Impromptu Cycle Tour 2003

... incorporating the Chilterns and the Cotswolds

This is my diary.

ACT ONE - 30 May to 6 June 2003 - 309 miles

The previous day I had cycled out near Goring with sandwiches and was in the mood for staying out longer.  A few days before that I had spent a night on top of a pill box by the Kennet, in my sleeping bag with no tent, my first night under the stars as far as I can recall.

Log: 0 miles

2003-05-30 (Fri.)

18:00 Leave Reading.

~21:00 Camp between Christmas Common and Pishill.  Heated leek & pasta on a fire (gas lighter).

Log: 21 miles

2003-05-31 (Sat.)

~09:30 Leave.  (Muesli for breakfast.)

11:00 Eat peach and apple.  Am hot and thirsty.

12:00 Small clean stream: wash and take 1 bottle of water.

13:00 Buy frozen berries and ice-cream-like stuff.  Eat my turkey and lettuce sandwiches and "ice-cream".  Sunbathe near Tiddington, and read "Lepanto".

Lime & soda (1.5 pt: 60p!) and water re-fill @ The Plough, (where?).

~17:00 Bathe

20:00 Camp near Biddlesden.

Log: 77 miles

2003-06-01 (Sun.)

07:50 Leave.  (Dinner & breakfast were identical to previous.)

11:00 Eat turkey sandwiches and fruit on Oxford Canal Path (Nr. Culworth?)

12:15 Shopping in Fenny Compton: noodles, milk, cereal, scotch eggs, apples, frozen raspberries.  £7.91.

13:30 Roast beef in Northend (forget pub name).  £8.25 inc. 1 pt lime & soda.

20:00 Camp nr. Broadway Hill, Cotswolds.  Passed a man walking Land's End to John o'Groats.  No fire; scotch egg & cereal & fruit.  Hung "tarp" above me (as last night), but no rain.

Log: 138 miles

2003-06-02 (Mon.)

08:00 Leave.  (Cereal for breakfast.)  Misty, drizzly.  Leggings & socks off; poncho on.

10:00 Cleared up; sun coming out.  Poncho off!

11:00 Compton Abdale.  Elevenses; water refill from spring.

14:00 Ham, egg and chips, 1 pt lime & soda, 1/2 pt Wadworth Somersault: £7.80 @ The Greyhound, Siddington nr. Cirencester.

Log: 195 miles

2003-06-03 (Tue.)

(Sitting on Badbury Hill, with the Uffington White Horse in view across the vale.)

Last night was the most successful camp so far.  I got a fire going with a scrape on my "flint" (ferrocerium) striker to some black poplar fluff, with dead pine needles as kindling and some very dry twigs.  Boiled my egg noodles in Compton Abbas spring water (from yesterday) in a can.  Ate them with a teaspoon - not the most appropriate implement.  Should have made chopsticks.  Heated a scotch egg on some beech leaves (for protection against smoke and ash) on a pair of sticks over the embers.  Only the meat part got hot, but that was fine, much better than cold as the previous night.

Camped at about 19:30; left at 09:20 (late start!) this morning.  Could see the white horse from the edge of the wood, 20 yards from where I slept.  Hadn't seen it until I scouted the perimeter of the woods on arrival.

Breakfast this morning was cereal, two of those Kelloggs single-portion packs, the milk poured directly into the bag.

Last night I also ate an apple and some thawed raspberries (very strong taste) with a hazelnut yoghurt.

10:30 As it's a bit cold and drizzly, am having my elevenses early.  Ham roll and an apple.

Stop at the Gt Coxwell Tithe Barn.  Then at the 12th century church.  £2 to each.

13:45  Lunch at The White Horse Inn, Woodstone (nr. White Horse Hill).  Sausage, egg, chips, beans; 1pt lime & soda, 1/2 beer, £8.65.  Then choc. pud. £3.50 + 1/2 L&S £1.

15:45 Have climbed W.H.Hill (nice spot to pause for relief) and am on Ridgeway.

16:05 Wayland's Smithy long barrow (1/2 hr).

~3300BC (on top of a 3500BC smaller tomb), named in Saxon times after the smith (to the gods / god ?) who would shoe the horse of any passer-by who left a silver coin there.

17:40 (20 min.) Liddington Castle.  Ditch-and-bank hill fort.

Back tyre going flat again - second time since Wayland's smithy.

18:10 Three wheels on my wagon.

I thought "that's worth noting before I move on", but then "why pass up the chance of staying in that?"

Wooden chassis and frame, rusty corrugated sides and roof, two iron wheels at the open end which must be the back because the other end has the wooden steering axle (with an iron roller bearing [correction: on closer inspection, no rollers, just a pair of discs] in the middle:

broken off from the wagon, just with the wagon resting on it, with only one wheel).  Floorboards are wooden and the front (reasonably sheltered) two thirds of them are present and sound enough.  There is an ashy fire area between some stones out the back, and the hedge is of woody trees, but the best dead one is in a patch of nettles and kindling may be difficult because it has been damp up here all day.  I don't need a fire as I have plenty of ham, bread, fruit and yoghurt.  Noodles can await another day.

Have no milk today so will save yoghurt for breakfast.

21:30 Two deer just trotted towards me over the stubble field, paused twenty yards away, nibbled a bit of weed or grass, and slowly moved on as I stood still.

Stubble was the answer.  I found a few twigs but gathered armsful of stubble (one or two before, but several more when lit).  It wouldn't catch from my tinder, so I used gas again.  Flares up and dies down very quickly, so I put a can of water in it, plugged with grass, and kept feeding the fire around it.  When boiling, inserted one portion of noodles, re-plugged, and continued feeding for about ten or fifteen minutes (as it was not boiling continuously).  Take two clean, sturdy straws et voila!  Noodles and chopsticks.  While eating them along with a ham roll, got a thrill of "Wow!  I cooked this on this hill top."

While cleaning the can with grass and straw, cut my hand on its sharp edge.  Very small cut - will heal by itself if it doesn't get dirty or bashed - but it will get both if not protected.  Realised I should have brought a first aid kit.  (Realised on first day that I should have brought water purifier.)  Made a little bandage from a scrap of linen (intended for char cloth)  and a piece of string, after licking it clean.  Wish I could wash my hands.  My hair.  All of me.

At least I was freshly shaven (on the sides of my face - am growing a beard and moustache due to discomfort of shaving those parts) for the pub today, thanks to the new razors from Cirencester.  The old one was blunt - probably since before I started this trip.

Waves of rain clouds coming over with clear bright spaces between.  Should prepare to augment the cover provided by the mostly-roof with my own tarp.

Right knee hurts today, as if bruised.  Hope it gets better.

Now, fruit and bed.

Log: 217 miles

2003-06-04 (Wed.)

08:50 Get up.  Peed; 4wd vehicle probably saw me.  Breakfast: raspberry mush and cornflakes, yoghurt, satsuma.

Fix puncture.

Inscribe my "JAF" monogram with "MMIII" below it, below two other inscriptions.

11:23 Finally left.

14:00 Barbury hill fort.  Lunch: ham roll and a peach and flapjack.

Have cycled with left leg only for a couple of miles (or more), right leg cocked and resting on pannier.  Think right knee needs more rest, like a day or two.

~18:00 Arrive at Lockeridge, where there is a forest (or wood).  Have been pedalling one-legged as much as possible, and walking up steep bits as walking is much easier on that knee.

Scout around the wood.  (Drizzle.)  Too open for my comfort.  Evidence of recent horse riding and biking.  There are some poor attempts at conical huts, and one that is really rather good.  Not finished to be wind- or rain-proof, just dead branches, but well proportioned so I could stand in the centre and lie across the floor.  Two logs for seats, and wilted bluebells for decoration around the entrance indicated fairly recent daytime use, and I though "they" might appreciate evidence of real use.

As I was hanging my tarp inside it, I kept hearing buzzing, saw there were a few bees around, and threw all the bluebells away.  Moved my bike away in case it was my food they liked.  Couldn't find a cause for them to still hang around, so gave up and went in search of an alternative.

Found a spot out of the way in the woods, with a bit of undergrowth to partly hide me.

Filled one water bottle from a reasonably clean stream earlier, but am not making a fire as I feel too exposed.  There is plenty of wood.  Cold dinner: ham roll (the last! Getting tired of them) and an apple.  Fruit is good: saves water.

21:20 To bed.  I take my shorts and thin "fleece" top off when I get warm enough, and keep them inside my sleeping bag, using the top as a pillow.

The £5 roll mat is very suitable.  The £7 "tarp" is too weak and too small - its thin plastic tears very easily and it doesn't cover my 6' length.  I didn't use it the first night but have each time since (except on the wagon) as it would be a lot better than nothing in case of rain.

Log: 242 miles

2003-06-05 (Thu.)

07:10 Up.  Satsuma, cereal and yoghurt (no milk).  Sunshine!

08:15 Leave.

09:09 Fox with three cubs on the track ahead of me.  They hung around for half a minute, having seen me, as I pretended to be a friendly animal by chewing.

12:00 Having stopped for water at the canal, where a friendly boat woman unlocked the tap for me, and food in Pewsey, on leaving Pewsey I eat two bacon and cheese wraps and a peach, and finally see the white horse for which I have been scanning the hills all this morning and yesterday afternoon.  Actually I think I saw it yesterday but it was too small to recognise.

This river Avon looks nice so I think I will follow it at least to Amesbury.  (It goes through the New Forest after that.)  I might get a chance to wash some things, or even myself, in it.

Ate a square of pecan and maple biscuit cake shortly afterwards.  I bought lots of sweet stuff from the bakery: two of those, a treacle tart and a lardy cake.  Then, after apples, milk, grape nuts, a pork and pickle pie and a scotch egg from the supermarket, went back to the bakery for more savouries: the two bacon wraps and a "breakfast pasty".

14:00 1pt L&S + 1/2pt beer at The Red Lion, East Chisenbury, £?

19:50 Arrived at Grovelly Wood.

21:50 To bed.  Felt better today.  Yesterday I wanted to sit in the ditch of that hill fort and rest in the sun.

Today I got plenty of food (for about two full days or three pub-lunch days) and started using my right leg quite a lot, though I probably shouldn't.

Hard to get to this wood by bike.  The "Roman road" doesn't connect to the modern road.

Good fire.  Thistle, pine needles (on their twigs), not completely brown, and twigs on top.  One strike and it lit.  The wind had changed though.  Had to mind my tarp and stuff.

Heated a breakfast pasty and one third of the lardy cake, with an apple eaten between.

Log: 287 miles

2003-06-06 (Fri.)

08:00 Leave after quick breakfast of cereal.  Rain starts just as I break camp.

The "Roman" road has been tarmaced within the last few decades.

10:45 Rain gets heavy.  Stop in the woods, eat another third of the lardy cake, and huddle under my cape for over two hours.  Very miserable - half sleeping sometimes, singing songs other times.

Eventually the rain eased.  Came down through Dinton - couldn't see a pub - and Fovant - pub closed for refurbishment - and continued to Tisbury where there should be at least one place to eat and there is a railway station.

Friendly locals in Benett Arms Hotel made me a pie and chips (£3) and I listened and chatted for hours until going to the station for the 17:56 train.

20:00 Home.

Log: 309 miles.

ACT TWO - 16 to 23 June 2003 - 243 miles

After just over a week's break.

Log: 0 miles.

2003-06-16 (Mon.)

Having packed everything (nearly) yesterday, Jay and Dave invited me for an afternoon ride to Wallingford so I did that and left my cool bag (of food and water) in the fridge so it should still be good today.  While out I remembered a couple more things to pack: tin can and boiled sweets (which were a handy energy boost a couple of times in the last trip).

Yesterday (Sunday) Millets and Blacks were open but neither had a poncho/tarp.  Today I just had time (with just minutes to spare) to go to Storms and they had an excellent one.  The first one had lots of mud and a missing corner ring, so I bought a different one (same type) which I didn't inspect except to check the corner rings.  Hope it's OK.  Certainly seems much better quality and strength.  £17.50.

Got the 10:48 train which (after changing at Basingstoke) should get me to Tisbury about 12:20.

Yesterday was hot and sunny, but clouding over during the afternoon.  Today looks and was forecast to be the same, Tuesday still bright, then duller for the next two days, but no rain forecast.

Brought (only) The Thirteenth Member to read.  Decided I should look out for a second-hand copy of The Call of the Wild.  I might have read it once: certainly read it and/or White Fang, but I can't remember it now.

11:45 Lunch: ham sandwiches and a peach.  Brought 6 peaches with me as they're excellent travelling food in hot weather.  The jostle and squeeze in the panniers "ripens" them nicely.

12:25 Arrive Tisbury.  Guard opens door at end of platform so I don't have to get my bike through to the front 3 coaches.

13:00 Near Old Wardour there is a dead pheasant at the side of the road.  Do I go back a bit to pick it up?  Nothing ventured, nothing gained...  It's stiff and light but warm (in the sun).  Only a few flies.  Will inspect later.  (Soon, I hop, in case it's horrible.)  Seems whole, not run over.

14:20 Stopped and examined the pheasant.  (First cleaned up peach juice which had oozed over other food (bags) - maybe they're not ideal travelling food.)  It has a hole by its left eye as if it has been shot.  It is not as light as I first thought.  Maybe it fell off the back of a Land Rover.  It is not crawling with insects so I shall see to it this evening, not now.

Filled two water bottles from a clean stream in Winterbourne Stickland, then followed the stream - looking very clear and lovely - to Winterbourne Houghton to find that it issued from a gurgling building (with the door open) and passed through a set of aquarium ponds before becoming the stream.  Drank a few mouthfuls later when thirsty, and it tasted slightly peaty but I'm not sure whether it was a spring, a well, or piped treated water.

17:50 Passing though woods toward Bulbarrow Hill, looking out for beech leaves (there are furry ones which might be beech, but not the sort I know) to complement the bunch of dandelion I picked earlier, I smelled garlic.    Tried crushing some flat, tapered leaves: yes, that's it.  Noticed quite a lot of it, and each plant had a spray of flowers that had given way to seeds, and each of the three nodules on a stalk contained a soft white bit of garlic.  The first one tasted very mild; later I found an older-looking one and the garlic in it was strong.  I tasted a bit of leaf, and it was strong and I'd heard that the leaves are what is used, so I collected a bunch of them.

At first, having found and smelled a leaf, I dug down an inch or two thinking to find a bulb of garlic there, but found nothing and realised I was wrong.

~18:00 Decide to camp in the woods just 1/4 mile West of the view point on Bulbarrow Hill.  The top of the wood, for 20 yards from the road, slopes gently and then becomes almost 45 degrees slope for a long way down.  Find a fairly level spot near the top; fortunately it is fairly well hidden from the road.  Clear a sleeping area of sticks and fir cones (and a very few stones).  Dig a shallow fire pit, 2" to 3" deep and 12" diameter, a bit bigger than usual.  What next?  Light a fire?  No - the pheasant needs quite a lot of preparation.  Plucking certainly; then I don't know whether to cut up meat chunks and boil them in my can like we did on the woodland survival course with the chickens, or try to roast the bird or a part of it.  There is plenty more wild garlic in the woods here, as well as beech, the proper sort, and some of the slightly furry leaves with slightly spiky-shaped leaf outlines, which might not be - probably isn't - beech.

I hung the pheasant from a branch a bit away from my camp, as it had leaked blood into the carrier bag (fortunately I'd double-bagged it).  It dripped a bit more from its mouth while I plucked it.  After clearing a small patch on its breast, I hung a carrier bag from its right wing and started collecting the feathers in there, just in case they would be nice to keep, and counted them into it.  I reached the end of its belly after nearly an hour, and over 600 plucks (each one proper feather or two or more fluff feathers), and was getting cold and hungry.  I'd eaten a peach before plucking, but that wasn't enough and it was obviously going to take hours to prepare and cook the bird.  So I left it, keeping an eye out for scavengers, an d made a fire.

There were plenty of pine needles among the leaves and sticks on the forest floor, and plenty of dry twigs.  I made a wigwam and put some thistle down in place over the fir cone at the bottom, and a spark scraped with a flint from my striker lit the thistle and some of the needles, but not the twigs.  I hadn't gathered many needles, and I hadn't put very fine, very dry twigs over them.  After several more tries with the same and different tinder, knocking down my wigwam and not sorting out the needles and twigs problem, I gave up and lit it with the gas lighter.

The fire was soon going well and I boiled noodles and ate them with chopsticks of stripped, fresh beech (?) twig.

By the time I had brushed my teeth and strung the tarp up and gone to bed, it was 22:55, much too late (pretty dark).  Very difficult tying, and especially untying, knots in the dark.  I should put the tarp up earlier.

Log: 36 miles

2003-06-17 (Tue.)

~07:15 Up.  Pour a little bit of water over my eyes and wash my face and a few other bits as it dribbled down.  Am carrying three half-litre water bottles this time, as two wasn't enough on a hot day last time, so can better afford to use a little bit for washing.  Perhaps that doesn't quite follow.

Breakfast: 4 Weetabix, as I fear they won't last as long in damp weather as the muesli that's in a plastic bag in a plastic pot.  Used all of my nearly 1pt milk as it tasted as if it hadn't long to go.  Cleaned my cooking can with a fir cone - tedious hard work: I shouldn't put it in the flames - and I examined the char cloth in the square tin like a cigar box.  I did some cotton (handkerchief) squares last time (at the wagon, I think) and they looked good - black, intact, soft and light - but didn't catch from a spark.  This time I had squares of linen.  Unfortunately the noodles boiled over two or three times, pouring water onto the tin which probably sucked in air and burned the cloth.  Anyway it is shrivelled and stiff.  I haven't tried it yet, as it might be damp from the night.

Used the wooden teaspoon that I made, as I can't find the metal one that I thought I packed.  It's not great - too high-sided - but does the job.

10:05 Have packed away food and sleeping bag.  Am sitting on roll mat under tarp, writing this up.  I must examine the tarp.  It has a piece of cord a bit away from the hood, and a row of poppers down at one end.  Perhaps for packing it up or wrapping it around a sleeping bag?

Sun is filtering through the trees.

Perhaps I will pluck the pheasant some more - or completely - to have a chance of cooking it later.  It is still soft and clean, and though there was a fly on its eye this morning nothing has taken it or attacked its underside.  I hung it nearer me and higher up over night so I might see any fox that came but not let it get the bird.  I woke many times in the night, sometimes hearing rustling but it was probably squirrels or something far away.

14:00 Found a pub at last.  It's the "Brace of Pheasants" at Plush!  No Badger; he thinks the Poachers at Piddletrenthide had some.

Plucked the pheasant's back after breakfast: more than 600 feathers again, and I didn't do the wings or neck or tail region.  Found blue-green liquid under the skin around substantial parts of it - yuck.  Broke camp and meanwhile decided to cut into it to see what's what, and then leave it.  Found good breast meat; only the inside of the skin was blue-green, and there was air (or gas) under the skin, not liquid.  With flies now congregating like flies, I cut the breasts out and put them in a bag.  They look clean.  Threw the rest of the bird down the slop in the woods.  It would be fun to watch a fox come for it, but I don't know how soon that would be.

12:30 Set off.  Soon became hot and I looked for a pub; found this one and then stopped in the entrance to a bridleway to eat ham sandwiches, else I'd have been tempted by the pub food (I was very hungry).  Had 1pt L&S + 1/2pt Butcombe ale, refill of two water bottles and some free crisp-like things at the bar where I'm writing this up.

20:00 The fire has died down to embers and I've put one pheasant breast, wrapped in wild garlic leaves, over it resting on three parallel sticks (in case one burns through or otherwise drops).  Last night I used one leaf, chopped, in the noodles and that seemed like plenty, taste-wise.  I still tasted garlic when I woke up, which wasn't very nice.

Haven't come far today.  Went through Piddletrenthide (which I rather thought was fictional when I heard of it years ago via the Yetties song "When the Piddletrenthide Jug Band Hit the Streets") and up to Cerne Abbas to see the chalk giant with his exaggerated danglies.  The I took a bridleway, filled my third water bottle (two filled at the pub) from a steam (but it's got stuff floating around in it - might use it for washing only), and came upon a secluded meadow with woods almost all around it.  It looked lovely for sunbathing but, after searching the woods on foot, in vain, for a flat spot, I didn't have time.  It was only a little after 17:00 when I found the place but I wanted plenty of time for cooking the pheasant.  Got lots of tiny spider/crab-like things on my legs.  They are ~1mm diameter including their legs, and seem to cling on, crawl around and burrow into my skin (I only found one doing that).  Considered leaving but decided the itching effect is the same thing I've had almost everywhere but have previously attributed to flies or midges.

After half an hour, I deemed the meat done.  I'd peeled off the garlic leaves (which were half burnt) for the last few minutes, and ate it on bread and butter without further garlic.  Good meat, only a little darker than turkey breast, but as tough as medium-tough beef - i.e. perfectly edible and sliceable with a knife.  Good taste - not too strong.  Ate lettuce with it; chickened out on the dandelion.

Wondered whether to cook both breasts for better keeping (I rightly guessed that one would be plenty for one meal).  Had better cook it tomorrow.  My remaining pack (sealed) of sliced cooked ham will surely keep longer than raw meat, even though it's not been kept very cold for a couple of days already.  I'm using a handy Thermos cool bag that Lucy and Adrian were giving away, along with lots of other stuff, prior to moving house.

21:15 The sun set over the high side of this wood while I was cooking.  Have now had some yoghurt and will go to bed a.s.a.p.  Have already hung my lovely new tarp (second hand, with a small hole in it near the hood) so just tidying and tooth-brushing to do.  Unfortunately am on a sideways slope.  It was the flattest place I could find.

Log: 53 miles

2003-06-18 (Wed.)

08:10 Up.  Muesli and flapjack.

09:15 Leave.

Sunny to begin with, then overcast with black rain cloud coming from SW.  Started heading S to Dorchester, Maiden Castle and the South West Coast Path, but changed my mind and went to the nearest railway station, Chetnole.  No train for an hour, so shaved and then headed for Yettminster (home of the Yetties).  Bought bread rolls in a little shop in Hamlet along the way, and the woman kindly looked in the paper for the weather forecast for me.  Bright today and tomorrow.  Possible rain on hills.  So it should be worth sticking it out, and keeping off high ground.  Put my new tarp on as a poncho; it's big but warm and kept a bit of drizzle off me.

12:30 Lunch: stake and ale pie (would have been much better hot), with dandelion; flapjack and a peach (beginning to go mouldy; the last one should just about last until this evening) by Sutton Bingham reservoir.  A woman at the next table was 'phoning friends, trying to get rid of three free-range chickens because "the kids won't let me eat them".

14:40 1/2pt Exmoor ale + 1/2pt L&S at The Fox, Corscombe, £2.15.

~18:00 Stopped near Fishpond Bottom where steep woods rise to what I thought would be a pointed top but is (I walked up to find out) a large well-used flat area, like two or more fields, with cattle and horse riders and walkers (not that I saw any).  Eventually decided on a nice flat spot by a fallen tree down near the road, but quite well hidden (after I made a bit of a bank by covering a log with leaves and stuff).  Nice soft floor of leaf matter and sawdust.

Cooked the second pheasant breast like the first.  Was starting to show a blue tinge but I cooked it well and it was fine.  Ate it in two dry long-life hot dog rolls, with dandelion and one garlic leaves in each.  Gas lighter again - but it was misty much of today so I couldn't find dry leaves and don't feel so bad.

Ate the last peach with minor paring of bad skin and flesh.  Burnt the paper bag that it was in.  Have shrivelled in the fire the inner plastic bag of the pheasant meat, and smoked the outer one (mainly to dry it) which was only a bit damp with leaked slime.

10:00 Teeth, bed, diary.

Log: 86 miles

2003-06-19 (Thu.)

08:20 Up after lying awake for some time feeling that it was damp and might rain soon.  Weetabix (4, of course) and flapjack.

10:05 Leave.

BTW I could really have done with some butter on those rolls; I found some this morning forming in the milk.

10:20 "Welcome to Devon" - <grin>.  It's been fun seeing new counties appear one after another.  This feels like the final destination - I'm not planning to go to Cornwall.

11:52 I can see the sea!  Just entered a stretch of SW Coast Path which should be short and easy.  Realised earlier that much of the path may be steep and rocky and unsuitable for cycling.

12:15 Stopped for lunch in the Hook and Parrot on the sea front at Seaton.  1/2pt beer + 1/2pt L&S £1.50.  Cottage pie, chips and peas £4.95.

The sky is overcast except for a blue patch just out to sea, which doesn't seem to have moved or changed since I got here 20 minutes ago.  I only got a few glimpses of it this morning, but it's been warm enough.

Apricot and apple crumble and custard, £3.95.

15:35 "CAMRA Pub of the Year 1996".  Hey?  There can't be two of those.  I saw one half an hour ago.  "The Fountain Head".  Aargh.  It's the same one.  Perhaps my "keep left" strategy for getting to Sidmouth was not foolproof.  "Live music at the beer festival, 20th-22nd.  BBQ & spit roast.  36 guest ales."  Worth coming back for?  (W end of Branscombe.)

Stopped at the donkey sanctuary near Salcombe Regis.  Hadn't realised how cute and cuddly and expressive they are.  A set of expression diagrams in the guide leaflet was a nice touch.  Free entry; donated £20.  My recently revived interest in the Follyfoot books was a big factor.

Earlier, before the Fountain Head deja-vu, I'd stopped in Beer for a postcard (15p), sent to Mum and Dad, and rolls, a pasty and a treacle tart (£3.36) from a bakery.

Now, past an observatory, down the hill into Sidmouth.  "The old home town looks the same / As I step down from my bike / And there to meet me are" ... not a single musician.  Strange seeing it "empty".  Bought milk (39p) and Weetabix (89p) and apples (£1.02) and had a quick sit by the sea front, ate an apple and nuts, filled a water bottle and set out up to the hill to the West.  Nice woods on top, which I'd spotted from the other side of the valley, but hard to find a good place to camp.  I traipsed around and dithered until it was well after 8 o'clock.  I was in a spot a bit too close to a path where people had walked past, without a good flat spot in appropriate relation to trees and the wind.  The sun had come out for an hour or more, which made it not seem so late.

I strung up the tarp and did actually make a good soft sleeping spot under it, but decided not to make a fire.  Ate ham in a roll (a nice soft brown one from the bakery, not another of those emergency long-life hot dog rolls), and some yoghurt and treacle tart.  The pork and apple pasty should last another day and would be much better hot.  Went to bed just as it got dark, at 21:45.

Log: 117 miles

2003-06-20 (Fri.)

08:20 Up.

09:00 Leave.  It's clear and sunny so I cycle out to the edge of the woods where I'd glimpsed the sea last night.  It's a lovely spot looking over rolling hills and fields to Otterton, Budleigh Salterton, the Exe valley, and Babbacombe bay curving round to Torquay and Brixham.

Breakfast: Weetabix, treacle tart, and an apple.  Take photos; find that the film I've been using from last days at Satchwell till now hasn't been winding on.  D'oh.  Shave.  Sunbathe.  Write diary.

I have talked to one man walking his dogs, and said hello to two women on horses, and one earlier, but nobody else has been by all morning, so now I am sunbathing nude.  I can hear people approaching long before they get here, and cover up.  It's 11:55 now, and perhaps I should be moving on, but I've been waiting all week for a day like this so maybe I'll stay until I've had too much sun.

13:00 Moved on.  It's lunch time but I thought two successive meals in the same place was not on.  Oh, and maybe I exaggerated "plenty" of warning: I had only seconds to spare when I heard dogs before two women came by and one said "Oh, there's someone reading in his thong."

So, down through Otterton to Budleigh Salterton, a large town by the sea, where I sat on the stony beach and encased the pasty in hot stones while I waded into the sea with a little hotel phial of shampoo.  The water was even colder than I expected, and when it got up to my belly button I backed out.  The pasty did warm noticeably, though not much, but it was nice.  And I had treacle tart and an apple (the apple while waiting for the pasty, first of all).

15:00 Bought 3 more apples (36p) as they're good (NZ Braeburns always, this trip), and some cherries (£1.62) as they looked nice.  On the road again, to Topsham (suburb of Exeter) via a lovely little reservoir in the woods where I was seeking water re-fill and/or hairwashing, but decided neither was appropriate.  The first person I asked on entering Topsham knew where Majorfield Road was, and I found it and knocked on the door of no. 28 just after 5 o;clock.  Fair chance that Lucy and Adrian are not back from work yet and/or are going or gone for the weekend.  But a noise from upstairs is followed by Adrian opening the door and welcoming me with surprise.  I apologise for turning up unannounced and acknowledge that they might be busy.  Indeed Adrian is leaving for the weekend in half an hour and Lucy has already gone, but he invites me in for a drink and a chat and then to stay, and I make only feeble attempts to refuse that offer.

I walked up and down town, asking people if there is a folk session or any live music.  There is a man singing 60s songs at an Italian restaurant, and blues at The Globe (hotel), which I find is a separate event for £8 so I can't eat and listen together.  After eating fish, chips and peas there (£7.95 + £2 tip as it was served by a waiter) and drinking a pint of guest ale (£2.10), I didn't feel like paying for the second half of the set of a solo artist; I could hear him enough from outside the door to judge that.  Not that he was bad; I would have paid if eating and/or talking were allowed.

Straight back to L & A's house down a tiny alley beside the post office.  Eat the remains of the treacle tart heated in the microwave oven.  Didn't really appreciate the luxury; wanted cream or ice cream as well.

The third book on the rack in the living room is Flambards (by K M Peyton) which I have read when Corinne was discarding it for a car boot sale.  It's a pony story so I assume this copy is Lucy's.  Next to it is The Edge of the Cloud, the second in the trilogy, which I have not read.  Didn't even know there were more.  And next to that is A Stranger Came Ashore by Mollie Hunter who wrote The Thirteenth Member which is the book I've brought with me on this cycle tour, and which I bought by chance, never having seen it before, a few months ago, along with Julie of the Wolves, the 16th book on the rack.  Now maybe these are all well known popular books, but I have never heard of them at any other time, so it seems weird.  I have heard of well over half the other books on the the shelf, or at least the authors.

I took a shower here just after Adrian left.  That was much appreciated, and my hair looks a bit better and feels much better.  The rest of me wasn't too dirty.  My fingernails show the difference most.  I haven't cut them for over a week, just as an experiment, and it's easy to keep them mostly clean but the skin-to-nail joint always resists scraping.  Soap and hot water was needed there.

I touched up my shaving slightly, but left the 4 days' moustache and 2 days' beard.  They look OK and are not easily shaved with a used razor and no shaving cream.

There is a shop open until 10pm just near the end of this road so I re-stocked their lemonade.  I am also leaving some nice Dorset flapjack (apricot and sultana variety).

Log: ~137 miles

2003-06-21 (Sat.)

Read half of The Edge of the Cloud while getting up and having breakfast.

13:30 Leave.  Buy sausage rolls, flapjack and a piece of chocolate cake at the bakery (£3.75).  Take the little ferry across the river (£1), holding my bike with its front wheel dangling over the bow.  Eat a ham roll and a sausage roll there by the canal, and the bit of cake.

15:00 Leave, cycling almost non-stop.  Actually I did stop to brush teeth, and to oil the chain which seemed to make a big difference in ease of cycling.  Maybe it's a psychological effect due to the stopping of the chain noise.

17:15 Is that a fork of lightning?  A minute later - yes - two forks in that black bit of cloud on my right, with two accompanying clicks, and a bit more a bit later.  Looks ominous, though to West and South the cloud is light and broken with sun getting through.  Push on.

18:30 Arrive in North Tawton.  Find Mathew and Karen's house easily from memory.  Car is there.  Knock.  They're in , with guests already, but room and food to spare for me.  Very glad, I am.  Mathew shows me the house and garden, we drink wine and eat chicken casserole and rice and fruit with ice cream, and then we watch Harry Potter II: The Chamber of Secrets which I've seen at the cinema but didn't mind watching again.  I and most of us were falling asleep during it, so we went to bed afterwards, Laura and Chris in the main spare room and me in the second spare room.

Log: 170 miles

2003-06-22 (Sun.)

08:00 A knock on the door because they are going to a car boot sale and want to leave at 9.  09:15 They leave in the car, and I on my bike, stopping in the village to write this diary and make plans for today.  There's a poster for a Medieval Jousting display which is on today at Powderham Castle.  I'm tempted to go but it is exactly where I started from yesterday, near the ferry crossing from Topsham.

10:15 Leave.  My O.S. map of ancient Britain shows two places on the West of Dartmoor that are suitable for visiting, at Lydford and at Merrivale.

12:30 Stop at the White Hart Inn, Bridestowe, for L&S, 1/2pt beer and ham, egg and chips: £6.80.  Fruit pancake and cream £3.25.  The pancake was a crispy pancake roll, very nice, and the cream was a dollop of good yellow stuff almost as big as the pancake roll.  Much better than I expected.

I stop in Lydford to see the "castle" which was actually a prison.  My map says "Anglo-Saxon burh" but I can't see anything else in evidence.

I stop in the entrance to Lydford Gorge and a man calls me over to the Sustrans Cycle Picnic tent where I have a chat and a free drink of lemon squash and a biscuit.  It has started to rain a bit.  I head for Tavistock.  Several of them are doing the same, the picnic being over, and we pass each other as the rain increases and thunder rumbles.  They must have diverted down cycle route 27 while I continued straight on down the road, as I didn't see any more of them after a while.  I get cold, but no more tired than I had been all day, and wanted to take shelter but I decided to press on to Tavistock and get some hot food and a room for the night.  Arrived at 4pm, sheltered under an arch way while I warmed and dried a bit and the rain eased off, and then went in search of a B&B or an inn.  Formed the opinion that inns only do accommodation in out-of-the-way places, not in towns.  The easy B&Bs were along the Plymouth Road but that was horribly noisy, so cycled around lanes outside town for a good while before I found one about 18:15.  They put me in "The Tack Room" which may possibly once have been one but doesn't show much sign of it.  Big plus: microwave oven so I can heat my sausage roll and pasty.  I even make and drink a cup of coffee for about the first time ever.  Finish with half an iced bun loaf and one small chocolate bar; these bought at Lydford, £2.70.  Tried the remains of my yoghurt but it was runny and tasted as if it is fermenting.  Ate the best half of my remaining dandelion leaves with the main course; threw out the rest that were going manky.

Continental breakfast was offered as "what we usually do", but I asked for cooked breakfast and a wake-up knock; since then I have found a radio with timer and have set it to come on at 07:55.

Log: 206 miles

2003-06-23 (Mon.)

06:45 Up!  Have woken several times probably due to blocked nose and sore throat from the feather pillow.

The sun is out though the clouds block it now and then.  The horse in the paddock outside my window has got up to graze.  It's a bay gelding (I think) with a small white star (blob) on its forehead and a dark back but lighter under-side, as if sun-tanned.  The faint hiss of the stream running through there, and the occasional creak of the shower room door, were about the only sounds last night.

(His neck is longer than that.)

Graham and Joanna are the proprietors.  I had breakfast with six other guests, four German and two English.  Cereal, toast, orange juice, coffee, and the fried stuff.

10:30 Leave.  Charged £27.50; gave£30.  It was called Mount Tavy Cottage.  Am heading for Merrivale.

12:00 Found it (the Bronze Age settlement) after going a mile too far because there is almost nothing visible.  I found a flat area which must be the site, but my map also says stone rows, a stone circle and burial cairn but I saw none of those.  I looked closely at a tor thinking it might be a burial cairn but I'm sure it was natural.

13:00 Eat a piece of flapjack near Twin Bridges.

General observation: it is mowing time.  All week I have seen mowing, with the wet grass being driven away in high wire cages rather than left to lie.

13:22 Wow!  Was just thinking how much easier it is going East, with the wind behind me, and there on a good little down-hill stretch I just broke the speed limit at 41 MPH.  I've hardly ever cycled that fast.

13:45 Dartmeet, and the Badgers Holt restaurant.  Nice to be back.  Lots of pea hens (I assume) running around, mostly black with white speckles, some with white patches or white all over.  Scruffy little heads with white sides and red moustache-like jowl flaps.

Almost went straight for a cream tea, but ordered roast beef and hot chocolate first (£8).  That was nice, not outstanding, but they said they use local produce which I appreciate.

A pea cock has just appeared and wandered past me with his tail furled behind him.

Cream tea (£4.25 and worth it) with hot chocolate.  There were two wedges of a family-sized scone.

Bought a jar of marmalade (£2.35) from their gift shop too.

15:39 Entering Poundsgate, the steepest hill sign of the tour - fortunately down in my direction.

Ponies watching their sunbathing foals.

Stopped briefly at Buckfast Abbey and looked at its lavender garden

16:55 On the main road from Buckfastleigh to Totnes (oops - didn't mean to take this road - traffic is very bad) I saw a train on the railway beside the road, being pulled by a steam locomotive (travelling backwards).  The driver was leaning out and I waved and he waved back.

17:50 Totnes!  Train is at 19:07 so into town.  Excellent grocery shop specialising in organic, vegetarian, etc. foods.  All sorts of locally made and interesting stuff.  Not much else is open; have a pint of Beck's in a bar: £2.60! @ The Castle Inn.  Shop was The Happy Apple.

The departures information screen had a mouse cursor and dialogue box on it when I bought my ticket, saying "Windows: This application has performed an illegal operation and will be terminated."  The ticket man said the fault has been reported already.  The screens are now switched off.

~22:00 Home.

Log: 243 miles


JAF monogram Copyright: text © Julian Foad, 2003; photographs © Julian Foad, 2003.