There’s always a bit of trepidation when setting out on a more-than-one-day cycle trip. Partly it’s “have I packed everything?”, partly “what will the weather be like tomorrow, and the next day?”, partly “will the bicycles (and their riders) hold out?”, and, in this case, partly “what will the other participants be like?”
Because there were a number of firsts for me here. One is that for the first time the family was cycling along. While I knew that The Wife would handle it just fine, I wasn’t entirely sure about The Kids. While we’d done over 200 miles of day trips with them, this was slightly different. Three days in a row is always a bit of a test – the third day being the one when the exertions of the first two catch up.
The other first was that we’d be doing it with another family, also with two children (theirs being two boys, 7 and 9, compared to our boy/girl 9/12 combo). We’d met them through a common interest in and support of Living Hope, a charity working in the poor townships of Cape Town. We’d only met them once before arriving at the hotel in Barnstaple on the night before, so we were hoping we’d continue to get along fine through the travails to come.
And then, the morning came, we dropped our things and left our cars in Ilfracombe under the watchful eye of Verity (I’m ashamed to admit she’s starting to grow on me), and set off up the rather steep hill out of the town. Not the best way to start, as it just intensifies all the niggles with pannier bags and bike setups and kiddie apprehension and not-quite-warmed up muscles.
But once out of the town, into the countryside and away from traffic on dedicated cycle paths, it was fabulous. The scenery of North Devon is breathtakingly green and lush, with rolling hills and sheep-filled pastures. Lunch in Braunton was followed by the start of the Tarka Trail – a cycle path along the old railway line that used to make its way through Barnstaple to Bideford. Those who have seen James May’s Toy Stories would remember this as the path he led his electric model trains along (not entirely successfully, as I recall). It was full of cyclists, mostly day trippers, hiring bikes and gambolling along the blissfully flat trail along the edge of the estuary.
Our partaking of the trail ended that day at Torrington, where we left it to head out of the valley to Frithelstock (which is a name worthy of staying at just for the sake of it). That ‘out of the valley’ bit is the key that there was a hill involved, and boy, remind me to check this sort of thing next time. Because there were seven other pairs of eyes shooting daggers at me all the way up 300ft of climbing in 3/4 of a mile of road.
But the pub at the end was worth it (in my eyes at least). Run by a delectably quirky landlord, the food was good, the rooms were roomy, and the sleep was comfortable. He doesn’t normally open on Thursdays, so implored us to sit at a table away from the window, so that passers by wouldn’t see that there was anyone inside, and come knocking. Can’t have any extra custom, heavens, no.