After two epic days of slightly over-ambitious saddlebag touring, we scaled it down a bit for day three. some sly-route planning meant cutting out a visit to ilfracombe, in favour of a blast straight up over the north devon hills onto exmoor. Ilfracombe is a bit of a toilet anyway, so no great shakes there. we came across some cows and a slightly cheeky farmer who chastised us for getting out of bed late, it was around 9.30am.
i found the most specific road sign ever:
the morning began misty and dank, but it cleared quickly as we headed inland towards Barnstaple. a second encounter with cows enlivened the initial miles, then as we dropped down towards the torridge flood plain, for the first time in ages we managed to get some speed up. there was also some welcome flatness along the Tarka Trail, and with each passing mile the sun began to peek through the clouds. the scenic estuary was merely a prelude; climbing out of Barnstaple (another toilet-town, do not stop, continue straight through, i should know, i was born there) onto the North Devon hills the landscape became more and more incredible. it’s hard to explain the allure of North Devon, the steep undulations and densely wooded valleys around Snapper and Chelfham, vertiginous and verdant in equal measure, lead up to the headlands above the Atlantic which then fold suddenly into the ocean. it’s a beautiful place. we took in Woody Bay and then the valley of the rocks, which is genuinely unlike anywhere else. at this point i began to get a sense of what cycle-touring is about; the sense of movement and journey through the landscape, the tranquil transience and the interstices between space and time.
we plummeted into Lynmouth to take in the climb out – Countisbury Hill. It’s hard not to overegg this, but the experience of riding up Countisbury was one of the best experiences I have ever had and i recommend it as one of the great road climbs in the UK. it starts off steeply, at least 25%, but then relaxes to a more manageable 10-12%. the road is etched into the cliff face and rises steadily up to the threshold of Exmoor, providing awe-inspiring views of the coastline and across to Wales.
Once over the top we rode across Exmoor before dropping down to Exford. As with the previous two nights, we ended up in a faraday cage of woodland, with no mobile signal at all. i’d almost forgotten how payphones work. It being the last night, we had a few beers and a pub dinner. The Exmoor Gold crowned a perfect day.
we did *just* the 70 miles, with only around 6000 feet of climbing.