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?

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