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Dawdling Into Devon

Ride Date 10 July 2023

By Ren Withnell

It was a little noisy outside the Travelodge last night. Considering it was Sunday evening there was a lot of coming and going and the sounds of young folks doing what young folks do, mostly shouting and driving like loonies. When that calmed down there followed a remarkable amount of animal sounds too - considering we're on a retail park and not the Serengeti. We had to leave the window open otherwise we'd have melted.

We have slept some though so that's good. We're in no rush either which is also good. I've arranged to meet Mark in the lobby at 0800 and go to Asda, fully expecting Sharon to place a food order with me while remaining in bed. Nope. She's getting up and coming with us so this must be the alien facsimile Sharon again. 

Mark's having a cooked breakfast in the cafe at Asda, Sharon and I are quite happy with a take out chocolate and almond croissant each. We also purchase a few supplies and snacks for later and head back to the hotel. We're all packed and ready to ride by 1100 which coincidentally is the same time the skies darken. Waterproofs? It's warm and clammy at the moment, I'd rather not but then...? We fuel up at Asda as the skies grow ever darker. Waterproofs? No? 

A regular asda checkout area and a chocolate almond croissant
There, breakfast is served. I sure do spoil that girl.

I've looked and I've looked. There's no obvious non-motorway route between here in Cheltenham and, say, Bridgwater. Well there are routes, obviously. We could take a detour east around Bath and Bristol then cut west, or follow the motorway through Gloucester, Bristol/Portishead, and then Weston-super-Mare. This seems like an awful lot of faff. We're going to take the motorway to Bridgwater then cut across country there. 

We've only been on the motorway about 5 miles when the rain starts. Cock. Fortuitously this happens just before Gloucester Services so we safely pull off the busy motorway and don our anti-rain equipment. Back on the motorway and fully protected - then the rain stops. I'd be shocked and bothered if I hadn't seen this a thousand times before. 

The M5 past Bristol and the M4 is a miserable section of motorway. It's always busy. My heart sinks as the traffic slows to a crawl, not quite slow enough to filter, not quite fast enough to just ease back into the saddle. I can hear, across the noise of the traffic, the sound of Sharon's eyeballs rolling back in despair. We've been here before a few times and it's not good. Let me be honest though, it feels painful in the moment but we're actually only held back for 5 or 10 minutes, it just feels like a lot more.

The rest of the motorway to Bridgwater flows well enough but it's not exactly interesting, save for a glimpse of the Severn Bridges. At least the rain is mostly holding off. 

Having passed through Bridgwater many moons since I know there's a Harley-come-Ducati dealership and this is where sat-nav is taking us. It's only been 60 or 70 miles since we departed Cheltenham but I'm more than ready for a break now. 

Riders - for that is the name of this dealership - has free hot drinks from one of them new-fangled machine things. Tea from these things is terrible but I've learned the hot chocolate is quite palatable. We imbibe our refreshments while perusing the various shiny cruisers and bright red sports bikes. We also grab a quick snack from the Greggs only a few minutes walk away. I can't comment on Riders' deals or servicing quality but the shop is rather a nice place for a stop and a stretch.

Things should be a little more interesting now we're off the motorway. The A39 runs right past Riders and out into the countryside, heading for Minehead. While the scenery is definitely improving with arable and dairy farmland all around the weather is heading in the wrong direction. The rain is here now, not heavy nor persistent yet sufficient to ensure the road remains wet and visibility is reduced. 

Aaah yes, of course, we're not in The Highlands. We are flowing well between the fields and hedgerows, the charming villages and the undulating geography. It's just that we're not flowing swiftly. The traffic is light, we're behind just a couple of cars yet the speed seems to be more 40mph not 60 and then some. It's not just these particular cars, it's all the cars. Not to worry, I settle into the saddle and focus on improving my road position and soaking in the scenery.

It's a funny road the A39. It's not a busy road but as stated it's not a quick road either. It feels much like a country lane rather than a main tributary. As we trundle into the small town of Porlock this is reinforced as the road becomes narrow between the old houses. It is rather pretty Porlock, shame but I'm not in the mood to stop right now. Maybe we'll take a ride back here for a look around?

Whoa! I should have remembered this. 25% is pretty steep and there's a switchback ahead. It takes some effort from myself to negotiate this one as we're on the inside of the turn, I look in my mirrors pensively until Sharon appears, upright, then Mark appears, upright. We're a little weary now, the weather's not perfect, it would be all too easy for any one of us to have messed that switchback up.

Map showing the switchback just outside of Porlock
Oh I remember now. Pretty steep and twisty around here.

Soon after we crest a hill and I spot an ice cream van, in the rain, in a gravelly area. I pull in, I think we deserve a break. It transpires the ice cream van is not an ice cream van, just a van serving tea and coffee and choccie bars and crisps, oh, and ice cream if that's what you desire. "Tea please" - it's not ice cream weather today. The North Devon coastline feels as wild and remote as a Highland coastline right now. We drink our tea and enjoy the views, as best we can in the weather.

Looking down from atop a hill we see a broad beach and a flat valley at Porlock
I do like the coast. And the rain. 

We're off the A39 now as sat-nav leads us a merry dance along some single track lanes. Rolling hills drop into valleys, high hedges open out to hardy grasses on open moorland, the rain eases off then returns. "Peep peep!" Sharon beeps from behind "My sat-nav says we should have turned left there!" "Mine doesn't..." we carry on. Another narrow steep lane, around another blind bend. Through a lovely little nameless village and across a narrow ford. My sat-nav seems to have changed mood, it's not determined to avoid main roads and use single track. Odd.

Sat-nav has lead us a merry dance indeed and yet here we are at Riverside Caravan Park, our residency for the next 5 nights. Booking in leads to the usual confusion when someone else has booked the campsite for you, but I manage to get that sorted out. We get a barrier pass and vague instructions as to where we are to camp. We find our friends Rob and Rik are already here and we pitch up next to Rik. 

The bikes unloaded and wet in the rain at the campsite in Devon
We're pitched and ready to camp!

Remember - Mark has a static caravan across the site somewhere, Rik is in the tent which we've pitched next to and Rob is in an old motorhome with his bike on a trailer close by. We're expecting Janine from London, in a van, to be joining us "sooner or later". You might want to write that down otherwise the rest of this tale might get confusing. 

After a jaunt into South Molton about a mile away for food supplies we can settle in for the evening. The rain is coming and going but it's not cold so we're all sat under the canopy of Rob's old motorhome on a selection of camping chairs he's kindly brought with him. He's hooked up to the electric so we're using his kettle for drinks which makes life easier. It's the usual shenanigans tonight. Catching up with Rik who I've not seen in a while, tales of our journeys down here, there's a little hard liquor going around but no-one's getting poop-faced, crisps and biscuits aplenty. As the skies darken and night closes in I conclude this has been a good evening. 

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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.

Reader's Comments

Upt'North ¹ said :-
I'm still awaiting to be converted to a camper Ed, or for that matter a Dovonian'ist, but early days.
Perhaps you play down the pleasures to keep it all to yourselves?
Rain indeed? Problem roads? I know your game, the sun follows that girl everywhere!
When I say "converted to a camper", I don't mean I'm having a sink unit and bed attached to my person.

29/07/2023 10:24:23 UTC
ROD¹ said :-
It's good to see that Ren remembers the age of his readers.
"You might want to write that down otherwise the rest of this tale might get confusing."
North Devon is a great area of the UK, especially the Lynmouth area, and the riverside walk to Watersmeet.
29/07/2023 10:40:57 UTC
Ian Soady¹ said :-
I'd have got the tea from Greggs as well as it's not too bad although I understand that Cousin Jack isn't too keen on their pasties. Where I come from pasties have the crimp on the top not the side. I am told (but don't believe it) that miners used the edge crimp to hold the pasty so they didn't eat muck from down the pit. Having known a number of ex-miners I can't believe they'd chuck any food away even it was a bit soiled.

Porlock was a famous testing hill for bikes and cars in the 1920s and topping it without having to use bottom gear was seen as a sign of quality. And who can forget the man from Porlock who interrupted Coleridge as he was writing his epic poem Kubla Khan so it was never completed.

You stopped at Gloucester Services which is a subsidiary of the famous Westmoreland Services on the M6 at Tebay. You might have been better getting a snack there as they sell good stuff. In fact Tebay is a destination for people in its own right.
29/07/2023 11:14:50 UTC
ROD¹ said :-
Ian, I think when I visited a Cornish mine (Cornwall is the home of the pasty) that where they were mining tin, they found high level of arsenic in the seems of tin.
Maybe this is why they threw away the crust?
29/07/2023 12:44:06 UTC
Ian Soady¹ said :-
Feasible I suppose but did they know? The ex-miners I know / knew were coalminers from County Durham (although my great grandfather who I never met was originally a copper miner from Cornwall - brought to the North East with others in cattle wagons to break a strike in the late 19th century). We don't like to acknowledge his existence.

29/07/2023 15:46:33 UTC
ROD¹ said :-
I suppose they knew the miners which ate the crusts did not live very long.
29/07/2023 17:32:58 UTC
ROD¹ said :-
29/07/2023 17:38:40 UTC
Ian Soady¹ said :-
Interesting link Rod, thanks.
30/07/2023 10:00:54 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
Upt' - You're right I play down our visits these days. Ever since we enjoyed the NC500 back in 2017 and I published on here how good it was - it's gotten really busy. It seems to me patently obvious that I and I alone am responsible for the success (and now debacle) of the NC500 but have I received any credit or payment for this? Noooo.

We shall be getting to Lynmouth ROD, but we'll not be having any of that walking nonsense... not yet anyhoo.

Greggs are now to be found on *some* motorway services. When comparing the price of a Greggs' brew (on the more costly services around £1.25-£1.50) against those of the other vendors Greggs' represent excellent value - as does McDonalds. I did not know that there was a connection between Gloucester services and Tebay services. The Tebay services are most pleasant but they sure know how to charge a price.

As for the discussion regarding pasties - eh?

31/07/2023 18:28:24 UTC
Upt'North ¹ said :-
"Spring has sprung, now we have a few months of warm pleasant rain to enjoy after the cold and miserable rain of winter"'s all your fault innit?

01/08/2023 11:05:11 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
I guess so Upt'. It would appear not only am I influencing the populus to travel the NC500 I'm influencing the weather too. We all hear about these influencers making their millions, I've yet to break even on my hosting costs.

What would you have me influence next?
01/08/2023 18:11:28 UTC
Upt'North ¹ said :-
Well you asked.......
A perpetual 70f summer where it only rains lightly between 2am and 4am.
Petrol available forever at 99.9p per litre and always at 2 hour riding intervals.
Motorcycle tyres that last for at least 20,000 miles and the ability to resist all sharp objects.
The road in front of me to be empty, flowing and free of scuffers.
Er'Indoors to be pleasant at all times.
And last but not least ever lasting youth.
Ta me duck.

Oh, free wine too.

02/08/2023 09:47:41 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
I'll do what I can Upt'. No promises though.
04/08/2023 08:13:11 UTC

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