Given the great late summer weather and dry trail conditions, I decided it was now or never if I was to get a short bike packing trip in this summer. My first plan was to do the Weston Super Mare -> Eastborne ride again, but given I did that last year I felt like that was rather unimaginative. I then read about the EWE route created by Aidan Harding. His route is a massive 1000 mile route. The first part, however, looked interesting as it covered a section that logistically worked for me. So after a night or two of tweaking the route via ViewRanger and then saving it to my GPS, I was ready for another mini nomadic adventure with just me and my bike. Oh yes!!
Day One (Wednesday 10th Sept) : Plymouth -> Post Bridge (35 Miles)
So, first thing Wednesday morning was spent doing last minute preparations and getting all of the kit together. Was hoping to catch the early train from Castle Cary to Plymouth, but realised that I was out of chamois cream! Just the thought of 10 hours a day in the saddle without chamois cream made me wince, so I decided I would hang fire until the local bike store opened. At the same time I took the opportunity to also grab a few last minute snacks for the ride (Trek, Nature bars, porridge sachets and Cashew nuts) from the supermarket.
After that it was a quick mental rehearsal of all the kit I had packed and would need. When doing a kit review, I just think of what I require for, riding, eating and post ride/sleeping. Simple!
- Sun Glasses
- 3 litre Camelbak Bladder
- Rear light
- Front light
- 2 pairs of bib shorts
- 2 jersey
- Arm and leg warmers
- Spare tube, chain breaker, chain lube, tyre boot, leavers and multi tool
- Jetboil stove
- Sawyer water filter
- Lavazza coffee (most important that!)
- Porridge sachets
- Energy bars, Gels, nuts
- Lightweight cutlery
Post Ride /Sleeping
- Vango Helium 100 tent
- Alpkit 650 down sleeping bag
- Thermarest sleeping mat
- Shorts, t-shirt, underwear and light weight fleece
- Toiletries and lightweight towel
All of the above packed up goes something like this. Tent, sleeping mat and towel in front roll bag. Sleeping bag and clothes in under seat pack. On ride food in frame and top tube bag. Remainder in rucksack
The result is this. The Cube 29er hard tail is a great bike for bikepacking and the setup I have adopted works so well!
The other thing that I should mention, is that I had a custom front wheel built which encompasses an SP Dynamo Hub wired to a USB-WERK by Busch & Müller with inline Li-Ion battery. This a great device as it enables me (within reason) to keep my GPS charged and to a certain extent my smartphone battery topped up as well.
So with the bike loaded in the van it was a 50 minute drive to Castle Cary station for the 2 hour train journey to Plymouth. Having never travelled on First Great Western with a bike I assumed (wrongly) that you just get on any carriage. So there I was in the carriage with my bike when the conductor comes along and tells me I have to put my bike in the special carriage at the end of the train. With all eyes on me, I disembark the train and make my way to the rear of the train where the cycle carriage is located. Having put my bike in the allocated cycle carriage, I shut the door and think to myself ‘This is a bit poor. Do they expect me to stand for 2 hours in here’. The conductor then arrives again and says ‘Sorry sir, but you can’t stay in there, you need to move up into the other carriage’. By now, I think I must have held up proceedings by a good few minutes.
I must admit that is was a nice change to be sitting on a train with proper air conditioning and spacious leg room. Not like the cramped and out dated South West Train service I use to commute to London from Salisbury 😦
When the train arrived at Plymouth I was ready and waiting to be first off the carriage so that I could get my bike out quickly. When I got into the rear carriage some lycra clad roadies had also joined the train and one of them had rested his bike on mine. I tried to make conversation, but was just ignored like I didn’t exist. Maybe it was my hairy legs they took offence too.
I wasn’t able to take as many photos as I had liked, due to battery issues with my phone, but I have included a selection of them where possible.
A few photos of the sea front at the start in Plymouth
Another seafront shot with Drake’s Island in the middle of the photo
Photo duties over and concious of the time, it was time to start grinding those pedals. It was already 3pm and I had 48 miles to cover before nightfall if I was to reach campsite number one near Chagford (more on this later!)
The first part of the ride took me along the ‘River Plym’, before joining the disused ‘Plym Valley‘ rail line. There was even an old tunnel to pass through. You can imagine a bygone era of steam trains passing through this tunnel.
I do like cycling on disused rail trails. Maybe it’s because they are nice and flat so you can get the speed up and cruise along at a nice pace!
I was, however, lulled into a false sense of security. Whilst the first 13 miles had been easy going and fast. That ‘48 miles before nightfall. Easy‘ thought I had earlier was soon to be dashed. Come Clearbrook on the edge of Dartmoor, the flat well maintained trails and fast speeds were replaced with steep moorland climbs, bridleways that didn’t seem to exist and snail paced speeds. So slow in fact that the dynamo hub was not spinning fast enough to keep the smart phone charged.
Still, before the first long climb up onto the moor and the reality of what I had let myself in for, I passed Burrator Reservoir and a nearby waterfall. Very picturesque indeed.
So I spent the next few hours trying to decipher where the bridleway was and crawling my way through the moorland scrub. Having full OS mapping on my phone was handy as I was able on a couple of occasions to pick up a better trail with a slight detour. One such instance was crossing Kings Tor just before Princetown
Here are a couple of photos up on the moor along with one of some resident Dartmoor ponies.
You can just imagine what this place must be like on a wet and windy day in the winter.
Reality dawned on me around Dartmeet that I didn’t have a hope in hell of getting to Chagford before they closed at 8pm. The ‘hike a bike’ sections near Dartmeet
and the slow going across some of the remote moorland sections had just eaten into the riding time. It was already 8pm by the time I arrived at Postbridge. Out of water and unsure where I was going to pitch my tent, I stumbled into the quiet village local pub named ‘The Warren House Inn‘ to enquire about local campsites. I needed fluids and sugar, so whilst I enjoyed a cold pint of full fat coke. The kind landlady contacted ‘Runnage Farm campsite‘ 1 mile up the road, which I didn’t know existed and made them aware I was in need of a space and would be arriving shortly. I know I am a wimp, and most true bikepackers would have wild camped, but in all honesty, I don’t find that very appealing as I enjoy being able to have a shower after a long day in the saddle.
I then headed up to the campsite, paid the £6 and erected my tent. I then cycled back to the Warren House Inn for some food and a well earned pint. It was about 2230 hrs before I climbed into my sleeping bag and ready myself for what always turns out to be a disturbed nights sleep (sleeping in a tent is something I still need to get used too!). I do envy those individuals who can sleep anywhere.
Day Two (Thursday 11th Sept) : Postbridge -> Bratton Fleming (72 Miles)
It was just before 0900hrs when I cycled out of Runnage Farm. Annoyingly for me, and I am still unsure what happened, but the 2 mobile phone batteries I charged up during the night via the dynamo hub Li-Ion battery had both drained to zero. This meant I had no smart phone and was unable to take photos for the majority of day 2. Well, at least whilst I was on the moor and the average speed was below 7mph.
It was about 1100hrs when I reached Chagford, and I was able to pick up some supplies. The first thing on the list was a pint of milk so that I could cook up some porridge and make myself a proper coffee 🙂
I reached Oakhampton at about 1300hrs. Unbeknown to me. At 1400hrs the roads were being closed as the ‘Tour of Britain‘ cycle race would be coming through town. Whilst I do enjoy watching road racing, I was having a race of my own and therefore quickly decided that I should get moving before they closed the town off. Oakhampton signalled the end of Dartmoor and the start of the Tarka Trail. The next 40 miles all the way to Barnstaple where very flat and gave me the opportunity to get the average speed up and some charge back in the phone battery. Here are a few more photos of the rest of the days riding.
Another tunnel, but this time it wasn’t illuminated!
View across the River Torridge at Bideford
The bridge at Bideford
With a couple of hours of daylight left, I restocked my supplies and headed out of Barnstaple towards my stop for the night at a campsite near Bratton Fleming. It wasn’t long before the climbs returned and reality dawned that I was entering Exmoor.
I arrived at Westland Farm campsite just as it was getting dark. When I knocked on the door to ask about room for a night I was rather concerned to be first told that I could not as the site had been booked for a wedding the next day. The Father then arrived and was very kind and put me in the corner out of the way of the couple who had booked the farm. Unfortunately, I think he might have landed himself in trouble with that decision as I was later apprehended by a couple asking what I was doing and was I staying. I told them I would be up an away early.
So after erecting the tent
and getting showered I decided that tonight I was going to get a proper and nutritious meal inside me.
After another restless nights sleep, partly due to pitching the tent on a slight slope causing the thermarest to behave like a sledge and make it’s way down the tent wedging my head into the damp tent ceiling, I decided that at 650am it was time to pack up and get moving. Being someone who finds sleeping anywhere other than their own bed difficult, sleeping in a tent is always going to be tough. I was hoping that being physically shattered, would help, but it just makes matters worse. After 10 hours cycling I am shattered, but buzzing from the endorphins, and winding down is nigh on impossible.
Day Three (Friday 12th Sept) : Bratton Fleming-> Taunton (~70 Miles)
It was a little fresh when I set off just before 0800hrs, and as a result it was on with the Gillet and on with the arm warmers. The moors I was heading for where shrouded in mist, and I could tell that I would have some nice climbs to contend with. Breakfast would have to wait as I had no milk so it was a granola bar and an energy gel for early morning energy.
It wasn’t too long into the days riding before I came across one of these. It pretty much set the scene for the days riding
Given the remoteness of the area and the fact that the days riding would not be taking me through any villages until much later in the day, I was starting to worry how I was going to get some milk so that I could have some porridge and and a coffee, but then I spotted a sign next to a remote pub which read ‘shop open’. I opened the door of the small shop only to find it totally vacant. A polite ‘Hello’, yielded no response, so I decided that I would try the pub door instead. I asked the lone chap in the pub eating what looked like a block of cheese if he knew whether there was someone in the shop, only for him to reply ‘Yes, there will be in a minute’, and with that he left his cheese and followed me out of the pub and into the shop. Cutting a long story short, the chap who owns the shop used to work in the film publication industry in Soho, London, and 8 years ago that he wanted to escape the rat race and unfriendly world of central London. He said that although he earns a pittance compared to what he used too when in London he is far more happy now than he ever was then. Got me thinking. I digress.
The shop keeper made me aware that I was about to start a nice long climb to the top of one of the moors. Below is a series of images from on the moor.
The views where nice, but I was getting hungry and so as soon as I was off the moor it was time to fire up the JetBoil and get a brew on the go along with what turned out to be ~ 1 pint of porridge. The porridge tasted mighty good though and it set me up for a good while.
The trail up to Dunkery Beacon
The descent off Dunkery Bunkery and down to Brockwell was long and rocky. By the time I reached the bottom my wrists were feeling very sore!
In terms of climbs I would have to say that the icing on the cake came about 5 miles later at Dunster. The route I was following took me up a very long and steep bridleway, before descending me and then taking me to the top of Croydon Hill. The climb up to Croydon Hill finished me off, and by now I was ready to head home. Here is the final picture of my trip taken near Dunster.
The final 10 miles of the trip were spent on busy roads making my way to Taunton train station so that I could catch the train back to Castle Cary.
The 2.5 days riding were tough going, but I had a great time. Bikepacking is such a contrast to your usual existence. Only having to think about riding, eating and sleeping is something that I really enjoy. In fact, I was only at the station for 10 minutes before I started to miss the isolation and solitude that you get when bikepacking.
You can obtain the GPX file for this trip from my ViewRanger page.