Happy (soggy) new year!

Happy new year everyone, and what a strange start to 2016 it is; certainly a lot wetter, windier and milder than we’re used to. Who thought we’d still be in double figures degrees centigrade in January, with daffodils and irises already in flower?!

Today I travelled back from my Christmas break in North Cornwall on flooded but passable debris-strewn roads with overflowing gutters, alongside lakes that used to be fields. Not that I’m complaining. I know that some of you have had a lot worse to contend with up North, and my deepest sympathies to all of you who have water where it shouldn’t be!

Although we had a wet and windy time of it in the South West over the past week, with the right gear (new waterproof trousers for Christmas), we still managed to get out and explore.

Our highlights included:

Rocky Valley amble

Welcome to Rocky Valley

Welcome to Rocky Valley

Just East of Tintagel we strolled alongside the gushing Trevillet river, down through an ivy-clad valley …

Trevillet river

The swollen Trevillet river

… towards the bracken-strewn slopes of a rocky inlet …

Rocky Valley - North Cornwall

Heading towards the coast in Rocky Valley

… emerging above a stunningly stark black slate gorge where waves pounded the steep walls. At their highest point, the slate canyon walls tower over 70 feet above the river below.

Black slate gorge, Rocky Valley

The Trevillet river runs through a dramatic black slate gorge to the sea

From here, we climbed up onto a windswept headland …

Rocky viewpoint, North Cornwall

Rocky point of view

… for views along the rugged Cornish coast, across gorse bushes heavy with blooms …

Views of the North Cornish Coast from Rocky Valley headland

Views of the North Cornish Coast from Rocky Valley headland

… before heading back along the swollen river, where we found Bronze Age labyrinth rock carvings.

Labyrinth rock carving

Labyrinth rock carving

Camel Trail bike ride

The Camel Trail at Wadebridge

The Camel Trail at Wadebridge

Starting roughly in the middle of the Camel Trail at Wadebridge, we cycled along the river and under the trees to Bodmin, then to Wenfordbridge and back to Wadebridge, then along the Camel estuary to Padstow.

Camel river, Wadebridge

The sun made an appearance by the Camel River in Wadebridge

31 miles along a disused railway, and the rediscovery of my quad muscles, were enough for me, but while I relaxed with a coffee in Padstow, watching the evening Christmas lights flicker on around the harbour, my husband went into battle against storm Frank, cycling back to Wadebridge to pick up the car (my hero!).

Portquin to Port Isaac

Portquin, North Devon

All the gear, no idea … how muddy I was going to get!

This stretch of clifftop path squeezes in all the best attributes of the Cornish coast. It is unpredictable, wild and rugged, and on this occasion extremely windy and very muddy.

Wind and waves overlooking Portquin

Wind and waves overlooking Portquin

We slipped up muddy paths to watch gannets soaring over frothy waves off the headland. Then slithered down muddy paths to watch a lone grey seal ‘seabathing’ just off the rocks …

Grey seal

Grey seal

… before sliding over more muddy terrain for traditional Cornish pasties and hot chocolate (with marshmallows and cream!) in Port Isaac.

Port Isaac

Port Isaac

Given the pretty atrocious weather, we did have a few indoor highlights on this trip as well, namely:

  • Cornish real ales
  • A 5-star 5-course New Year’s Eve dinner in the St Kew Inn
  • Evenings at ‘The Beech Hut’ with a log burner and Netflix
  • A packed-out matinee showing of Star Wars at The Regal cinema in Wadebridge.

Although it has been a grey start to the year, there are always ways to make it greener.

Don’t forget: 15 minutes of green in 2016! cropped-15-logo-no-url-for-web.jpg


Cycling through the conifers

Our final outing in Exmoor (2nd January) saw us back inland late afternoon and on the bikes, this time starting from Timberscombe, a small village in Somerset on the river Avill. And the first leg? You guessed it … uphill! It was a ‘steady’ southbound ascent, and although I ended up in the lowest gears again, this time I didn’t get off and push (result!).

Although a lot of the hedgerows had been cut back recently, they were still pretty tall. The view over their tops was by now very familiar but one we would never tire of – the patchwork quilt of fields, hedgerows and woodlands that covers so much of Exmoor.

Exmoor landscape

A now-familiar view

This particular hill seemed to go on for ever, and I was tempted to ask ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ To which the response, I’m sure, would have been, ‘It’s just around the next corner’, as there were plenty of bends, each revealing yet more uphill roadway. Eventually we did reach the ‘Couple Cross’ junction, and were able to start a downhill stint (they never last long enough though!) to the bottom of Croydon Hill.

So next, of course, our route took us to the top of Croydon Hill. Again, I managed to pedal all the way, as we headed upwards, first skirting the edge of a vast coniferous woodland and then entering it, winding our way through the trees on some of the many criss-crossing fire tracks with the goal of finding our way back to Timberscombe.

The conifers of Croydon HillThe conifers of Croydon Hill

The conifers of Croydon Hill

Up until now we had been following a well-annotated map, but the tracks were so well sign-posted to Timberscombe that we started following those instead. As a result, we ended up pushing the bikes through a rather muddy ditch, but there was good news, as the next signpost declared: ‘Timberscombe 1/4 mile’. We cycled over the top of Timberscombe Common as dusk approached.

Timberscombe Common at dusk

Timberscombe Common: which way now?

After 10 more minutes of cycling we reached another signpost: ‘Timberscombe 1/4 mile’. Someone was having a laugh. But we did indeed reach Timberscombe, in time to watch the nearly full moon rising over the trees.

Moon rising over Exmoor

Moon rising over Exmoor

Dunkery beacon

“A beacon a day keeps a heart attack at bay,” according to my husband. So, for our first cycle ride in Exmoor (29th December 2014), we didn’t just pick any old hill to tackle (and there are plenty of them around here). No, we decided to head for the highest point in Exmoor, indeed Somerset – Dunkery Beacon. Although I was hoping to break myself back into cycling gently (I haven’t been on my bike since the Alresford trip in October), it was a clear sunny day and it made sense to head for the beacon to make the most of the views.

To get anywhere out of Porlock (our starting point), you’ve got to climb, and our efforts were soon rewarded with magnificent views over the Vale of Porlock and the Bristol Channel.

The Vale of Porlock

The Vale of Porlock

From then on, it was a tough slog along the road, through Horner Wood, up Dunkery Hill. We emerged from the trees onto a great expanse of heather-covered moorland, and still the road kept going up! By this point I was in the the lowest gears and my front tyre was lifting. I’d love to say I cycled all the way, but as the road got steeper there was a fair bit of pushing involved. Despite the winter sun, the higher we got the colder it became, and there were large patches of ice on shaded areas of the tarmac.

Looking back down Dunkery Hill

Looking back down Dunkery Hill, on the icy road

Eventually, we turned off the road onto a rocky track, and struck across the heather-clad moors with the beacon in sight – it is marked by a huge rock cairn and there were people crawling all over it.

Cycle to Dunkery Beacon

Goal achieved: Dunkery Beacon (519 m, 1705 ft)

View from Dunkery Beacon

Views from the top

Ham sandwiches and hot vimto had never tasted so good. And the views were truly magnificent. But we soon started to cool down, and didn’t linger too long, heading onward along the rocky track for the circular route back to Porlock. The good news: it was all downhill from here. The bad news: the path was covered in sheet ice, and I hit it wrong. My bike went one way, I went the other. There were tears, there was blood, there was a hole in my cycling trousers, but apart from slightly less skin on my knees and a broken front light there was no real damage to me or my bike.

Still, we could see that the downhill route was going to take us longer than expected, given the conditions, so we cut short part of the ride and took the road down over Wilmersham Common, with a steep descent down to Pool Bridge (really tough on the brakes!). We took it steady, as there was frost and ice all over the road.

We then climbed back out of the valley and back down into Porlock for a much-needed hot bath and cup of tea.

If you’ve walked or cycled to Dunkery Beacon, please share your experience below. Thank you.

Back on a bike

I can’t remember the last time I rode my mountain bike off road. So, my husband was both surprised and delighted when I agreed to a 19-km (12-mile) ‘get-back-in-the-saddle’ pedal through Hampshire countryside.

We started from New Alresford (one end of the Watercress steam railway line – the other end being in Alton. He assured me it was a grade 2 (easy/moderate) ride that would ease me back into mountain biking.

The bike ride is described in Nick Cotton’s Hampshire & The Isle of Wight Cycle Tours book as “an easy exploration of the wide tracks that criss-cross this part of Hampshire”. What Mr Cotton didn’t share was that after a few days of heavy rain it will take you twice as long, with big puddles, lots of mud and potentially slippery smooth chalk. Hey, guess what? We’d just had a few days of heavy rain!

Fortunately – for my husband – we completed the ride without major incident. Yes, there was mud, but where’s the fun in mountain biking without a little mud? Yes, there were several deceptive puddles that turned out to be a lot deeper than they looked! And, yes, I did fall off into a clump of nettles after unsuccessfully navigating my way around one particular gate post. Painful in shorts! But, oh what a wonderful way to explore this charming Hampshire landscape.

For 3 hours we cycled along a gently undulating route, so for every uphill grind there was a downhill whizz. We rode along shady bridleways overhung with berry-laden trees and quiet green lanes scattered with crunchy beech mast. We stopped frequently for me to catch up, check the map and enjoy the views. Breaks in the hedgerows revealed sweeping vistas of arable farmland, interrupted by compact islands of uncut corn. Every so often we plunged in and out of small pockets of broadleaf woodland where beech and oak trees were still just about holding onto their summer greenery.

I highly recommend this 15+ minutes of green. Full details of the route can be found in the Cycle Tours book (link above). So, if you’ve got a mountain bike, and you’re in the area, give it a go. Hampshire County Council also produce leaflets that outline a number of off-road routes here.