I've had a few days off over the last few days and I've come down to Devon. I'd planned a big ride for the Friday, but I ended up seeing family which didn't leave me with as much time as I wanted to do the ride.
I ended up doing a ride along the Tarka Trail instead of the route I did have planned. This meant a lot less climbing that I had planned as the trail is pretty flat, but it is traffic (at least, car traffic) free - it's still a pretty busy pedestrian and cycle route.
The Tarka trail runs alongside the route made famous in the book, "Tarka the Otter" by Henry Williamson. Most of the path is along old railway lines (the section from Barnstaple to Bideford was featured in the James May Toy Stories series, where they attempted to run a Hornby model train set along the old path of tracks).
Anyhow, I started in Barnstaple and did a quick stop at Tesco to collect some lunch before heading down the trail. The weather wasn't fantastic and had been threatening with rain all day, with a down pour just before I set off in the morning. It was incredibly humid all day, which made riding pretty sweaty. However, once I got out of Barnstaple itself, the route was open to the elements a bit more and I was able to cool off a bit with the breeze.
I cycled from Barnstaple and got to Bideford before taking a break for lunch. There was a reason I had Bideford in mind and that was for ice cream!
Hockings is a North Devon institution and makes one of the best ice creams in Devon. A trip home wouldn't be complete without a Hockings ice cream!
I finished my ice cream and left Bideford Quay behind me and continued heading South towards Torrington and the birthplace of Tarka the Otter. The Tarka Trail is in general very well maintained and ranges from tarmac to compacted gravel and is in general, perfectly fine for a Brompton. I cycled past a number of families who were out and about on bikes which was nice to see, as you can see the weather wasn't the best! A number of children occasionally pointed at the bike as I cycled past, and one even told his parents that I was on a toy bike!
There are a few tunnels along the route from Barnstaple to Torrington - there's a small one at Instow (more of a wide bridge really) and then this one, between Bideford and Torington near Wear Giffard. Thankfully, this one is lit throughout, unlike the Oxendon and Kelmarsh tunnels I encountered whilst cycling Loughborough to Hatfield, which contained no lights at all! Since then, I've had a dynamo installed, so I had lights anyhow (in fact, I undertook the ride yesterday with my lights on the entire trip - not something I usually do but as it was fairly overcast all day, I considered it wise for the small time that I was on the road).
Continuing past the tunnel, I came across a bridge over the river Torridge and was able to snap a picture of a heron sat in the middle of the weir. I had to stay and watch for a while to make sure that the heron was actually alive and not a statue! It was so still that it seemed unreal. However, when I came back down the route, it had gone so it was clearly just excellent at standing still (considering it's how they get food, I assumed it should be good)!
Finally, I got to the end of the route that I was doing - the Puffing Billy at Torrington. I stopped for a cream tea before turning round and heading back to Barnstaple and then on to home.
It was a tough decision to go back - I fancied carrying on and doing the coast to coast (Ilfracombe to Plymouth or vice versa). Sadly, I decided that the coast to coast would have to wait (partly because I hadn't started at the coast!) With that, I turned around and headed back, enjoying the scenery. Route back was the same out, but I progressed a little quicker on the way home, partly due to the fact that the rain that had been threatening all day seemed to have started with a very fine mist of rain (the type of rain that seems to get EVERYWHERE and get you just as wet as pouring rain)! Again, my luck held out and after about 5 minutes of this, it seemed to clear off and stop.
Overall, it was a really nice ride to get out and about back in Devon, if only for an afternoon.