An Autumnal Bike Ride to Land’s End

This is a brief account of a bike ride to Land’s End from Exeter – and then back to Taunton. I last did this area as a big bike ride back in the 1980s, so traffic was noticeably heavier – I looked at the stats for road traffic in the UK and it has, of course, more than doubled in the last thirty or so years. It does make the A roads a generally unpleasant ride on a bike since the traffic now is almost continuous. Any hold up at all and a traffic jam rapidly forms. The traffic was also more aggressive than in the 1980s – I’m sure no one ever told you to get on an inadequate bike path back in the 80s (well, OK, there was no bike path to use) and cars were rather less powerful and speedy. The lanes are still very pretty. We did leave this trip rather late in the year and I would recommend visiting Cornwall earlier than late September – weather and available daylight are against you, the latter is especially significant if you are spending a lot of time navigating the intricate network of lanes! The ride was, overall, great fun – across moors, along lots of coastline, lots of great moments, including some where it was just nice to arrive and get in out of the rain! This ride brought my total miles for summer cycle trips to about 2000 miles, so half a Trans Am.

Friday September 20th 2019 From Exeter to Bellever Youth Hostel. Quick look around Exeter after the train journey from Pembs, seemed very studenty. Took the B3212 out of Exeter. Shopped at an edge of town Tesco ready for this evening in the wilds of Dartmoor. Heavy smell of cannabis near the store, evidently a brisk trade. The road got quieter as we headed out to the National Park, steadily climbing towards Moretonhampstead, a pretty small town where we sat in the sun along with some locals. Evidently the sort of place where people still walk to the shops. Then out onto Dartmoor, where we stopped for half an hour at the Warren House Inn, which is the highest pub in Southern England – standing at 1425′ – note that Southern England excludes Staffordshire where, of course, the New Inn, Flash, Staffordshire, is a bit higher at 1518′. We sampled half pints – only a couple of miles or so to go now – and were impressed – a nice range of real ales and it is in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide. Then on to Postbridge, and just after Postbridge a left turn to Bellever, where we found the Youth Hostel, lamas in a field at the back. No other cycle tourers that night but some motor bikers. One biker, having just mentioned how to avoid police speed cameras, then said he was fed up of bikes disobeying the law and going through red lights… He wasn’t being funny. The hostel is great – a great sitting room with no TV so conversation, however absurd, reigns. Well it does for those not staring into their phones.

Saturday September 21st 2019 From Bellever to Eden’s Yard Backpackers, St Austell. Sunny start, though by the end of the day it was raining. A lovely ride over to Tavistock, where we ate an early lunch sitting in the sun. Then off through a place called Chip Shop – marvellous. There wasn’t one though in the hamlet. Then over the Tamar at Horsebridge – a nice way to get across the river into Cornwall, then across a southern bit of Bodmin Moor, passing King Doniert’s cross – a cross dating from the 9th century and commemorating that particular King, who died of drowning back in 875. The wikipedia article mentions the curious fact that there is an underground chamber here too, but it’s not clear what it was for. It’s an early bit of the christianisation of England. Then we went to the Boddinick to Fowey ferry – raining by the time we reached Fowey. Fowey is great since it is too narrow for easy access by cars, so it’s pedestrian, and cycle, friendly. Then over to St Austell, just a few miles away. Reached Eden’s Yard at about 6pm. Chatted to a very pleasant Australian, full of enthusiasm for travel. As so many people, he both confessed to travelling tens of thousands of miles by plane each year, and said he was very concerned about global warming. He was wondering whether he should take a trip to North Africa rather than do the coast path. We need a name for the state of profound conflictedness that most people are in over climate change – concerned but… I’m still going on that cruise, etc, etc. Perhaps it’s a Saint Augustine ‘give me chastity but not yet’ state? Eden’s Yard is a lovely place to stay, friendly and cozy – though it was in its last week or so, of its annual opening, when we stayed. It doesn’t do the cold months…

Sunday September 22nd 2019 From St Austell to Land’s End Youth Hostel, about 63 miles. We set off at 9.15am in order to get a breakfast at Wetherspoons in St Austell. This was the usual excellent vegetarian breakfast. St Austell is a sprawly sort of place and we didn’t find it the centre that easily. 10:40am we headed off towards Mevagissey along the B road. The B road was heavy with traffic – on a Sunday morning? Mevagissey, though, was great for a bike since, once again, the narrow streets stop the traffic roaring through it. The inner and outer harbours are picturesque and the museum is great. After a big climb out of Mevagissey, fingers crossed we were on the right road, we eventually reached the ferry at Trelissick – £1 for a bike, one way. The photo is what my phone camera did to the view – arty, though I think the coating is coming off the lens. Called in, very briefly, on the gardens at Trelissick. Considering I only had half an hour, I managed to do see the orchard, some venerable old trees and a great view from the terrace over the estuary. Guy did an intensive visit to the bookshop, always a bit dangerous when you are on a bike with many miles to go and already weighing a fair bit. We left just as some very heavy showers started – via back lanes through to Carnon Downs then Porkerris then Trescowe and on to Marazion Bay. This bit of back lane rambling took a surprisingly long time – by the time we reached Marazion is was not too far off dusk. St Mounts’ Bay looked wonderful – sun and cloud, a brisk breeze, some large waves coming in, the causeway visible (low-ish tide). Then through Penzance, where we shopped for tonight, but it was getting a bit dusky. Then on over to St Just, arriving in semi-darkness with our lights on. Unfortunately we found it very difficult to find the hostel – partly because a car was parked in front of the crucial sign! Very thoughtful. After phoning the hostel we did eventually find it, but it took us over an hour. Some cars don’t dip their headlights when seeing a bike rider, perhaps they were amazed to see cyclists after dark – though surely not unexpected here – the end point, at the end of a long day, of many a John O’Groats to Land’s End journey.

Monday September 23rd 2019 From Land’s End Youth Hostel to Falmouth, via Land’s End. About 40 miles. It was raining steadily when we looked out in the morning. Headed out to Land’s End – about four miles away. Force 8 – 9 wind with big waves out at sea and heavy rain. A German tour bus arrived – they will have no illusions about Cornwall in September now! Two dutch cyclists also arrived – they were heading for St Ives, an excellent destination since the wind would be behind them and it isn’t very far, they were well wrapped up too. The Longships Lighthouse was just about visible out at sea being battered by big waves. We set off along the A30 (quiet) with a severe gusty side wind making cycling interesting. The A30, though, makes short work of the distance to Penzance, so we reached Penzance Wetherspoons and, along with many other refugees from the storm, had a cooked breakfast. The rain had eased off a little bit by the time we left – and repeated out route through Marazion, with huge waves and the tide further in than yesterday. Then towards the official (?) Poldark mine, which we didn’t visit, then to Seworgan, Treverva and into the edge of Falmouth, where the rain had eased off further. We headed to Wetherspoons again, and sheltered there using CAMRA vouchers for beer discounts (decent black beers too) before getting to the kind relatives that we were going to visit. Drowned rats was their description of us, and pretty accurate.

Tuesday September 24th 2019 In Falmouth we visited various things, but spent the most time in the maritime museum where we enjoyed seeing fish swimming past at the bottom of the observation tower, and enjoyed various tales of survival and rescue, but also the history of the Falmouth Packet. There was also a Titanic exhibition, but this was mostly just the same stuff – but the bit about the number of Cornish people that were on the Titanic was fascinating – a man going back to collect his bride and take her with him to a new life in the US, and who never made it back. And, yes, we did visit the Wetherspoons for lunch. It was delightful to spend time with relatives, excellent dinner and conversation – and I saw 3D printing for the first time. Impressive.

Wednesday September 25th 2019 From Falmouth to Perranporth, c. 40 miles. Yes, 40 miles because we so rarely go in a straight line between two places but divert to visit interesting places, avoid A roads, do a quiet bit of road. So we started off by crossing over to St Mawes as a more interesting place to start from with lots of quiet lanes available. The crossing of Falmouth harbour was fun – big yachts, big sheds for repairing said big yachts, dangerous rocks (the Black Rocks). We had to do a quick loop around Pendennis Castle because we had both stayed there years ago when it was a youth hostel. It’s now an English Heritage site, which is fair enough. I remember huge rooms and lots of bunk beds. It was some time around 1978, and I was on the way back from Land’s End and also, more folk music related, hearing Nigel Mazyln Jones play at some youth hostel – perhaps Treyarnon Bay. Sort of summer of love when everything seemed possible, indeed hopeful, and ‘bliss was it in that dawn to be alive’. After another trip across the King Hal Ferry we went past Trelissick again – so I had another brief visit, though this time I got a bit stuck in the gift shop – an offer on Cornish chocolate was a bit of a temptation, and very useful too. I also bought Tregothnan Tea (tea grown in Cornwall – well mostly). I do have a Camellia Sinesis back at home in Pembrokeshire though it is very long way from producing any tea whatsoever (it’s about 9″ tall). It is hardy, I think, down to -5°C so should survive in a coastal Pembs, subject to my tender loving care…. Then via Carnon Downs, Chacewater, Blackwater, Mount Hawke to St Agnes where I could not pass through without visiting Surfers Against Sewage, and indeed then got a tee shirt (organic cotton) and surf (bee’s) wax for the eco-surfer. Then along a little road past the savage bay just north of St Agnes – savage indeed today with a huge surf crashing into the beach, headlands in various shades of grey and green echoing away to the west. We were then given Cornish (Chacewater I think) pasties by a very kind person just coming back from a funeral – on the road round the coast from St Agnes. We didn’t eat them immediately since we were nearly at our destination. It was obvious that the pasties were meant for us since they were vegetarian too (well, veggie and cheese and onion)! Apparently the funeral had over-catered a little bit and we were benefitting. A great way to do a funeral supper, certainly, and filled us with an appreciation of human kindness. Cycling is great partly because you can eat a great deal and still come out thinner than when you started (I’ve been tumbling down as low at 10 stone). We eventually reached, after a couple of so more miles, Perranporth where the hostel was closed – not yet 5pm. Excellent since this meant we could look for a pub – and indeed we found a Wetherspoons, where two CAMRA vouchers enabled us to drink some excellent local beers at a cheap price. When we finally got into the hostel a Canadian lady was holding forth about Brexit (agin it) which was, frankly, a mistake. Inevitably she touched various people’s raw nerves. I pushed her towards climate change, where we could probably all agree, though Canadian tar sands reared their ugly head, along with various pipeline issues. She was doing the coast path – and relying on public transport. Excellent, though the weather was starting to close in for the autumn. Perhaps the most important thing we need to learn from the Brexit debate isn’t anything about democracy and governance, it’s about stereotyping those who hold opinions other than our own.

Thursday September 26th 2019 From Perranporth to Tintagel – about 50 miles. Brekky at Wetherspoons, the big veggie breakfast. Very good. Then to Newquay via West Pentire and Penpol. We could see, on a youth hostel map, a route across the sands between Penpol and Newquay that cut out a bit of busy road, so we spend a while trying to find it. At the second attempt we did, from Penpol to Newquay, viable at a low-ish tide.  The photo shows the bridge that you have to cross after pushing your bike across some sand – perhaps a couple of hundred yards. Into Newquay, shopped at Asda then out to Watergate Bay, Treyarnon Bay (another youth hostel visited from the late 70s onwards and full of surfy memories), then Padstow where we witnessed road rage between a nutty youth who couldn’t quite squeeze his large customised car around a corner because another car was parked on the corner, and in attempting to do so knocked a bit of his customisation off! A passer-by said to me, quietly, ‘I enjoyed that’. So did we. Street theatre. It was all the more enjoyable because the bloke had recently been parked on a corner himself! Slightly later, after feeling smuggly amused, I fell off my bike in front of a cafe, when going very slowly indeed (too slowly and caught a foot in the toe strap). I was unhurt apart from a slightly scrazed knee, but I drew an audience. Glad to amuse. We pushed rapidly on to the ferry to Rock, which only advertises return tickets for bikes but did actually sell us a single (£4) to Rock when on the ferry. At Rock a torrential downpour coincided with our landing and in the absurd melee that resulted, passengers rushing on and rushing off simultaneously, we got soaked to the skin, We warmed up again in the sunshine after the rain then headed off through Port Issac (classic picturesque port), Port Quin, Trebarwith, Tintagel. Tintagel Youth Hostel has a tremendous location overlooking the sea, with views that stretch to the tooth of rock that sticks up at Trebarwith. Cliffs, crashing waves. We arrived at 6pm and enjoyed not discussing politics but reading our books – I was working my way through the superb The Idea of a University by John Henry Newman, a fascinating defence of a cultured, humanitarian and Christian view of education (i.e. Theology gets a crucial place in the education framework). It’s curious to think that this view was more or less concurrent with the appearance of Darwin’s views on the origin of species. Many of the tensions Newman identifies are still, in some form, with us today – e.g. a technical versus a humane education, etc. For instance can you do medicine as a purely technical subject without a tradition of ethics? Should scientists be expected to read novels and read history, etc? Shades of C P Snow.

Friday September 27th 2019 From Tintagel to Bellever (Dartmoor). About 60 miles. Started off by visiting St Materiana’s Church, the church for Tintagel. St Materiana, wonderful name, was a Welsh princess – Gwent apparently. See the wikipedia article. Nice stained glass of St George and St Piran (Piran’s port = Perranporth, of course). Then a quick visit to the Old Post Office at Tintagel – National Trust. Quirky building, sampers including a barque embroidered during the Napoleonic Wars, outside a sprawling rosemary, sweet peas hanging on, hydrangeas. Then on to Altarnun (passed the Tintagel Brewery but a bit early for gathering bottles) along a B road across Bodmin Moor. Big clouds moving slowly over a grey and green landscape, with distant high jumbles of rocks – the photo show Guy about to be hit by rain on Bodmin Moor. From Altarnun (lovely name), under the A30 then to Coade’s Green (Code Green? get ready for blast off!) where had lunch in a bus stop sheltering from the rain – the bus stop was nicely decorated by children from the nearby school – though back in 1999 (class 3, so c. 30 years’ old now). Then back through Chip Shop to Tavistock, another huge shower and rather cool too. Then a slog up onto Dartmoor, past the turning to Higher Godsworthy – sort of place a saint should live at – rush hour even on Dartmoor and some pushy drivers hurtling past. Arrived c. 6.30pm with a broken gear cable – broke in the last mile, fortunately, so I could fix it at the hostel. Birthday party in the hostel – pleasant to see a family enjoying itself so much.

Saturday September 28th 2019 From Bellever to Minehead. About 75 miles. This was a long day and we were aware that rain was forecast for later in the day. We got going at about 9.30am. Via Chagford – pretty and arty place with a film festival on – and then up past Castle Drogo, where the photo of my bike shows the castle on the hill behind – fair bit of traffic going to the Nat Trust castle. Then Yeoford where we ate lunch at the small station and saw a train go by (Bideford line?), then Kennerleigh where we sat outside the village community shop – which opened up especially for us (officially closed) to sell us biccies! I had the right money. Tremendous kindness since those biccies powered us many miles. Then to Black Dog (yes, we wanted to go through Black Dog) where we got onto the ridge road that runs for miles near to Rose Ash and across to Dulverton. We could see the rain catching us up – slowly the dark clouds went from behind us to over our heads. Dulverton was lovely but unfortunately my chief memory of the place is being gassed by a diesel car which was parked with the engine running. I think the particulate filter must have been removed. We then headed over to the lane that parallels the A road to Minehead – just the other side of the A road to Dulverton. A high road over the moors then down and down to Dunster then along a crummy bike path alongside the coastal A road and into Minehead. Arrived in rain and semi-darkness, and fairly damp, at Base Lodge – lovely, dry and warm. Went out to Wetherspoons for dinner, rain still steady.

Sunday September 29th 2019 Around Minehead, probably about 30 miles. We did a big oval from Minehead up onto Selworthy Beacon (about 1000′, but starting from sea level it seemed big enough), then down to Selworthy on a gorgeous bridleway through autumnal woods, then Allerford, Bossington and Porlock where we didn’t go up that famous hill but just visited the church – as shown, St Dubricious. Then over to Luccombe via the back lane, though a wrong turning at one point took us up a few hundred feet onto the moor. Then into Dunster with a quick visit to Dunster Castle – owned by the Luttrell’s who, in times past, owned Minehead (the land which became Minehead). Back to Minehead via the co-op.

Monday September 30th 2019. Minehead to Taunton, for the train. About 30 miles, mostly on back lanes. Initially out via the cycle path alongside the horribly busy coastal A road – until we could dive off on lanes that took us over the Brendon Hills, slow and hilly with good views over Steepholm (steep) and Flatholm (surprisingly flat) out in the Bristol Channel, via Kingsbridge. Taunton has, I think, two Wetherspoons, impressive and curious considering Pembrokeshire has only in the whole county (Haverfordwest). Had a pint before the usual overcrowded trains with prams in the (booked) bike spaces, people sitting in the seats (reserved for us). But, hey, that’s the norm for train travel it seems, the rules may say that you must fold your pram but that doesn’t mean that the travelling public would dream of doing that, and only geeks it seems read the reservation information above the seat. ‘Whatever….’ Nice to reach home though – the picture is my wildflower patch, about one metre square, but blooming on and on (since late May). My ten year old mobile phone camera is showing signs of age by giving all my photos a touch of psychedelia.

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