Friday, 2 September 2011

Clavelshay- Burnham on Sea- Weston Super Mare- Newport

Our final day of this year's tour was our longest day yet, albeit on relatively flat ground. After an amazing night's sleep courtesy of Couchsurfer friends Nick and Rachel, we were treated to a brief breakfast and were on our bikes at the bright and early time of 8:15am. This was all so our hosts to get to work on time! What a fantastic couple.

Despite there not being a cloud in the sky, the cold, damp air rose from the trees and fields of the countryside giving us a quick wake-up as we descended into Bridgwater which was 8km north-east. A quick stop for a croissant and we were making quick progress towards our first station of the day- Burnham-on-Sea.

Nick outside Burnham-on-Sea RNLI station. I like to think of this as his 'first day of school' pose.

It was, like many of the seaside towns we have visited on this trip, a town filled with Victorian architecture that had rather sadly suffered from the neglect brought on by the explosion of foreign holidays in the last 100 years. The residents we met were friendly and willingly directed us towards the RNLI station which was rather oddly located around the back of a Morrisson's supermarket. It was winning no awards with us- you could not even go up to the building because the whole area was gated off. We got our photo with help from an old man who commented on the fact I hadn't shaved in a few days... he somehow managed to make me feel rather ashamed of my appearance despte the fact I had, until that point, been operating under the impression that some stubble made me look a bit more like I cycled around the country full-time. Oh well.

Good quality, flat roads delivered us to Weston Super Mare more quickly than we had expected. It may sound boring to most but road condition and gradient become important topics of conversation that never seem to grow old. We could probably tell you the exact point at which we crossed from Cornwall into Devon without the aid of signs, based purely on the type of tarmac used and investment made in the infrastructure for road users. If you're interested, Cornwall roads were better than Devon's... but I suspect you're not.

Weston Super Mare was our last station of this trip- we cycled into the town with a great sense of expectation, gasping for a celebratory cup of tea. Having cycled all the way along the promenade, towards the orange and blue boat we could see in the distance our excitement grew. It was therefore a great dissappointment to find out that it was impossible to actually get to the station as a regular member of the public. This was because the boat was at the end of the old pier which was in a pretty sorry state and clearly posed a health and safety risk. Only crew were allowed onto the pier to get the the station and the boat. We therefore had to have our final photo taken 500m infront of the station!

Weston Super Mare RNLI Station (at the end of the derelict pier)

On our way into Weston Super Mare

We milled around the end of the pier for longer than we had planned, motivation was running thin. I pointed out several times that there was indeed a passenger ferry from Weston Super Mare to Penarth (the next station along in Wales) which cut out 80km of cycling and didn't contraviene any of our 'rules' about river and estuary crossings. I tried my best to convince Nick that we should take this, but he insisted that we cross the Severn Bridge as he wanted to cross all the major bridges of Britain as part of the trip. Up to this point I was completely unaware that Nick had a secret love of bridges but it turns out that even after 15 years of friendship there are some skeletons in the closet.

He managed to convince me that it would be worth it and we made our way (via rather uninspiring but fast A-roads) to Bristol- under the Clifton Suspension Bridge at which point I couldn't help but notice that Nick's was gazing at the bridge with an expression I've only ever seen him reserve for his beautiful wife. Was his love of bridges getting too much? I was worried.

Rad in front of the Clifton Suspension Bridge

When we got to the Severn bridge, I tried my best to be cool and remain nonchalant. I'd even rehearesd what I was going to say: "yeah- I mean it's OK but really wasn't worth cycling 80km out the way on A-roads to come and see was it?" ...but as soon as my wheels started rolling along the cycle path on one side, I realised I had failed miserably to remain cool. My eyes were wide taking in the views. This was cool. Very cool. Geeky engineering cool. I was glad that Nick persuaded us to go this way. Bugger, I thought, he's given me the wretched bridge loving disease.

Rad on the Severn Bridge

Our welcome into Wales wasn't quite as I had expected. The slip road off the bridge was scattered with broken glass, burnt out tyres and empty beer cans. After carrying our bikes over the worst of it we got onto the trunk road that winded it's way to Newport- where our return train to London was departing from.

We boarded the train and as we sunk into our seats the satisfaction of a week of hard cycling, good views and great people finally sunk in. We bought a couple of beers from the buffet car and let our legs have a well earned rest.

Waiting for the train

It's been a fantastic week and we are so greatful for all the support, both via financial donations to our fundraising page and via the numerous good deeds people have done along the way. I'm sure there'll be a couple of post before next year's trip which will hopefully take us around the whole of Wales but on the whole expect this blog to be a lot quieter than the past week.

All the best, Rad

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Ilfracombe- Minehead- Clavelshay

Today we were broken by the hills....

We thought the climbs in South Devon and Cornwall were pretty challenging as you may have read from our previous posts, but the reality was that they didn't even vaguely compare to the Exmoor coastal road we took today.

We woke at Epcris house B and B where we had been kindly put up for the night by Rob (one of the Ilfracombe RNLI crew) and his wife Nicky. We were looked after like kings and given an enormous breakfast before we set off at 8.30am. We had been warned about the infamous 'Porlock Hill', so to some extent had prepared ourselves for the worst.

Rad's prawn and spinach sag curry at the Ilfracombe tandoori the night before was having serious repercussions, not just rendering our bathroom entirely out of bounds before we left, but also making 'draughting' (positioning yourself directly behind another cyclist to improve aerodynamics) behind Rad during the day's cycling out of the question...

Outside Epcris House B&B with Rob

We were however blessed with good weather. The sun shone and we were soon making our way out of Ilfracombe. The first five miles were relatively flat, and we found ourselves being lured into a false sense of security about the ride ahead, which the locals in Ilfracombe had painted as something of a horror story.

 Leaving Ilfracombe

 Rad sporting his 'Headcam' - a great look!

 The start of the hills....

What followed, I have difficulty putting into words. All I can say though is, imagine running up the stairs of the tallest building you know, briefly admiring the view at the top only to walk down again. This is then repeated continuously for 6 hours until one is forced to take a rest every 10 steps through tears of laughter or despair (quite often both!). Once you've managed this, you're informed that you completed half of the required distance! It's fair to say, the hill climbs were truly monumental, and on three occasions we were beaten by their severity, having to get off and push our fully laden bikes (c. 40kg) up these hills...

The only thing that stopped us from throwing a complete tantrum and sitting on the side of the road refusing to go on, was seeing views of Britain which we never thought existed. Views so stunning and landscapes so untouched that we only thought they existed in the National Parks of New Zealand. From the stunning coastline to views over Heather covered moors, this was one of the most beautiful parts of the British coastline we have seen so far on the trip, and we both vowed that we would return (albeit perhaps next time in a car!) Unfortunately the photos from the Blackbery don't do them justice but here's a few to give you the idea...

Coastal Road- about 20km in....

Coastal Road about 30km in....

 Coastal Road about 40km in...

Just before our decent down the notorious 'Porlock Hill'

More hills.....

The hills continued through the early afternoon but eventually started to flatten out a little and we began making good progress again. Just west of Bridgewater, we pulled off the main road to head toward Clavelshay where we were due to stay for the night. Flat Somerset lanes soon turned to hills and again we found ourselves gasping our way up extremely steep country lanes. Rad's directions, which until this point had been virtually flawless, directed us off the main road and up a mud track into dense woodland. Rad was adamant that the map must be right, so we set off on foot pushing our bikes through deep mud, around fallen trees and up a steep incline. It was only when we heard a swarm of bees overhead that we both rapidly retreated to the road, and set about cycling around this 'obstacle' eventually arriving at our host's lovely cottage.

Rad's dubious directions....

Nick and Rachel (who Rad had contacted through Couch Surfer) were incredible hosts, and gave us a delicious dinner (with many of the ingredients grown in their own garden) topped off with home made sloe gin, and an extremely comfortable night's sleep, in preparation for the long ride the next day...