After our epic finish yesterday we woke in our hotel at 7.00am. We had allowed ourselves the luxury of a small lie-in, bearing in mind that we didn’t have breakfast available at our accommodation. On and a half hours of faffing later we were on the road. And the road was wet. And pretty soon after setting off, so were we! The forecast was pretty grim. (Of course, they always get it wrong, don’t they? – In actual fact other than the famous Michael Fish hurricane faux pas of 1987 I cannot recall any other time that they got the forecast wrong by understating the crappiness of the weather. Normally when they say it will be fine they get it wrong, but when they predict crap weather they are usually right!)
Although we were staying just outside Nailsea, a small town south-west of Bristol, we were still a bit too close to Bristol for my liking and I felt there was a real risk that one wrong turn and we would be sucked back into the place. So with the aid of Google maps I plotted us a course through the Bristol Maze which finally brought us out onto the A38 – our road away from Bristol and towards Land’s End!
When we finally hit the A38 I let out a loud ‘whoop’ of delight. And shortly after that Vince stopped by the side of the road, staring intently at a sign, pointing and drooling – he had found a Premier Inn offering an all-you-can-eat breakfast for £7.99!!! We were on the road away from Bristol. We had turned ‘the corner’. We had earned this!
After a bowl of fruit salad, a yoghurt, some cereal, a croissant, 3 sausages, 2 rashers of bacon, some beans, a slice of toast and 4 crumpets I decided that I had had enough! Vince and Carl were the same. And the manager of the restaurant breathed a large sign or relief as we paid our bill and left!
We headed along the A38 through Bridgewater and then Taunton (a town that I haven’t visited for about 20 years) I always thought of Taunton as a really civilised little place, and it still gives that appearance. But when you see a place from a bicycle you often see a different side too. That is because most towns these days have built cycle paths which keep you away from the traffic (a good thing) but which all too often take you through the ‘less desirable’ areas of a town (not such a good thing if you don’t want your bike taken and exchanged for class A drugs by a gang of spotty chavs!). Taunton was no exception. The cycle lane through the town centre took us past an art gallery (a badly graffittied underpass) lots of members of the mother’s guild (teenagers with prams) and an aromatherapy class (a couple of youths smoking pot)!!! Very civilised. And thankfully not a policeman in sight!
Once out of Taunton we headed for Tiverton (and Devon, our penultimate county, although I am aware just how big Devon is! And how reputedly hilly!) Thus far the road had been relatively flat and we were beginning to wonder if all of the reports of the hills in this part of the world were just tall tales!
From the A38 we followed the map and the road signs towards Tiverton onto the A361. I knew this was a mistake almost immediately when the two lanes coming off the roundabout onto the A361 didn’t merge together immediately, and the sign that proudly announced the A361 as the “North Devon Link Road”! Oh dear! We had stumbled upon a dual carriageway by-pass taking what must have been all of the traffic in the world around North Devon! And at an alarming rate. Now I always thought that the Scots were hard. And I did not think that there could be a worse road for cyclists that the A82. I had been wrong. The A82 was a walk in the park compared to the North Devon Link Road! At least in Scotland they give you a cycle path (albeit unusable). In North Devon you get the gutter or the main carriageway. I chose the gutter! All too often when you find yourself on the wrong road you find that you can’t get off for several miles. This was no exception. Seven miles later, and after considering whether a will by email, text or tweet would or would not be legally valid, and after getting completely drenched in a thunderstorm we managed to get off at the first junction, which coincidently was the road into Tiverton. Cold and wet we commented that we would stop for a coffee somewhere, and then as if by magic a pair of golden arches appeared! I normally hate the place with a passion, but I could have hugged and kissed that freaky clown at that point!
Rejuvenated and refreshed by some junk food and a large cappuccino we set off again. Our plan was to follow the road through Tiverton for another 30 miles or so and to stop for the night in Okehampton, on the edge of Dartmoor. Originally we had harboured a plan to cross Dartmoor, but the reappearance of the little arrows on Vince’s Ye Olde Mape of Britagne had put paid to that idea swiftly and decisively! Within seconds of getting back outside McDonalds we were cold again and we were anxious to get going to warm up. By the time I got to Tiverton centre I was shivering. The town was dead. It was 4pm and the only person we saw was a guy waiting at a pelican crossing. As we approached the lights changed so we stopped and waited for him to cross. Once he got past us Vince said “Go on” and being at the front, and there not being a queue of people waiting to cross the road I obliged. It was now that I was to feel the long arm of the law enforcers of North Devon as from behind me sidled up a police car! The car pulled alongside me matching my speed (I was still cycling), the window wound down, and the driver, a police woman, said “You need to obey the law and the rules of the road. And that means waiting for the light to turn green. Do you understand?”
“OK” I said, simply, and with that she closed the window and drove off!
I could start a rant at this point about how the police should have been catching real criminals (like those ‘hoods’ in Taunton smoking drugs – but that is a different county so would be met with the “Not our patch” excuse) but I won’t. Well, not directly! What struck me as most odd and annoying about this was the fact that in a deserted town, with no people around, there was a police car in the first place (Note to the criminal fraternity of North Devon: Avoid Tiverton, it is massively over policed. Pick on somewhere less well covered, like Taunton!) There I am, cold, shivering like a shitting dog, crossing an arbitrary line perfectly safely and with no risk to anyone and the police see fit to comment. But not only that, I am sure that it is a pretty unsafe (and quite possibly illegal!) thing to do to pull alongside a moving cyclist, wind your window down and have a conversation whilst still moving! It is one rule for them and one for me, eh!??
So having avoided a custodial sentence we cycled away from Tiverton as fast as possible! Unfortunately this was not to be too fast, as no sooner were we out of the town that the hills really started! From then on it was up, down, up, down, rising to a good 800+ feet overlooking just about everything! But even when you are going down you are stopped in your tracks by yet another hill going up! Hadn’t the Devonian road builders of ancient times cottoned onto the concept of contouring around a hill? Christ the Scots knew how to do that centuries ago! But not the ancient people of North Devon. Brute force and ignorance for them!
The hills were never ending, and really took their toll on Carl. As a result we finished at almost 9pm in the twilight, and Carl went straight to bed. No food, utterly spent! To make matters worse he had a terrible nights sleep, was sick with exhaustion and isn’t in a great state this morning!
As I type this (and I am trying to upload something so I will add more stuff to this and to the previous posts (there is more to tell, but no time to do it!) Vince and I are trying to work out the best way to get Carl to Truro and our last stop before the finish tomorrow. Carl will cycle it, I know this, but I suspect today will be very difficult for him. There is no way of avoiding the hills and with him feeling like crap it will be a big effort from him. Keep following the tweets throughout the day to check progress…!
They always say that you should finish on a cliffhanger……….!!!
(I will post photos later as the wifi in the B&B is down, so once again I am posting from my phone! It is a hard life!)