Travel StoriesDowntime In Devon
Cheating The Rain To Cheltenham
Ride Date 9 July 2023
By Ren Withnell
Oh dear. Everyone has been telling us we are going to be soaked, drowned, and then washed away. The forecast is for perpetual everlasting non-stop monsoon-esque rain. So why is it this morning as we pull the bikes out of Sharon's tin shed is the sun at least trying to poke out from behind the light clouds above? I fear this is the calm before the storm.
Tour-A-Plank is locked and loaded.
The 500 looks ready to ride too.
I'm also worried about Sharon. Save for a few last moment hiccups like forgetting to lock the garden gate and losing her gloves, she's ready on time and raring to go. She's changed these last few years. I'd like to say it's due to my relentless nagging and consistent harassment but there's one thing I've learned about Sharon - she'll change because she wants to not because someone asks her to. As such I suspect she's been kidnapped by aliens and replaced with this facsimile, in which case I prefer this one.
We depart Sharon's abode and jump onto the motorway thence to Lymm Services where we're meeting Mark. Mark's booked into the same Travelodge as us and we're riding down together. With only around 140 miles to cover today we're in no rush, we make time to enjoy a brew sitting outside McDonalds in the sunshine. Yes, sunshine.
Gosh Darn it! It appears the real Sharon is still with us. She's forgotten her phone charging lead, a mains to USB brick and her powerpack. Fear not, one advantage of her being a full time employee is to have sufficient spare pennies to throw at the problem. This she does at WH Smiths with overpriced goods, disaster averted. I did point out and demonstrate that I had sufficient equipment of my own to solve her immediate problem but it's her money, shut up Ren.
We're not taking the motorway, we're following the A49 south past Leominster (pronounced "Lem-ster" apparently) then the A417 across to Cheltenham. I'm already quite familiar with the A49 although I hope it's a much more interesting run than the all too familiar M6 M5 route. At least there'll be the odd corner to curve and villages and towns to observe. It won't be anywhere near as quick though but time is on our side.
Some time later as we walk into the cafe at the Truck Stop south of Whitchurch Sharon says "I hate the route down here, it's so dull". I'm not entirely in agreement but she has a point. From Warrington to Whitchurch the A49 does pass through some nice villages and farmland but the road never flows. It chops and changes speed, there's roundabouts and traffic lights, then two lanes to one then two. I don't hate it per se but I take her point, it's not much better than the motorway.
Yeah this rain is real bad today.
We decide to purchase a full meal at the cafe, safe in the knowledge that it'll be much cheaper to eat a full meal here rather than at some pub or restaurant later this evening. We stuff our faces with chips, sausage, beans and egg, washed down with strong trucker's tea. I'm sure this isn't the healthiest option but my word it does taste good.
The A49 from Whitchurch to Shrewsbury isn't much of an improvement, it's after Shrewsbury's bypass things finally improve. The road changes from major highway struggling through villages and bypasses to a regular countryside road. With the Malvern Hills in view and a little less traffic I finally start to get that "I'm on my travels" sensation. I like this feeling, it's a good feeling, I wish I could feel it more often.
We stop so I can crank up the sat-nav just as we get onto the A417. A few miles later we need to stop again. There's a smattering of rain on our visors and it seems prudent to don our waterproofs, you know, just in case. As we set off the rain eases so maybe we'll be OK.
Ah, erm. Yeah. That's lightening and... there's the thunder. Oh, here's the rain. My goodness, raindrops the size of marbles! I'm glad we've got the waterproofs on. More lightening. Ooooh that's noisy. Hailstones, marble sized hailstones! I slow to around 20 mph, visibility ain't good. The noise from these big hailstones hitting the screen, the tank, the visor and my helmet is staggering. I'm worried about damage like a cracked visor. I'm looking for a tree for shelter but none are to be found.
Experience tells me these events don't last long but when you're in the thick of them they're worrying if not a little frightening. There's the obvious real danger of an overconfident driver rear-ending one of us or aquaplaning into our group. There's the real danger one of us makes an error and runs off into a hedge. There's the concern of damage to the bikes or our riding gear. And then it passes as swiftly as it started.
I check the mirrors, there's Sharon, and, ah there's Mark. We all appear to be intact and still motoring - well done team. I am intact too but I feel as though my waterproof trousers may have sprung a leak in the usual area. That, well that's going to be uncomfortable for a while ain't it.
Regrettably the sat-nav leads us straight onto the M50 and to be honest with my moistened nether regions I can't be bothered correcting the settings in the nav. I follow the motorway. It's not long before junction 11 on the M5 comes into view and judging by my numb bum I'd say the timing's about right. We find our Travelodge no problem.
There is a problem with the Travelodge though. Paid parking. £7. No, we can not pay for one space even though we'll all fit into one space. The system is ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) so the CCTV sees our registration, logs it and if we don't pay against that registration we'll be sent a bill through the post. I work in IT, I write these faceless soulless unblinking unsleeping programs and today we are victims of the machine. I can't believe I did not notice this while making the booking. I hate myself.
This bit ain't my fault though - the room is comparatively small - when compared to most Travelodges. There seems to be a standard layout for Travelodge but this one isn't that. There is "sufficient" room but not as much as normal. There's no bath here just a shower. I'm normally quite happy with my Travelodge but this one is leaving me less than impressed.
It's somewhat cramped compared to other Travelodges.
I do know and accept Travelodges are seldom "gloriously located". It's unlikely you'll find yourself in a national park surrounded by fallow deer and rolling countryside, you're more likely to be behind an industrial estate or a retail park. This one is the retail park variety. None the less we all take a walk to find the Asda which we'll use for breakfast and supplies tomorrow.
And that's it for today, save for Sharon getting an attack of the munchies which requires an outlay of cash at the KFC next door. I'm quite sure my readership, being intelligent, educated, and sophisticated, will scoff at the notion of "fast food" but we are both surprised at how acceptable our meal is. Not good, but acceptable. Bedtime.
This has been a mixed start to our trip. I thought the weather would be terrible, we've survived one incredibly heavy downpour and a sprinkling of rain this evening but that's it. The Travelodge ain't what we'd hoped for but then it's still clean and warm and dry. No, not a perfect day but we're all good and we're off on our jollies, I'm happy with that.
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Prologue - North Devon 2023
It's that time where Ren explains this trip. I'm not getting the sense of a great forthcoming adventure, rather more of an old school chill out holiday with friends on motorcycles.
Cheating The Rain To Cheltenham
And they're off! It's a mixed up weird kind of start to this holiday with indecisive weather and packing and planning errors. No disasters though... sorry.
Dawdling Into Devon
Another easy day's ride sees the Dynamic Muppets into the delights of Devon. There's a mish-mash of roads to negotiate and the weather ain't helping.
North Devon Sat-Nav Adventure
On the first day exploring North Devon Ren manages to lead the merry crew into the non touristy bits of the the Exmoor coastal area. This ain't no country for Harleys.
A Key And A Quay
With the weather hanging on in there it's ride time again. Ren manages to accidentally find somewhere nice before leading them all astray. Not to worry, there's cake.
2 Days Of Nothing
With bad weather, ill health and camping frustrations this could be a disaster. Luckily it turns out to be more of a damp squib really.
Heading Home Day 1
The real holiday is over, it's time to do the bit that no-one really wants to do and that's go home. England is a lovely place but sometimes you're just not in the mood.
Heading Home Day 2
It's the final day's short ride home which means Ren's reflecting upon the Devonian excursion. Before that there's a village in need of some looking at and tea to be drunk.
Andy said :-
I work just down the road from that Cheltenham Travelodge - I can smell the KFC from here :)
21/07/2023 15:57:08 UTC
Upt'North ¹ said :-
I haven't had a KFC since I wore different clothes and drove a very nicely striped XJ6. 50 new pence! Or ten bob.
At Keele services I think?
Likewise it's a long time since we stayed in a Travelodge......2011'ish. They were going downhill then.
It's good to see the Madame of Moisture hasn't lost er touch, bless. And with bags as big as that how can she forget anything.
As an aside........when we came back from a trip yonks ago we made a list of stuff we had taken and used, not used, should have used, should have taken etc. It's a good prompt before setting off.
21/07/2023 16:44:47 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
Andy - small world huh? We didn't get chance to explore Cheltenham but I've heard it's nice enough.
Upt - I think we ought to put together a proper checklist. Hmmmmm got me thinking now.
22/07/2023 11:22:53 UTC
Ian Soady¹ said :-
Cheltenham's quite a nice place but I think Gloucester more interesting with its docks and cathedral. Unless of course you're a horse racing fan.
22/07/2023 14:47:53 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
I live within shouting distance of Haydock and Aintree and I've never once been even slightly tempted to go to the horses. I went to the dogs with a work's do once and was entirely underwhelmed. I'll keep in mind your comments regarding both Cheltenham and Gloucester Ian if we're back there one day.
24/07/2023 07:56:33 UTC
Ian Soady¹ said :-
Going to the dogs on the other hand....
24/07/2023 16:20:34 UTC
Rev. Mick! said :-
I was at school between Gloucester and Cheltenham. As I always tell the guys here, where they are very keen on Cheltenham races, if you stood on top of the Grandstand you can see my school.
Gloucester is a much more down to earth place and would regard Cheltenham as posh. Where as I suppose the opposite is true for Cheltenham who would regard Gloucester as the poor neighbour.
As people from Gloucester always could tell Cheltenham “We have the cathederal and we are the City, you are only a town.
Cheltenham has the College, the town hall and pavilion plus a lot of Georgian houses.
Gloucester has the cathederal, docks, Roman city walls, market and of course Barton Street which in my school days was our equivalent of Notting Hill, Brixton or St. Paul’s an early multi cultural expression. With goods and produce from all over the globe.
25/07/2023 09:12:55 UTC
CrazyFrog said :-
Yes, Cheltenham is a lovely place, but like you Ian, I prefer Gloucester with the docs and wonderful cathedral.
28/07/2023 11:27:15 UTC
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Travel StoriesDowntime In Devon