Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Dawlish, England to Bristol, England: Finally! The coast and the hills...

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The next morning I was discussing my route with Shaun and Dani and it was concluded that I was only taking a day to Plymouth, where I had a Warmshowers host waiting, when I should in fact be taking three days. It's a funny thing about travel: the more you do it, the more you want to do it. When I said I was going to London I didn't know about Cornwall, but there I was on my way to Cornwall and I had already accumulated ten more places to see. It would be nearly impossible to see them all, so that was the day I decided I needed to come back to England one day, having not even spent a week there.

To help things along, Dani very kindly offered to drive me to Dartmoor, another of England's stunning national parks. Dartmoor is where the Sherlock story Hound of the Baskervilles is set (Shaun: “Have you heard of Sherlock Holmes?”), and upon arriving, I could see why. As we were driving, Dani commented with her German accent, “It's just... different. The hills are different, the rocks are different, the soil is different. You will see, you will see.”

And she was right.

It was an ordeal to disassemble my bike and cram it into her car along with her busking equipment (did I mention Dani busks for a living? I couldn't get her to sing for me, maybe I will have to hire her for my wedding...), but in a comical way, and it was worth it. The level of conversation left off the night before continued for the hour or two-long car ride, and after a heartfelt goodbye, I was left on what felt like the top of the world, looking back over everything I had ridden in the past week (okay, and been driven that morning).

I pedaled for another hour, slow-going to enjoy the scenery, and at some point realized I had been driven so I far I had five hours to make it 20 miles, mostly downhill, so I took two of those five hours to nap and practice uke and take second lunch and make friends with the sheep. It was very zen.

I finally made it into Tavistock, whereupon getting a milkshake to use the internet and asking the barista for directions, I was given back the cost of the milkshake (“How long are you touring?” “Till the money runs out.” “Where do you stay?” “Oh, I camp in fields, sometimes people let me stay with them. I can theoretically 'afford' hotels, but one night in a hotel is twenty days in Africa.” “Well, I'll get the milkshake then”), and then to Calstock (in Cornwall!!!), where my hosts for the night, Ian and Jane, were surprised to see me so early. Dinner was bubble and squeak, which is British English for leftovers. After dinner, Jane left to be a bell-ringer at the local church, and Ian and I commenced the exchange of stories that so often occurs when two travelers are at the same table.

Ian and Jane were kind enough to let me stay an extra day on the condition I helped with yard work for a bit, which I was happy to do the next morning. I spent the afternoon in Plymouth, a train ride away, seeing the sea, walking the quay, and visiting the monument for the departure of the Mayflower (and another boat too, that sprung a leak so they had to come back, and then they left again, and then there was another leak so they came back... history is really imperfect, isn't it?).

From Calstock I went south on the Cornwall side of the river (Plymouth is in Dover County, so I hadn't actually seen the famed “Cornwall coast” yet), and finally got to see the coast that everyone was talking about.

If you're just joining me you might not know that for the past three posts I've been saying, “must get to Cornwall, must get to Cornwall...” At this point you're wondering: “Was it worth it?” Well, dear reader... the coast was beautiful, yes. But even had the coast been hideous, the journey to the coast, the people I met along the way, and the kindness I experienced – that was worth it. Cornwall was, if you'll excuse the analogy, an Ithaca, a Panama. The view was a cherry on top.

I rode along the coast to Looe, where I'd been told by Ian there was a farmer who “wouldn't mind” if I put my tent up for just one night in his field, and nobody was around so I'm not sure how he could have minded. I should probably mention that it was really incredibly hilly that day, but by that point every day was hilly, so you should just assume unless I say otherwise that it was hilly...

Hills do make for pretty cities though.

In Looe I ran into Ian and Jane again, as they were kayaking down the coast that day. I wish I had prepared them dinner or something to return the hospitality they had offered me, but all I could do was help them carry their kayaks to the car.

As I waited for the sun to set I attended a bowling match. One of the player's wives sat next to me and kindly explained to me what was going on. You can look it up if you want, but suffice to say, it's easy to learn, hard to master...

Finally, I found the spot where the farmer wouldn't mind if I stayed, and it seemed he didn't. I felt quite privileged, since it was really, really beautiful.

From Looe I went a bit farther down the coast to Fowey, which required another ferry, then across the Peninsula to Port Isaac, and I'll let photos summarize the happenings along the way...

I finally found a way to get those clean tires muddy. Now they match the bike!

There was much to explore in Looe.

View from the quay in Looe, I slept on one of those hills.

Unfortunate perspective on this sign...

Couple that sat next to me in Fowey. Heavy Yorkshire accent.

English breakfast. The beans really make it. Take note, America.

Tourist #2, Ian #4.

Cows in the road - first time.

North Cornwall coast.

Bay at Port Isaac.

Field just outside Port Isaac.

View out my tent.

Tourist #3! Hi Dave!
Out of Port Isaac I ended up in Sheepwash, and did I mention it was really hot? So I'd been stopping in every other village asking for water, and in Sheepwash I also asked the bartender if she knew a place down the road I could stay, and yes she did... in her yard.

I hard originally been planning to do another 10-20 miles that day, but I'd had quite an early start (stealth camping + anxiety meant a 6 AM departure that morning) and it was quite hot, so I decided it would be alright to give myself a break and head over to her place. There I met Adam, who took me for a walk, and we discussed conspiracy theories and spirituality and Bitcoin and politics. Eventually we made it back. I tried to read but ended up napping for the better part of an hour.

On Monday (June 18th), Adam saw me a few miles out of town, and the rest of the day was not much but hot... except that someone stopped me at the grocery store with, “Is that your bike outside?” and we ended up talking for a bit (hi Henry!). Henry led me out of town, which was quite nice since navigating towns is always a pain.

The bike racks were clearly made for touring bikes.

I took what must be the fifth towpath of my tour to the next town, and on the way I actually got to see a boat being towed down the river (“You'll have to dismount your bike past the horse, sir”). There are, apparently, four of these boats in all of England, so I considered myself lucky to have been in the right place at the right time – almost as lucky as the guys running the boat (one to steer, one to drive the horse times four boats = 8 of those jobs in all of England).

That night I was having difficulty finding a place to put my tent and ended up asking someone working in a field. That someone was Peter, who introduced me to his wife and son (whose names I have written down but cannot recall just now). Not only was I granted permission to put my tent in their field, but I was invited over for breakfast the next morning, where I learned to eat an egg out of a bowl, something I'd never done before.

The next day was nothing but hot, except I did pass through a town called Cheddar, which seems worth mentioning because... well, I love cheese. I didn't get cheddar in Cheddar, but I did eat a pint (excuse me, 500 mL) of Ben and Jerry's. A lovely fellow named Ian sat next to me on the bench, and we talked about being zen and watching the world go by, and that's what we did.

Before long it was time to carry on, and next were some of the hardest “hills” of the trip, the Mendips. I burned off all that ice cream I'd just eaten and then some, got soaked in sweat, and after what seemed like hours (probably because it was at least two) it was downhill into Bristol...

Bristol, where the graffiti is awesome.

...and now here I am, staying in the apartment of Hattie and Will. They once caravanned across the US and Canada, and have cycle toured in Wales, and have a bike project taking over their kitchen (my kind of kitchen).

And now I'm off to Wales! Country #3. If this post seemed a bit rushed and full of run-on-sentences... well, that's because it's nearly noon and I'm eager to get going. But if what you got out of this was that the past three days were very hot, and that there were lots of spontaneous encounters with strangers (which I hope you like, because that's all cycle touring is, really...), that Dartmoor was beautiful, and that I ate a pint of ice cream in one sitting... then I've done my job.


  1. What I got out of this post was the amazing term "bubble and squeak" and I love it so much!


    1. Lol yea, that made me chuckle. I've been meaning to do a post on British English, perhaps as a musing of the road...

  2. Amazing photos - thanks for sharing. An amazing slice of England!!! Bike on! Love you!!!