More Tours: Planning

I have another mini-tour planned. I wonder what constitutes a mini-tour; I guess it’s anything less than a full stage-race with panniers. Over a week, full tour? Or is it over a fortnight? Less than a week is definitely mini though, so on that premise I’m not going full tour bongo any time soon.

The plan is a loose following of the Lon Las Cymru. I won’t go right out to Anglesey because they eat their young and it’s kind of primeval, but I will roll down from my starting point in Llandudno, over Snowdonia and down towards Barmouth. From there, it’ll be through Machynlleth and along the Elan Valley, stopping at several places without so much as a vowel between them, Cwmystwyth and Ysbyty leading the charge. Swyddffynnon has a solitary vowel, a gorgon sharing an o in the absence of an eye.

o-DAM-AFTER-900.jpg

It’s going to be hilly. The Elan Valley has an odd pull; I keep seeing pictures of it taken by the ultranutters whilst they sleep in the outdoors, sheltering beneath the udders of a craven heifer from a swirling storm, for around 13 minutes before pressing on, on, on into the darkness, both of the night and of the soul.

I have a queue of mini-tours in my head. I want to do the ridgeway, then back on the kennet and avon canal. I’d like to do some sort of Jurassic Coast ridings, but have always been put off by a probably misplaced fear of middle England. I’d like to do the Devon sustrans coast-to-coast, it’s supposed to be almost all traffic free. I then have a queue of longer tours I fantasise about. These might require camping though, which I am diametrically, ethically, politically and morally opposed to. Chief among these is any kind of epic tour in France, crossing mountains and taking in everything the country has to offer. Maybe one day.

Day 3: Elmscott – Exford

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.

cheeky cows

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.

cloud rolling across the headland
Graham and Steve climb Countisbury
the view of wales from the top

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.