Wow, what a ride. 360 miles, 9 cycling days and one rest day around the tiny lanes on the Cornish cost. What’s more, only one wet day, and boy was it wet!!!!I’d had a crash, ten days or so prior to leaving when the front wheel departed the bike of it’s own accord. head, shoulder, ribs, wrists etc. OUCH!!! fortunately, nothing was broken and my friends ‘Arnica’ and Ibuprofen helped me through.
Mentally, it did me no good at all, linking to other traumas and leaving me completely exhausted. So, I slept and slept and slept the week before the ride, only receiving the bike back one day prior to leaving!!! When it did return, it was with a solid axle with nuts!!
I was pretty nervous before leaving. I had trained and done a short tour, but nothing like this. It was the moment of truth, could I manage away from home, under stress, living in a tent. If not, the whole ‘Round Britain’ effort would fall away and cease to be something I could aim for.
As I moved off down the road, the trailer felt heavy and my body tired. I had a heavy strapping on my right wrist and could hardly bear weight on the bars. The first 15 miles have plenty of big hill as I headed for Holsworthy. My legs felt fine, despite the lack of riding and the sun was coming out, which really helped. I took it easy on all the hills, knowing there was a series of 33% gradients later in the day!!
A buzzard, and a Deer crossed the road in front of me, bringing a big smile to my face. The lanes to Bude, on the coast, ease after Holsworthy and I arrived at the Castle Tea Rooms feeling good and ready for some Tea and Cake. People buzzed around in the sun, heading for the beach. The temptaion was enourmous, but I had to face the hills after Widemouth bay and headed for the campsite at Wainhouse Corner (Camping and Caravan Clubsite-Bude).
It was never going to be easy on that stretch, especially given the pain in my wrist, but all the hills were ridden, with a few ‘breathers’ half way up.
The campsite staff were friendly and helpful and lots of interest was shown in what I was doing and the Ultralight Teepee I had chosen to use. Wrapping the food I had brought in foil and bagging it, I headed for the shower, possibly the greatest pleasure a distance cyclist has. a chance to wash away the sweat and relax. On my return, I saw a large crow/raven heading off into the sunset and an empty food bag. Little Herbert ate all the sausages I had cooked and frozen along with the bread etc, Leaving me to utilise what the tiny camp shop had to sell. Note to self: ‘Don’t leave food outside’!!
The second day dawned bright and breezy. I felt refreshed and really pleased at the Teepee I had been given by a new American company called Arapahoe Outdoor. It was a lovely space to live in and made such a change from a backpacker type coffin that pretends to be home as you fold yourself up to get in/out.
I was heeading for Trevose Head, a few miles from Padstow and would travel over Bodmin Moor and onto the Camel trail, one of ‘Sustrans’ great successes, 17 miles of traffic free riding right into Padstow itself.
I tootled along talking to the ponies on the Moor and a guy who was training to lead a ride from Cornwall to Paris for charity. Quite the opposite of my ride, with more miles per day, back-up and no camping gear. I took the oppertunity to eat and drink as we stood in the early morning fog on the moor, by an old airfield. You could visualise the planes coming in to land during the war, shot-up and belching smoke if you were one of the lucky ones to get back at all. I don’t know if the reality was like that, but I’ve seen too many films.
Picking up the Camel trail, I needed some sustaintance, and a few miles down the trail i came across a wonderful cafe, built into the bank of a cutting and hiding in trees with covered tables in the undergrowth. It had to be a cream tea really, didn’t it? It was fantastic, with oodles of fresh cream and jam and beautiful home made scones. I lingered for a while, a couple of guys had stopped me to see if I’d seen ‘Little Johnny’ a boy who had headed off the wrong way up the trail. I told them I had and they set off in search of the missing lad. he turned up, with said adults a bit later, embarrassed and having gone the wrong way after re-joining the trail from Bodmin.
I could have sat there all day, but needs must. As big a fan as I am of Sustrans and their work, I hate these railway paths. They feel soulless to me, as if they are completely utilitarian and nothing else. The surface hammered my wrists and the pain was excruciating. There were plenty of people around, all of whom seemed to be riding slower than me, leading to constant overtakes of familes and friends having a nice day out. The surface is quite dusty and by the time I reached Padstow, I was looking a bit pasty from the white powder, as was the bike.
Padstow itself (nick-named Padstein after Rick Steins business efforts) was heaving. I dismounted and walked, sat on the quay and smoked a cigerette, another unhealthy habit that depressives like me find helpful.
I walked the bike through the masses of ice cream munching people and swooping Seagulls (they like ice cream too) and headed for Trevose Head and the camp ground. Now, chance meeting play a big part in trips ike this and I happened to bump into two really significant people. One of these runs a ‘tracking busines’ and wants to track and promote ‘Round Britain’. The second, recycles cycles and wants to make me a ‘Flexstem’ for my trip (remember them folks?). If I hadn’t crashed when I did, i wouldn’t have met them. Hmmm synchronisity at work. Note to self: Trust the Universe.
I woke up and took a look through the tiny window in the Teepee at the outside world. As I woke up more, I remembered there were no windows!! Aaaaah, a smal hole had appeared in the Teepee’s bonded seems, and a second. Bugger, a production problem. I emailed the company who were so apologetic. A new bonding table had been layed AFTER my Teepee rolled off. A new one would follow me home. Not wanting to disply the Teepee with patches, I decided to send it home and pick up a Backpacking ‘coffin’ in Newquay.
This was all easier ‘done than said’, yes that’s what I mean. I cycled into Newquay, there was a shop, and the deal was done. Off we go again to pick up the coast and follow it all the way down to Gwithian, North of Hayle. Now, this section of road has a secret, each hill is massive but never quite pushes you past the limit. Steep and long, they get tougher and tougher as you go. There is enough (just) space between them for recovery and for our short memories to forget the pain they create!!! You know the feeling, Groundhog day, that was the steepest hill today, that was the steepest hill today, that was the steepest hill today………………..
Ah, the relief when Gwithian came into view. Everybody was leaving, it was Sunday and the forcast was poor for Monday. It was the usual routine for me, stretch,tent,drinkl,shower eat, relax. I wandered down to the amazing beach. dogs and children ran around and had a great time. Others surfed and swam, whilst some held hands and looked lovingly t each other in the evening sun.
I talked to a lovely women who was camping with her children. I told my story and she opened up about her husbands battle with depression and how he had taken his own life. The impact on her had been enourmous, but she talked openly and honestly and I listened. This scenario has played out many times since I decided the best plan of action was to be totally honest about my own struggle. I think we both gained from the conversation.
As the sunset, I dry roasted some fruit and nuts and mushrooms to add to an Ainlsey Harriett Couscous. Lands End tommorow. Note to self: DON’T sit up fast cos your head will go through the tent!!
It wasn’t too bad when I got up. All the gear was packed away dry and I was heading into Hayle to post poor old teepee home to myself, which felt strange because I knew I wasnt there! The fanily I spoke to the night before had gone, I never heard them pack up, I must have been dozing. Hill wise, today would be much easier, although the wind picking up and the building cloud told the story of what would happen. That’s the trouble with being an ex-paraglider pilot and climber, you can read the signs!
It started raining almost straight away. By Hayle (7 miles) it was heaving down. I stopped in another amazing cafe, having spent 30 miutes in the Post Office, testing their knowledge and skills of the postal system regarding sending yourself a parcel when you’re not there to receive it. They were really helpful and it got sorted, so I now had 3kgs less to haul around and decided to make that weight up with a large breakfast!!!
I was alone in the cafe, the proprietor was having problems with a homing pigeon who had decide that this was in fact home!! It kept coming into the kitchen after whatever it could get! Two more cyclists came in. they were on the ‘End to End’ as were most of the cyclist I met. We all chatted and joked, drinking copious amounts of whatever, trying to pretend it wasnt so foul outside. Of course, we eventually said our goodbyes and left, them to a tailwind and me to an ‘on the nose’ wind.
The storm built and built as I tried to circumnavigate West Penwith. My poncho (big mistake) became parachute like as I found myself more and more in lower gears despite the easier terrain. By Zennor, I had had it, screaming at the wind,cross with myself, cross with the poncho-parachute I had taken. Then a cafe appeared. Cake, Rooibosh, rest, respite. I turned the cafe into a puddle, but the staff didnt mind. I was so wet that I couldnt get my hands dry enough to make a successful roll-up. Disaster.
Something happened there, something changed. It was just as foul when I emerged, still drowned rat like. It was different, I didn’t care about the weather, acceptance was to hand. I just got on and rode slowly, like I did on big hills. As I approached Lands End, I felt really emotional. Tears began to stream down my face and I wanted to wail out loud. I’d had no idea that this was such an emotional thing for me to do, but try as I might the tears just came and came, washed away by the rain and wind as they fell. Tommorow was a day off at one of my favourite sites, Treen, is a beautiful place. I’m not going to try to describe it except to say there is a wonderful Beach, campsite, pub and cafe and no roads running past at all.
The weather stayed foul as I erected the ‘coffin’. I managed to bungee the door flap to give me anough room to see out and cook under the given shelter. As evening progressed, the weather teased as only Cornish weathr can. A little sun, more rain, gusty wind dropping and picking up again, torrential down pours etc. Note to self: DUMP that poncho.
A day off, bliss. Reading, snoozing, eating, stretching, showering, drinking (tea and coffee) and looking, absorbing, listening, watching, soaking up the beauty as the sun comes out to re-charge my batteries. Note to self: Resting is good!!
Today I head for the Lizard. I’m rested, keen and packed up reasonably early having eaten and prepared myself. My friend, Mr Wind, had swung around after the storm to ensure he was blowing in my face again. I didnt care, it was sunny. Today was one of those days when you have overcome all the initial fears and expectations and you are now just riding a bike in lovely scenery and don’t really care about how far you go or when you get there. I found a lovely bench for lunch and a car boot sale that I just had to go and explore. I rode a fair bit on the main road, and everybody was polite and courteous. The day just dirfted along, as did I. No chance meeting, no contact, no phone signal, just cycling.
Arriving in the Lizard, I followed signs for the campsite. When I thought I was there, I asked, “is this a campsite”. “Yes it is”, replied Jo, the owner. What a find, an amazing site and a candidate for my favourite site ever. It was like riding into El Dorado, plam trees massive plants, all manner of animals, a great shop, Fire braziers and pits, sculptures and murals, Nirvana.
I pitched up and chatted to a couple with a hired VW called ‘Van Morrison’ I wandered and shopped, showered and then met another two couples who were on the previous site. One couple were pitched in the ‘Jurassic Garden’ Don’t laugh, that is exactly how it feels.
That evening we sat around a firepit, drinking (Stella in my case) and chatting. Is this the way life should be, simple shared experiences at a really basic level. It was lovely and really enjoyable. Note to self: A simple life really suits you.
I didn’t want to leave, my friends asked me to stay, but I wanted to know whether four days riding with four days off followed by the same again worked for me, so reluctantly, I left. Today we were mostly going to Boswinger via the ferry at Falmouth. I love ferries, there are loads of them on my Round Britain ride next year. There’s something about travelling, even a short distance over water that is really cool. My wee journey to St Mawes could have ended in disaster as I struggled to get the bike and trailer down the steps to the boat, but a kind staff member came and helped me out shortly before I ended up in the drink!!
I have to say I can’t remember much of this day. It was windy (on the nose again) and there were the usual hills to climb. the scenery and weather continued to be stunning and me and my bike (Den) plodded along enjoying ourselves. When in hilly terrain, the mind plays tricks on you. As you spend so much more time and effort riding uphill, you mind only remembers that. It feels as though you have only cycled up one big hill, all day long. I deal with this by stopping and forcing breaks in the day to break it up. Today lacked good cafes, but had an excellent stone circle. these are always nice to sit in, peaceful and quiet, a great place for a ciggy break!!!
The ferry bobbed merrily over the choppy sea and deposited me in St Mawes, all ready to cycle up a hill very similar to the one I came down to enter Falmouth. After what seemed to be an age, I found a campsite. It looked posh and expensive, boasting a pool etc, but in actual fact, the staff were lovely and the price very reasonable. It was howling that evening, forcing me into the tent to read and think. The site shop was great, although I didnt need a lot for the evening it would provide breackfast, I’d promised myself a Bacon Butty followed by some yummy organic yoghurt. Note to self: Bee more forceful about what pitch you want when windy!!
Today was always going to be tough, as I rode along the coast past Mevagissey, St Austell, Fowey and Looe. This coast is stunning with lots and lots of picture postcard picture opportunuties. There would be another ferry too, goody. I made an early start (by my standards) and it was a baking hot day. plenty of liquid on board and on the bike as I set off. I only met one person all day. She was from Torrington, just up the road from me and pushing out of Mevagissey up a massive hill I was glad to be going down!! I left the road on the way to St Austell to ride the Sustrans route up past the ‘The Lost Gardens of Heligan’ It was a lovely excursion with only one really sharp uphill bit, where ‘no traction’ from the road tyres saw me hiking for 50 metres or so. The run into St Austell was fabulous, initially following the road but leaving it to folow the river all the way to the town. I managed to cycle in a great circle around St Austell, following Sustrans sign all the way. It was fine going North, But I was Going East and it wasn’t signed well at all. Arriving back at the point I’d started, I cursed a bit and headed off along the main road for Fowey and my little ferry.
This ferry was cuter than the first. Less steps and i arrived with just five minutes to wait. It deposits you in a sweet Port, and leaves you at the bottom of a steep hill where the road goes straight up, no kinks at all. First gear seems a good selection here, and then very steadily, I plod my way up, and up, and up, and up. Cornwall has another trick. Hills start steep, level a little and then always steepen again, sometimes two or three times before giving up. You get used to it after a few days, but it can be a shock to the system. I headed for Downderry on the coast dropping down a massive hill to Seaton. The campsite was well signed and I turned up to find it was in fact a Naturist site. I wasn’t bothered about that. I didn’t have the energy to notice anyway, but the £17 a night for a coffin and a bike was too much.HOW VERY DARE YOU? NO THANKS.
This left two options, B& B or the massive hill up from Seaton would have to be climbed to the new site at the top. I went to the shop and bought food and drink and rested. After a bit I reckoned the cycle up the hill was just another one and set off. It ws a real test after thinking I had done for the day, but my mind switched to the task and up I went to find myself the only person on the site. £10 meant that my hill climb had payed for dinner and breakfast. Note to self: Believe in yourself more.
The joy of being up here meant that the start of the day was a lovely big downhill. Wicked. Rested and fed I felt good. by the end of the day I would be back on familiar territory on Dartmoor. Superb. There were lots of hills, but none too big as I climbed up to and followed the ridge to the ferry at Cremyl. I never thought that I would be glad to see Plymouth, but I was. It was beautiful and sunny and the ferry rocked it’s way gently over to the city. Sustrans route out of Plmouth was easy to follow and took in all the best modern and historical bits that Plymouth offers before heading up the banks of the river to the inevitable Tesco Superstore (well almost). From here I followed the Plym trail, another forgotten railway track developed by Sustrans, running all the way up the valley and beautiful. lots of people were enjoying this and I chatted to a young couple out for a mornings trail riding.
I sat under a tree eating lunching watching a man ‘face-plant’ himself into the ground!!! Lots of people ran over and helped, so I didn’t. All the excuses under the sun came out as to why he’d crashed, when really he was being a ‘cock’, trying to impress his girlfriend and the onlookers over a jump!! ten out of ten for intention-Zero out of ten for execution.
Wandeing along the moorland roads felt familiar and I was glad to arrive at the campsite, high above Tavistock with plenty of time and energy to enjoy the afternoon sun. There were two other pairs of cyclists here, with one couple having ridden from Switzerland. They were heading for Scotland. We all chatted and then went seperate ways to enjoy the sun. I sorted my tent and put it up for the last time. Although I had done my ‘four days on’ and was due a rest, I’d decided to try day five and see how it was.
Note to self: It’s good to finish early enough to sunbathe
So, here I am, on familiar territory, heading for home. I know this part of the route reall well and find myself ready to leave really early (8.10am) All the other cyclists are making a move and it’s certainly nice to ride in the cool of the morning. I felt like I was plodding along. Familiar villages came and went and I stopped at Bridestowe for a final calorie upload and liquid refrehment. It’s a very beutiful village and nicely kept too. I was leaving Sustrans ‘Coast to Coast’ route here to cut across one of my favourite rides home. The hills eased and my tired legs were glad of it. hatherleigh got closer and closer and when i arrived I slid up the main hill through the town unoticed as everybody was supporting the Ruby Run, a charity half marathon raising funds for the Devon Air Ambulance. It was so tempting to ride through the finish, but I resisted and carried on to my house.
That, as they say, was that. I was home. Ten days, 360 miles and lots of fun later. There was a cost though. My head has been very strange since getting home, lonely, lost, sad, depressed. The mental health stuff is never far away. I’d had a respite, and now it was letting me know I had pushed it hard. Tears came and went, sleep is disrupted by nightmares and home is not yet a comfortable place to be. this will settle and I will build to my next ride carefully and slowly. Me and ‘Den’ get on well, we’ve shared the same sights and roads and we will be out there again, soon.