Day 1 – 1st August – 55.65 miles
It was still raining when I pedaled away from the Sandy Bank Hotel at just after 8 am. The wind was still blowing too, not so strongly as the night before but luckily still from the same direction, this time blowing me along the A30 towards Penzance. Although I had the CTC route highlighted on my map, as I was making good time on the main road and feel reasonably comfortable in traffic, I decided to bypass Penzance and stayed on the A30 till just before Camborne. Then I thought that I ought to at least try and follow the Club’s suggestions, so dived down through Camborne and on to Redruth, where I got hopelessly lost trying to pick up the route. I eventually found the right road after asking for directions and riding up a long, steep pedestrianised street from the town centre.
I stopped at a MacDonald’s for some tea just before Truro and had a brief chat with two more E2Eers – youngsters on slick sporty road bikes. They said they were camping en route, which didn’t ring true with the tiny backpack each one was carrying and no cycle luggage, until they added that the support team was behind them in the van. They were predicting a ride of eight days; “a bit too ambitious” I thought; neither of them looked fit enough to put in that sort of daily mileage; ten days possibly.
I carried on up the A390 and through St Austell, intending to stop at one of the camp sites shown on the map on the other side of town. Before reaching the marked ones, a sign advertising a Caravan site pointed to the left up a hill from the main road. I asked in the corner shop if they took campers; the woman behind the counter said she thought they did. A quarter of a mile up the hill and I came to a pleasant little site with a beautiful view over St Austell Bay. £7 secured a tent pitch and a lovely hot shower.
Dinner was simple. It consisted of a can of fish and some boiled fresh vegetables, bought from the aforementioned corner shop, washed down with rooibos tea. I sat outside my tent in the late evening sunshine watching the boats bobbing about in the bay and thinking to myself “this is what cycle touring is all about”. I deemed day one to have been a success as I crawled into my sleeping bag for my first nights camping this summer.
Day 2 2nd August – 37.8 miles
Although it hadn’t rained during the night the outside of the tent was soaking wet with dew, and the inside of the flysheet dripping with condensation. Because I hadn’t camped for some time this quite surprised me at first; it shouldn’t have done. It’s actually quite rare to be able to pack a dry
tent first thing in the morning in this country, whatever the weather or time of year. The sun came up and showed the Bay off beautifully, as I sat and ate my porridge and drank my tea. I was packed up and on the road for just before eight o’clock, heading east on the A390 towards Liskeard and Tavistock. It wasn’t long before the sky darkened and a misty, mizzly rain descended. It wasn’t enough to warrant donning water proofs; the going on the hills would’ve made it just too hot for that anyway.
The only way to describe the hills now was horrendous; steep grinding climbs necessitating the lowest gears and sometimes no more speed than 4 mph, followed by headlong downward dashes of 35 and sometimes 40 mph. The most spectacular of these was the dive down to the Tamar Valley a few miles before Tavistock. However, once across the river the climb back out was soul destroying; it seemed never ending.
I’d been following the CTC recommended route all day and, once through Tavistock, had little choice other than to stay on it. This meant taking the B3357 out towards Dartmoor but after the day’s hills so far, I wasn’t about to attempt going over the Moor till the next day. There were two choices of camp site on the edge of the Moor after Tavistock. I chose the first one I came to, which was really rather silly as it meant nearly a mile’s ride away from the main road. I didn’t know it till the next day, but the other one was right beside the route and only a short distance from the turn off for the chosen site. However, Langstone Manor proved to be a very pleasant place to camp; if I’d have had the time, I’d have lingered longer and enjoyed some if its many facilities.
The site fee was £15, which I thought rather steep for a cyclist and a single tent, but the proprietor asked if I was doing the ride sponsored and when I explained the Harley Slack situation, she gave me a tenner back. That’ll go into the pot.
The site boasted an excellent restaurant but I’d already bought ingredients for a simple camp meal back in Tavistock so passed up the opportunity. Saved me a bit of money too. To my dismay, as I got ready for any early night, I found that my little blowup camping pillow had sprung a leak and went flat within minutes of being inflated. A rolled up bundle of clothes would have served as a replacement for at least one night but I’d noticed that the site shop had some camping equipment in stock; alas, not a camping pillow though. The proprietor came to my rescue and loaned me a full sized conventional feather pillow for the night – luxury indeed!
Having set myself a target of at least 50 miles a day, I was rather demoralized by the meager distance covered so early on in the ride. However, being a lone cyclist, over the years I’ve become rather adept at self motivation; self delusion or playing psychological games some might say. So as I fell asleep, I resolved to modify my ambitions for day 3 to simply getting over Dartmoor and not worrying too much about distance covered.
Ernie Buck is 66 years old and has lived in various parts of Yorkshire for the last 30 years. A continual commuting cyclist,he has done a number of long distance solo expeditions within the UK, but dreamt of cycling to India and beyond for years.
In 2009 Ernie did the Land’s End to John O’Groats cycle ride.
The next episode of Ernie’s journey will appear in the May edition of Many Roads.
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