Today ambled into existence, fuelled by tea and coffee and continuing hospitality from Jane and Pete. We packed up, said our goodbyes and then went off in the wrong direction. A good start! Then further work on Bernie’s gears and an incident with a lost glove – happily found and eventually we found the route and got going. We felt like a pair or rank amateurs, not highly experienced cycle-tourists.
It was overcast but not raining as we inched our way down a steep mud track to get the splendid Budleigh to Exmouth cycleway – a tarmacked stretch of a former railway. Mr Beeching’s cuts have been turned into a benefit for cyclists.
We met up with Kate and her friend Deborah in Exmouth. They had plotted a 72km route across Dartmoor, which seemed doable at that point. It started easily enough along the Exe River estuary. This meant the route was flat(ish) and well marked. We reached Topsham and Kate murmured about a high proportion of Dowager Duchesses and retired Colonels in the town (where she used to live). There were some amusing signs on the waterfront (see pics) but no sign of elderly posh folk. Now lockdown is over, maybe they had all been out clubbing until late the night before and were not up yet.
We continued to Exeter and then had coffee in a biker’s café – a rather good biker’s café next to an excellent biker’s shop.
After that the climbing began – and it was tough. Devon has the reputation of being the hardest part of any Lands End to John O’Groats ride because of reasonably large and unrelenting ups and downs across the county. Up-hills are often over 15% gradient and down-hills are the same, which on narrow single track roads with a frequent potholes, adds up to slow, demanding cycling. However the rewards in terms of beautiful scenery, fantastic views and idyllic cottages with the Wysteria in full bloom more than made up for the toil (even in the rain).
Our route took us though villages which have a large number of unnecessary letters in their names, such as Dunchideock and Doddiescombsleigh. It was beautiful but up and down and then more up and down followed by yet more up and down. The tough Devonians who we were cycling with hardly noticed the ups; we partially cured that by loading Katie up with one of Bernie’s panniers but it made precious little difference. They do these hills all the time but, to be fair, they were not hauling 25kg across 4 panniers.
After yet another 20% hill, we had to face the fact that we would not manage another 50km of this, despite the spectacular scenery. By this time even Kate was starting to feel the hills – in part because she had taken one of Bernie’s panniers. In contrast, dynamic Deborah seemed to treat a 20% hill climb as if it were flat.
There really is something about living and cycling here that is good for the calf muscles. However, in deference to our limited fitness and excessive pannier weight, we diverted off the route to reach the village of Dunsford (no extra letters there) for an early lunch at a very traditional watering hole.
Fortified by burger and chips in my case (quiche and chips for Bernie and various other delights plus chips for Kate and Deborah) we were able to make our way north towards Kate’s home in Sandford. We stopped by Tiverton to see Kate’s home town and then ambled through the lanes to get to her house.
A wonderful day’s cycling – adding up to 78km in total and 1300m of climbing. It would have been even more if we had followed the original route!