Great Western canal: Tiverton, Devon, UK
Great Western canal: Tiverton, Devon, UK

As I drove home from Barnstaple last night the sky gave a spectacular display to accompany my journey. I had been at Michele’s for a couple of days and we had completed two memorable rides on our trikes, one during the afternoon and the other in the early evening. The road to Hatherleigh from Barnstaple twists and turns, rises and falls, like some kind of giant amusement park ride. It’s a quiet road for the most part, making for a pleasant and relaxing drive.

As it slowly set in the west, the sun gained a deep orange-red colour. The horizon appeared to reach up to meet it and another day was concluding. The valleys and hills shape were sharply marked by the long shadows cast on them. Devon was showing me it’s most attractive side. As a result of the sunset,  buildings, trees, and hillsides began to glow. Windows and roofs sparkled with reflected light and the atmosphere all around turned orange-red wherever the suns rays fell. Away from the land, and for as far as the eye could see, the sky and clouds it contained were mauve. The warmth and softness in those moments was almost overpowering in its beauty. I drove with the radio playing gentle folk songs and everything in my world felt perfect.

As Dartmoor came into view on the skyline the sun sank below the horizon. The atmosphere which had been so vibrant and alive suddenly lost its colour, warmth, and depth, returning to a flatter series of greys that signified the onset the of nighttime. The three-dimensional world I had been travelling in became suddenly two-dimensional, but the colourful memories and feelings that bounced around  inside me remained constant.

One of many bridges. All passable by trike :)
One of many bridges. All passable by trike 🙂

What a contrast from the start of the day when I had got out of bed feeling desperately anxious and emotional. Tears ran down my face long before I managed breakfast and a trip to Tesco had passed in a blur of necessity. My body ached from the previous days riding and I felt all-in. Even with these emotions I had noticed the sunshine and the washing flapping in the cool breeze on the washing line that Michele had put out prior to leaving for work. It seemed to dance to the tune of spring and I sat with my early morning coffee on the decking just watching it.

My movement during the morning was gentle and deliberate. I slowly worked through the list of tasks I had set myself as a goal for the day feeling melancholy and tired but happy to be out in the sun when so many were shut away from it behind office doors and windows. As the day progressed and the fruits of my labours became evident by their presence I made an agreement with myself that I would rest for an hour and a half from 2pm onwards. With that thought I returned to my list of jobs and carried on slowly and deliberately in the knowledge that things would improve as the day progressed.

My tiredness was born of the effort I had made the previous day. It was payback for pushing the boat out. I had made a supreme effort to get up and drive to Barnstaple before we headed out to Tiverton to ride the traffic-free Great Western Canal cycle route than runs for around 18 kilometres in the general direction of Taunton before coming to an abrupt end. It’s part of the National Cycle Network route 3 which runs from Bristol to Cornwall and continues on a mixture of road and traffic-free trails once this section of the canal ends.We hoped this would make for a pleasant out and return cycle ride  of 36 kilometres on our trikes and were certainly not disappointed.

Raised high above the world, the canal makes for a great viewing platform with easy riding.
Raised high above the world, the canal makes for a great viewing platform with easy riding.

Tuesday was a bright and sunny day with a coolness in the air that reminds you that it’s still April and not high summer. We had arranged to meet Tom Pales at the canal basin car park. I first met Tom when I was riding around the UK coast. I was riding a short section of the A39 in Cornwall when a van pulled in ahead of me and a figure who was tall with mad hair came running down the road to greet me. Tom’s enthusiasm and love of life is infectious and he is now using it to run a business called Freetrike. This involves taking clients out on trikes who would be otherwise unable to cycle or enjoy the outdoors. The idea came to him after his father suffered a stroke and he wanted to help him to enjoy life once more. I hope to run an article on Freetrike in the near future but you can see more at www.freetrike.co.uk.

The canal basin where we parked was a hive of activity. Families and coach parties were out in force as it’s the Easter holidays and the pretty cafe garden was buzzing with the energy of people enjoying their holidays. We set up the trikes and were soon climbing the gradient that leads to the towpath where we would spend the day. The hard-packed surface rumbled beneath our wheels with Michele commenting on how she doesn’t understand why the trike seems so much more comfortable on these surfaces than her bike. The trike just seems to absorb the bumps without any fuss or discomfort to its rider.

Being still, the water reflected all around it in perfect mirror image. Ducks, moorhens, and swans, were out in force enjoying the spring sunshine. Lambs bounded around in fields and people wandered, cycled, and sat, simply enjoying the day. Each bridge has a sign saying that cycling underneath is forbidden but with two wheels at the front our track would be the same whether we pushed or walked so we  rang our bells at each one before cautiously riding through trying our best not to end up in the drink or take anybody by surprise.

Tom, baby, and Michele watched by Sophie the labrador
Tom, baby, and Michele watched by Sophie the labrador

We had only gone three miles when we met Tom. Riding his bike today he was accompanied by his young son and their dog Sophie, a labrador who loves nothing more than to plunge from the bank into the canal to fetch sticks, a process that the ducks don’t seem so keen on. For an hour or so we sat and talked trikes, Freetrike, children, and of course Sophie. Being the first trikers Tom had met since starting his business, other than his clients, there was plenty to mull over. He had never seen AZUB trikes, like most other people, and seemed impressed by their build quality. Tom currently uses ICE trikes of 2006 vintage and is a dealer for them should you be interested in purchasing one.

His son seemed fascinated by our helmets which he picked up, inspected and then dropped in the grass. Sophie just plunged into the water countless times, always coming back and looking hopeful for more. When the time came to leave we said our goodbyes and headed from the picnic area up to the road to rejoin the towpath that swaps sides at this point. I should add that the towpath is comfortably wide enough for trikes and bikes to pass one-another for its whole length and that there are no barriers that cannot be easily passed by trikes (Ours trikes are around 83cm wide).

There is something wonderful about riding along a canal. They are supremely peaceful places with strong history and fascinating engineering. Time seems to stand still and however slowly you move it almost seems too fast. We stopped numerous times to take photo’s, watch swan build a nest and to look out across the countryside and houses from the often elevated position of the canal. The route passes through the attractive village of Sampford Peveril with its shops and pubs and I noticed there were a few signs that pointed towards local hostelries along the way. It’s good to know that these exist, especially if you don’t know the area. If you are lucky enough to enjoy a day as good as ours, a pint in the local pub  or a picnic by the canal is a joy in itself.

On we rode over the large new section that had been rebuilt after it was breached in the winter storms. We turned and headed back just shy of the end of the canal. The sun was getting low and as is normal for this time of year the temperature plummeted once the suns direct heat was removed from our skin. Once we got some more layers on we trundled gently back to Tiverton. We arrived with big smiles, memory banks overflowing with the sights and sounds of our day, and the notion that we would be back to ride this stunning piece of our National Cycle Network, lovingly pieced together by the charity Sustrans (www.sustrans.org.uk to find out more).

Entering Sampford Peveril: a typical Devon village.
Entering Sampford Peveril: a typical Devon village.

And so it was Wednesday, and payback time. As I slowly laboured through the day my energy remained low and muscles ached but I had a sneaky feeling that gentle, and I mean very gentle, ride along the Tarka Trail when Michele came home would be of some benefit. At around 4.30pm we set off, both feeling tired. Sitting down on the trike felt like a rest and my legs, as they always seem to, realised that this is what was happening and simply got on with it.

Riding slowly over the impressive Taw bridge we marvelled at the view. We rode slowly enough to absorb everything we saw. Commuters, who were keen to get home, raced past on their bikes, ringing their bells to let us know they were coming. Our odyssey continued along the trail where I stopped and photographed the snake-head flotilla flowers for a friend before we continued towards Instow. At a shelter we call the upside-down boat we donned more clothing and turned around for an equally gentle and undemanding ride home. My head was full of the feelings of freedom and joy that accompanies cycling anywhere, especially on traffic-free trails. The sense of tiredness I had harboured all day long had evaporated, left somewhere back along the way. At Michele’s house I packed away a mountain of gear including both trikes before heading home along the sleepy B-roads that lead to Hatherleigh.

Today I’m resting, feeling tired but not emotional. Each time I ride Kermit I feel a little more in-tune with it. It’s beginning to feel normal rather than strange. Keeping the rides short is having benefits that I hadn’t expected and fits in perfectly to my current capabilities and energy levels. It doesn’t seem to matter how far we go or how long we are out we enjoy being there regardless. I’m learning that trikes have a different personality from other cycles. They feel as laid-back as they look and this is something Michele and I are enjoying immensely.

Until next time……………………..