After a couple of false starts we finally managed to escape this past weekend as families began their half-term break around this beautiful part of the country. Even this short break was in doubt until the last-minute. Saturday saw torrential rain throughout the day and night in Devon and we felt lucky to be able to move our short camping trip without losing any time away by leaving on Sunday.
Michele used my Ortlieb Back-roller panniers in conjunction with my lovely Carradice saddle bag that I attached to the rear of her seat. I pulled Trevor, as is my preference, and was interested to see how he performed when attached to Kermit rather than my bike. Having changed my mind on how to carry our equipment our tent was kept from any adverse weather in a waterproof Ortlieb dry-bag and this, along with a North Face cargo bag, was strapped securely to Trevor’s load-bed using both velcro straps and bungees.
Although the morning started out bright and sunny it wasn’t long before powerful clouds started rocketing up into the sky. The forecast of heavy showers looked to be spot-on as we left the comfort of Michele’s house and took to the road together for the first time since Michele joined me in Ireland for a week during my 2012 Riding2Recovery journey: All around the ragged edges.
Finally getting moving felt good after what felt like weeks of empty anticipation. We rode comfortably along the roads that leading into Barnstaple picking up the trails that link to the Tarka Trail (National Cycle Network route 27) which we intended to follow as far as Landcross, a couple of miles past Bideford. There was no need to hurry and this added to the pleasure of just riding in such celebrated surroundings. The waters of the estuary shimmered in the varying light, clouds built strongly in our intended direction, and we chatted as went slowly on our way.
From our low slung position we could reach out and touch the flowers as we passed. Foxgloves, irises, pink campion, and many others lined the trail. Families were out in force enjoying their bank-holiday weekend and half-term breaks, many of them on cycles. This section of the Tarka Trail is heavily used by all manner of people, drawn by plentiful cafe’s and alluring scenery along the coast. We got to talk to two them when we stopped at Fremington for a short break.
The man admiring our trikes, along with his partner, had ridden La Velodysee cycle route just a month after I had completed it last year. It felt good to relive some of the places and moments from my own solo journey. He now relies on an electric assist in order to manage the hills of Devon a little easier but they both still love touring on their bikes.
Breaking away from an interesting conversation as we still had some miles to ride I was beginning to notice, or rather not notice, Trevor trundling along behind me. My expectation had been that pulling Trevor on the trike would be extremely hard work where in actual fact it felt easier than when he’s attached to my cycle. I can’t explain why but this feeling never subsided over hill and dale all the way to the campsite. Trevor just seemed to morph into the rest of the trike. Whether or not there is a better aerodynamic effect from me sitting in front of it I don’t know, but it felt somehow more direct and easier than usual. Even on hills where we moved slowly it didn’t feel much more effort than the trike alone.
Much more noticeable was the weather. Stopping for lunch along the road to Parkham, a small and attractive Devon village, the rain began to fall. It was never torrential, just constant and steady. In response I seemed to get grumpier by the raindrop. This wasn’t what I wanted or needed and I felt instantly down and deflated by the situation we were facing. By contrast, Michele just pedaled along humming to herself as she went. adding to my woes was the fact that Michele’s trike suddenly refused to select the granny ring without me manually manipulating it. I should have got the tools out there and then but it was so wet I wanted to wait.
Escaping onto empty lanes lined with a sea of different coloured flowers my mood lifted a little. I think I was feeling responsible for the decision to set off and the discomfort of the situation reminded me of the difference between the reality of touring in the UK and the fantasy that makes you want to do it.
By the time we reached Stoke Barton Farm Campsite (Find them at http://www.westcountry-camping.co.uk) we were tired, wet, and cold. We rallied with a cup of hot chocolate from the campsite shop but were mightily relieved to have arrived. The rain eased enough to make pitching our tent straight forward This was something I was glad of as it pitches inner tent first. Once done, which only took a couple of minutes, it was a simple case of sorting our personal effects so that we could both live within it’s confines comfortably.
The main campsite consists of three large meadow fields, one open to the sea and two surrounded by Devon banks giving reasonable shelter from the prevailing westerly winds. There are now also two small paddocks close to the farm which are more intimate and protected from the weather being further down the hillside. The main meadows have the grass cut around the edges where people tend to pitch their tent or park their caravans with a few wide paths cut through them that act as walkways and roads. The rest is left to grow giving wild flowers and butterflies a chance to thrive.
The small paddock where we chose to pitch contained a VW camper van belonging to a couple who were house hunting and one small hike-tent belonging to a man who was walking the coastal path. High walls and hedges protected the tents from the weather and we nestled into our grassy haven secure in the knowledge that our little house was safe and sound.
The new tent was ideal comprising a main sleeping area and an entrance either side where we could organise ourselves a little. All this is new to Michele and must have seemed strange as she came to terms with the limited space available to organise our belongings. It was strange for me as well. I’m so used to my small tent and only having to think of myself that it took a while to adjust to sharing this space with another person in a way that worked for both of us.
Our new Exped mattresses took up most of the floor being of the extra wide, extra comfy, and extra long variety, but left enough clearance around the edges for us to organise a few meagre possessions. It felt good to finally be away from home under ‘canvas’ once again. As the rain pattered on the roof we settled in, eating and drinking, as our tired bodies recovered from the day’s efforts.
The campsite has a barn containing wall mounted maps, a picnic table, information, fridges, freezers, a kettle, microwave, and battery chargers. This adds to comfort and allowed us to store the food we had purchased in Instow on the way here. We had chosen to do this as it replicates the way we will live when we are on the road in France and it’s always good to practise your intentions before you have to do it for real.
There are also toilets, showers, a wash room for clothes with tumble driers and washing machine. This barn is also replete with washing lines where we hung our wet clothing. These things made our lives much more comfortable as we didn’t have to worry about storing wet belongings inside the tent making everything damp in the process.
There is also a small shop in the old cafe area where basic provisions can be bought. Although the cafe is no longer, the campsite owner had enough after twenty-five years, you can still purchase Helen’s (the owners wife’s) wonderful scones, clotted cream and jam for a feast that should be a must on you things-to-do in your lifetime list.
Monday dawned bright and cheerful much to our delight. The rising sun shone directly on the tent after a cool night bringing us back to life. Clothes were fetched from the barn and draped over wire fences that acted as outside washing lines and our wet shoes were stood atop a five-bar gate where the breeze and warmth would air and dry them as the day progressed.
Kermit and Celandine, as we call our trikes, were placed in front of the tent providing comfortable seats from where we could relax, drink, and eat the bacon sandwiches I cooked for breakfast. morning coffee felt as good as it always does and I finally managed to slowly relax, secure in the knowledge that this would be a good day.
Michele went to shower, saying hi to George and Chez, as we found out the couple in the VW camper were called. George was fascinated ,like everybody else we meet, by the trikes and the notion of recumbent riding. We offered him a ride around the campsite which he took us up on and needless to say he ended up with that big grin that told us he thought it was great fun.
Chez also had a short ride which had a similar effect on her and we talked for a while about their plans for the future and house hunting in Devon. Our other neighbour, the man walking the coast path, was packing away ready to begin his final day to Bude in Cornwall. It’s a rugged and challenging path that leads there from the campsite and he said he had a little trepidation before starting out. Once he left I decided to move our tent to where he had been pitched, the prime site in the paddock in a corner where two high walls with hedges on top give maximum shelter from the wind.
Removing the heaviest belongings and all the pegs I could simply drag the tent to its new position using the under-groundsheet I had made to offer greater protection and longevity to the tents sewn in bath-tub groundsheet. It was done in around five minutes with assistance from George, after which he and Chez set about their own day of exploration by heading for Morwenstowe.
Michele and I headed on foot for Hartland Abbey but baulked at the entrance fee of £11 per person or £7 to see the gardens. Instead we felt tempted by the sign pointing to the Lavender Tea Rooms. This lay a further mile up the hill from where we were. It was now a beautiful day with far-reaching views including a perfectly clear sight of Lundy in the distance. Leaving the wooded valley we had followed from the campsite to here the only interruption to the peace was the frequent passing of cars going about their bank-holiday business.
It felt good to be on foot and a change from our pedalling exploits of yesterday. The cafe, when it finally arrived, was a haven of good food and buzzing with tourists. The gardens surrounding the cafe were given over to growing every variety of lavender you can imagine and a small shop attached to the cafe sold products made from this relaxingly fragrant plant. We sat eating delicious home-made tomato soup of great substance accompanied by home made bread feeling pleased with our choice to abandon the abbey and come here instead. As well as the tea rooms this is a 100 acre working farm with a small campsite. You can find out more at http://www.cheristow.co.uk but I thoroughly recommend a visit if you are in the area.
Strolling gently home we were only interrupted by the passing of cars. The small road from the Abbey leads to another popular tourist destination at Hartland Quay and is constantly busy during peak holiday periods. I was glad not to be riding amongst the melee of other vehicles on these narrow roads knowing that tomorrow it would all calm down a little as the weekenders would have left for home today. The passing cars brought an unexpected bonus with them by having the surprising effect of releasing the smell of wild garlic as they brushed the hedges in order to pass one-another.
Back at the campsite we liberated our scones, cream, and jam, from the fridge in the barn and sat watching the warm world from our comfy seats whilst gorging ourselves. It’s one of the greatest joys of cycling that you burn so many calories and have to replace them and this was the king of cream teas in my humble opinion. That was followed by my adjusting the gears on Michele’s trike in order that it would now select the granny ring of its own free-will on our return journey. I sat and watched as she pedaled around the campsite in the warm sunshine before returning and signifying that all was well once more with Celandine.
That didn’t stop us enjoying dinner later on and we ate as the light gradually softened to the warm oranges, purples, and reds, that mark a summer’s evening at its best. I sat just looking, only moving to take a few photographs. I felt my soul filling and my mind and body relaxing into a state that I have recently not been able to find. The combination cycling, camping, and being, was working its magic on me once again and I began to look forward to leaving for France on 9th June instead of just feeling trepidation at the thought.
We cycled home on Tuesday by first crawling away from Stoke on the climb out from Hartland. The road has a few downhill sections but it’s mostly up for the first five miles or so with some steep sections right at the beginning. From there we enjoyed speeding down the long hills we had climbed up to get here. Stopping at Instow we drank a couple a beers in celebration, still meeting and talking to new people, full of life, enjoying what we know cycle touring gives each and every time you leave home.
Trevor followed Kermit obediently as we went and I never gave him a thought. The only change we will make prior to France is that I will reinstate the aluminium box on Trevor. The convenience and organisation it allows overrides any weight deficit it brings and life with it is much simpler than life without it.
It had been a great weekend that sated our curiosity about touring on trikes by giving us important knowledge and experience that only comes from actually doing something. This short trip has left us knowing that we can tour in hilly Devon and elsewhere with great comfort on our trikes even when heavily loaded and this is a great thing to know prior to a three-week trip to Brittany.
Until next time…………….