Day 7. Sunday 23rd May. Sandford to Bridgwater. 78km and 1100m climbing.

One of the key lessons we have learnt from our bike touring years is the need to be flexible and change plans if needed.  Today was one such day.  Although our initial plan had been to try and take in all the National Parks on our way, we decided that our legs would not take going up and over Exmoor, which would mean even more steep climbing than yesterday. The weather forecast was also pretty atrocious so we also changed our plan to camp in the Quantock Hills – could have been idyllic but looked like being a washout!  We therefore changed our route to head for Bridgwater.

The day in fact dawned sunny and we were off by 8.15 – fuelled by scrambled eggs from Kate. Kate joined us for the first section of the day – which was also the hilliest.  She nobly offered to take one of my panniers again (key lesson number 2 – always accept offers of help). We pedalled through gorgeous Devonian villages – up and down of course.  Then the biggest climb of the day – at times at least 17% and probably more like 20% in places.  Kate and I got off and walked but David pushed on and cycled all the way up. Super-strength!!  Although it had clouded up the views from the top over to Dartmoor were magnificent.  It was then a lovely descent down to the valley bottom at Bickleigh.  Here we said our goodbyes as Kate turned for home; and I had to take my full load again!

We continued up the valley to Tiverton where we paused to buy things for lunch and have a coffee at the supermarket. The next section was not as severe but still had plenty of ups and down and occasional steep sections. The roads were quiet and beautiful.  If the sun was out our hearts would have been singing. As it was we stayed mostly dry until late morning and the wind was behind us but then the drizzle started and persisted for most of the rest of the day.  We huddled under a convenient archway for our picnic lunch in the pretty village of Milverton – we needed it as had already done more the 800m climbing.

Then we were in Somerset and the road miraculously flattened out.  The wind was still behind us and blew us along to the outskirts of Taunton. The last section took us over the last remnants of the Quantock Hills – aching legs and still drizzle but glimpses of what the views could have been!  Then a long gradual down hill all the way into Bridgwater to our Guest House – which turned out to be very well set up for cyclists. Soon we were warm and dry and resting as the forecast torrential rain started – our timing worked well today!

Bernie braved the rain to shop at Sainsbury’s for dinner because the guest house had a kitchen for guests – such a sensible arrangement. We cooked and then, as we were finishing, met up with James, a touring cyclist who had struggled against the wind over the Somerset Levels (as we had done going north battling a northerly wind on our Lands End to John O’Groats trip in 1991). We stretched the meal to three without difficulty as we discussed cycling, life the universe and everything. James was heading south from Stafford and was going up and over Exmoor. He was “bike packing” – namely cycle touring with a mountain bike and less luggage than us, but this meant he was able to go off road. Great conversation and then to bed.

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