Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Bude- Clovelly- Appledore- Illfracombe.

After a great nights sleep in the sitting room of Graham and Jane's house in Bude, we packed our panniers and said our goodbyes. While we were eager to get some miles under our belt before breakfast, the offer of a go on Graham's penny farthing was too much to resist. 

Graham, Jane and family in Bude

Rad on the penny farthing
This was, remarkably, the couple's only form of transport (other than public transport and hitch-hiking). In fact Graham, who is a professional balloon artist and poet, had just returned from hitch-hiking his way from Bude to Edinburgh and back for the festival. 

After a spin up the road on the penny farthing we swapped back bikes and departed in the direction of Clovelly. 

With 4 days of cycling in our legs we opted for the road slightly inland, thereby missing out many of the more soul destroying ascents that populate the north Cornwall/Devon coast. While at times we were provided with spectacular views, much of the A39 is decidedly average. It did, however, allow us to burn through some miles with relative ease which was of great relief. 

Clovelly RNLI station was an out-and-back 8km detour from the A39 and as we turned off the main road, I suggested we could dump our panniers somewhere and pick them up on the return leg. Nick thought it'd be more hassle than it was worth so fully laden we descended in the direction of Clovelly... The gradient got steeper and we picked up more and more speed- which felt great if you ignored the fact we knew we'd be climbing back up it in 30 minutes time! We began passing 'SLOW' signs and warnings of steep 25% gradients. We then descended what could have been the steepest section of road I have ever been on. So steep I consciously had to lean back as far as possible to prevent falling over the handlebars. 

Nick was behind filming this on the headcam (video camera mounted on his cycling helmet- see photo from 2 days ago) and later admitted that the bumpy roads were causing the camera to shake. The only way of preventing this was to tighten his helmet chin strap...however since he was grasping onto his handlebars for dear life this was easier said than done. His solution was to open his mouth as wide as possible, putting more tension on the straps. Not exactly the standard entrance to what is a very small fishing village. They had probably never seen cyclists descend the roads before, let alone 2 cyclists with one following the other with his mouth wide open!

Nick mending his show in front of Clovelly Lifeboat station

A few meters before reaching the village, we bumped into a lady who seemed to be 'taking her owl for a walk' when questioned, Nick was corrected by the lady who in fact was 'taking her barn owl for a fly'. The bird was beautiful. Completely white other than a few brown flecks, a heart shaped face and a very shy demeanour.. The owl was pretty too. She invited us fly her falcon if we could wait 15 minutes but unfortunately we had to get cracking.

The lovely lady with the barn owl

After our standard photo at the station and a brief rest to compose our thoughts for the climb that lay ahead of us we mounted our bicycles and started our journey back up the cliff. It took 3 attempts just to get moving as the lightest gear was so light it didn't provide enough speed to get the other foot on the pedal and any harder gear was impossible to climb in. 

We just about managed to get moving and despite our front wheels rearing up every pedal due to the weight of our bags and the steepness of the incline we got ourselves about 30m up the road... at which point we started to fall about laughing a how ridiculous the task ahead of us was. Gasping for air and legs burning we gave it 2 more attempts before the inevitable happened and we started to push...and push and push. It was an hour before we made it back to the A39 and we were broken men. 

We managed to summon the energy to continue onto Appledore, the next station, which lay 10 miles away, just short of Barnstaple. It was a calm village, the polar opposite of Padstow. A few people walking on the beach and rather than a sea of moored boats there was just the occasional fishing boat surrounding the RNLI's 'trent class' boat.

View from Appledore

Our wonderful welcome in Appledore

A lovely lady at the station welcomed us, boiled the kettle and told us all about the station's history. Not only does she volunteer at the station but she insisted on returning to the car ans sponsoring us £10! What a star!

We managed to find a bakery and tucked into our now 'Devonshire' pasty- as we had crossed over into Devon and as Nick correctly informed me, Cornwall now has a trademark on 'Cornish Pasty' in a similar manner to how Champagne has over champagne.

It was then time to head onto Ilfracombe, our final port of call, which was 35km away. Stumbling upon the cycle path, that was created from a disused railway, that skirted the coast was an absolute result. Flat, traffic free (other than the occasional family on a cycling holiday) and amazing views. Even better was the fact it went all the way to Ilfracombe! 

We stopped twice- once to let a farmer across the path with his herd of cattle and again for a re-energising eccles cake. 

Ilfracombe was a popular jaunt in Victorian times but has suffered a somewhat diminishing tourist trade since then. As a result there stands beautifully grand old buildings all boarded up, slowly falling apart. Such a shame.

We cycled on towards the harbour and received our best welcome yet! Some of the support team had baked brownies and scones and we sat around for an hour or so chatting cycling and lifesaving.
We were walked to our accommodation (the Epchris House B&B) who is owned by one of the crew and his wife. They kindly put us up free of charge for which we are extremely grateful. 

Ilfracombe Lifeboat Station

After a shower, we walked back into town and enjoyed a fantastic curry- whether or not this proves to be a mistake, especially after hearing horror stories of Porlock Hill - we can only wait and see. I suspect it will only be a problem for whoever cycles behind. 

Returning to the B&B by 8:45pm we decided there was time for a spot of scrabble. Three hours later we were cursing ourselves for staying up so late. It was time for bed and dreams of the flats we once cycled in Kent.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

St. Agnes- Newquay- Padstow- Rock- Port Isaac- Bude

It was an early start this morning, but the view from 'Ocean Cottage Crew Support Facility' was well worth it. We can't thank Nick and the others at St. Agnes RNLI enough. 
Five miles down the road we paused for a spot of breakfast in a small village. A somewhat unusual combination of a danish pastry and a Cornish Pasty.
We were heading towards the first RNLI station of the day in Newquay.... We enjoyed a great descent from the town down into the small fishing harbour tucked behind the sea wall. 

Newquay RNLI station

Newquay harbour

A couple of photos and short water stop and we were soon slogging up yet more hills (albeit thankfully not as bad as those in South Devon...)

En route to Padstow, the next station, we got a little lost in the maze of Cornwall lanes, but soon found a helpful local lad who put us back on track and we found the station at the end of the Trevose peninsula. 

The small car park and lift block which were positioned on top of the cliffs provided a stunning view down a steep flight of steps to the station below and across the bay. This was certainly one of our favourite stations, both in terms of the building (a recently built station with domed roof and ramp from the station to the water for the boat- see video below) and the setting (incredible panoramic view across the bay and rugged cliffs on either side). 

After a very welcome cup of coffee with one of the crew (and once Rad had eaten most of the station's biscuit collection...) we headed on...

Padstow RNLI station

Padstow RNLI station

Our route to the next Station (Rock) took us through Padstow town- absolutely heaving with people and frankly rather unpleasant. Reminiscent of a rugby scrum- both in terms of the pushing and shoving and the fact everyone was in blue and white striped tops.

We took the passenger ferry across to Rock but as it was low tide were dropped about half a mile down the beach from the slipway. We made the executive decision to try and cycle back up the beach to the slipway, and the firm sand seemed to hold under our fully laden bikes. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived at the RNLI station our bikes were caked in sand and making worrying noises. Thankfully, we were allowed to make good use of their truly phenomenal power hose and our bikes soon looked like new again! 

A quick photo, and we headed on up the hill to (yet another) local bakery for a pasty and shortbread before heading on to our next stop, just down the road (7 miles) - Port Isaac. 

Port Isaac RNLI station

The beautiful fishing village with steep narrow cobbled streets and active fishing industry was quite different from any of the villages we have visited to date. Surrounded by rugged cliffs and hills, and beautiful pastel painted houses that evoked real Cornish charm.

For much of the ride from Port Isaac to Bude, we took the A39- although not particularly scenic, it was the fastest route (averaging about 36km/hr) and got us to our 'couchsurfer' hosts in good time. 

We also managed to drop in on the Bude RNLI station en route to our hosts home, for a couple of pictures and look around.

Graham and Jane Eccles cooked us delicious roast pork and kindly put us up in their sitting room for the night. It still amazes me how people are willing to open their homes to complete strangers for no financial benefit. It really rekindles ones faith in humanity.

After a 110km ride today, including 950m of climb, bed couldn't come soon enough...

Monday, 29 August 2011

Porthlevan- Penlee- Sennen Cove- St. Ives- St. Agnes

Woke after a great night's sleep in the attic room of Blades and Heather's holiday cottage in Porthlevan (a huge thank you again to you both for letting us gate crash your romantic week's holiday down there...!). The sun was shining and we were soon back on the road.

We were pleasantly surprised to find only a few hill climbs on the way out of Porthlevan, enabling us to made good progress and were soon circumnavigating Penzance and shortly afterwards arriving at our first stop, Penlee.

Our arrival in Penlee coincided with the 'Penlee Fish Festival' and the place was heaving. Initially we dropped in at the RNLI boat house, (where Rad had an interesting meeting with a very strange man), but soon realised that the main RNLI station was inside the cordoned off festival area. After blagging ourselves free entry and battling our way through the crowds with our fully laden bikes, we arrived at the station, and met the crew and the Coxswain. We were given a very welcome cup of tea, and were kindly offered a free BBQ if we waited for 15 minutes, but decided to get back on road, and were soon eating our way through the miles again. Next stop... Sennen Cove, down by Land's End.

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Sennen Cove

A steep decent with stunning views over the vast sandy beach, RNLI station and on across the peninsula made for a spectacular arrival. A quick photo, refill of the water bottles (although Rad, who was struggling a bit with the hills, decided he couldn't cope with the extra weight so left his empty...) and we were away again, albeit somewhat slower than our arrival, having to climb back up the precipice-like hill which had taken down us into the bay initially!

The ride from Sennen to St Ives was truly stunning. The sun was shining, and the coastal road, although fairly hilly, provided some incredible clifftop views over the sea, and dropped down through several beautiful villages in the valley bottoms, including St. Just, a stunning village, where we stopped for a freshly made pasty and some caramel shortbread in the sun.

St. Ives RNLI Station

On arrival at St. Ives, we took a few photos of the station, and noticing the number of tourists passing by, decided to do a collection for a short while. An hour later we each had about 5 kg's of money in our collection boxes and, determined not to take this extra weight over the hills on our bikes, set out to find somewhere to change the coins for notes. A very helpful manager at the local amusement arcade offered to help out and we set about counting out the £250 of coins which we had collected, and changed them for notes.
Feeling pretty pleased with our progress on both the cycling front (having covered about 80 km already) and fundraising front, we took an hour to have a look around the Tate St. Ives art gallery. Some truly stunning (as well as some rather dubious art work...) housed in an amazing modern gallery over looking the beach- it was a great break and a very memorable experience.

Patrick Heron at Tate St. Ives

From there it was back on the road to our last stop of the day- St. Agnes. We were already running late (and with some fairly monumental hill climbs at the end this only delayed us further), but one of the crew (Nick) kindly came down when we arrived to let us into the RNLI support house where we were staying for the night. Perched just above a small cove with the most incredible views out to see and along the rugged cliff line, it really was an incredible place to stay for the night.

The view on our way from St.Ives to St. Agnes

Having unpacked, we headed back up the hill by about 50m to the local pub where we settled in for the evening with a couple of pints of local ale and delicious dinner to re-charge the batteries.

St. Agnes Lifeboat Station

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Fowey- Falmouth- The Lizard- Porthlevan

Waking up to the sounds of the high frequency emergency radio crackling in and out of use was a novel experience. We had slept the night on the floor of Fowey RNLI station's "crew room".
We packed the bikes and headed out for breakfast from the local deli- a croissant and slice of cake... Why not eh?

The long hill climb out of Fowey made us temporarily regret our decision to stuff our mouths but soon enough we were cruising along the top of the country lanes and making progress on the 45km that lay between us and our next stop- Falmouth. We only stopped twice, once to enjoy a few roadside blackberries and the second time to catch the passenger ferry from St. Mawes to Falmouth. While waiting for the ferry we bumped into and old friend of our, with whom we had stacked the shelves of London's finest dept store 10 years ago- Charlie London- or the Jammy Dodger as he is more commonly known for his in depth knowledge of Fortnum & Mason jam collection.

a brief rest for some blackberry picking

Charlie 'jammy dodger' London and Rad in St. Mawes

The ferry crossing sparked some interesting conversations with fellow passengers and a few more donations into the collection boxes (little RNLI money boxes strapped to our bikes). But we soon arrived at the other side and headed to the lifeboat station- which was again closed and no sign of activity- I guess a good thing but we aren't having the best of luck so far, finding open stations with a kettle and a biscuit tin!

A photo outside and a spot of lunch followed and within the hour we were heading west to The Lizard. Country roads lead us to Helford Passage, where Nick frequented as a boy. In fact he even saw the father of the family he stayed with at the time drive past us. Despite some frantic waving he failed to recognise us as we sped past in the opposite direction.

The road to The Lizard flattened off somewhat ans provided us the chance to get our speed up- which was a welcome change from the incessant hills of Devon. We arrived at the most beautiful lifeboat station, tucked away at the bottom of a country lane surrounded by cliffs and in sheltered cove. A few people were swimming and enjoying the weather. We soon found out that this was in fact the old RNLI station, now a house, and the new one was just around the corner.

The old RNLI station that is now a house with an incredible view

The new RNLI station (currently under construction)

After a brief but very pleasant swim, we cycled up the hill and back down another track where we saw the new station - so new that parts were still a construction site. After the station photo, we headed in to the village of The Lizard for a look around- we ate ice creams while walking around the classic cars that had parked up as part of a rally.

By about 5pm we decided to do one last push and get to Porthlevan, where we were greeted by Blades and Heather, university friends of Nick. We were kindly invited to stay for one night of their romantic week's holiday.

They had laid on a beautiful spread of food for which we were both very grateful and we drank beers as the sun set over Penzance. A brief trip to the local followed and after a pint of doombar, we walked back to the house, accompanied by the harmonics of a Cornish sea shanty band singing in one of the bars. We were definitely in Cornwall!

Heather, our host.

Captain Rad

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Salcombe- Plymouth- Looe- Fowey

We woke after an excellent night's sleep at the Willis' wonderful home, feeling fresh as a daisy... Little did we know at this point what lay in store for us during the day ahead. A cracking breakfast and our best send off yet, and we were on our way.

Enjoying a beer on the terrace at The Willis'

Nick on the Salcombe-West Portlemouth Ferry with Steve behind

After a free lift on the passenger boat to Salcombe (with famed boatman Steve, who is renowned for his epic pedallo adventures), we took a couple of photos outside the closed Salcombe station, before getting underway.

Salcombe Lifeboat
The view looking back at Salcombe
The route which Rad took us on out of Salcombe was, quite frankly a joke- one of the steepest hills either of us have seen, and a tiny moss covered lane shaded by trees which was unbelievably slippery and consequently made cycling impossible... Our tyres simply had no traction at all on the phenomenally steep and slippery lane, and we just ended up wheel spinning and, quite literally, going backwards.... The only option was to push the bikes, all the way to the top... Off to a strong start then!

hills out of Salcombe
The next two hours involved endless steep hill climbs and infuriatingly slow descents due to the pot holes, loose gravel and wet slippery roads. We eventually arrived in Plymouth and made our way through the town (which Rad described as an industrial wasteland- something between Holyhead and Southampton!) to the lifeboat station- a small and rather beautiful stone tower in a bizarre setting- surrounded by rough gravel car parks, and a large housing development- all of which were like a ghost town. During the 10 minutes we were there taking photos, we saw no- one, and left asap!!

Stopping for half an hour at an 'old school' Chippie on the way out of Plymouth for a good ol' Cod 'n' chips, we boarded the chain ferry across the estuary, and were soon back in the rural hills.

The route on to Looe was again unbelievably hilly, but had some stunning cliff top views. Rad got huge amusement from strapping his ridiculous new digital video camera to my helmet (no idea why I drew the short straw!), making me look utterly ridiculous (see below)! but which hopefully provided some good video footage.

Nick rocking the headcam
A quick stop at the lifeboat station at Looe, where we had an ice cream (in the rain), and a rather lengthy discussion with a chap at the station about the best route to Fowey, and we were off (if only we had taken his advice!).

While Rad had taken us on some rather dubious routes earlier in the day, this did not even compare with what was to come...

We cycled over numerous extremely steep hills until we dropped down to a small and very beautiful bay. We cannot remember the name but watch this space and we will update. It was at this point that I spotted a chap wading out of the sea with some serious harpooning kit and two very good sea bass. We quickly managed to corner him when he reached his car to find out more. It turned out that he was a rather modest and quiet (for once!) South African who had been out free diving for 6 hours with two harpoon guns, a camouflaged 5mm wetsuit, enormous free diving fins and a small dinghy and flag which he dragged around to load his catch onto. He had with him two 3lb+ sea bass which he had harpooned, but had also seen Pollack, place, dogfish, crab and eels during the day whilst exploring some under water caves. An absolute legend!

Soon, we were on our way again, on the 'direct route' which Rad had planned (and programmed into his GPS) to get us to Fowey! This involved one of the steepest inclines I have seen, on a three foot wide tarmac pedestrian footpath, 75% of which had eroded by rainwater to form huge potholes and ruts. Other great features of this route include steep 10 ft banks on either side, and the path being heavily over shadowed by trees and bushes so that any tarmac remaining was wet and covered in moss!

It is without a doubt a physical impossibility to cycle up this on a touring bike!! We were starting to get pretty good at pushing fully laden bikes up hills! Let this be a lesson- think twice before asking Rad to do directions!!

After several more monumental hills we arrived in Fowey, where the deputy coxswain, Nick kindly, showed us around the fantastic station where they were putting us up for the night. After a quick shower and kit wash we headed up Fowey high street for supper. A really stunning seaside town in an incredible setting at the mouth of the estuary- we both immediately fell in love with the place. Some whitebait, calamari and pasta at a little bistro seemed to hit the spot and we headed back to the RNLI station (which dept. Coxswain Nick Beard had given us a key for), fairly exhausted, to settle in for a good night's sleep.

Fowey Lifeboat

Friday, 26 August 2011

Saturday morning in Mill Bay

Do bedroom views get much better than this?! Mill Bay, August 2011

Paignton- Torbay- Dartmouth- West-Portlemouth

Last night we stayed with Queenie and Kate, who we met on and were the most amazing hosts. They greeted us at 10:30pm, having got the train down from London, with smiles and an amazing seafood pasta dish. We chatted until midnight and really couldn't have asked for better hosts. 

Predictably, we awoke to torrential rain which stayed with us all the way to Torbay Lifeboat Station. After a brief stop for a photo we were back on the bikes and cycling towards Dartmouth about 15km away. 

Getting rather wet at Torbay Lifeboat Station, Brixham, August 2011
Dartmouth is beautiful- helped by the fact that the weather was clearing. It is an estuary surrounded by lush green hills and as we descended into the town we saw that the whole town had turned out for The Dart Regatta, which had just started. Market stalls flanked fancy dress supermarket trolley races. All very entertaining. One stall was selling nothing but cheap captain's hats- I had to get one.


We started to get an idea of the hills ahead of us as we pedalled our way out of Dartmouth... very slowly... getting rather strange looks from locals who thought we were mad to take the hilly coastal road. Fortunately we were cycling past incredible beaches like Blackpool and Slapton Sands. 

Blackpool Sands (photo courtesy of Google Images)

An hour or so later we were pulling into Mill Bay, East Portlemouth where my girlfriend's family own a beautiful beach house. After a bite to eat the three Willis daughters (Hannah, Beth and Lucy) took Nick and I out of the estuary on their fishing boat to see if we could catch a mackerel or two for supper. The trip proved successful- returning to base with 14 fish. We filleted them and stuffed them with salsa verde - delicious. 

Post supper games followed and despite trying my best to avoid this situation, I was becoming anti-socially competitive- no change there then! Plenty of laughter preceded bedtime, the morning would take us to Salcombe and beyond. 

Lucy sporting the Captain's hat

Preparing the mackerel stuffed with salsa verde. August, 2011

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Welcome... our blog. We hope this will provide a place for everyone to follow us on our adventure of cycling around every lifeboat station in Britain aiming to raise £25,000 for the RNLI Lifeboats. Before we get underway, here is a little background for those of you that don't know us...

We (Nick and Rad) met at Canford School in 1996 and among other things, a shared passion for rowing paved the way to becaming great friends. We travelled through South America together before heading off to university.  Now both of us live in London and work 5 minutes from each other in the West End- Nick working for Knight Frank and Rad for a renewable energy development company.

Rad's connections with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) started young, he won a drawing competition with the RNLI's children's magazine when he was 10 years old- the brief was to 'design a lifeboat of the future'. Perhaps befitting his current career, he designed a boat which engine was powered by a wind turbine on the roof... the wind turbine was powered by the boat moving- genius! The judges clearly thought so as first place won a ride in one of the RNLI's new lifeboats. Many years later (2007) he decided to run the marathon for the RNLI and raised over £3000.

Nick has always had a stong connection to the sea having grown up on the Hampshire Coast in a village called Beaulieu. Summer holidays were spent sailing and waterskiing and like so many villages around Britain's coast, there is a shared understanding of the importance of supporting the RNLI.
We began this expedition in London, July 2010. Leaving Wandsworth we cycle to Paignton, Devon in 9 days. Below are a few photos from last year's trip.

Rad (left) and Nick (right) cycling through Purbeck during Stage 1 of the RNLI Tour of Britain in July 2010.
Nick cycling in East Sussex, July 2010

Rad and Nick chillin' under the white cliffs of Dover, July 2010

We couldn't cycle past this pub without stopping. We got 2 free pints and a £20 donation from the landlord! July 2010

Walmer Lifeboat Station, July 2010

The fantastic family of the Dungeoness Coxwain that let us camp in his garden, July 2010
Rad just past Whitstable, July 2010
Margate, July 2010
RNLI Headquarters at Poole, July 2010

Nick looking after Rad's bike- Whippet Jr. (RIP), Lyme Regis, July 2010