The outside of a motorbike engine seen up close near the exhaust

Home Travel StoriesCornwall In Winter 2017

Devonian Delights

By Ren Withnell

I suffered last night as I had the night before. I suppose I have achieved a little sleep which is better than nothing. I curse as I ram my sleeping bag back into it's pack and laugh maniacally at the "-3 Comfort" rating that taunts me, proudly printed large on the bag. Not to worry though. For tonight I shall sleep in comfort, for tonight I will be rolling around naked on a king size bed, for tonight I shall be comfortably ensconced in the thermally insulated and overly heated walls of Travelodge Alcester. 

Why? Am I wimping out? Erm, er, no, not at all, I mean erm, it's all part of the plan, yeah, that's right yeah I, erm... You see it's time to head home. On my way home I shall be passing nearby the city of Birmingham where a certain regular commentator on this website lives. That'll be Mr Ian Soady to you and I. It seems a shame to pass that way and not drop in for a brew and to put a face to his words. I've emailed him and arranged to drop by on Saturday morning and as such I need somewhere to stay on Friday night that's not too far from his place.

I have emailed 2 campsites. One has got back to me to let me know the campsite is closed, I've not heard from the other. I had considered a YHA youth hostel which would have been cheaper but when I saw the price at Alcester Travelodge as I shivered in my icy tent a simple thought struck me. "F#$k it!". Before I knew what was happening my debit card was out and I accidentally made a booking. Oh dear, too late now eh. If I'm ever complaining that I'm poor just remind me of this incident will you.

Tent packed, bike loaded and I ride away with a goodbye to the campsite owners. It's a good site is Summer Valley, it's just a shame it was so cold. Phil, one of the new owners, did mention that it is January and well, you know, it is kind of expected. Fair point. 

My first stop is not far away. Damerells is the last big motorcycle shop before Land's End and it is quite large. They offer Yamaha, Suzuki, Peugeot and Honda as main dealers as well as the usual selection of used models. It is quiet in here, very quiet. I remind myself it is January and Friday morning at 1000, I ought to know most motorcycles shops across the UK will be quiet right now. As usual the Honda section has to be in a separate building. I love Honda although they do have some stupid rules. 

Damerell's large shiny showroom for motorcycles at Indian Queens just off the A30
Damerell's is just like any other Shiny Showroom. 

I could just get back on the A30 and head straight for Birmingham. I could, but I don't need to be there before it goes dark as I don't need to put the tent up. I could but I don't need to worry about getting warmed up. I could but I don't need to chase food as there's a McDonalds and a shop next door to the Travelodge. My map suggests the A39 will still take me in the right direction just in a more interesting manner. 

The road from Indian Queens to Barnstaple is fine. Broad, wide, flowing and filled with a constant stream of traffic. It's better than the motorway as things are happening and this helps keep me alert. I take a brew stop at Asda Bideford and make my way through to Barnstaple. Then things change, something isn't quite right. The green signs for the A39 have turned white and the main flow of traffic is following the A361 to Taunton. I feel as though the A39 has become a side road.

The CB500X parked outside Asda Bideford in blue skies
Brewtime. Supermarkets are just easier to find than character cafes.

My side road becomes a twisting, turning and in some places icy and gravelly country lane. This is unexpected. I take a moment to confirm with Google maps that this road will indeed lead me to Bridgewater, it will so I crack on. And on and on through rolling hillsides, gnarly bends, up steep inclines and down into frosty white valleys. I'm reminded of the South downs in one view then Wales in another, this village is like the Cotswolds and that one Northumbria. I'm in a veritable fantasia of scenery.

Bright sun shines onto green rolling fields and hedges
Surprisingly appealing and varied scenery today. Beware the shadows, here lies ice.

I can't take my eyes off the road though. There's a heavy frost on any grass in the shade and ice in the gutters. There's gravel where the car tyres don't tread and broken tarmac abounds. This isn't sports bike territory, too loose for their twitchy sensitive steering and overpowered motors. The CB500X is ideal with it's low down grunt and slower more stable geometry. I am enjoying the ride yet I cannot relax, this surface in these conditions requires focus and respect.

The road is now almost single track with no centre markings, surely this can't be a major A road? I twirl steeply down and around hairpin bends then without warning I'm dropped into a bewitching little cove complete with village, river and harbour. Think Looe, think Whitby then think much smaller, quainter and more picturesque. Oh my, Lynmouth is a delightful place. I stare in awe, I would do the whole trip again in winter to stumble upon such a place. Why on earth do I want to travel Europe if there's still places like this for me to discover right here in the UK?

A village set in a steep valley and a river flowing into a harbour at Lynmouth
Lynmouth - what an enchanting place to stumble into.

As I park a mature couple stop to survey my motorcycle. Of course they were once bikers, today they prefer the comforts of a motor home and after last night's deep freeze I can hardly blame them. They hail from Barnstaple and have come here for the afternoon, they often do. I enquire what it's like in Summer. Busier, but not so busy as to spoil it. The remote location and the narrow lanes deter the madding crowds who prefer the beaches anyhow. I must bring Sharon here one day, it is impressive.

A few small boats lie in the mud of Lynmouth harbour while the tide is out
I guess the tide is out at the moment. 

The road climbs and switches back up the hill once more, back into the wilderness of Exmoor. Once again I am taken aback by the scenery and the scale of these moors. Porlock is another pretty seaside town worthy of further investigation. I am shocked and I am blessed, I had expected common or garden A road riding much as I'd experienced before Barnstaple yet I have found a niche of Devon that feels as worthy and remote as any part of the Welsh Valleys or the Scottish Highlands. What a find, what a detour. Today I am glad I have made the effort, I feel alive.

Rolling hills mixed with steep valleys in glorious winter sun at exmoor
Exmoor is far wilder and remote than I anticipated.

After Minehead I must admit normality is resumed. There is still genuine countryside here complete with farms and fields and cattle and tractors so I'm happy to flow gracefully with the traffic around me. It is getting cold once more and time is marching on. I need that motorway now, there are still many more miles to do and the cold is biting deeper as the sun drops towards the horizon.

I'm also in need of refreshment so when I spot Riders Harley Davidson in Bridgewater I pull in hoping to find a cafe. I do and I soon have a hot tea in my hand. It's quiet in here too, I already know the reason why this time. With tea in my belly and fuel in the tank I hit the M5 and head northbound. Here we go again.

Riders motorcycle shop at Bridgewater. Another shiny showroom but this one has a cafe
Another Shiny Showroom at least this one has some refreshment.

18 miles to the next services, I've covered 36 miles since I filled up so there's another 65 miles to go. It is dry this time so I can see the Bristol channel as I ride by. Junction 11, I want Junction 9. Keep in going Ren, keep nibbling at the elephant. It's getting darker by the minute so it's getting colder by the second. The A46 is dark now and rush hour is upon us, fortunately it seems I'm against the flow. Trucks, cars, vans, lights everywhere, dazzling. Keep on going Ren. Keep thinking of that warm bed. Keep thinking of that bath. Finally 1 mile to go, this must be it, this must be my Travelodge.

My room is basic, clean and most importantly WARM. Aaaaah, warmth, sweet warmth. Sweet cosy comfortable warmth. Deep luscious luxurious warmth. Relieving revitalizing refreshing warmth. I swim in the warmth. I bathe in the glorious delightful warmth. I skip gaily around the room naked in the warmth. It is amazing awesome admirable and all encompassing warmth. I eat a McDonalds in the warmth. I spend an hour in a hot bath then dry naked on the bed in the warmth. I watch TV in the warmth. Oh my, warmth is truly underrated.

Maybe I'll sleep better tonight.

Why Oh Why Oh Why? Ren explains why he thinks it's a good idea to travel to a UK holiday destination in winter. Kind of like asking a madman why he's mad really.
Eating The Elephant It's the first two days of Ren's brief jolly to Cornwall in January. Motorways, could anything interesting possibly happen?
My Guided Tour The winter sun is out in Cornwall and Ren gets a brief yet perfect guided tour of one area. What more could he ask for?
Familiar Faces, Familiar Places It's the fourth day of the Cornwall expedition. After hypothermia comes sunshine and the chance to catch up with an old friend.
Devonian Delights It's another cold cold morning as Ren starts the journey back home. He's expecting a rather dull ride today but there's a few surprises in the countryside.
Meeting Ian Before Ren returns home to end his Cornish expedition he meets a certain Mr Ian Soady.
What Did I Learn? After returning home from his Cornish adventure Ren is asking himself what he has leared and was it all worth the effort?

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