Friday, 18 March 2011


Last weekend, Libby and I loaded our panniers for our recce ride of the Devon C2C. Our adrenalin kicked the moment we started on Plymouth's historic Barbican. When Libby found out that we were to cycle past Putsborough, her favourite surfing beach in North Devon, there was no containing her. We were fired up for a great ride!

We left Plymouth seeing Drakes Island, The Eddystone Light and Mountbatten, one time home of RAF Airsea Rescue where Lawrence of Arabia once served. Our journey took us up the valley of the River Plym, partly tarmac and later gravel onto the moors where a steep hill into Clearbrook awaited us. This was heavily wooded and home to a breeding pair of peregrin falcons. The western edge of Dartmoor arrived quickly

Our journey now took us into some challenging hills, some of which we knicknamed "Evils". Our first Evil was at Walkhampton and we both ate humble pie by walking. On route, we encountered a field, more stony tracks and a fantastic pub at Horndon where we stopped and tucked into lunch. We had seen only tiny hamlets since leaving Plymouth and we had covered 24 miles. Amazingly, the temperature climbed to 17C.
It felt remote when we left roads altogether to cycle across Mary Tavy Moor but when we rejoined a road on the other side, it was to find an old castle that used to mint coins.
At Okehampton, we were surrounded by a pack of hounds but these animals were impeccably behaved. The last stretch into Okehampton was an easy ride on former railway track and it was here that we encountered one of many old railways on our journey, another castle and our first shops.
This was a recce ride so it was taking much longer than normal. We left Okehampton to cycle 12 miles to Sheepwash in the dusk. It was totally dark for the last 5 miles and as we dropped down into the valley of the River Torridge, we encountered two Evils. Owls hooted in the trees nearby. The thought of the Half Moon Inn kept us going

We were greeted by Adam who has kept the bar going at the Half Moon for possibly all his life. There was no need to give our names. He knew who we were and we were given two great bedrooms with baths. There is nothing to beat a wallow in a bath after a long day's cycling. Adam kept a table beside the log fire for us and the meal here was a satisfying way to end the day.
We knew that the second day would be easier but also we knew that there would be an Evil, possibly two Evils at the end. There were some gentle hills leaving the Half Moon where Dartmoor could be seen to the south and the Torridge valley wound its way north. After 4 miles we joined the Tarka Trail. We were now in a beautiful river valley, home to wild salmon, otters, buzzards and rich with wild flower meadows and woodland. Bill Oddy, the naturist was once filming live on BBC Springwatch at the pool in the picture below when an otter came out in front of him. His excitement was intense and infectious

There was a huge estuary at the confluence where the Rivers Torridge and Taw met the sea. Libby and I saw vast numbers of birds everywhere. Oystercatchers, redshanks, shell ducks and curlews all came close. This used to be home to a great naturalist, Henry Williamson, who wrote two terrific books, Tarka the Otter and Salar the Salmon. He used to call the heron, Old Nog, a name which I think suits a heron perfectly. We passed Bideford and Barnstaple and slowed down to overtake a girl walking a dog.
I was level with the girl who said "I want to race you". She ran ahead with the dog at a gallop. I caught up and said to her she was running at 12mph whereupon the dog stopped and the girl didn't,... except she did. Just for a moment the girl was 60cms in the air with legs out in front and completely horizontal. She landed ok and the dog had a headache.
At Braunton, Libby was a bit twitchy. On the one hand, she was excited that Putsborough beckoned and, on the other, she was convinced that some Evils were not far away.

Libby was right! At the end of the journey, all we found were hills with two Evils. However, the scenery was majestic. Woolacombe Beach of which Putsborough is at one end was dreamy. Lundy Isle and later South Wales shimmered on the horizon. Woolacombe looked a fun place. especially if you are a surfer. We struggled up the final Evil out of Woolacombe that seemed to go on forever. When we reached the top, we realised that the temperature had plummited to 5C but that a long downhill trail would take us into Ilfracombe, the end of our journey. It was too dark at the harbour to take photographs. Libby was happy to see her partner, Scott who came over to meet her and I found a local hotel for the night. I also found another pub for a final pint and a meal.

Saturday, 5 March 2011


There is such a cool ride in Devon that I have just found out about. It starts in Plymouth and ends at Salcombe. There are no main roads, just an unspoilt coastline, stunning countryside, plenty of pubs and cream teas. You must take flip flops and a tide timetable

Start at Plymouth's historic Barbican by catching a water taxi to Mountbatten and cycle along the coast before being stopped in your tracks by the River Yealm. There are superb views along the coast. Behind you Dartmoor looks over as if to say come here next. Wind back inland to the villages of Brixton and Yealmpton where pasties and pints of your choice await

Peddle back to rejoin the coast going past the thatched cottages of Holbeton to the estuary of the River Erme at Mothecombe. It is here that a tide timetable and flip flops are needed as this most beautiful of all estuaries can only be crossed at low tide. When I cycled across the enormous stretch of sand earlier today to reach the river crossing, I realised that the only thing I could see that was less than 200 years old was my bicycle. On my left, a horse rider galloped up the estuary disappearing into the distance. Straight ahead was an ancient ramp surrounded by woodland and this was my destination. The fast flowing river was between me and the ramp. To my right, the sun was beaming down over the ocean. It was cold and the water was freezing but this was special. This was no ordinary river crossing.
It is not possible to cycle anywhere in Devon without finding a Green Lane. Today was no different. This one was in good shape with hedges cut and I was on firm ground. There are times when Green Lanes offer cyclists special challenges. In the winter the drainage sometimes stop working and they fill up with water. One lane near me is often up to 60cm deep and my challenge is to cycle through it without putting my feet down. More often, it will be horse riders who share the Green Lanes with you.

A tidal road took me into Aveton Gifford and it is here that wading birds such as the egret allow you to get close. Today, I came within 5 metres of an egret that carried on fishing while I cycled by. Egrets have made a surprise return to Devon having disappeared about 100 years ago as a result of excessive shooting. My photo above is Mother Hubbards Cottage in Yealmpton of nursery rhyme fame.
The River Avon is crossed and the cycle route now takes a winding route back to the coast where cream teas await. If Salcombe can be reached in one day without stopping at all the distractions on route, this will be as a result of much will power.