Wednesday, 21 December 2011


Fast flowing rivers, craggy outcrops, ancient woodlands and plentiful wildlife make the backdrop for my cycle rides around Southern Dartmoor. Looking towards the coast are livestock rich pastures where farmers supply our local shops with fresh meat, vegetables, milk and cream. Cycling in this environment is special and means being at one with nature.

So, when Sustrans invited our volunteer group early in 2011 to help plan a new cycle route through this countryside, I was eager to share my part of Dartmoor with others.

Highlights of my year ranged from cycling the Pennines and Lake District in the Spring to an Autumn ride through the gentle rolling hills of Berkshire, Wiltshire, Dorset and Somerset. 

My journey in June from Santander in Spain to Roscoff in Brittany was my longest at 750 miles.  This will become one of Europe's Eurovelo cycle routes. It was a mixture of spectacular scenery, fascinating wetlands and less interesting cityscape.  I am not over keen on big towns but the Guigenheim Museum at Bilbao proved to be an architectual gem. I found however the sculptures exhibited not to my taste.

My most challenging ride was on the Hebridean island of Mull.  There is a ride of just under 100 miles around the island that forms a figure of eight.  I have done it before in the summer 4 years ago. It takes you around the coast, up into the hills and around several lochs. It is as close to wilderness cycling as can be found in Britain.  Sea eagles, Europe's largest bird, fly above you, deer come close, hen harriers dive for their prey in front of your eyes.  It is a truly spectacular journey.  This time however the weather was against me.  The winds howled and squalls hit me with full force every now and again. My legs wobbled early and at 43 miles I called it a day totally exhausted.  What these rides all had in common had taken me into environments where nature still rules and I love it.

 Next year is a new challenge. There is to be a 50/50 cycle challenge for Devon Wildlife Trust so please keep watching. I plan another long distance ride in Europe and want to help Sustrans with more routes in Devon.


Friday, 25 November 2011


The last time I met Andy, it was cycling with him though Norway, Sweden and into Denmark.  Since then, he has cycled across the mountains of Wales and on a 2,600 mile ride to the Black Sea.  He arrived in Plymouth last Wednesday on a Bike Friday.  It looks like a city bike but he says it has 30 gears, carries panniers and ideal for touring with day rides of 50 miles or more.

We left Plymouth's stunning waterfront by water taxi and I took him on a 50 mile journey through the beautiful South Hams countryside.  On Boxing Day, Bike Friday leaves the UK with Andy for 6 weeks in Thailand.  If he does a blog, I shall be his first follower.

Four days previously, I met my friend Jaana who also cycled 500 miles with me through Norway as well as Cuba on another trip.  We explored the lanes of Berkshire, Wiltshire and Somerset.

The weather was pleasantly warm for the time of year.  We wandered alongside the Kennet and Avon Canal, then onto quiet lanes, back to the canal, through tiny villages and small towns.  We started at Reading and pedalled onto Bradford on Avon.  Just before Bath, we turned left to cycle to Wells and Taunton.

We were amazed at the number of canal boats.  I especially liked those of residents where the roofs were covered in logs and bikes were strapped onto the sterns.  This was definately eco-living. 

I cycled 187 miles this week and First Great Western Trains secured 3 return tickets for ourselves and our bikes.

Thursday, 3 November 2011


Autumn can be a great time to be out on the bike but keeping motivated in Winter is more of a challenge.  It takes about 3 days at Xmas for me to put on 5kg and 6 weeks to lose it again!  I find January especially hard to keep motivated.

So what's new?

Autumn has brought some big rains.  Our green lanes in Devon often fill up because the drains are blocked with leaves.  I was caught out 3 years ago trying and failing to cycle this lane!  No, it is not a river.

I have lots of ideas for what's left of this year and 2012.  I shall shortly try a cycle route new to me from Reading to Taunton alongside the R. Kennett and through Wiltshire.  I am hoping for great scenery, wildlife and pubs with roaring log fires.

The avocets are coming!  These stunningly beautiful birds overwinter in South Devon and can be seen by bike.  Last winter, my friend, Libby and I pedalled alongside the River Exe to discover not just the avocets, but a kingfisher as well.  Another place is beside the River Tamar at Weir Quay, easy to cycle to from Bere Ferrers train station.  A great place to see wading birds in winter on a bike is the Tarka Trail in North Devon.  These are all accessible by families with young children.

I have just received an invitation to join a 127 one day charity ride through Snowdonia next July.  Ouch, that sound's fierce.  My favourite charity is Devon Wildlife Trust and I want to ride it.  Do I have any sponsors?

And, finally, why not follow me on twitter where I shall be giving my fun ideas for the winter.

Monday, 17 October 2011


Sylvia and I have just completed our Hebridian journey with days on Islay and Jura.  These islands are homes to wildlife and whisky.  There are 9 distilleries here, or is it 10?  There is an abundance of wildlife here.

We ask where we can see a golden eagle and at the exact spot we find two, both of which are very close to us.  Further along, 15 choughs dance and sing around us.  To reach this point we have passed thousands of barnacle geese that have just arrived from Greenland.  We also pass over 20 hares in the fields and more deer than I have ever seen.  These are wild animals and they share the fields with sheep and cattle all with the approval of the landowners.  Earlier we saw an otter swimming and catching fish.  A landowner on Jura is building a new hydro plant to power the island so less fossil fuels will be used. 

I completed 160 miles on my bike.  We leave Islay tomorrow for our long journey back to Devon.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011


Yesterday, I completed my figure of eight cycle ride around the Hebridian Isle of Mull.  I started at the tiny village of Salen on the east coast.  The derelict pier is now home to shags who use the tops of the posts to rest while digesting their latest meal of fish.  Every post is used and as soon as one is vacant, another shag immediately takes its place.

Saturday, 8 October 2011


The landscape and wildlife on the Hebridian island of Mull is as dramatic as anywhere in Scotland.  I am here with my wife for a few days on my third visit.  It is not long before I see white tailed eagles (called sea eagles locally), hen harriers and an otter.  It is deer rutting season and I hear the call of a stag over the moors.  My cycle ride is to be Mull's Figure of Eight, a loop around the coast that shows the best of this island.  It is October and the weather is closing in so it will be taken over two days.

 I leave Tobermoray knowing the forecast is squalls, 25mph winds and gusts up to 45 mph.  The road west to Dervaig and Calgory is remote.  In just 12 miles, there are lochs, high hills, sea water inlets and a wonderful machair beach.  I hit my first squall.  It smacks into me where there is no shelter.  The sky is black and the deluge is horizontal.  It is so cold that it feels like the skin is to be ripped off my face.  Yet my body is warm as I find my Goretex cycling gear can cope with this weather.  The squall vanishes and the wind drops.

I leave the land where yesterday my wife and I saw the white tailed eagles and as the coast turns south I realise that the wind is now behind me.  This is much better.  The sky has cleared and I can see the islands of Rum, Coll and Tiree on the horizon.  Staffa is there also and Ulva soon follows.  This coast has just a few islotated houses.  I pass a water spout shooting vast volumes of water into the sea.  This is spectacular scenery.

Looking out to sea, I see more squalls.  Another one hits me.  This time it is hail and even colder than before but it quickly passes.  Although one island, Mull is narrow in the middle with a short single track road.  This is the crossover of the Figure of Eight.  I pedal off to Salem on the east coast along this road.

Monday, 3 October 2011


It is less than 6 months and I am in the Lake District again.  This time, it is a fleeting visit on route to the Isle of Mull.  There was time for a ride out around Windermere with friends.  I just find the scenery here incredibly beautiful with Lakeland Fells all around, then lakes appearing in the distance.  It is good to see many out on their bikes, including a group of Japanese.

Thursday, 22 September 2011


The secrets of the Puffing Billy trail, a redundant tramway into the heart of Dartmoor, will only unfold themselves in at least two trips.  It starts near Ivybridge and meanders to a former clay quarry about 6 miles north.  Few people visit this area of moorland.  It is inhabited by sheep, moorland cattle, birds and wildlife.  It is ideal for a mountain bike or on foot.


My favourite time is to arrive at Redlake Quarry, the end of the trail to see the sunset, then cycle back as fast as possible in the dusk.  My adrenylin accelerates on the return journey.

The secrets that this trail holds will be missed unless this ride is taken slow and easy.  Far below on the River Erme is Piles Copse, the remains of a forest 10,000 years old where oak trees cling for life between the rocks. There is a great swimming spot here and another trail sits on the other bank. 

The evidence of stone age man is seen close to the track with stone rows and ancient tin workings.  The views extend to Bodmin Moor, Plymouth Sound, South and East Devon.

Sunday, 18 September 2011


Beretown is the name on the sign opposite the Old Plough, the most southerly pub on the Bere Alston Peninsula.  The easiest way to travel here is by train as the road from Plymouth was designed for horses and, except for adding tarmac, is not much better now.  The other way is by bike via a ford over Lopwell Dam.


I went here by train last week with my friend, Alice.  It took 2.5 hours to do our first mile.  When we arrived, we discovered two enthusiasts working on their historic trains at the rail station.  They had a buffet and heritage centre.  We found it so interesting that it took us an hour before we left the railway.

The Old Plough was just one mile and now it was time for lunch.  This had now become my slowest cycle ride ever.  Feeling guilty about going straight into the pub, we stopped to look at the River Tavy.  The view across the estuary was breathetaking.

There was some serious cycling after lunch where we covered 2 miles and crossed a hill only reach the River Tamar where we just had to stop again.  If the Tavy is breathetaking, the Tamar is magical.  We are in a SSSI where avocets come in winter.  It took another 6 miles and 1.5 hours to complete our loop back to Bere Ferrers station, such that we savoured our journey.  As the train came in, our host from this morning came up and asked we had enjoyed the day.  "Yes" we said in harmony, "we have had a great day". 

Monday, 29 August 2011


What's happened in Devon lately?

I was almost zapped by a peregrin falcon. It swooped low over my head then rose up and perched on a branch in front of me. "Strummocks. Wildlife experiences like this don't come often."

The encounter was close to a new cycle route being checked out by three volunteers, including me, for Sustrans, the cycling charity. The plan is for a new south section to the Dartmoor Way.

Devon is about to benefit from the creation and improvement of several cycle routes by Sustrans. The Dartmoor Way is a medium to strenuous route and I am hoping it is to be one of many planned improvements.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011


On 2 July 2011, six cyclists met in Plymouth with the aim to cycle 102 miles to Ilfracombe in one day. All were committed wildlife supporters and three had never completed 100 miles a day before. This is their story in pictures as they cycle across some of the finest scenery Devon has to offer.

We start at 6am in Plymouth.

It is now 6.30 and we stop to view birds nesting in Plymbridge Woods, an essential stop for wildlife enthusiasts.

At 7.15am, the riding gets tough where we leave Plymbridge Woods for Dartmoor.

Dartmoor offered spectacular cycling. At 9.30, we were riding across Mary Tavy Moor on route to Okehampton.

We left the moors at Okehampton and found ourselves on tiny lanes where traffic was minimal but wildlife can often be seen. Today, we had to make way for heavy horses and a trailer.

North Devon's coast is simply spectacular. There are not many places with views to die for like this.

It was 7.40pm when we pulled into Ilfracombe. Everyone had made it! a great achievement.

In case you noticed, two who were supremely fit rode ahead. We were all people who just love being out on our bikes in our very special countryside. Thank you to everyone who supported Devon Wildlife Trust

Monday, 20 June 2011


Brittany is renowned for its cycling. It also rivals our West Country for cider offering some good local brews. Unless visiting the coast, it has pleasant rolling hills, artichoke fields, good restaurants for lunches and there is a timeless feel about the area. Cyclists we met ranged from a manic enthusiast who cycles 250km a day to groups out on their mountain bikes. At Vannes, we stayed in a former nunnery still run by the church and the pictures below show a Gite d'Etaps, a local hostel that provides food and has a bar.

We travelled three days sadly in the rain and one day it was windy so the area did not look at its best. Mostly buildings are traditional but the new house below in the shape of a dome was inspired with its woodland location.

We discover that lots of English people have made their homes in the rural centre of Brittany. They do not seem to be wealthy Brits with second homes but are less well off people who have moved to the area permanently.

Brittany shares a common language with the Cornish, Welsh, Irish and Scots who speak Gaelic. The Bretagne language is near enough the same. We spend a pleasant evening at the Gite discussing cider, Bretagne language, cycling and fishing.

There is a timeless feel about this holiday group encountered on a long distance cycleway.

We reached Roscoff at 07.30 this morning to catch our ferry back to Plymouth. I have calculated that our distance was 754 miles and we had 13 cycling days. We had two afternoons off.

My best bits were the wildlife areas in the coastal plains and the Vendee forests. I did not like the traffic in Bilbao and on the French/Spanish border.

Friday, 17 June 2011


We have arrived at St Brevin-Les-Pins and were stuck. There is a new huge bridge over the River Loire and we cannot get over it. It is true that it has a cycle lane but the locals are adament that it is too dangerous. The lane is narrow, the traffic is always heavy and the wind blows.

We search around. We spend a night here as we must catch the bike bus but this needs 24 hours notice and space must be booked. I am really surprised that a cycle friendly country does not provide a facility on this bridge.

The locals here go fishing in the Loire with nets and these can be seen from the bridge. Previously we saw more low level wildlife areas and had a fascinating ride on a cycle trail into St Brevin.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011


It is not just me that cycles to appreciate wildlife, there are signposted routes all over this part of France to show the delights of seeing wildlife on a bike. I am now in Longville-Sur-Mer, 58 bike miles north west of Rochefort.

We have now finished forest trails, albeit there was a final flourish for a few miles from Soulac to the ferry terminal at Pointe de Grave.

If I could describe the last two days, much of it was spent cycling with wildlife intersperced with rich farmland. It was all low lying much like the Somerset Levels in England. There were drainage ditches, called canals here everywhere. Where the ground was higher, it was crops and vegetables. Where lower, it was wild flower grassland grazed by charolais cattle. There are so many birds here. I am embarrased to only know a few names. Egrets are everywhere. Old nog, the heron, is almost as numerous. Swallows appear from nowhere in vast numbers. They enjoy the mudflats and natural landscape that exists.

Many people are out on their bikes. This gentleman is cycling around France. We spoke to a couple on a tandem who work for a company manufacturing wind and kite surfing equipment. Others are touring or shopping. Racing cyclists go past us as we are snails.

We had a happy evening exploring Rochefort, apparantly the first city in the world with a modern grid system. Although planned in 1671, or thereabouts, it happily accepts cars with its wide streets. It was the model for all american cities, the template having been taken there by Lafaytte, the intrepid French sailor who played a key role in developing North America.

Some other things that we found fascinating included the transporter bridge built in 1900 that now takes cyclists into Rochefort. I now know three transporter bridges. The others are in Middlesbrough, England and Hamburg, Germany.

An important industry here is mussel and oyster farming. It is quite atmospheric looking at the preserved wooden oyster shacks. Tomorrow we head north towards St Naziare.

Monday, 13 June 2011


We have now completed half of our cycle journey from Santander in Spain to Roscoff in Brittany. Our distance so far is 375 miles. From Biarritz going north we followed cycle paths through forests some of which were easy going and some where the trail dissappeared into sand and bad ground.

The coastline away from the towns is stunning with long sandy beaches, a surfer's paradise. I think that it will amazingly busy here during high summer but now it is quiet and easy going.

The sunset last night was outstanding at Soulac Sur Mer.

This part of France is ideal for cycling but further south, there was much heavy traffic. We spent a night in Biarritz and this came as a surprise. I imagined the faded glory from 40 years ago when it was a popular destination. Today, it has a bustling old town centre and excellent beaches. I was impressed.

We now head north towards La Rochelle.

Thursday, 9 June 2011


We have arrived at Donastia. This is the Basque name for St Sebastian. It also means that we have almost completed Spain's northern coast. Yesterday was a long day's ride and we knew that we had pushed ourselves hard. We had seen a fascinating array of steep sided hills, lush river valleys and coastline. We started the hills in Cantabria and followed them to Euskad, the home of the Basque people.

Our first day took us past some coastal mudflats and our first sighting was a buzzard curiously out of place away from its native trees. We were able to see lots of fish swimming in the shallows scavanging for food, then disturbe an egret looking out for a fish dinner.

The hills followed in dramatic form. Our roads were not too steep, just long pulls that seemed to go for ever. Then, incredulously, we found the first sign that gave a speed restriction on cyclists, 60kph. Even Sir Chris Hoy, king of cycling athletes, would have struggled to exceed this limit on these hills.

Our first night was at Castro Urdiales, a medium size town on the coast and we found accommodation in its old part. This was very pretty with quaint narrow streets and houses with balconies leaving into one another.

We went to a fish restaurant where each dish was served one after the other so nothing was cold.

Breakfast the next day was tortilla. This was scrumptiously delicious and ideal food for cycling. Mine looked as if it had just been taken out of the oven by someone's mum. Potatoes, egg in the form of an omelette, bacon, peppers are fried slowly then put into the oven to finish. The result was mouthwateringly succulant.

Much of this day was spent in Bilbao, where we went to the Guggenheim Museum. This is a masterpiece of modern architecture filled with art forms by aclaimed artists like Damien Hirst.

It was a long ride to Donastia. Bilbao has no cycling policy and there was only one route out on a very busy main road. It was a case of heads down, peddle fast and anticipating other drivers. So this morning, we have completed our third night and will be heading for France.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011


I had the most amazing night's sleep in my cabin on Pont Avon, Brittany Ferry's enormous ferry that was taking Jaana and me from Plymouth to Santander. I woke up to find a cat in my cabin. I did not own a cat but somehow it was mine. The cat desparately wanted to get out so I quickly got up, opened the door and let it out. Then I woke up properly and found that there was no cat. It was just a dream.

I had become something of a ferry expert last year with my bike ride around the North Sea coast. I had caught 23 ferries in all and my favourite was Stena Line who not only gave me a free meal in their luxury restaurant but also let me off their ferry first at Harwich. My current ship looked good with its cinema, pool, restaurants and amiable French crew.

We met three other cyclists, two who were doing the same journey as us to Roscoff and a third who looked scarily fit. He was off to do a month in the Pyrannes.

I had packed only tee shirts and my suncream bought in Germany last year that was so strong I could not get a suntan. I imaged Spain to be 40C heat so my surprise was total when we arrived at Santander in a Scottish mist. Luckily I had also bought a jumper and waterproofs. Because Brittany Ferries did not let cyclists off first and the loo in the cabin did not work too well, I confided in Jaana that Stena Line is still my favourite. Scarily fit cyclist overheard me and said that Stena Line is favourite ferry as well.

After a brief pedal up and down, Santander's waterfront, Jaana and I jumped on another ferry to take us over the estuary to the start of our next cycling adventure

Friday, 3 June 2011


On Sunday, I leave for my next adventure on my trusty Trek bike. I shall load my panniers, head for Plymouth's ferry port and set sail for Santander in Spain

My friend, Jaana will be with me and we will be cycling close to the coast up to Roscoff in Brittany, a distance of 750 miles. We start our ride in Basque country where we head east to the French border and onwards to Biarritz. To our south, we will see the Pyrenees Mountains while to the north lies a rugged coastline and several towns of which I know little. I want to know what this proud part of Spain is like.
Once over the border, we hope to sample the French rural way of life, see the coast, experience the wildlife, eat the food and drink the wine.
My previous visit to France was laid back and enjoyable. I have high hopes. We plan to take 2.5 weeks and will be reporting what I see

Saturday, 21 May 2011


Last Saturday, East Coast Trains whisked my friend, Jaana and myself to Newcastle where we hoped to discover what it is like to cycle across the Pennines and the hills of Cumbria. We expected a challenging ride and variable weather. The cycle maps showed many off road trails, some suitable only for mountain bikes

It was not long before we found out that this is one of the World's premier cycle routes. High up in the Pennines, sheep and cyclists vied with one another on the trail. Grouse watched from the side as if interested spectators. Birds of all varieties swooped and glided around us. We had a headwind of 20mph which meant that cyclists going the other way hit phenominal speeds going downhill while we chugged uphill at a very modest pace. The scenery was open moorland, wild and remote.

We took a detour north to visit Hadrian's Wall, still remarkably intact in places. A museum near Haltwhistle gave us a story how it took just 6 years to build. It provided lots of information about the Romans and I left pondering how people could be so warlike on the one hand, yet incredibly civilised on the other. Some grit jammed itself into my front gear such that I had to partially dismantle it to release the mechanism. The ride south from the wall to Penrith was exhilerating. The wind blew from the Cumbrian hills and the rain came down, yet somehow it felt right to be out in these elements.

The Lake District beckoned once we had left Penrith. Jaana lives in London and cannot find a suitable outdoors shop there so when we arrived in Keswick, it must have felt like heaven for her to see so many outdoor shops. She wanted a particular type of trousers and it did not take her long to find a pair.

Our next stop and final one together was Cockermouth. The cycle route out of Keswick meandered initially along the foothills of some high peaks, then abruptly turned left and went straight up one. Moreover, it was a rough muddy trail. This was impossible to cycle so we puffed our way up. Behind us we looked down on Bassethwaite Water. When we reached the top, a breathetaking vista opened in front of us with wild flower meadows, forests and fells showing themselves in a glistening shimmering sunlight. It was awesome.

At Cockermouth, Jaana left to cycle on to Workington for a train home while I turned round and went back to Keswick. My destination tonight was Staverley, near Kendal. Unfortunately there are no byeways going south to Windermere so I had to wrestle with traffic on the main road. I did mean however that I cycled fast but I still time to appreciate the countryside

I cycled 180 miles on this trip. I continue to be amazed at what this country has to offer.

My next ride starts on 4 June when Jaana and I cycle what is becoming known as "The Atlantic Coast Ride". It starts at Santander in Spain and finishes at Roscoff in Brittany

Sunday, 1 May 2011


If miles can be measured with smiles, 50 cyclists of all ages and abilities generated 600 smiles when they followed a 12 mile route around Plymouth today. It was organised by volunteers from Sustrans and was attended by children, oldies, enthusiasts and casual cyclists

I wore my Wildlife Trust teeshirt to remind myself and others that an important part of the health of the nation can be measured by how well our wildlife is thriving. Plymouth is a trendy city. We cycled along the Hoe, through the historic Barbican and past the National Marine Aquarium before heading inland to see avenues of houses built in the 19th century to the north of the city centre. Central Park and Devonport were revelations. A huge sports complex is under construction and Devonport is being tastefully redeveloped where Architects have designed new buildings that sit comfortably alongside the best of local historic buildings. We finished at Royal William Yard, one of Plymouth's jewels.
Plymouth is a city transforming its life and soul and is playing its role in a vibrant West Country. This was a day for plenty of smiles.