Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Our ride along the West Country Way

We had a day off in Bristol on Monday to visit nearby Bath by train, after riding 500km over the previous 6 days. But since our last post we've taken a rather different route than we'd planned. After seeing lots of the scenic Cornwall coast (& climbing too many steep coastal hills !) we decided to head inland for the ride through the rest of Cornwall and into Devon and Somerset.

While this revised route would partly follow disused rail corridors (called 'rail trails' in Australia) there would also be more sharp hills in other parts, but we reasoned that at least there would be far less traffic to deal with while grinding away uphill.

So since Padstow we've mostly followed the West Country Way, a signed cycling route developed by Sustrans, a lottery-funded 'sustainable transport' charity that has coordinated the development of the signposted National Cycling Network (NCN) during the last 15 years.

These routes largely follow lightly-trafficked minor roads and country lanes as well as traffic-free rail trails, bike paths (through towns & cities), canal tow paths and other tracks. Most of the off-road trails are compacted gravel or earth, though some sections are sealed.

After leaving Wadebridge on Thursday we continued on the Camel Trail (a rail trail) that follows the Camel River east to Bodmin and then north, after which we followed the NCN on minor roads to Holsworthy for an overnight stay at a nice pub. [Thursday: 84 km; 911 m of climbing]

On Friday we followed the NCN from Holsworthy to the Tarka Trail (another rail trail) and followed it for 30km to Barnstaple, where we enjoyed a lovely evening staying with Toni's friends from Moruya Hospital days, John & Carol and their daughters Amie & Rachel. The've been based in Barnstaple for 8 or 9 years. [Friday: 64 km; 604 m of climbing]

The Tarka Trail passes through geographical feaures (signedposted along the way) that were used in the fictional account of the life of an otter in Henry Williamson's 1927 novel 'Tarka the Otter', which Greg read as part of the English curriculum in his first year at high school in 1967.

After leaving Barnstaple on Saturday morning we became lost in some sharp hills for a while then from South Molton followed a the wonderful B3227, a very lightly trafficked minor road near the southern edge of the hilly Exmoor area that took us all the way (about 65 km) to Taunton in Somerset.

Our map showed the B3227 as the only minor road thoroughfare in this region that was free of the chevron markings that indicate steep hills. It largely traversed the top of a ridge for the first 2/3 of the journey and when it did drop into a valley a couple of times the long climbs out were of moderate gradient. On the rest of the way to Taunton it went along a valley floor on mostly flat terrain.

Around Bampton we passed lots of cyclists going the other way as part of an event, some of whom commented on our good fortune to have a strong tailwind while they had a corresponding stiff headwind. As with the previous day, we experienced a few showers but were pretty lucky with the weather, which had been forecast to be unpleasant throughout the Southwest over the weekend. [Saturday: 89 km;1135 xm of climbing]  

 In Taunton we had the good fortune to find a B&B at a dairy farm just outside the town; we had a wonderful loft room with exposed wooden beams in an old farmhouse.

From Taunton we largely followed the NCN to Bristol, first alongside the canal that runs to Bridgwater for about 25km and then on minor roads that took us in the vicinity of Gladstonbury (where the legendary annual music festival takes place next weekend). We then followed the Strawberry Line rail trail for much of the way into Bristol. [Sunday: 116 km; 643 m of climbing]

After having lunch in Bridgwater on Sunday we managed to locate the St John Sreet Cycles (SJS) bike shop, from which we bought (over the internet) the Thorn 'Sherpa' frame for Toni's new touring bike (& which Greg has used for many online bike component purchases over the past 13 years).

SJS is a touring, audax & tandem specialist but the visit was a disappointment. The shop doesn't open on Saturday or Sunday and peeking through the front window revealed that there was minimal stock of bikes on the floor of the shop and few accessories on the shelves, presumably reflecting its online focus, so we didn't miss much.

Not that we were looking to make any more cycling purchases. We had just wanted to 'kick some tyres' in a shop that caters exclusively for cycletourists, but still it was interesting to at least see the shop 'in the flesh'.

1 comment:

  1. Hi again

    Great post!

    I'm sitting on the couch watching Hell on Wheels getting ready for the tour. They've just gone over the Gallibier providing me with memories of a couple of years ago.

    The scenery in southern England looks fantastic too. I've not thought to tour there but it looks very tempting.