toll Road 1

I really enjoyed the toll road, which although a very long hill climb was kind of cuddly, never being too steep, and passing through some gorgeous woodland with great views down to the coast. Consequently I seem to have taken a lot of photos.

Porlock Toll Road 2

Porlock Toll Road 2

Porlock Toll Road 3

Porlock Toll Road 3

The advantage of this road is the lack of traffic, compared to the A39, and I revelled in the quiet countryside, free of car fumes, and with birds singing all around me.

Porlock Toll Road 4

Porlock Toll Road 4

The toll road rises just over 4 miles before rejoining the A39, and overlooks Porlock Bay which you can often glimpse through the trees.

Porlock Toll Road 5

Porlock Toll Road 5

I loved the way the sunshine was coming through the trees, showing off the forest at its best, with lots of different shades of green.

Porlock Toll Road 6 - Porlock Bay

Porlock Toll Road 6 – Porlock Bay

The toll house is about half way up, and cost me a  quid for my bike – good value. I had a nice chat with the toll collector, feeling very relaxed. Shortly afterwards I passed a cyclist going the other way, travelling downhill at a rapid pace. I hoped his brakes were good as there are a few hairpins you have to contend with.

Porlock Toll Road 7

Porlock Toll Road 7

The gradient on the toll road never goes above about 1 in 14, which is mild compared with the main road.

Porlock Toll Road 8

Porlock Toll Road 8

I finally made it out of the trees and was afforded with some fantastic views down to the sea, and across the moor.

Porlock Toll Road 9

Porlock Toll Road 9

I paused for a few minutes at the top, just to take it all in, before carrying on across Exmoor. I later learnt I’d cycled up the toll road at about the same time my parents had been driving down the main road. They said I’d made the right choice, the main road being very busy. Drivers can be little impatient when they get stuck behind a cyclist on a steep hill for ages.

Porlock Toll Road 10 - panorama

Porlock Toll Road 10 – panorama

After Porlock I rode across the top of the moor, on a fairly flat section through more great scenery.

Exmoor National Park 1

Exmoor National Park 1

There were a few sheep hiding on the moor though, so not everything was quite as tranquil as it might appear. They can ambush you at any time so I had to keep on my toes, or on my pedals as it were.

Exmoor National Park 2

Exmoor National Park 2

Exmoor National Park 3

Exmoor National Park 3 – the A39 wasn’t as quiet as the toll road had been

After a few miles I rode down Countisbury Hill into Lynmouth,  where the road travels right next to the coastline, affording more lovely views.

Coast at Countisbury Hill

Coast at Countisbury Hill

There was a slight haze in the air, which the sheep were using for cover to hide their movements.

Descent down to Lynmouth 1

Descent down to Lynmouth – bit hazy

Lynmouth is another pretty village, having had to be rebuilt after the huge flood in 1952 which destroyed over 100 buildings, most of the bridges, washed cars out to sea, and killed 34 people. The river has been diverted around the village now to avoid a repetition.

Lynmouth Village

Lynmouth Village

The river has a huge catchment area so it’s not surprising there’s a flood risk. In 1952 the flood waters backed up behind a natural damn of river debris, including lots of trees washed into the swelling waters. When this eventually broke it sent a huge wave of water and debris down the valley, straight through the village.

Lynmouth Village - East Lynn River looking calm today

Lynmouth Village – Lyn River looking calm today

The hill out of Lynmouth was a leg killer, being 25% in several places and going on for at least a couple of miles. I chose to take Lynbridge Road (B3234), the more direct route alongside West Lyn River, rather than go the long way round on the A39. With the benefit of hindsight I should have gone for the longer and less steep route, however I missed the turning. I had to stop and rest 3 times up the climb, which was probably the hardest I’d had to tackle gradient wise to date, and I admit I did have to push for 10 metres or so just because it was so steep I couldn’t get going again without sliding backwards. I needed to get to a flatter bit just to start pedalling again.

I finally made it to the top and continued on the A39, which I’d rejoined, through more of Exmoor and then down a lovely long descent on the A399 towards Ilfracombe.

Exmoor post Lymouth

Exmoor post Lymouth

Exmoor - getting towards evening

Exmoor – evening drawing on

It was a great ride down to the coast as the light started to fade, past various good looking pubs which I was sorely tempted to stop at, and a nice little harbour at Combe Martin. My parents had already arrived at their B&B in Hele, where my campsite for the night was also located, so I needed to get a move on. It had been slow going today with all the hills, and a few stops for bike repairs.

I passed the castle at Watermouth, then pedalled slowly up the last hill before Hele and free-wheeling down to the campsite.

Watermouth Castle

Watermouth Castle

Top of the last hill before Hele Bay - gorgeous view

Top of the last hill before Hele Bay – gorgeous view

After having a nice chat with Sandra who was on warden duty at Hele Valley Holiday Park, I pitched my tent at about 20.30. Sandra and all the staff at the holiday park were really welcoming, and interested in my cycle ride. I’d recommend the campsite for anyone passing through.

I called my parents to let them know I’d arrived, and they promptly turned up to collect me so we could go forth and feast; although they did omit to bring me a beer, but I’d forgive them despite it having been a very thirst inducing day.

We went for dinner at the Hele Billy Pub/Restuarant, just managing to get in and order before the kitchen closed thanks to an understanding chef. It was great to see my parents and catch up, and even better as they were paying. I duly consumed a huge mixed grill, as well as most of my mother’s potatoes, and the cheesecake for dessert before I finally felt full. Unfortunately my Dad didn’t leave any morsel unfinished on his plate, but I probably couldn’t have eaten anything else after all that, as well as a few pints of very welcome Devonshire cider.

Hele Billy mixed grill - a must for the serious cycle tourer

Hele Billy mixed grill – a must for the serious cycle tourer

All in all it was a great birthday celebration, in a cool pub, and lovely to spend it with my parents. Thinking about it I probably hadn’t spent my birthday with Mum and Dad for a number of years.

Dad tucking in to duck if I recall correctly

Dad tucking in to duck if I recall correctly – look at the concentration

Mum consuming food at a more leisurely pace - I'd already finished

Mum consuming food at a more leisurely pace – of course I’d already finished

After a great day, during which I’d covered about 77 miles and some serious hills, I slept very well after being dropped back at the campsite. I was slightly worried about my rear wheel still, but had spare spokes, things couldn’t go that wrong could they?!

Leg 64 – to Brean via the Severn Bridge

A good days ride covering approximately 85 miles, and getting back into England.

04 July 2013

All too quickly it was time to get up after a very comfy night in a proper bed again; nice not to have to pack up my tent though, and nice to have another set of clean clothes post my washing drying.

Rachel had to leave for work fairly early, so I bid her goodbye, however handily Ian works from home as a Games developer so I had time to ease into the day. After having a leisurely breakfast and a chat with Ian I packed up and was ready to hit the road. Thanks for the stopover guys!

The weather looked acceptable if a little overcast as I pedalled off. Ian and Rachel had recommended a bike shop just down the road in Whitchurch, Damian Harris Cycles, so I made that my first stop. Unfortunately it started drizzling on my way there, but I had faith conditions were going to improve.

Damian Harris Cycles is another great bike shop, with a friendly and helpful bunch of guys who were good to chat to. I bought a new rear tyre, another Schwalbe Marathon Plus, which they fitted for me. It was gratifying to see I’m not the only one who struggles to get these tyres over the wheel rim, they’re very tough but hard to fit as a result. I also picked up a few more spokes, non drive side, as I’d run out of spares. I compared notes with one of the lads in the shop on the west coast of Wales and its hills. He agreed they can be pretty tough, with steep gradients. I reckoned they were as tough as anything else I’d tackled to date, just because of their frequency and steepness.

With my bike all rejuvenated I set off through Cardiff, targeting the Severn Bridge to get back into England. I rode past the castle, and stopped at a Greggs in the main shopping area to load up with bakery goods to keep me going, plus a second breakfast of a pizza slice. Cardiff’s another nice city I need to go back and visit properly another time.

Cardiff in the rain

Cardiff in the rain

There followed a slightly convoluted route to get out of Cardiff, via Splott, a cool name for a suburb. I eventually made it on to the coast road, after a couple of wrong turns, and pedalled up the Welsh coast alongside the Severn Estuary. The road was being turned into a dual carriageway, with large sections coned off. It was great to cycle on, being light on traffic and lovely and flat, with new tarmac. A rare tailwind helped be along, through various industrial areas to begin with, then some nice countryside all the way to Newport.

The rain stopped as I rode over the bridge into Newport, but then got a bit turned around in a maze of roads and confusing signposts. I stopped at a greengrocers to buy a few bananas and apples, and checked my map with the store owner to make sure I was on track. Thankfully I was still going roughly the right way and was soon on the road to Magor, then on to Caldicot via Undy. All the towns had their names in Welsh on the entry signs as usual, but I still didn’t have a chance of pronouncing them correctly most of the time.

I’d been following route 4 (CTC) on and off all day, and pedalled to Pwllmeyric just before Chepstow, having to tackle a steep hill before turning south to cross the River Severn. I was going to cross using the old Severn Bridge over which the M48 passes, as it’s open to bikes. Using the cycle path over the bridge saved me a long track inland to Gloucester, and back down again. I passed a moped going the other way, so they obviously don’t mind small motorbikes using it either.

There was a team painting the bridge as I crossed, which must be a pretty much permanent task. The bridge was vibrating from all the traffic zooming over it, just yards from the cycle path, a weird sensation.

Severn Bridge cycle path

Severn Bridge cycle path

I stopped for a quick break on the bridge, looking back towards Wales and then south to England. The clouds were breaking up and the sun coming out. After having to endure bad weather for much of my time in Wales it was apt timing that conditions were improving just as I was leaving.

Break on the bridge

Break on the bridge in the sunshine

Back in England

Back in England

After the bridge and village of Aust I tried, somewhat unsuccessfully, to stick to the small roads and tracks next to the estuary – several were looking quite promising with helpful signposts. I passed through Severn Beach, but then ended up at a dead end and had to push my bike through a bit of a bush to get back to the road. This resulted in a few nettle stings but at least I was back on track, albeit with a few bits of vegetation sticking out from panniers. Either I’d missed a signpost or they’d done their usual trick of not being there when I really needed one. I blame Gremlins.

Promising track - resulted in a dead end

Promising track – resulted in a dead end

Severn Estuary - looking back to the bridge

Severn Estuary – looking back to the bridge

Severn Estuary and Bridge again

Severn Estuary and Bridge again – takes a while to cycle across

The A403 and a couple of quieter side roads and cycle tracks took me down to Avonmouth. The riding wasn’t a lot of fun, with a lot of heavy traffic, factories, fumes and impatient drivers. The impatient folk weren’t the lorry drivers incidentally, more the car drivers, especially the smaller cars – small angry man syndrome most of the time. I definitely needed a wide load sign on the back of my bike.

Severn Estuary in the sunshine

Severn Estuary in the sunshine

I stopped in Avonmouth for a break and phoned Will, my brother, who was stuck up in Edinburgh waiting for a plane to be fixed. I sat in the sunshine chatting, eating a couple of bananas and a chocolate bar to replenish energy reserves, whilst watching a large number of heavily tattooed men and women go in and out of a shop. There isn’t a lot in Avonmouth, but body art seems to feature in a big way with the locals. A lot of it was pretty cool and got me wondering about a tattoo again, something I’ve been mulling over for a while. I’d quite like a small one of a similar design to the New Zealand green-stone necklace I wear, but think I’ll have to get a design done and put it up on my wall for 6 months to see if I get bored of it before making a final decision.

I had to ride towards and into the outskirts of Bristol next, to find a bridge over the River Avon. Thankfully most of the route was via cycle paths as the roads were very busy again.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

Clifton Suspension Bridge

I pedalled up the A4 alongside the river, with cliffs on my left hand side at some points, and passed under the Clifton Suspension Bridge before crossing the Avon. The queues of traffic were pretty horrendous, but being on a bike I was able to keep to the cycle tracks and bypass them all for the most part.

Crossing the Avon

Crossing the Avon

I took the B3128 back towards the coast and Clevedon, trying to avoid the busier roads, but encountering a big hill climb instead. It was lovely riding in the sunshine, which had stayed out since getting back into England. I could look back over the Severn Estuary into Wales and see a pall of clouds still hanging over the coastline there – that country does seem like a magnet for bad weather.

I quickly came to the conclusion that all the roads were going to be busy, so just got my head down and pedalled, yearning for the quieter trails of Scotland. There were quite a few other cyclists out to wave to, including a few tourers going the other way who had the tailwind at this stage.

After getting irritated by a succession of drivers coming too close to me in their haste to pass, I turned off the the B3128 and rode across to the A370, which although equally as busy was wider, and took me direct to Weston-super-Mare.

It took a long time to get into Weston-super-Mare from its outskirts, having crossed the town boundary several miles before I reached the town centre itself. The road just seemed to go on for ages but I eventually made it to the seafront, where a big biker rally was going on. They had a DJ playing some really classic tunes, including music from Therapy, The Cure, and even a bit of Type O Negative which I hadn’t listened to in ages.

Weston-Super-Mare - biker rally

Weston-super-Mare – biker rally

There were a lot of bikes and it looked like a lot of fun; I considered trying to sneak in with the Ridgeback but I’m not sure it would have measured up versus a Harley Davidson hog. Instead I paused on the promenade and had a cold can of fizzy pop from a stall that was just closing up for the evening, listening to the music and gazing out across the sands.

Weston-Super-Mare pier

Weston-super-Mare pier

Weston-Super-Mare beach

Weston-Super-Mare beach

Refreshed and buoyed by the music I pedalled along the promenade with the sun gradually getting lower in the clouds, watching a few kite surfers out for an evening session.

Weston-super-Mare - Kite Surfers 1

Weston-super-Mare – Kite Surfers 1

There was a stiff breeze so some of them were travelling along at quite a pace. I’m still not sure how they don’t decapitate one another with the lines to their kites. There were a few windsurfers out too, which seems like a safer option.

Weston-super-Mare - Kite Surfers 2

Weston-super-Mare – Kite Surfers 2

The on-shore wind they were enjoying was unfortunately whipping up a fair bit of sand and blowing it into my face and eyes, which stung a bit despite wearing sunglasses and pulling my buff up around my mouth.

Evening drawing on in Weston-super-Mare

Evening drawing on in Weston-super-Mare

I think that’s Steep Holm Island in the photo above, out in the Bristol Channel, although it might be Flat Holm Island.

Weston-super-Mare - Kite Surfers 3

Weston-super-Mare – Kite Surfers 3

Some rather wiggly roads came next as I made my way around to Brean and found a campsite, which turned out to be more of a holiday park, but only cost me £11. This was fine given it was now July and camping prices were going up.

I quickly pitched my tent which blew about a bit, due to the increasing westerly wind and exposed coastline, until I got it pegged down. Handily the Hilleburg Akto is easy to erect, having only one pole you need to slide in. I’d had lots of practice by now so it was up in five minutes, and I adjourned to the rather plush toilet block for a shower.

Plushest toilets of the tour!

Plushest toilets of the tour!

Now I’m not in the habit of taking pictures in toilets, but the facilities at the Warren Farm Holiday Park were pretty impressive. I almost felt like I needed to have a wash before using them.

Me looking a but weather beaten in Brean

Me looking a but weather beaten in Brean

The Beachcomber Inn is just next door to the campsite, and part of the complex, doubling as the entertainment centre for the holiday park. With some trepidation I made my way there, deciding I’d eat out rather than cook something in the wind, but somewhat nervous about exactly what sort of entertainment they had lined up.

They were just finishing the bingo when I turned up. I ordered a surf and turf dinner, as a treat, to celebrate the good weather (despite the wind) and getting back into England. Then I settled down to write my journal and watch a few of the acts. An ex X -Factor singer there on holiday was called upon to do a couple of numbers, he wasn’t half a bad singer but I prefer real music with real musicians; pity he didn’t do a few of the songs being played down the road at the biker rally.

The highlight of the evening were a couple of comedians, one the straight guy, Tim, and the other the funny guy, Tony.  Tony was impersonating an Albanian working at the holiday camp, ‘standing in’ for Tony who was ‘late’. They were really good and I genuinely laughed throughout the show, which also contained a few sing-alongs,  and a bit of audience participation.

Tim and Tony Strange at the Warren Farm Holiday Park

Tim and Tony Strange at the Warren Farm Holiday Park

All in all it was a great evening, and made me realise not all holiday camp cabaret experiences are awful. I also chatted to a few of the holiday makers there, including Pauline who kindly donated £10 to the Big C, thanks Pauline. She’d been coming to the holiday park since 1975 and told me a few tales, and got me a ‘shout out’ from the compère for my tour which was nice.

Post a rendition of ‘Oh Mandy’ and ‘That’s Amore’, and the Albanian worker upstaging Tony, the show was over and it was time to retreat back to my tent. It was my birthday tomorrow, so I had my fingers crossed for good weather, and was looking forward to meeting up with my parents who were travelling down from East Sussex to visit – fingers crossed for some free food!

I’ll leave you with a bit of Tim and Tony Strange via Youtube if you fancy a laugh, classic comedy:

Edited with BlogPad Pro

Leg 63 – to Cardiff

03 July 2013

I woke up to quiet, this was significant, it wasn’t raining! I’d been dreading having to pack up in the rain when my kit was already wet. It also makes everything that little bit heavier, meaning more effort is required in the pedalling department. Most of my clothes had dried overnight, within the compact and cosy confines of my tent, however my shoes were still on the soggy side.

Caemawr Farm - weather significantly improved

Caemawr Farm – weather significantly improved

The view this morning had significantly improved, mainly because I could see more that 10 metres in front of me. From the campsite I could look down over Llanelli and the River Loughor estuary, to the Gower Peninsula beyond.

After changing out my broken spoke followed by a bit of wheel straightening, I had quiche for breakfast. A tad on the unconventional side but I’d forgotten I’d bought it yesterday, and figured it was a bit like a breakfast omelette. I got ready to go whilst chatting to a caravaner about cycling. He used to cycle a lot but not so much these days, having let it gradually fall by the wayside. I hope he feels motivated to get back on two wheels now.

Whilst it wasn’t sunny it was nice to be cycling without any rain or spray. I left the campsite and rolled down the hill back to Llanelli, before crossing over the river to Gowerton. I thought about nipping into Llanelli to buy more spare spokes, but couldn’t find any promising bike shops on the Internet, so decided to restock in Cardiff instead.

I cycled around some of the Gower Peninsula but didn’t go right to the end, it being a dead end and thus acceptable to skip under my own rules. The countryside is pretty, as is the coastline, and there are several nature reserves to explore. The whole peninsula has been designated an Area if Outstanding Natural Beauty.

View back to Llanelli from near Three Crosses

View back to Llanelli from near Three Crosses

From Bishopston I pedalled down the coast and past Swansea Airport, which is even smaller than Norwich airport, before tackling a couple of largish hills to reach Caswell Bay.

Swansea 'Airport'

Swansea ‘Airport’

There was a lot of activity in Caswell, with surfers, kayakers, and general beach goers out enjoying the better weather. I always admire the enthusiasm of the British holidaymaker when it comes to braving our beaches, whatever the weather, and generally dressed as if it’s ten degrees warmer. Good on ’em.

Caswell Bay panorama

Caswell Bay panorama

I contemplated buying a snack from the purveyor of finest hot dogs set up next to the beach, but managed to resist and had an apple instead, whilst watching a group head out for a surfing lesson. They were having enough trouble carrying their boards down to the sea so I wasn’t confident they’d cope too well when on the water. Maybe they’d be like seals, all clumsy and flopping along on land, but graceful and speedy in the sea. There wasn’t much in the way of surf today so they’d probably just end up floating about a bit.

There’s a big hill going east out of Caswell, which I was encouraged up by two elderly ladies who seemed to be making an easier job of walking up it than me on my bike. I was rewarded by a long downhill stretch to Swansea Bay and the Mumbles, the latter sounding like a place name Neil Gaiman should use in one of his books, with some kind of twist.

Swansea Bay

Swansea Bay

A long cycle track runs along the promenade past Swansea, and down through the docks and harbour, nicely avoiding the main road. I think it’s all part of the route 4 CTC cycle-way and there were certainly lots of cyclists using it, one of whom I ended up having a bit of an inadvertent race with. This wasn’t the fairest of competitions considering he didn’t have any panniers, but it was still fun, and we exchanged greetings before cycling our separate ways.

Cormorants preening in Swansea

Cormorants preening in Swansea

I crossed over the River Tawe, after which it all got a bit busy and industrial. For the most part I was able to stick to the cycle path which runs parallel to the M4, however I took a wrong turning somewhere along the line, around Port Talbot, causing a slight detour.

Swansea Marina

Swansea Marina

With a favourable wind and mostly flat terrain I was making good time, and joined the A48 down to Pyle and Bridgend. I turned off the main road just before Bridgend, to Merthyr Mawr, and then on to Candleston. Candelston Castle is a dead end, but is somewhere I wanted to stop at having visited several times over the years for various events. It’s a lovely place, and fairly unique for the UK with forest and sand dunes.

Candleston Castle 1

Candleston Castle 1

Candleston Castle 2

Candleston Castle 2

The castle is actually classed as a fortified manor house, but looks like a castle to me, even if it’s mostly in ruins now. It was originally built in the 14th century, and has survived the encroaching sand dunes which have swallowed up other structures in the area.

Candleston Castle 3 - view from upstairs

Candleston Castle 3 – view from upstairs

The sand dunes near Merthyr Mawr are some of the biggest and tallest in Europe, which I can attest to having had to slog over them a few times in the past, once dressed as an Arabian explorer/CIA agent, and another time as an Orc, but those are stories for another day.

Sand dunes of Candleston

Sand dunes of Candleston

There was a pack of about of 12 dogs that turned up whilst I was eating another apple and a chocolate bar to recoup some energy. They all appeared from one van, that of a professional dog walker, and looked to be having an enormous amount of fun gallivanting around woods and dunes. However I wouldn’t have liked to have been the one to clean up after all those canines, that would be a lot of poop to scoop, if he even bothered. And what would you do if they all just decided they didn’t want to get back in the van?

After a lovely break in Candleston I backtracked to Merthyr Mawr and continued at-a-pace on B-roads round to St. Brides. In my second race of the day I took on a horse and trap, narrowly beating them thanks to a hill and a tailwind. Again it was an inadvertent race, and they started it, but it was good fun and I waved them goodbye as I sped off downhill.

Upon reaching Llantwit Major I suddenly felt very hungry, and realised I hadn’t really eaten anything substantial since my most excellent quiche breakfast. I found a Greggs bakery in town and had a sandwich, then visited a health food shop next door to see if they had a good alternative to Snickers Bars. I ended up buying a couple of pricey protein/carb ‘Bounce’ bars to try. They’re 100% ‘natural’, whatever that means. Aren’t most things natural really? I decided I’d give them a try anyway but didn’t think the Snickers or Ginger Nut market was in danger of collapse, given the price difference.

Continuing on the B4265 I cycled past the MOD base at St. Athan, and then on to Barry joining the A4266. The road grew steadily busier as I approached Cardiff, but the traffic wasn’t moving much faster than I was so was manageable. The sun even came out for a bit.

I passed Penarth and entered Cardiff via the docks, getting slightly turned around on the roads but making it to the city centre thanks to well signposted cycle paths.

Giant metal ball reflection

Giant metal ball reflection

Cardiff is a great looking city, being compact like Norwich, with all the necessary shops and some good looking places to go out and eat/drink. Being on the coast it also has at least a couple of marinas for you yachting types. I paused at the Millennium Centre to check my route to Ian and Rachel’s, where I was staying the night.

Millenium Centre

Millenium Centre

I believe the inscription says ‘In these Stones Horizons Sing’, which was a song composed by Karl Jenkins for the opening of the Centre.

I rode past Cardiff Castle, at the very heart of the city, before making my way out to Whitchurch where Rachel and Ian live. I was a bit early due a quicker than anticipated day, so stopped for a pint at a local pub, before going round to meet up once they were back from work. Ah, that work thing, can’t say I’d been particularly missing it, but I only had one more month off.

After a conversation with a couple of tourists on their way back to Cornwall, about Bulldogs and how they can easily overheat  – I sometimes have some bizarre conversations with random people – I met up with my hosts for the evening.

I hadn’t seen Rachel or Ian in a few years, and it was great to catch up, not to mention to get some washing done and dry out a few things. We went out for a nice bite to eat, and had a good froth about various things. They were also able to recommend a good local bike shop where I could pick up some new spokes, and perhaps a new rear tyre which was really starting to look bald now.

Still tired from the last few days, and having covered a rapid 80 miles today, I slept very well. With any luck I’d be back in England again tomorrow.

Leg 62 – to Llanelli

02 July 2013

I think today may have been wetter than the Campbeltown leg, and that’s saying something. The visibility was definitely worse, with low cloud hanging about for much of the day.

My tent was shaking when I woke up. The wind had changed direction in the night and was blasting the side, accompanied by the persistent drumming of rain. ‘Great,’ I thought, so much for the good weather of yesterday.

A grey morning at the Sandy Haven campsite

A grey morning at the Sandy Haven campsite

Determined to get a good leg in I breakfasted in my tent, then made a dash to the toilet block and showers. Thankfully the rain stopped whilst I packed up and I was on the road by 10.00. In hindsight I’m not really sure why I bothered with a shower.

From Herbranston I made my way to the town of Milford Haven, dodging through the traffic to join the B4325 to Honeyborough, where I knew there was a bike shop. There were some pretty big ships out on the water, Milford Haven having been used as a port since the Middle Ages.

Milford Haven

Milford Haven

I stopped at Enterprise Cycles, a Ridgeback stockist, and bought some new brake pads (Aztecs). The shop staff were very helpful and obliging – they let me bring my bike in and change the pads in the shop, so I spent 10 minutes adjusting them to make sure they didn’t rub etc.

Enterprise Cycles, Honeyborough

Enterprise Cycles, Honeyborough

I was doubly grateful when it started to throw it down outside, and prolonged my visit to have a good chat about my tour and cycling in general. The rain however didn’t look like it was going to stop, so I eventually bid Enterprise Cycles goodbye and pedalled off to the bridge over the Milford Haven.

Bridge over the Milford Haven

Bridge over the Milford Haven – Pembroke Dock

The busy bridge crosses at Neyland over to Pembroke Dock, and thankfully there’s a cycle path that runs over it. There were a lot of heavy trucks out on the road and kicking up a lot of spray, something of a feature for the day, so I didn’t take that many photos.

Another view from the bridge - a very rainy day

Another view from the bridge – a very rainy day

Once over the bridge I stopped for lunch in Pembroke, next to the castle, wolfing down a coronation chicken baguette. Pembroke Castle is another that’s seen a lot of action, most recently in the English Civil War when Cromwell laid siege to it. Henry VII was also born there.

Pembroke Castle

Pembroke Castle

Post lunch and a chat to my Dad to check on the weather forecast, which didn’t sound hopeful, I got under-way again. I’d intended to ride from Pembroke to Castlemartin, then back east, however due to a combination of poor visibility and bad map reading I took a more direct route to Stackpole. I wasn’t overly upset as I couldn’t see a great deal anyway, and the weather was deteriorating further as the day went on.

A succession of feisty hills, including a few 16%’ers, left my legs aching after yesterday’s efforts, however at least the roads were much quieter as I pedalled along the coast towards Tenby. It’s an interesting town, built on a hill, so I stopped for a quick look around.

Tenby Five Arches Gate

Tenby Five Arches Gate

Tenby, which in Welsh means something like little fortress of the fish, is a walled town, the walls having been built to keep out a succession of Welsh attackers. It was originally a hill fort, which the Norman’s converted into a stone castle, with extensive town walls built in later centuries. The strong defensive position meant a busy seaport sprang up, and Henry Tudor had a brief stay there before sailing into exile in France, during the Wars of the Roses.

It was an impressive town despite the weather, with the harbour down below, and a nice old-town.

Tenby Harbour

Tenby Harbour

I stopped for a coffee (decaf as usual, although I was sorely tempted with some caffeine today) at the Vista Cafe, which has great views across Camarthen Bay. Chatting to one of the guys serving I learnt he’d kayaked across Scotland, which is no mean feat given you have to do quite a bit of portaging. He did however manage to break his kayak in doing so, which was on loan from Uni, oops; now he absolutely has to finish writing up his experience as payback. I wonder if he’s finished yet. It’s amazing who you randomly meet, and how many people have had some pretty awesome adventures.

Tenby Beach, not many people sunbathing today

Tenby Beach, not many people sunbathing today

Post coffee I walked my bike around the last bit of Tenby in the rain, and heard a child say, ‘Look Mum it’s snowing.’ I almost wouldn’t have been surprised if it had been snowing given all the other weather Wales had been experiencing, but it was just lights from a car reflecting in the raindrops that made it look a bit like snow.

Next up was a long and pretty unremarkable stretch up to Carmarthen, via St. Clears to get over the River Taf, during which I benefited from a tailwind. I couldn’t see a lot and wanted to press on, so stuck to the main roads for a bit. With low visibility and lots of traffic I was getting a bit concerned about a lorry not seeing me, so I attached just about every light I had to the back of my bike, lighting it up like a Christmas Tree.

Grim riding on the A477

Grim riding on the A477

One high point was a lovely long descent from Red Roses that seemed to go on for miles. Despite my waterproof I was pretty drenched by this stage, from the rain, mist and spray, so was quite enjoying splashing through all the puddles at high speed; I couldn’t get any wetter! I love Ortlieb Panniers incidentally, they don’t leak.

Rather wet on the A477, with a wonky helmet

Rather wet on the A477, with a wonky helmet

Ridgeback holding up in the wet

Ridgeback holding up in the wet

I managed to avoid most of the busy A40 by taking a minor road that ran almost parallel to it, and made it to Carmarthen where I stopped for a burger to refuel, before crossing the River Towy. I shared a moment or two with a motorcyclist at the services. We were both equally drenched, and got further drenched when water suddenly ran off roof onto our heads whilst we were parking our bikes up. It was just funny by this stage.

Crossing the River Towy, Carmarthen

Crossing the River Towy, Carmarthen

Riding through low cloud and unrelenting rain I pedalled onwards down the A484, stopping to phone a campsite in Llanelli to let them know I was coming. I was doubtful they’d be filling up with enthusiastic campers but you never know, and didn’t want to have to find somewhere else.

I’ve been told the countryside and coastline is wonderful around this part of Wales, but I really couldn’t tell you if it was or not; there were certainly a few good hills and nice descents, but I couldn’t see a lot.

I passed by Kidwelly, and noticed a sign to ‘Pinged’. I don’t know if it was the village name that made me glance down at my rear wheel, or if I herd a ‘Ping’ at the same time, but in any case my back wheel had developed a buckle as another spoke had gone. It wasn’t too bad so I decided to leave off replacing it until I got to the campsite. It made me laugh though, and a strange coincidence – I might have been going a bit strange by this point in the day.

I pedalled on through Pembrey, and round to Burry Port, before arriving in Llanelli in a dry patch. I stopped to buy some biscuits, ginger nuts of course, as well as a few beers, dripping water on to the floor of the convenience store as I waited to pay. It was one of those moments when you’re in a hurry to get somewhere, but no-one else is. The person in front of me, who was slightly inebriated and irritating the shopkeeper, spent a good 5 minutes chatting and getting his change out to pay, whilst a puddle slowly formed around me. I tried to help and we got there eventually, the man staggering off with his trusty bottle of dubious cider (White Lightning I think) and a half dozen eggs; a good balanced diet.

Supplies successfully purchased, and with the convenience store’s floor inadvertently washed, I climbed out of Llanelli to Furnace, and to the Caemawr Farm Camping and Caravanning site. The farm dog, a springer spaniel, came out to great me enthusiastically and the owner showed me up through the mist to the camping field. It’s a nice site, I think, I couldn’t really tell, but the owner was very nice. There were a few other indistinct shapes in the mist which were either herds of vengeful sheep out to get me, or other campers, I hoped the latter.

I got my tent up quick, which was fortunate considering it hammered down with rain about 20 minutes later. It was only 21.00, but I retreated inside for the rest of the evening, the rain not showing any signs of stopping. Handily, and for the first time in ages, I could pick up a 3G signal so had entertainment for the evening thanks to my iPad, which I can hotspot to the Internet via my mobile phone.

Caemawr Campsite

Caemawr Campsite

Caemawr Campsite - you can just about see my tent

Caemawr Campsite – you can just about see my tent

One issue of being in a small tent is that it’s quite tricky to dry stuff. Body heat is effective but uncomfortable, and I knew I’d be putting on wet stuff tomorrow. Still, the weather forecast looked like it was going to be a better day tomorrow, and I was aiming for Cardiff where I’d be staying with friends, so could dry stuff there.

I’d covered around 75 miles today, a respectable distance considering the conditions – I was still on schedule.