LEJOG tour so far: week one
The first week of the Eat Sleep Cycle book tour is drawing to a close. I’m sitting in a field just north of Wells, laptop on knee, eating the leftovers of yesterday’s curry, having pitched up in a campsite.
The tour started last Sunday with a cancelled train and a broken toe, then took a turn for the better on Tuesday when the cycling proper started. I had a wonderful first day, cycling in the bright sunshine down to Land’s End from Penzance, then making my way back towards Truro, along the coast initially then leaving my old constant to travel inland. The last time I went to Land’s End was on my round-Britain trip; it was neither the start nor the finish, just one more day in my long ride, and my colleague Nick and I ate our Cornish pasties at the last bench in England, the sea haze hiding even the Longships lighthouse just a mile offshore. This time, the visibility was fantastic; approaching the tip of the peninsula I could clearly see the lighthouse beyond, and even the Isles of Scilly perched on the horizon, 28 miles offshore. A large crowd of cyclists was there, ready for their End to End ride, with their lycra, their road bikes, and their luggage safely stowed in the support van. “Are you riding to John o’ Groats?” they asked. “With all that stuff? Rather you than me!”
From there it was a lovely 15 miles to Penzance, along the coastal road. I’d ignored the NCN on the previous trip and therefore missed Mousehole, so this time I was careful to follow the blue signs; not careful enough as it turned out, as I missed one of them and ended in a dead end at Lamorna Cove. Damn! I hate going wrong, especially as this had led me down a very steep descent. I stood halfway down the hill, grumbling to myself, trying to muster the strength to make the climb back out. But then I decided to make something of the mistake; why must I be that person who adheres so rigidly to the plan? Why can’t I go off-piste once in a while? So I freewheeled the rest of the way, parked my bike on the rocks, and went swimming. Day one: sea swim. Now, that didn’t happen on the round-Britain.
In Penzance, I popped into the Edge of the World Bookshop to sign some copies of my book, then headed off for the rest of the journey to Truro. I had forgotten just how hard cycling in this part of the world is; those hills are tough, especially so laden with luggage. I arrived in Truro with just an hour before I needed to be at my evening event, so it was a quick dash to the Waterstones there to sign the book, then a hurried meal, then a half-hour cycle back to Bike Chain Bissoe where my first audience awaited. The event had drawn a small but lovely crowd, and I gave my presentation then read Chapter One of the book – fitting for Day One of the tour.
Day Two passed in a blur of hills and ferries: I took the King Harry Ferry (a chain ferry) across the River Fal, then another ferry at Fowey, then a final ferry across Plymouth harbour from Torpoint to Devonport (another chain ferry). I was familiar with much of the route, having ridden it in part on the round-Britain trip, and also on the Penzance to Brighton ride that had taken place a couple of years prior to that. But despite visiting places I knew and loved, I really struggled. The hills were just so tough, tougher than I had remembered, and I realised just how fit I must have been the last time I was there – it had been eight weeks or so of cycling that had led up to the South Coast section, and those eight weeks had stood me in excellent stead for the brutal climbs that feature on this stretch. I tried to enjoy it, but it turned into a misery plod to the next location; something that I had been so keen to avoid (I’ve explored this in a little more depth here). I was also a bit sorry that my Plymouth event hadn’t drawn a bigger audience, but those few that came were really supportive and seemed to enjoy it. A swim off Plymouth Hoe before the event was a definite highlight and made up for the negatives.
Day Three: a shorter, flatter ride but a much less enjoyable one; I took the A road for speed and ease, which meant this definitely was a misery plod! But arriving in Totnes was fantastic – it’s a place I have visited before and loved, and I had time to wander the steep High Street, and unexpectedly spied my book on the shelf in an independent book shop! My event at The Curator Cafe couldn’t have been better: a lovely, cosy, quaint venue, with a vintage bike hanging on the wall and a large and appreciative audience. Best of all, I had been contacted by Lucy, someone I’d met at the Cycle Touring Festival, who lived a few miles away and put me up in her house, right on the banks of the River Dart. A swim the next morning made three swims in four days. Not a bad score.
From there I rode to Dawlish, once more along a familiar route, passing through Newton Abbot to pop into the Waterstones there and sign books, and arrived in Topsham for my evening event where I was greeted by a fantastic crowd with a few familiar faces. Route 2 Cafe were brilliant hosts – a lively venue in a really pretty village, right on the River Exe, with loads of boats and a great waterside pub. I gave my talk and, after a couple of beers, I returned to the family flat in Dawlish for a good sleep.
Day Five: it’s a 45 mile ride to Taunton, and with the event not starting til 7pm there’s no need to rush. I ride the Exe Valley trail alongside the river – a wonderfully flat and picturesque route made more enjoyable by the sunshine. At 2pm, however, I am still in Exeter, having cycled only 12 miles. It took a while to get going after my late night on Thursday, and the Exeter Green Fair has provided a significant distraction. I gather myself and set off towards Taunton. Puncture!! It only took four days for my bike to fall prey to a thorn or stone or similar, so I limp towards the bike shop for a fix (I have all the parts to fix it myself, but it’s best to save my spare tube for a wilderness tube change if the need arises). So, it’s almost 3pm by the time I finally leave Exeter for the 33 miles to Taunton. Suddenly the 7pm start seems ominously close.
I’m following the route suggested by Nick Mitchell in the Cicerone End-to-End guidebook. It’s a lovely route north east of Exeter, along country roads and through pretty villages, until I reach the edge of the Blackdown Hills. “Ascend sharply for 1.5 miles” says the guidebook, nonchalantly. This is going to be tough.
But, thankfully, the climb goes smoothly and soon I am out of the wooded hills, the remaining eight miles taking me soaring above the tree line on a quiet and mercifully flat road. The descent into Taunton is exhilarating, and I arrive at Brendon Books for my evening event with 45 minutes to spare. Here, I am welcomed warmly by Lionel and Jo Ward, who not only offer me a bed for the night, but take me out for a curry after the event, which is well attended and a real joy.
It’s a pleasure to ride the 35 miles from Taunton to Wells through the Somerset Flats the next day, the landscape north of Glastonbury giving fabulous views back to Glastonbury Tor and ahead to Wells Cathedral. In Wells I sign books in Waterstones for a couple of hours before finding a campsite in the surrounding hills.
It’s been a full-on week, with all the highs and lows one must expect at the beginning of a tour. I have relished being back on my bike, despite a few niggles, and I am enjoying being a ‘jobbing’ author – using the proceeds of book sales to pay for the tour. But this is only the beginning: here’s to week two!