Sunday, 17 April 2011

C2C Cycling T-Shirts

I've found a place that sells C2C t-shirts and I'm thinking about getting one. Not sure when I'll get chance to wear it (OK I've got an inkling but that's for another post, another time) but I feel like we should have something to wear to show what we've been through / achieved.

They're available from Baytree Press and are £24.99 plus £2.50 delivery. I don't think that's too bad compared to the cost of other cycling jerseys.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Devon Coast to Coast - Day Three - Tavistock to Plymouth

After one beer too many the night before the team were looking a bit rough as they rolled out of the bunk house and headed off to find breakfast in the town centre. It seems our diet over the weekend had mainly consisted of bacon and chips and so it was bacon butties and coffee at the local cafe as Tavistock started to wake up. Sat in there watching a policeman investigate a broken window at a local art and craft shop it really seemed to sum up this town. It could quite easily have been the town they based Hot Fuzz on (rather than Wells).

With plenty of calories inside us we braced ourself for the hills ahead. It didn't matter we had plenty of time, so much in fact that we'd investigated getting an early train only to find the cost a bit off putting to say the least. Having a bit of time in hand gave us time to play around a bit and leaving Tavistock we came across a skate park, perfect for a bike heavily loaded with panniers surely? No I didn't think so either but Rich had a better sense of adventure and set about showing us some moves. Certainly a highlight of the sea to sea trip.

Anyway back to those hills, we had been warned the night before by one of the staff at the Adventure Centre that we had a steep hill to climb out of Tavistock and they certainly weren't wrong. During the trip our legs got slowly sapped and despite conquering harder hills earlier on in the trip even the smaller ones were becoming taxing. As with the last C2C we weren't too proud to push when the going got too tough (what else can you do?), and I was off pushing on what was one of the hardest climbs of the trip.

Once we were out of Tavistock and past the climb we headed back down to again and arrived in a wood with a choice of routes to take. Straight ahead appeared to be a climb up in to the woods or to our left there appeared to be a route that although slightly rough it did follow the river and therefore would hopefully be flat. Consulting the map this seemed to be confirmed, both were the route and both led us to our destination, the river route being the shortest. We headed down the track and were soon walking as the path narrowed and we had to lift our bikes over branches and rocks blocking our progress. As we headed down the path we had seen a sign saying something about the path being closed but we assumed that wasn't for us. After a couple of stops to assure ourselves we were on the right trail we came across some fencing. Path closed due to construction. Of course the sensible thing was to go back and use the other route, that was my thinking and Neil, being his usual steadying self was undecided and Rich and Jon wanted to check out how closed they meant by "closed".

As I stood and minded the bikes the rest ventured forward to check out our route. As I waited for them to return, a couple and a dog walked past having just come down the "closed" route. It can't be that closed then? "it's fine as long as you can lift your bikes over a 6ft metal fence" said the guy with a complete straight face. I fancied my chances but I wasn't too sure about the other Jon who'd brought a book and three changes of clothes amongst other things in his panniers.

The lads eventually returned with not much to say, they thought we could get through but weren't sure if the route was clear after that. Jon and Rich wanted to risk it and Neil sat on the fence so with only me wanting to do the sensible thing and turnaround we pushed on. Neil went first and decided the best route was to go under the bridge that was under construction. It seemed ironic that the bridge that was under construction was part of the new planned route for the Devon C2C and that was what was stopping us progressing on the current C2C. Anyway Neil obviously thought rivers were better than roads and rode on through the water. As we all fell about in hysterics Neil fell in to the water, sadly only his feet getting wet. We then climbed under the bridge, through the fence and off again on the dirt track.

It all seemed so easy looking back at it but it felt like a bit of adventure and added a little tale to our trail. Thank goodness Jon and Rich pushed us in to doing it. The bikes hit tarmac no more than five minutes later and we headed off on a reliable A-road up the hill.

By now time was pushing on but we were still relaxed enough to have a few photograph moments and even to stop and look at a pair of peregrine falcons. They were handily placed beside the trail and had been spotted by the National Trust who had set up an observation post on the old train line.

As we started to come to the outskirts of Plymouth we could feel the end of the ride near, it seemed sad to be ending it so soon. Despite the odd hill we hadn't suffered in the same way we had last time. We'd managed to have an evening meal and a night out each day and we'd even managed to stay on track and not get lost. Discussions had already started regarding what we would do next but first we had to finish this one.

Arriving at Plymouth we went through an industrial estate and started to skirt the coast. Every corner we went  round produced another point in the distance to aim for. We were certainly getting close as we mingled with tourists and followed the coast around and around and around the bay. We started to look at our watch as the miles kept ticking by. Soon the route just seemed to come to an end and we consulted the map on my phone. Finally the rest trusted me and we pushed on, sadly I'd read a turning wrong and we ended at Devil's Point, a dead end. We turned around and retraced our steps (pedals?), it was only a few hundred yards but it was frustrating, we were all tired by now and ready for the end and for some food.

A few more turns, a roundabout or two and some better signed sections led us to a jetty and there, finally, was the chance to put our front wheels in the water. 125 miles since we set off from Barnstaple and 107 since we'd put our back wheels in at Ilfracombe. It was high fives and hugs all round. Sadly the finish line was as unimpressive as the start, no plaque or even an "end of route" sign. It didn't matter we'd done it and it was a glorious day.

It had however been a lot longer day than we'd expected but we were done and now we just had the small challenge of finding of the railway station. Jon set his phone on to sat nav setting and cycled off, in the wrong direction. His phone thought he was a car and sent him off the one way system. Rich and Neil decided to go the other way and suddenly, within  five minutes of finishing, we were separated and loss. Thank goodness for mobile phones. A quick call and we were all back together.

Following the sat nav through Plymouth we were on main roads and seeing more of Plymouth, it was just a couple of miles before we were at the station and sadly we didn't really have the time to go see the town centre. We decided it was best to just get to the station and sort out food there. Inside the station (not the nicest of stations from outside that's for sure) was a Spar and so we decided to stock up and have food and drinks on the train.

With flashbacks to the "middle-classed panniers" of two years ago, Jon and Neil bought Chardonnay and grapes to enjoy on the trip home, I think they may have even been salmon sandwiches. Rich and I stayed closer to our roots with beer and a burger. Loading our pre-booked bikes on the train we were a lot more relaxed than the will-they won't-they moments loading our bikes on the way down, we even had half an hour to go before the train set off.

We happily worked our way through our Spar purchases (the most expensive lunch of the weekend) and realised we had a bit of a quick turnaround for our next train change at Weston Super Mare. We had six minutes to get our panniers off the train, grab our bikes out of the hold and then find and get on our next train to Yatton.

With a precise and well executed plan we were off the train in a shot and in no time carrying our bikes up over the footbridge, those panniers suddenly felt very heavy again. Our train left on time and we had two minutes to spare, perhaps we could get in to this whole travelling by train thing.

We chatted to the conductor who told us how steep the climb out of Ilfracombe was (we knew that), how the climb started straight away (again we know) and how you can free wheel down the other side (yep, enjoyed that). It was a nice end to the trip to go over our route and the staff on the trains had been great.

As the sign for Yatton station crept in to view it was drenched in sunshine and we were met by my wife and daughter. A great end to a great ride but as always the question is, where next?

Monday, 11 April 2011

Devon Coast to Coast - Day Two - Great Torrington to Tavistock

Day two and we'd certainly landed lucky with our B and B, breakfast when it suited us, "no, no, whenever's best for you" we said but our hosts insisted and our pre-ordered cooked breakfast was nearly ready as we shovelled down cereal and hot drinks. With the help of our ever-so-helpful hosts we were out the door and panniered up ready to go. An enjoyable swift descent led us back to the Tarka Trail as we aimed to finish off the final miles of the trail pretty quickly before we headed off towards Dartmoor. Today was the day where our sea to sea cycle route wouldn't involve any sight of the sea but that didn't mean the scenery wasn't up to much.

It didn't seem 5 minutes since leaving the B & B before we were leaving the trail, topping up on snacks and hitting the start of more rolling hills. There had been a decision to make, Elaine, our host at the B and B had suggested we could stay on the trail to Meeth and then just ride a short distance before coming to Hatherleigh. She couldn't understand why it "took you all that way round, there's just one sharp bend on the road and that's it". Well there wasn't much discussion to be had, the trail to Meeth wasn't on the official route and so we weren't doing it, insisted Rich.

Coming away from the trail we passed two smartly dresses ladies riding horses down the steepish hill. Waiting for us to pass Jon and I pushed on yet it seemed a while before Neil and Rich caught us up. Surely the hill wasn't that steep, perhaps they were following the nicely dressed ladies? Of course it's never that simple, Neil's wheel had come off. Trying to get out of the way of the horses he'd wrenched on his pedal and his back wheel was having none of it. With no injuries that he cared to admit we stopped at the top refuelled and looked to push on to Hatherleigh for lunch.

Doing three sides of a square we came down in to Sheepwash. Well we could soon see why the route took you this way. An idyllic little village with a pub and corner shop (and not much else). Taking the opportunity to refuel I popped in to the shop to pick up a chocolate bar and lucozade. Coming out the boys were nowhere to be seen, well I just caught sight of Neil as they disappeared in to the pub.

The pub is used as a half way point for people who ride the trip in two days, what a great place to stop. It really was a lovely setting with the sun out and a pint of my favourite Doom Bar in my hand. Sadly it seems I can't handle my beer and I knocked it over covering myself and Rich. The rest of the team drank theirs and we were off, a nice downhill in to Hatherleigh. Arriving at the first pub with a team of builders in the beer garden we thought better of it and explored Hatherleigh some more. Finding a more suitable pub we rested up in the beer garden and discussed the age old deliberation. What exactly is in scampi?

With bellies full of real ale and deep fried (or breaded) langoustine tails we were off again and another chance to disagree with our map. We had to ignore the local helpfully giving us directions and follow the map in the correct direction. Eventually.

We really felt like we were making tracks and getting on, we were now heading towards Okehampton and would soon be skirting Dartmoor.  Now I thought railways were generally set in valleys and on the flat. Okehampton station which we were heading towards to rejoin the granite way was at the top of a never ending hill coming out of the town up to the what felt like the sky. By now we felt we deserved tea and cakes and we discussed the merits of cream teas in the neighbouring counties. Devon, of course, puts its clotted cream on its scone first and then its jam, while Cornwall puts jam and then cream. I decided to not offend anyone by having jam then cream then jam.

Filled with goodies and willing ourselves on we soon felt like we were on Dartmoor as we took a "short cut" shown on the map as being the actual route. The route took us over farm land and was definitely more suitable for Jon's thick mountain bike wheels rather than our "girly" wheels. Looking back now on the Sustrans site I can see an exclamation mark and a warning reading "very rough track", it certainly was. Still we pushed on and it wouldn't be long before we were racing downhill towards Tavistock.

The Adventure Centre awaited us, our bunk house for the night. After a brief diversion in to a girl's college (wishful thinking) we found that night's accommodation at the end of a long downhill A-road. Circling the car park so we could finally get past the 100 mile mark. Honking the horns on our bike we would have to wait a while tomorrow before we'd achieved 100 miles of the official route.

So amazingly day two had ended like day one, finished before dark and hitting the showers before The One Show had even started - the theme of which was also sung on our rides. I blame Rich for that one.

In to town we headed, walking which was a nice novelty, and we were going there with the promise of a nice Indian restaurant and a few beers. Tavistock is a beautiful town with gorgeous buildings and sadly the pubs we went in didn't quite live up to the surroundings. Still we had plenty of time to get ourselves acquainted with them as the restaurant was rammed and we couldn't get a table until 9.30.

A packet of mini cheddars, pork scratchings, bacon rashers and three pints later we were sat in the Indian restaurant a bit worse for wear but ready to devour a nice meal. We did just that and The Ganges (surely Tavistock Tandoori would have been a better name) served up a great meal. We were obviously feeling tired as we ordered a taxi and were soon in our bunk beds and ready for Zs. Well all of us apart from Neil who again laid wide awake with a racing heart.

Day Two Mile Covered: 50 miles plus a quick ride around a car park.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Devon Coast To Coast - Day One - Ilfracombe to Great Torrington

I say Ilfracombe to Great Torrington but really it was Yatton to Barnstaple, Barnstaple to Ilfracombe, Ilfracombe to Barnstaple and then Barnstaple to Great Torrington.

With the rest of Team Pannier arriving the night before for fish, chips and beer (the diet of true athletes) it was an early start on day one as we headed off to play train roulette. Would they let us on the three different trains we had to catch with our bikes? Would the staff be jobsworths? We were worried and no more so than Neil who'd had a sleepless night having read the leaflet supplied by national rail. It turns out you need to book your bikes on to the trains and I'd neglected to do that, and I'd bought tickets that weren't transferable. Thankfully the team weren't currently pointing the finger at me, yet.

Even with all the rush of getting ready, Jon had somehow found time to ring First Great Western and they had told him in their best West Country, Indian accent that for two legs of the journey we'd be fine but on one section there weren't enough spaces. Eek. Contingency plans were already being mooted including driving to Ilfracombe but we'd see what happened. The first (local) train arrived and we got on fine, despite there being a fair few other bikes on there. The train staff were really friendly and despite the team being separated across the two carriages it passed without incident.

A quick change at Taunton and we were in big train territory. According to the ticket collector we were getting on a HTC and we needed to check the formation it was in. We nodded and grinned a vacant smile and hoped for the best. Turns out it was in reverse formation and the bike section was at the back (thanks to another station worker). It turned out this was the train that didn't have space, we could only fit three bikes in the hold a jobsworth told us. Was it time for the finger pointing? Was I to be left behind? Not with Team Pannier, Rich (AKA Spanners) grabbed his bike and jumped on the main carriage, much against the wishes of the train lady. Anyway we were on, and spending the next 30 minutes next to a toilet door.

With full knowledge of who on the train had a weak bladder we got off at Exeter St Davids and managed to squeeze in a trip to pick up bacon sandwiches and coffee. Soon we were on our last train for the day and our worries disappeared as quick as our food.

Arriving in Barnstaple we quickly booked our bikes on for the return journey. If you're interested you can / need to book your bikes on the national quick trains but you have to take your chances on the local routes. Again the staff were really helpful, hats (helmets?) off to First Great Western, its staff were great.

11.30 and we were off. Well kind of. We were off to ride to the start, eleven miles away. Unlike our last C2C we were soon getting through the miles with very few stops. Seeing a hotel on the way out serving steaks and cream teas in the afternoon, there were some hungry glances expecting to return there soon. In the meantime we had some pedalling to do.

The start of the route is pretty flat, there's a bridge over the estuary but other than that it's a nice flat run all the way to Braughton. That's when you turn left and hit a brick wall. Well a decent sized hill anyway. There were two routes out of Braughton and we chose the route that wasn't for mountain bikes. I hope we chose the right one. Looking it up now it appears that route is for summer only so I'm guessing we did choose the right route. If you've ever cycled the hill up Buckland Cross with panniers on your back you will have shared our pain as we suffered our first climb. From there it was rolling hills all the way with great views of the beaches at Saunton and Woolacombe. By now the conversation had turned to music and The Vaccines went round and round in my head as we climbed a hill, sped down the other side and climbed again. Still it's better than having your daughter's nursery rhymes in your head.

The miles ticked away but then we reached the cross roads at Georgeham and our original mileage estimates were soon found to be a little incorrect. We'd covered 7 miles, yet according to the route sign, we still had 8 miles to go. Our aim of having lunch for one was certainly out of the window and thoughts drifted back to the last C2C where we consistently arrived at our destination after dark. In the more immediate we had to consider our route back, we were going to take the more scenic route back, would we want to do another 4 miles to take in the delights of Woolacombe Bay? That decision could be put on hold as we pushed on to reach the start.

Soon we were hitting trail territory as we hit Trimstone. The trail takes you down the old railway line in to Ilfracombe, it goes through a beautiful valley and as we enjoyed eating up the miles, we all had in the back of our minds that we had to come back up this hill. The run down was really enjoyable as we went through tunnels, down steep roads and in to Ilfracombe. Learning from last time we stopped to check our whereabouts as soon as we felt lost and true enough we'd missed the turning in to the graveyard, silly us, why we didn't consider going through the graveyard I don't know.

We were aided in our map reading this year with not only an OS Tour Map but also an app for my iPhone which locates you on an OS Map using GPS. It didn't have great functionality but it had the cycle routes on it and within a second it could locate us on the map, whether I had a phone signal or not. There was a slight problem with it though and that was the mistrust of the device by my fellow Team Pannier members. They would pore over a map wondering where we were and where we should be going, all the time ignoring my calls saying "we're here" "we need to go this way". 

Arriving in Ilfracombe we were soon at the water front and quicker than you can say "Jon that's a big wave" we had our back wheels in the sea and Jon got a soaking from a big wave. With the mandatory photo taken we were off to find the official start and lunch. Both were a disappointment. As the route is not as popular as the Whitehaven / Sunderland / Newcastle Coast to Coast there isn't any real marker for the start, just no more land and beautiful cliffs alongside the sea.

A lot of places were due to open that weekend for the summer season but not until that evening so we couldn't be picky over where we ate for lunch. Eating disappointing sandwiches we realised we should have been pickier. But fuelled up on food and beer / sugary drinks Neil somehow got Mull of Kintyre in his head, well that was it. Cycling off down the road we'd come in on Team Pannier sang their hearts out to Mull of Kintyre as the local people of Ilfracombe went about their daily business. Thinking, I'm sure, there go some cool bikers.

The hill back out of Ilfracombe wasn't as bad as we'd built it up to be despite a gradient of 1:36. A few miles later we were out of Ilfracombe and back on the hill tops, buffeted by the wind we had a decision to be made. It was already getting on in the day, it was 3pm and did we want to cycle an extra 4 miles to Woolacombe? That's 4 miles on top of the extra 8 miles our roundtrip had already presented us with. I don't think we even blinked as we went straight past the turn off for Woolacombe and battled the rolling hills to Braughton.

By now Neil's legs were starting to give him gip and we stopped for an important top up of Maoam Stripes, the sugar rush doing great and bad things to us. It was at this point we realised we could actually see our breath, having worked hard up the hills we found it hard to believe it could be cold enough. We didn't wait to find out, we pushed on and enjoyed speeding down the hill we'd first been dancing on our pedals all those hours before.

Soon back by the coastline we were not so pleased to find we'd had the benefit on the way out of a tailwind. Now a headwind and on tired legs we ploughed a steady course through the wind, after a battle with the wind we finally passed the cream tea hotel we'd seen earlier that day. I don't think we had the time or inclination to stop for a cream tea but we did enjoy a well earned stop just before going back over the estuary bridge. With an array of snacks and whisky in their bellies Team Pannier set off futher down the Tarka Trail.

The Tarka Trail is of course named after Tarka the Otter who starred in a book by Henry Williamson. The book was first published in 1927, no doubt when the old railways of North Devon were still running and not instead occupied by sugar fuelled cyclists discussing who they fancy more off BBC Morning News, Susanna Reid or Sian Williams.

With the corner turned we were again favoured by the wind and flat trail. Our average speed shot up and there was happy banter all round as we took in the delights of Devon.  The sun slowly started to drop and so did our banter as we were once again buffeted by the wind as we turned to head south. Following the water down towards Bideford we were able to tick off the miles as we went past the old stations, each as a marker on the trail they had signs giving you a count down of miles to the stations further down the line. Our eyes were only on one station, Great Torrington.

A couple hours earlier I'd received a text saying "check your panniers when you're flagging" from my wife. The others joked that she'd put a brick in but as we reached Instow I had greater faith. Sure enough I was pleased to find more supplies of chocolate. By now we were all starting to flag a bit as the time in the saddle took its toll. This was no more apparent than when we reached Bideford station and Rich, tired and pulling to a halt forgot he had his cleats on and toppled right over, taking a picnic bench with him as he went. Once it was clear he was alright there were certainly smiles. Perhaps we'd better check in with the B&B and let them know we're on our way.

With the time nearly at 6 o'clock we chatted to Elaine the B&B owner, she told us it usually took her 1 hour from there. Right the challenge was on, we were going to beat a middle age woman, by one minute. Well that was certainly my aim. She did have one word of warning before we set off on the final section, there was a hill up to Torrington.

As we went up slight incline after slight incline we convinced ourselves that was the hill as we headed for Puffing Billy, the pub and station point for Great Torrington. Arriving at the pub we soon realised that it was us who would be referred to as Puffing Billies after we tackled the hill in front of us. On the main road in to Great Torrington we fought our bikes all the way up the hill, knowing that it was the last of the day and that there was a hot shower at the other end.

Four puffing billies pulled in to Windsor House, a great B&B in Great Torrington. The welcome we got from the couple who own it was just what we needed. They couldn't do enough to help, our bikes were put away for us and we were led to our rooms (I'm guessing they were as keen for us to have a shower as we were). 

So after a pretty quick turnaround we were out the door and heading for a well earned pint at the recommended Black Horse. And a popular pub it certainly seemed to be as it tempted us with steak and ale pie only to find out there was none left. Gutted. Still with a tasty meal in our bellies and a few pints it was back to the B and B to rest up for the next day. Not so easy when you have to share a four poster bed with your brother-in-law.

Day One Finished: 49 miles covered

Thursday, 7 April 2011

OS Maps Routes Downloadable to GPS

I've recently downloaded an app for my iPhone which I will tell you a bit more about when I finish my run down of our most recent C2C but in the meantime I was chatting to a keen cyclist, a customer at work, and he introduced me to this map web site designed by The Hug. What this web site allows you to do is view OS maps in the UK and plot a route. It has the national cycle routes on it and will allow you to download or upload routes to/from your GPS. When downloaded it will point you in the right direction at junctions saving the usual stop and study map moments which can occur on a regular basis if you're not on a signposted route. Might be useful when we cycle Lands End to John O'Groats *cough*.