You know it is going to be tough when the first day's forecast is for 60mph gusts from the north west and the route ahead includes some of Devon lumpy hills. This was a 4 day ride with my buddy, Andy, who I last cycled with along the Welsh borders nearly a year ago. We planned a route following the Jurassic coast, Isle of Purbeck and the New Forest. We wanted to find new scenery and hoped to see some stunning wildlife.
Sometimes there are magical moments to be found on a bike and with winter coming to its end I needed some of these. Our journey would be mostly on National Cycle Network Route 2 starting in Exeter and finishing in Salisbury.
Our arrival at Exeter was greeted with the ominously dark clouds and we felt close to the eye of a storm. This proved to be true because all along our journey people were telling us of a big hail storm at about 10am. We pedalled alongside the Exe estuary, a popular cycle route out of Exeter known for its stunning views, easy riding and many fabulous cafes. The Jurassic coast starts at Sidmouth. It is here that we find the hills and we are into true Devon cycling. As we look down over Sidmouth, we see a watery sun.
NCN2 is adventurous now as we continue east towards Branscombe, Beer and Seaton. We climb up passing wildlife rich hedgerows with a mixture of pasture and woodland behind only to tumble down the other side to find another of many river valleys. We wanted to stay overnight in Seaton only to find all B+B's saying "vacancies" were in fact full but, when asking at one that said "full" found that it had vacancies.
Andy's daughter joined us at the start in full wet weather gear
We cross the border into Dorset, pass Bridport, climb up to Hardy's Monument that overlooks Weymouth and Portland and carry on to Dorchester. Andy discovers an interesting ford.
He sensibly takes the bridge
The hills are left behind as NCN2 meanders east towards the Isle of Purbeck. As Corfe Castle comes into view, NCN2 turns sharply left and we are now cycling on tracks and unmade roads across heathlands and through woods. Purbeck is not an island but a peninsula and is home to numerous wild flowers with a complex geology . Some of tracks are very muddy and in places it is difficult riding but this is some of the best type of cycling. I am not into fast rides and my bike is suited to these types of trails where its wide softer tyres ride over terrain where other bikes get stuck.
Such is the variety of this ride that we board a ferry that takes us into the huge urban complex that spreads from Sandbanks to Bournemouth and Christchurch. The easiest of easy rides follows along the promenade which is so flat it makes the Netherlands look mountainous. We pass 100's, maybe 1,000's of beach huts, a pier, seaside bars, cafes and shops. It is obviously very popular but quiet at this time of year.
Much more to my liking is the New Forest on the final day of our journey. We cycle along forest trails, through small villages, see endless numbers of ponies and I have my amazing wildlife moment. A bird swoops over my right shoulder and flies ahead high up into the canopy of a tree 150 metres away. It chortles loudly. Its body colour is bright yellow with black wings and I see it a second time. It is Golden Oriole, a species exceptionally rare in the UK. It seems likely that this was a migrating bird and according to the RSPB there are only 2 - 5 breeding pairs in the country.
We left NCN2 and cycled on to Salisbury along smaller roads where we had good views of the Hampshire River Avon. The distance was 158 miles.