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.

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