They say travelling broadens the mind and that variety is the spice of life. We could combine both and go cycling for a few days, somewhere new, but not too far away, just across the border, in Devon?
So we arranged to stay at the Duke of York in Iddesleigh, a little north of Okehampton, an extremely friendly, old fashioned hostelrey, the like you once found all over Devon and Cornwall but now sadly less so. It came on the recommendation of one of Falmouth’s “Seven Stars” locals, so it was no surprise that half a dozen other Falmothians happened to be up there too – there was a bit of a party atmosphere when we arrived!
Julian and I cycled up on the Saturday, and had calculated a manageable pace of around 10 mph as we weren’t sure of who, if anyone, would join us. As it turned out we were on our own and free to fly – were it not for the amount of baggage we had with us. In Julian’s case, a seat post fixed pannier and enough kit for a few days away and in my case, front and rear panniers filled with a lot of stuff I wouldn’t need – an exercise in discovering how to pack a bike for a longer, full length tour. Surprisingly we made fairly quick progress, I had my tt bars on my bike giving it quite a speed advantage – and the triple chain set gave me sufficient gears for all the climbs. We left Truro at 8:30 and were up on the moors just over two hours later! We stopped for a quick snack outside “The Old Inn” in St Breward, making it a longer stop when the pub opened it’s doors at 11:00 – and enjoyed a pint and a further snack sat by a roaring fire.
When we set off again it was overcast, but not raining, and we headed up to Davidstow airfield and the back lanes that would take us, via Egloskerry, to Launceston. Once there we picked our way around the town taking the main Holdsworthy road and, very shortly after, turning off through more small lanes to Halwill Junction and arrived at our second pub of the day, “The Junction Inn”. The pub looked closed but the front door wasn’t quite shut and thankfully opened on being pushed. A jolly barmaid presided over an empty bar and a roaring fire – things just seemed to be going our way! As it turned out we were not the only customers as, tucked away near a window, was a gentleman in a wheelchair, an adapted mobility scooter version of a wheelchair something he’d knocked together himself. He came over and joined us by the fire keen to learn more of our cycling exploits. He’d arrived in Halwell Junction after he was badly injured as a passenger in a car accident in 1988 and he said he’d been trying to leave ever since! It was refreshing to see that none of this had dimmed his zest for life and conversation and a thirst for good beer – Jail Ale in this case. Only a few miles now from our destination we took our leave and bid our new friend farewell.
Don and Sue Morris were the only other takers for this weekend away, though we still held out hope that some would drive up for the Sunday ride. They’d travelled up on the Friday night and were well settled in by the time we arrived and had already explored as far as Torrington with Don cycling on to Bideford – they were just putting their bikes away when we arrived.
The Duke of York is not the sort of place you stand on ceremony and soon we were supping pints by the open fire and listening to some very familiar banter, a subtle blend of course Devonshire and some obscene Cornish. There’s a lot of piss taking when Lycra clad oldies arrive on the scene, a mixture of hilarity and I suspect envy – “don’t tell me you did, actually, ride up here from Falmouth”. It was only after the second pint I though it sensible to find out if we really did have a room for the night – or that we’d lost it to one of the Falmouth bunch.
Relief, not only did we have a room but one of considerable size, handily accessed through a small door and a tiny staircase just moments from the bar. Dinner was at 7:00 so there was no time for a nap – just a quick shower and a change into more normal clothes that attracted less attention.
Don had booked us a table in the dining room but we ended up eating in the bar amid all the raucous joshing and jesting. It was a fine meal from a large menu – ideal fuel to stoke up after a hard days cycling. Over another pint or two we took our instructions from the gathering on how to fill our Sunday. Cider tasting in Winkleigh then lunch at the the Railway Inn near North Tawton and the cycle route home via Hatherleigh. Torrington would have to wait.
Tasting strong cider at just after ten on a Sunday morning is not anything I’ve done for quite a while but I’m reminded on how enjoyable it can be. For folk who are clearly not in a position to buy bulk containers of cider we spent quite a time there. There was a strong and a not so strong cider, a sweet and dry one, mulled and fruity – Sue particularly liked a raspberry flavoured cider. I liked their Autumn mix, so much so that I kept trying it! Such was our enthusiasm that Donald and Sue finally agreed to pick up some containers for us on their way home on the Monday! Interestingly, the gentleman serving us was happy to also shed some light on the tragic events of 44 years ago, when the bodies of a farming family were discovered in the yard of West Chapel farm just down the road, a story I first heard told on radio 4’s morning story in the eighties after journalist John Cornwell wrote a book about it called “Earth to Earth”. As I say, it was a tragic tale, the death of the two Luxton brothers, Alan and Robert and their sister Francis, no doubt partly due to their isolation and the old fashioned methods of farming that simply weren’t profitable in an increasingly mechanised era – though I fancy, in the fullness of time, that style of farming would be proved to be the more sustainable. You get a feel from the friendly folk in the villages around these parts that life is just fine as it is, exactly as it has always been, real communities that keep their rural pubs alive. Certainly our next stop at the Railway Inn, North Tawton, upheld that belief. Landlord/frontman Bert put on such an amusing show that he had the bar, mainly filled with the local farming community, in fits of laughter the whole time. Clearly we became even more fodder for his one man show, but it was all in good heart and we we’re soon in fits of laughter ourselves. This is a pub you’d easily drive past as there’s little to indicate it’s there, the sign is so small and now quite faded. In fact there is simply no need for a sign as locals from all around flock to this place and it filled steadily over the time we were there. Cheap, really good quality beer and food (Newton Abbot “Reel Ale” £2.80 a pint). Bert recommended us a pub in Hatherleigh.
Sue wasn’t used to such exploits so early on a Sunday and suggested she’d ride back to Iddesleigh while we carried on to Okehampton. Don said it was probably best he went as well – so it was something of a surprise when, about an hour and half later, as we sat in “The Tally Ho” in Hatherleigh we saw Don cycling past the window. They’d changed their minds and cycled by a more direct route so’s not to miss out on the pub that Bert had recommended! Don had the audacity to say I’d been leading him astray when it was clear he was capable of doing this without any help from me.
It was a pleasant end to the day, and after a pint we rode the undulating lanes back to Iddesleigh together, the electric bikes keeping the pace quite high on the hills. There was plenty of time for a shower before another evening of wonderful food, cider, beer and wine and a fine end to a great weekend. Well, not quite over as there was still the ride home on Monday morning. Don agreed to take our kit and we set off around 9:30, after a leisurely breakfast. With much lighter bikes (and not stopping at pubs) we made good time, despite the head wind.
Till the next “Weekend Away”.