Distance so far: 1444 miles, Whitby to Newbiggin
Well, it's raining and I can't see across the dale and it shows no sign of stopping any time soon... Can't say I'm enjoying it much but this is the first proper rainy day in the best part of a month on the road! Have had some exciting horizontal hail in the North Yorks Moors, but now I've made it into the Dales it proper feels like 'ome!
Am heading from pub to campsite now to see how waterproof this new bivi actually is.
Heading up through the Dales tomorrow then west into the Lakes.
Distance so far: 1005 miles, Plymouth to Cheshire
Leaving Plymouth and heading up into Dartmoor for a second time was hard-going. The heat was unrelenting and the trails at times non-existent, so much time was spent navigating around bogs. But it was the insects that really got me. I'd spent an hour or so eating an evening meal at the pub in Postbridge and then went to pitch my tent in the forest nearby. Had I realised that the midges were going to be there in their millions I might well have found a B&B, and three days later when in Bristol my friends thought I had brought smallpox back...!
However, that section of the journey also provided some of the most fun off-roading on the trip in the Quantocks, a small but pretty set of hills Southeast of Minehead. I got completely lost on the dense network of trails, some of which were marked on the map and some not. But it didn't matter - I had the sun as my compass and I spent the morning climbing up the ridges and speeding down the woodland trails and basically having a right good time before a dramatic change of scenery in the form of the A38 to Bristol.
Bristol provided a welcome change from the blandness of English pub food, which has been the staple on this trip. A Jerk chicken picnic in the park provided something for my spice-craving and washed down with some cold cider and good chat with old mates it was a lovely evening.
As we headed up through the Brecon Beacons pretty much everyone that we met was talking about the army lads who had unfortunately died on Pen y Fan. Whilst dehydration and heat exhaustion were of course things that we had to be wary of in our long days, the conditions leading to these deaths were somewhat more extreme, and we were able to enjoy the clear blue skies as we looked down on the spectacular valleys of Central Wales.
The Elan Valley in particular was very special. It is the land that time forgot, and having not seen a soul for miles and miles we were amazed to stumble upon an outdoors centre with woodland mountain bike trails. As we arrived we saw signs indicating that the Red Trail was closed. That was the trail we had just come down, and it was closed because of logging - we'd had a lot of fun riding over heaps of branches that had been felled and were littering the trail, but it wasn't easy work.
Walking across rivers and surrounding bogs up onto the moorland was to follow, and when we finally summited we realised we had gone off the trail and then had to make the descent along tiny sheep trails down the steep hillside. One mistake and it's hard to recover. At the bottom, we had a superb, rocky trail to work our way up before finishing at Claerwen Reservoir, where we camped for the night on the shore, with nobody to be seen for miles.
The worst campsite of our trip was on the edge of Snowdonia, and, interestingly, was the most expensive. It begs the question of why so few people venture off the beaten track. When there is so much beautiful countryside in Central Wales, why is it so deserted when Snowdonia in school holidays is tourist-central? Admittedly, we did well with the weather, but it is good to see that there are places in the UK which really feel remote and inaccessible, even untouched. We did not see a DofE group for a record three days!
Don't forget to check out new photos, too.
Next stage: up through the Peaks, The North Yorks Moors and then the Lakes
Distance so far: 375 miles, Eastbourne to Plymouth
I can’t remember the last time I was visiting my home country as a tourist, and it certainly lends for a different perspective on things, for better or worse. Setting out from Eastbourne in full summer mode, having packed light, it was a bit nippy to say the least. Heading up the steep inclines of Beachy Head and beyond, I was limited to 20 yards’ visibility for the entirety of the afternoon, so thick were the clouds rolling in from the Channel. Welcome to summer in England, I thought!
From the offset the ride has been a challenging reminder of how long it takes to get to the level of fitness where you just wake up in the morning and getting back on the saddle for the nth day on the run doesn’t seem such an unattractive prospect. Oh, go on then, I’ll just have another cup of coffee…
The South Downs Way might not be everyone’s idea of extreme, but it is far from flat and, at pace, as well as fully loaded, it has one or two technical moments too. And when the sun comes out it boasts some of Britain’s loveliest countryside and quaintest villages. There were deer, foxes, buzzards, and one of the most beautiful campsites I’ve found in a long time, looking out over the mist-covered villages from high above in the early morning. It was, as a passing dog-walker put it, ‘textbook stuff’, and I realised that being a tourist in England wasn’t going to be so bad after all.
One nice thing about riding around the UK is that you’re never far from anything. There are no mass wildernesses where you have to carry several days’ worth of water and live off pot noodles in order to survive. There are no deserts where you won’t see a soul for hundreds of miles. Indeed, even the smallest of villages seems to have a reasonable enough pub lunch or early evening meal on offer, and if you plan carefully you can eat way more than necessary. And if anyone should ever challenge me about the English being cold and distant again, I have evidence to the contrary: having opted for a shower at the end of a long day in the saddle I chose to pay for a campsite rather than camp wild as per normal, and within about 10 minutes of my arrival two different people had brought me an ice cold beer and come to chat!
The shower didn’t really pay off, however, as within about a mile the next morning I had already had my first mud bath of the day. I was having fun, though, when I foolishly decided that the ‘puddle’ wouldn’t be that deep… I ground to a halt and was up to my knees in slushy brown gunk before I could do anything about it other than laugh!
Later on things were to get more difficult, and I had to learn the hard way, in searing heat, that my bike setup is not ideal for removing wheels and fixing punctures in a hurry… Still, I was having immense fun as I decided to pull the wheelie that led to the puncture! 3-inch tyres may have grip to boot, but they do not make you invincible.
The same afternoon my sugar level dropped and I got totally and utterly disoriented and found myself well and truly lost in the middle of a forest I couldn’t locate on the trusty OS Map. It was my fault, of course, not the map’s. It wasn’t a fun experience, in all honesty, but without it this bike ride wouldn’t be the same, it wouldn’t be mine and it wouldn’t have that same level of excitement, challenge, fun and reward.
Check out photos here!
Next stage: through Dartmoor, Exmoor and to Bristol...
Picked up my new Krampus yesterday from the guys at Keep Pedalling and have done about 50 miles on it. It was covered in dirt within about the first mile, as I went along Whitegate Way and then down the canal towpath back home - much fun, especially having never ridden a fat bike before!
About to go and get the bags packed and loaded up so that I can head off down to Eastbourne tomorrow and do the first few miles of the South Downs Way.