Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Saturday September 13th - we slacked off

The screaming seagulls woke me up in time for sunrise on Thursday morning and I had a bit of a wander down to the beautiful sandstone cliffs on the campsite's private beach.

We were quite tired and the site was well equipped and not too expensive so we decided to stay on a bit and give ourselves a chance to actually be on holiday. Ice creams were eaten, beaches were walked upon and legs were allowed to recover a little. We had a pleasant stay at Ladram Bay, despite being kept awake on the second night by a couple having a screaming unintelligible row in which the bloke kept threatening to leave, stomped off but never lived up to his promise and came back for another round when he realised he couldn't really get very far on foot.

We left early-ish (9am) on Saturday morning, Dgym being up at an unusually early hour, rolled down the hill and followed the river Otter as far as Ottery St. Mary. The valley was lovely and gently rolling, lots of pleasant ups and downs, and the sun wasn't too fierce.

Ottery St. Mary was pleasant, although not the most beautiful of towns. We parked up by the bakery and friendly locals stopped to enquire about our travels. One little old lady asked whether we'd been to Wales. We haven't (well, not properly anyway). She advised us to go, as it was lovely. "The people are very friendly there. Just like me!". She walked off. Later, as I was squatted by the roadside rummaging through my bar bag, she passed by once more and patted me on the head, wishing us good bye.

We spent quite a while in Ottery, munching on baked goods and plotting our route into, and out of, the Blackdown hills to avoid as many arrowed roads as possible. The arrows really do mean business in Devon.

We couldn't avoid all the big hills. There was another 20% coming out of Ottery which was tough, but didn't feel as bad as the Sidmouth one. I managed it without getting off and pushing, but we still had to stop a lot.

We stopped at a campsite just off the A30 near Chard, which was quite expensive at £11/night but had the loveliest ground I've ever pitched a tent onto, lovely soft springy grass.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Wednesday September 12th - big hills

There were no toilets on the campsite so first thing on Wednesday, dgym went into town to use the public toilets, leaving me to cook breakfast and start packing up, whilst fending off a dozen hungry inquisitive chickens. I don't think he was too impressed upon his return to find one bird perched on the seat of his trike, and to learn that another had found its way into the tent while my back was turned (He didn't seem at all consoled that I had skilfully managed to extract the chicken from the tent, which is considerably harder than getting it in there in the first place)

The big climb of the day was coming out of Southleigh, or so we thought. We stopped a short way up the hill to eat some lunch, as we'd taken our time in leaving and had both got hungry again. We fuelled ourselves for the climb ahead with bread, cheese and olives. The hill was tough, we had to stop to recover ever few metres, but at least it was a nice quiet shady road.

At the top, we passed Blackbury Castle. We're rather fond of castles, both intact and ruined but this one was a bit mislabelled on the map - on the site it was marked a little more accurately as Blackbury Camp, an Iron-age hill fort. No stones!

There was a long descent through Harcombe, unfortunately a little steep to go "Whee!" down properly. My fingers were aching from clinging to the brakes so tightly all the way down (but at least dgym wasn't frying eggs on his hub brakes as in Portugal).

We'd had a nice holiday in Sidmouth a few years ago so decided to head down there again. Unfortunately we arrived just too late for the tourist office and with not a camping ground in sight. I tried calling a few B&Bs but all were were full. Our legs were tired and we didn't really want to go any further, but it was getting a little late so we picked up some dinner items from Tesco, and headed west out of Sidmouth.

Cycling west out of Sidmouth is not for the faint of heart. The road was marked 20% as we came out of town, and lived up to its promise. I ended up getting off and pushing, which is really not much easier but at least gives the cycling muscles a better chance at recovery. Dgym had no such luxury so kept stopping every few metres to recover. It was a long hill, and probably would make quite a nice descent into the town - we looked behind us to some lovely views over the cliffs.

There was a similarly long descent to Otterton, and then another (slightly shorter) climb to Ladram Bay, home to Ladram Bay Holiday Park, our destination for the night.

Reception was closed so the owner of the site cafe told us to pitch up and sort it out tomorrow. We put the tent up and hurriedly cooked dinner, just in time for darkness.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Tuesday September 11th - herding chickens

On the second day I was up at 7:30 and there was no hope of seeing dgym for some time yet so I set about getting the stove set up for our porridge, and foraging for blackberries. Dgym emerged two hours later, still tired from his disturbed sleep.

Blackberries and porridge are a lovely combination, or so I thought, dgym decided he wasn't so keen on porridge after all so started considering alternative breakfast solutions.

Tuesday was not kind on the legs, and we only ended up riding 15 miles. The few miles to Whitchurch Canonicorum were OK but then were faced with our first arrowed climb (the designation on our map for steep gradients) followed by a similar descent to Wooton Fitzpaine, where we were delighted to find dozens of swallows waiting for us on the overhead phone lines. Having recently become rather fond of swallows after moving in next door to a nestful of them, we were quite pleased to see this.

A longer and more difficult climb stood between us and Monkton Wyld Cross. At the top we decided that since dgym was hungry and I was thirsty, we should head for Axminster. We hadn't seen much in the way of shops or pubs all morning so this seemed like a good idea.

We had fish and chips in Axminster and found a Tesco on the edge of town where we stocked up on water, snacky cakes and some bits for dinner.

We reached Colyton a little after three. We'd been planning to go a little further but we ran into another C&C site adjacent to a field of cows and free-range chickens, in which the chickens were able to walk under the electric fence and roam the campsite freely - it looked like a fun site so we stopped.

I took a wander around Colyton which turned out to be a lovely town with a beautiful church, old buildings and quiet narrow little streets.

The chickens were plump and tasty-looking, and very lucky that we already had our dinner planned. They seemed determined to get their pesky little beaks into our food, so dgym herded while I cooked.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Monday September 10th - a late start

The trip to Devon started out with Dgym wandering around looking for his thermal layers and refusing to leave without them (despite the fact that we were supposed to have left yesterday and he hadn't seen said thermals since skiing in April) and me getting very frustrated and desperate to get cycling. Not a great beginning.

It was mid-day before we were ready, solar panels fitted, panniers packed, bikes tuned up and ready to go. By this time, my breakfast porridge had worn off so we stopped a few miles down the road for a pub lunch.

Our ride started out nice and relatively flat, such is most of North Dorset. We opted for the smallest roads on the map - tiny, unclassified single track lanes. Our choice paid off well and we encountered very few cars on our journey. The roads were tiny and shady, perfect for warm September cycling.

The flats didn't last. South Dorset is beautiful but very hilly. The gradients started to get more "rolling" after Leigh, and by the time we reached Beaminster we were into proper hills.

A few miles before Beaminster, half way up a hill, we stopped to look at the map and realised we only had a few hours of daylight left in which to reach the coast, find a campsite, set up the tent and cook dinner - and we weren't doing that well. This was not made easier by the fact that there were no campsites marked on our map until we reached the coast. We pushed on, determined to set up camp and cook in the dark if we had to.

The next ten miles or so were continuous ups and downs. The ups were tough but the downs were wonderful. At one point I rounded a corner on a descent to find a vast landscape of beautiful green sunlit hills and valley laid out before me. I don't think dgym got that as he couldn't see over the hedge.

The last few miles, after Stoke Abbot, were a welcome respite, nice gentle terrain and descents, just what we needed as my legs seemed to have mostly given up.

We happened upon a Camping and Caravanning Club campsite a few miles before we hit the coast, not marked on the map, a £6/night tap-in-a-field affair, just what we wanted. We were the only campers there.

For dinner we cooked up rice with dried mushrooms, lentils, leftover tinned tomatoes from home with peas, ham and vegetable stock. For a first camping meal it was very nice but a meal for two hungry cyclists barely fits in a Trangia 27 pan! We ended up with just about enough time to set up, eat and wash up before dark.

We started to go to sleep as soon as the light had gone but were both disturbed throughout the night by a pair of owls holding an argument just outside our tent, and a bunch of noisy dogs over the road.