C2C, E2E, S2S, A2B….
Why do cyclists (well, some at least) have this inexplicable yen to do straight-line routes that begin in one place and end in another, and they have to use transport, other than the bike, to get to the start and get away from the finish? And when it involves a tandem, you have to use your imagination to do just that. Buses, trains and planes are not happy about taking tandems unless, of course, there is a clever way of either folding or splitting your machine. We have neither, so we have to be a little more creative still.
As I key in these reflections about our tandem adventure cycling the 100 mile Devon C2C (Ilfracombe to Plymouth), I am sitting on one of two trains and a bus that will take me back to Ilfracombe to retrieve the car, to shoot back to Plymouth in order to pick up both Jenny and the tandem. We did the same for the Way of the Roses, the Thames: Source to Barrier and, more recently, Bristol to Newbury. It kind of works (usually), but it’s an additional logistical hassle that we could do without.
Having said all of that, it doesn’t detract from the excellent, challenging ride we’ve just had over four days, following the Tarka Trail, continuing along the Granite Way from Okehampton, and finishing off by an astonishingly fast descent to Plymouth over 12 miles on Drake’s Trail, most of the four days spent on former railway tracks, much of them asphalted and traffic free.
The trails climbed and descended through woodland, over the lower reaches of Dartmoor, through parks and along rivers. The climbs were short but very steep….horrendously steep, sometimes……and so we dreamed of electric assist. We were overtaken several times by cyclists gracefully gliding up impossible climbs, whistling their favourite tunes, or chatting to a buddy when they should have been panting…..but the characteristic whirring sound of the electric motor gave them away. Will we cross over into the wonderland of electric-assist one day? The big attraction will be keeping open the possibility of touring in hilly, indeed mountainous, terrain which, on a tandem, is particularly challenging.
Our accommodation was a mixture of B&Bs, Youth Hostel, and one night being hosted by a fellow cyclist through Warmshowers (a 26 year old dairy farmer who was a great cook, to boot!). Each location had its own special character, and its own unique brand of hospitality. One of our B&Bs was a remote farmhouse where we were served pork and bacon from their own pigs. The YHA was a converted railway shed by the old 1960’s station in Okehampton, that also had an excellent cafe on the platform where we tucked into their small breakfast called ‘Branch line’……guess what the full fry-up was called?
The café at Barnstaple was similarly situated on an old-style station, underlining the reality that this part of the country still revels in railway nostalgia, with teams of enthusiasts helping to maintain old rolling stock and preserve an environment that some of us remember from the 50s and 60s.
As I sit on a train to Barnstaple, listening to the clickety-clack of wheels over rails, and wishing they had even a minimal catering service, I try to ignore the hunger pangs by dreaming of the uphill speeds we’ll achieve one day when we get a vra-vra-vroom electric motor on the tandem.
And I conclude by uploading our routes:
Ilfracombe to Bideford:
Bideford to Okehampton
Okehampton to Tavistock
Tavistock to Plymouth