Sunday, 21 April 2013
The second audax of the season saw us off to Bishop's Lydeard, near Taunton, for a spot of Somerset 'flat'. Now, if you are from down these parts then you will be familiar with the 'Wicker Man' which stands sentinel over the M5 motorway. It is, I think, but have no firm basis for this assumption, the equivalent of the 'Angel of the North' near Gateshead. Whatever the reason for it being there it's a better sight than the Morrisons distribution centre, and now I have firm evidence that this is not an isolated manifestation of the weavers art because, we were not 10 km down the road from the start when we stumbled across a wicker watering can, teacup and saucer.
The return leg revealed yet more giant wicker-ware, this time an enormous bucket spotted in the distance, yet more evidence of a tribe of giant weaving folk.
Sunday, 14 April 2013
Saturday, 6 April 2013
It"s taken a while coming, but Spring finally arrived today. The wind shifted to the South, the Sun came out (as did the leg warmers instead of the super-roubaix tights), and the carbon racing bike was polished up for a jaunt up Pork Hill - S insisted on this route having suffered too much on Peak Hill in the earlier part of the week (more of this in a separate post). On route we stopped to put a few quid on the Grand National (as usual we lost our shirts) and then a quick 35 miles via the Fox Tor, beans on toast emporium. Off to the Opera tonight (Madame Butterfly in case you are interested) for, somewhat shamefully, my first such excursion. So we will be suitably cultured . . .
Friday, 5 April 2013
We are lucky living in Plymouth; the sea to the south, and easy access to France by ferry; Dartmoor National Park to the north; and rolling countryside to east and west across the parenthetical rivers Plym and Tamar. So S and I were looking forward to the first 100 k of the season. Despite the rotten weather (the coldest march in 50 years) it was time to face the elements with intent and get an audax under our widened winter belts.
We set off at 9 am and got a receipt at a local store as a first control. The route was to take us across Dartmoor to Moretonhampstead then down and back along it's southern edge. It was a lovely sunny day, but there was one problem . . . the wind. All week it had been blowing a gale, so that the nominal 6 C felt like -2 in an easterly blast which was forecast at 15 mph but would be more like 25 mph on the exposed parts of Dartmoor, and a headwind to boot. The good news was that it would be behind us on the return leg . . . if we made it that far.
After only 8 km of city streets we turned off onto the quiet lanes which mark the end of suburbia and the beginning of farms and fields which skirt the edge of the moor. We took 'Green Lane' which parallels the busy A386 Tavistock and is a quiet alternative route to Yelverton, a small town which serves as a 'Gateway to Dartmoor' (we encounter many of these given that there are many small town at the edge of the national park). Rejoining the main road here, the traffic is much lighter because most of it turns off to Tavistock, with only mid-week day-trippers heading up towards the moor for an extended sit in the car with a flask of coffee. We have climbed 150 m but will be heading upwards another 250 m in the next 2 km, so this is the first real climb of the day, starting as we pass through Dousland and up Peak Hill to the cattle grid which marks the start of the National Park proper. I always allow myself a wry smile when I see the speed limit of 40 mph - today I struggle to make 5 mph in the face of the gale blowing directly down the road! Once across we are on to unfenced roads which we share with sheep and the famous Dartmoor Ponies; even the odd motor vehicle. The wind is even stronger here and S shelters behind me with unusually attentiveness to wheel gap and angle of attack.
The last nip up to Princetown is a real struggle but we are rewarded with spectacular views across the Tors of Dartmoor and most of Devon and Cornwall. No visit to Princetown is complete without a stop at the Fox Tor cafe where I settle for a coffee and chocolate coated biscuit. The town is dominated by the brooding stone edifice of Dartmoor prison. It's easy to see why the it was located here, miles from civilisation in the middle of the moor, inaccessible and difficult to escape from, especially when the famous Dartmoor mist descends, the Demon Hound haunts the tors and the dreaded Grimpen Mire sucks it's unsuspecting victims to their doom (I made up the last bit about the hound and mire; don't know where I could have got it from).
From here we are on the high moorland proper, and the headwind after we turn off from Two Bridges is incredible. The route takes us through Postbridge and past the Warren House Inn, allegedly the third highest inn in England at 434 m. Legend has it that a fire has burned in the grate non-stop since 1845, being transferred from the opposite side of the road when the pub was moved and rebuilt in is current location. Today we do not stop to examine the veracity of this claim or the quality of beer because we want to get across as quickly as possible to our next control at Moretonhampstead, and our current rate of progress is barely the minimum. Eventually we descend from the moor and cross the cattle-grid which marks the transition to walled roads, fields and farmland. Sheltered by the high granite walls and hedges it is much warmer and could almost be called Spring-like! Moretonhampstead is a pleasant market town which dates back to Saxon times; unfortunately we only have time to stop at the Co-op and get till receipts to prove time of passage, so have to make do with a banana and fruit smoothie each rather than an extended pub lunch in one of the rustic inns . . . No matter, we set off for Bovey Tracey via the A382 which meanders along the line of Wray Brook; the traffic is denser now, but bearable, we are heading South and sheltered from the wind in the wide valley so progress is improved. Bovey Tracey is another small town on the edge of Dartmoor which serves as a 'gateway to the Moor' (they all do depending where you are coming from) and which apparently is home to the Devon Guild of Master Craftsmen. When cycling it always amazes me how much more you see and learn about a place even during the briefest visit; this was no exception, as I stood outside the inevitable Co-op, receipt in hand, munching a sausage roll, to see located next door a master jeweller who had taken a leading role in crafting a platinum, gold and diamond 'Eternal Dove' which was a gift from the British Jewellers Association to Q Elizabeth on the occasion of her diamond jubilee - so if you want some upmarket, bespoke jewellery made for a special occasion then Bovey Tracey is the place.
By now S is starting the feel the effects of our earlier efforts so the last 35 km is a fight to keep the average speed ticking over and staying on the bike. But we make it back and get another till receipt at our starting point (this time it says 'wine' and 'beer') as the final control. In the end we have a respectable average speed of 13 kph given the conditions, the terrain and S's long Winter hibernation.
Wednesday, 3 April 2013
Last night we made it out to a seafood restaurant for the assiette de fruits de mer, and very nice it was too, even if we had to wear a bib to eat it.
The weather has swapped sleet and snow for gale force winds. The sea is breaking over the back of the hotel and a biting easterly wind limits outdoor activity to an excursion to the presse for l'equipe . . .