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North Devon Sat-Nav Adventure

Ride Date 11 July 2023

By Ren Withnell

Last night apparently it rained quite hard. Apparently. As such being a genius detective type I can deduce I've slept rather well. The Sherlock Holmes in me ponders the reason for this. I've not changed my mattress, nor my sleeping bag. The grass here is no different to other grass. The major change is it's not cold. Perhaps all my sleeping in a tent issues come from being cold? We shall find out later in the year I'm sure.

I'm awake quite early though so I leave her ladyship to sleep a little more and take a walk around the campsite. It's a large place is Riverside. The hardstanding pitches are smart enough, the grass is not manicured yet well maintained, and the site appears cared for. Our toilet block is clean, functional and surprisingly heated. Most camping loos are freezing, these are not cosy warm but the edge has been taken off the chill. Away from the hardstanding and toilets are a couple of much larger fields, I'd say these are overspills. I'm aware they have events here, I reckon they'll use these empty fields for the events.

Smart hardstanding, a few trees, cut grass and pleasant surroundings at the campsite
The campsite seems to be quite in order.
A vast empty field at the campsite with just 2 campervans in it
There's plenty of space, the toilets are a ways off from here though.

Poor Rob. With being in the camper complete with electric kettle and fold out chairs he's become the unintentionally designated gathering spot for tea. Rik's already here and I join them for a morning brew. Eventually Janine arrives, cursing, as she's sharing Mark's static and despite being at opposite ends of the static Mark's snoring has kept her awake. Funny that, because when Mark arrives he says he's not slept at all because of the noisy roadworks nearby. Sharon mentions the roadworks disturbed her too. I really really REALLY must have been fast asleep last night.

A big 30 sign, wire fencing, and roadworks just outside the entrance of the campsite
This lot work at night to ease traffic congestion but not the camper's sleep.

The site has a bar restaurant café thing going on. It is decided, against my fiscal prudency, that we shall take breakfast in there this morning. You know I hate to spend money unless it's someone else's but alas and alack I have to admit to inadvertently enjoying my cooked breakfast while chatting with my friends. 

A few details before I begin. 

Rik has a Harley. A big phat 1.7 litre, 280 section rear tyre, fancy paintjob, wide low super glide special anniversary FXRLHTPSSRDF poser dyna Harley. I was there when he bought it, I told him not to buy the damn stupid thing but he ignored me. He comes from a line of Bandits and sportsbikes and streetfighters, what on earth does he want that silly thing for?

In spite of this he loves the thing. He loves the ride and of course the attention it brings. Pffffft.

Riks big lowrider Harley in a deep burgundy and lots of chrome
I mean, really. I have told him it's pink.
The massive rear tyre on Riks big Harley
Is this rear tyre compensating for something?

Rob has a Harley too. This is the much more sensibly proportioned Street 750. He previously owned a VFR800 and several other sporty models before that. I've had a quick ride on the thing and it's fine... except... the footpegs stab you in the calf muscles when you put your feet out at the lights. Oh and the riding position is all wrong.

In spite of this he loves the thing. I suppose this is to be expected as we're all at that midlife crisis age. 

Robs mostly black 750 street Harley, liquid cooled
Rob's harley is a bit more sensible.

Mark's not feeling too clever today, upset tummy, as such he's having a chill day in his static. We're a tad concerned but there's not a lot we can do really. I'm on the wonderful 500X, Sharon is relaxing on the back of my bike and Janine's opted for the rear seat of Rob's 750 Harley. That's it, lock-n-load folks for today we ride!

Aaah right I see. Yes, hmmmm. When I say ride I mean trundle slowly. There are roadworks just outside the campsite where we join the main A361 to Barnstaple. I was thinking it was just this junction but we're soon back into slow traffic as we run beside concrete barriers, traffic cones, various lumps of machinery, and random hi-viz workers. I'm no speed demon yet today I'm finding this pace a tad frustrating. 

Barnstaple is a town and much like any other UK town. Sat-nav wiggles us through the centre and out on the north side and finally into the countryside once more. And here we are again, 40mph give or take. The road is not busy nor exceptionally twisty, it just seems this easy medium pace is the pace of choice around here. While we saunter along I ponder - maybe there's a lot of retirees here? Is it a west country cultural thing? It's definitely a 60 here isn't it? 

Eventually Ilfracombe brings some light relief. What I hadn't planned was parking and I lead us all through the small town centre in bewilderment. It's bustling and busy and rather warm. I can prove it's warm because most Hondas are well cooled yet the radiator fan has come on, pouring warm air over my already warm legs. As I stop at the roadside looking bemused one of the countless pedestrians takes pity on our plight and directs us to car park. 

That's nice. We're at the harbour which is pleasant like most small harbours. There's a massive odd looking statue, the plaque informs us it's by Damien Hurst, he of the half a cow and half a shark in formaldehyde. There's a plaque under the statue with an explanation of it but art makes little sense to me, I'm more interested in the way the waves wash around the pier and the surroundings. Yeah, Ilfracombe is fine I'm sure. Onwards!

A massive statue set against the hazt sun at Ilfracombe Harbour
Art, apparently. Wasted on me.
A modern harbour wall, steep cliff across the other side of the bay at Ilfracombe
I find this scene far more interesting.

I'm seeking tea already, and Ilfracombe was rather too busy for my liking. I spy another small harbour and rapidly signal left, hoping the riders behind are awake and don't rear-end me. This, as it turns out, is Watermouth Bay which is considerably smaller and quieter than Ilfracombe. Even better there's a cafe here, how lucky is that. I like it here, a little gem and none too busy.

Boats all in the long well sheltered natural bay at Watermouth
Watermouth Bay is much more to my liking.
An old boat and some awning make up the cafe at Watermouth Bay
There's a cafe, life is tea, tea is life.

We're heading for Lynmouth following the A339 which is a proper road when sat-nav directs me to turn left. OK...? As soon as I turn left I start to doubt the wisdom of Garmin. This is a narrow single track lane leading steeply uphill. I like this kind of road but I fear it may not be "Harley Davidson Friendly". Rik and Rob are both experienced riders and fully grown men but I'm not sure I'd want to be single-tracking a very shiny Amurican Cruiser down here. Ground clearance? Mud guards? Raked forks?

I'll turn around but it's too narrow here. 

It's still too narrow.

1 mile later and we've already gotten gravel in the centre of the lane. To keep off the gravel I'm to the side and the hedges, weeds and even branches are clipping my 'bars, lord only knows how the other 2 are getting on. Ah, the road opens out. That's nice, I've gotten away with it I reckon. We could turn around here but we're in now, I'll carry on and we'll soon be back on real roads.

Crap. Poop. Grass down the middle. He's a big lad is Rik, I wouldn't want to take a punch off him. The grasses whip my handguards. Downhill and into the trees. No goddam freaking way! Without sun nor traffic we are now on greasy mud made of up rotting foliage and soggy run-off. There's deep mud in the middle and less deep mud to the sides. 

Uphill, 2 up on an adventure bike and I'm spinning out, crossed up over the deep muddy middle and struggling to remain upright. If I'm like this there's no hope for Rik and Rob. They're going to drop those precious bikes and rip my head off for bringing them down here. I can feel Sharon tense as I shout expletives in my helmet. By sheer luck I manage to get going again as the "phwump phwump" of Rik's HD gets all too close. 

Another mile, another muddy lane. Swearwords and expletives! I'm cursing Garmin and Devon in my helmet. Rik is going to kill me and Rob is going to help, Janine will dispose of my remains and Sharon will just laugh. Each obstacle causes me to fear for myself then I desperately look in the mirrors to see if Rik or Rob have come a-cropper. 

Outside a farm the whole road is covered in a thick glutenous layer of cow manure. 2 farmers stand talking by a tractor, they casually notice my regular bike then gawp as Rik's noisy chopper phwumps by then Rob's Harley finishes them off. 

We must have covered around 8 or 9 miles in 30 or 40 minutes before real, solid, clean, beautiful tarmac comes into view. If I'd have been alone I'd have still been worried as some of the roads were steep and slippery, with my Harley friends I am now terrified of the oncoming verbal if not physical onslaught.

Lynmouth. I barely notice it's beauty as my mind is on my forthcoming dressing down. We park. I look pensively at Rik only to notice the once beautiful paintwork and chrome is now covered in a layer of cow poop and Devonian dirt. Here we go...

The once pristine chrome and paint of Riks motorcycle is now covered in mud
Oh dear. Oh poop... literally.
A montage of all the dirty bits on Riks Harley
I'm dead meat ain't I.

"#@&%ing Hell! Man that was a road!" Err, OK Rik, I'm ready 
"Sorry dude, I just, you know, sat-nav" I fumble
"No, that was funny, bet they've never had a Harley down there before!"

I'm still not quite sure if Rik is being honest or just a bloody good friend. He's (pretending to be?) quite chuffed at having off-roaded a patently not offroad bike. Rob's always polite and I can't read him, but he's joining in the fun. We laugh at the farmer's faces and recall the various slips and slides and how close we all were to binning it. I think I'm OK but I still apologise. 

The back of Rik's jacket is covered in mud and cow manure
I think Rik's harley might need a mudguard.

Lynmouth is lovely. It also appears the weather is on our side as the sun shines down with only a light smattering of cloud. We take a wander down the main street by the harbour wall, we get some pop to drink from a shop, and we gawp at the funicular railway that joins the harbour town of Lynmouth with the town atop the cliff of Lynton. We take in the memorial to the flood of 1952 then sit a while, chatting on the harbour wall. 

Looking down onto the coastal road and the bay at Lynton with tree covered cliffs
Lynton, and sunshine.

I've checked sat-nav. It is set to quickest route, not dirtiest route or most challenging route or see bits of Devon that no-one else sees route. However not wishing to repeat our previous adventure I set up my phone with Google maps. And check the route. I think we'll be OK.

Even Google takes us down some back roads and has me worried a few times. No, no we're OK, there's a bit of single track although the tarmac is indeed tarmac here. A few B roads too with 2 lanes. There's another thing, when permissible we're really moving, whizzing along at 60 with nary a car in sight. North Devon is a strange place filled with contrasts and contradictions. I'd settled my head into going slowly and here I am blasting the B roads. 

Back at the campsite and oh my word! I should have known. Rik's gotten a small pressure washer stowed in Rob's camper. He's also got with him various polishes and potions and cleaning sundries. By the time Sharon and I have had a little nap both Rik and Rob's Harleys are clean, shiny, and returned to their splendour. My CB500X wears its mud and cow-poop covering with pride. 

Mark is still with us and feeling better after a rather rough day. Under the shade of Rob's canopy food is made and eaten, tales of daring do are exchanged, just a little alcohol is sipped and the evening slips into night. 

I've been bewildered by the roads in Devon today. First there's the disappointment of the roadworks but that's just life. I'm starting to adjust to the 40mph on the main country roads, pfffft, whatever. I have been along many many single track lanes because both Sharon and I like to explore them but the single track in Devon is in a class of it's own!

A lot of single track in The Highlands is actually "A" road, so fairly well maintained. Even the quiet roads leading to dead end valleys and lochs are easily passable. North Wales and The Yorkshire Dales have a few lanes that leave a lot to be desired with broken surfaces, grass growing down the centre, gravel, and the like. We've seen mud and navigated through it before... but nothing like the mud of North Devon's lanes. I would say we crossed the line from "not suitable for HGVs" to "not suitable for vehicles" and into the realms of "off road". 

My thanks to Rob and Rik for seeing the funny side and not tearing me a new backside.

The tent is lit from within producing a green haze against which we can just make out the outline of a motorcycle
Sharon's getting all artistic before bedtime.

Advertise here - contact ren@bikesandtravels.com

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 :-
Firstly, what on earth is hanging out of er (?) arris.
Secondly, you know when they power washed those HD's your name was exactly the same as what they were washing off. Oh yes it was.
Thirdly, I'm still not sold on Devon, but I await an epiphany.

13/08/2023 00:02:25 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
I can only suggest you Google information regarding the statue, I have neither the artistic temperament nor the inclination to work these things out for myself.

I do wonder what my Harley Davidson riding friends really thought of my detour. Maybe it's better if I never find out eh?

You may find our next day's destination a little more to your liking.
13/08/2023 07:42:37 UTC
Ian Soady¹ said :-
Not all "retirees" stick to 40mph you know.....
13/08/2023 10:25:59 UTC
nab301 said :-
I know , some don't even make it to 40mph...
13/08/2023 12:12:43 UTC
Ian Soady¹ said :-
... Only when they haven't tightened their plugs down....
13/08/2023 15:15:37 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
Oh nab301, that made me laugh!!
13/08/2023 19:10:32 UTC

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