Posted by: Emily | April 24, 2011

Four days of cycling in the South West

It’s Sunday evening and I’m sitting in the lounge area of The Metropole Hotel in Padstow. I’ve got a large pot of tea and an assortment of biscuits in front of me and I’m curled up in a huge sofa feeling wonderfully full from an early dinner of fish and chips courtesy of Rick Stein. There are quite a few other people here also enjoying tea and the view of the water. I am, however, the only one in bike kit, grease marks, strange tan lines and helmet-hair. I’m probably also the only one that cycled more than 230 miles to get here.

With Friday and Monday off work and the weather forecast to be sunny and dry I’d decided to do a four-day cycling trip over the Easter weekend. Having had such a great time cycling around the South West last year I thought I’d return and do a slightly shorter version of my previous trip, so early on Friday morning my Van Nicholas Yukon and I caught a train from Paddington to Bristol.

The last time I did a cycling holiday – when I cycled to Oxford and the Midlands – I got lost so much that I possibly spent more time staring at Google Maps than I did actual cycling. This time it was going to be different. I had my new secret weapon – a Garmin 800. My new Garmin has many wonderful features, but the ability to upload a pre-planned route – or Course in Garmin-speak – was a key reason for the upgrade from my previous model. I spent many hours in the run-up to this trip creating routes on BikeRouteToaster for uploading to the Garmin. I struggled a bit with this initially, but fortunately with the help of Ian’s How To guide I got there in the end. As I set off from Bristol I was, therefore, not only following the little blue, white and red signs marking the National Cycle Network route #3, aka The West Country Way, but I also had the benefit of the Garmin beeping at me every time I needed to take a left or right.

With the help of my Garmin I managed to cycle the 30 miles from Bristol to Glastonbury without getting lost once. Quite an achievement for me. After a quick stop for tea and something to eat, I left Glastonbury and continued following the NCN route #3 to Bridgwater where I joined the canal path, which took me all the way to Taunton. The weather was wonderful and it was great to be away from the London traffic in peaceful, beautiful Somerset. When I reached Taunton I met Ian who had cycled to meet and accompany me the remaining 12 or so miles to Crickleaze where I’d be spending the first night of my trip. Ian had warned me that the ride to Crickleaze would start with a few miles of ascent up towards Corfe. Although the gradient never got too bad it was quite a slog, especially with my panniers, but very enjoyable nonetheless. The last few miles of the day included a final, very steep, hill at which point my rear wheel somehow got loose from the frame, which resulted in me toppling off the bike in a very undignified heap. Fortunately no harm was done to me or the bike and it wasn’t long before I was in Ian and Paula’s kitchen having a piece of Paula’s delicious banana cake. After a walk in the woods to see the Bluebells – like nothing I’ve ever seen – there was more of Paula’s cake (banana and rhubarb this time) and a well-needed shower followed by a huge portion of spaghetti bolognese and a delicious rhubarb and ginger crumble. Unsurprisingly I slept like a log.

Day Two of the trip began early. Ian was joining me for the ride to Barnstaple and we’d be doing some of the route from the Valley of the Rocks audax he’d done the previous weekend. We were going to set off at 07:00, but got delayed due to tyre troubles. My front tyre had an unseemly bulge and had lost a significant amount of pressure overnight. Fortunately Ian’s bike room is better stocked than some bike shops I’ve been to so he very kindly gave me a replacement tyre as he was, understandably, somewhat concerned about the bulge. After an embarrassingly long time I finally managed to do the tyre and tube change and we were able to leave. Rather than cycle straight out of Crickeaze we drove to Honiton where the Valley of the Rocks route begins. The first climb came almost immediately and set the tone of the day. The cycling was fantastic but I could feel my lack of hill training and by the time we had our first real stop, in Dulverton, I was more than ready for a large tea and toasted tea cake (and rock cake). We didn’t stop for long but continued climbing up to Exmoor where we had a longer break to enjoy our ham rolls and hot cross buns (thank you Paula!).

By the time we reached Barnstaple we’d done almost 60 miles with a lot of ascent. Ian caught the train back to Honiton and I cycled a final 11 miles to Bideford where I managed to accidentally delete all my saved rides on my Garmin, including the one I’d just done, so couldn’t check any of my stats for the day. What a muppet! Sadly there was no banana cake to great me in Bideford – at least none made by Paula – but I had a fun picnic dinner on the bed in my hotel room and was asleep by 9pm.

I awoke early again on Day Three (today). The hotel breakfast wasn’t available until 08:30 but I didn’t want to hang around and leave that late so I decided to make do with a couple of bagels left over from my picnic the night before and set off at 07:00. I had a fantastic ride following the very flat Tarka Trail all the way to Petrockstowe. From there things got a lot tougher and it was back to the rolling hills. I made good progress though and was at Holsworthy shortly after 10am where I stopped for tea and a snack. Once again the weather was wonderful and I was glad I’d brought sun tan lotion with me. Stopping only for a sneaky scone in Marhamchurch I continued following the signs, and my Garmin, to Bodmin Moor and then, finally, the start of the Camel Trail where I got to enjoy 17 miles of hill-free cycling all the way to Padstow. Despite the lack of ascent, I found the last 10 miles of the day particularly hard – mainly due to lower back pain and a feeling of not having eaten enough. Fortunately I had a Peanut Butter Builder’s Bar and the thought of fish and chips to spur me on and after 82 miles and 1,400m of ascent I reached Padstow.

Tomorrow I’ll cycle the last 30 miles of my trip to Truro. There I’ll spend a lazy afternoon doing what I do best – reading the paper whilst enjoying a Starbucks cappuccino – and then I’ll get the train back to London. What a perfect way to spend a long weekend!



  1. […] the South West – the last 30 miles Having cycled on average 75 miles per day for the first three days of my trip, by the time I got to Padstow I was looking forward to the fact that my fourth and final day was […]

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