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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.