Monday, 28 March 2016

Braunton 150

Pink! PINK??! Which idiot's idea was it to make the default nighttime route marker on a GPS pink? And it's only half the width of that used in the daytime. I'm stood at the bottom of a very steep hill. I know it's steep because I've just ridden down it. I now know that the bridleway I should be on is at the top of the steep hill. It's coloured PINK! My "reward" having pushed to the top of the hill is a lovely piece of flowing singletrack along the top edge of the woods. Things were going to get worse. (This paragraph originally had a lot more words!)

Pre ride at the Wild Thyme cafe

Friday had started well. Get into a rhythm, don't push too hard and see how far I'd get. I rode with another rider for a while until I gained distance on a hill so carried on. On a part push, part ride section (cattle and horses really do cut up soft ground) three of us grouped up and we rode together for most of the rest of the day. The bridleways leading to and from Simonsbath alongside the River Barle are ace in the sunshine. As evening approaches, one drops back to put on more clothing while myself and the other push on past Tarr Steps and over to Winsford. The light is fading quickly as we pull out on to the moorland of Dunkery Beacon. The other rider has pulled away now and I'm on my own. I'm struggling to see the PINK line of the route but I've been here before so have a vague idea where I'm heading. I spot the tail light of the other rider ahead so have a clue as to where to go.

One of the early lanes

There's a bog ahead, not just your ordinary bog but one a leprechaun would be proud to have as a moat around his home. Even in the gloom it's luminous green. Fortunately there's a fence where I can practice my Indiana Jones bog crossing technique. Using the bottom wire of the fence for footholds and the top for my hand I edge across, the bike partly supporting me as well. My hand tingles, trapped/damaged nerves from the constant battering, then ZAP! It's an electrified fence!

Climbing up from Cornham Ford

The descent off the Beacon goes on for a long time, initially a stony track to a road crossing then a loose, rocky bridleway that seems never ending and it's taking a lot of concentration. The pub in the next village turns out to be a very posh country hotel - I don't think they'd be too impressed with a mucky mountain biker turning up. Minehead it is then. Except I get lost in the forestry between me and there. I'm trying to make sense of the map on the GPS when the battery dies. Great! Then I hear traffic - just round the corner is the main road.

Somewhere in the middle of Minehead I bump into a familiar face outside a convenience store that has everything you'd never need, by the time I've raided the shelves the third member of our disparate group has arrived. My plan now is to find somewhere to bivy. The other two press on ahead on the climb out of town. On the hillside I come across a potential site but the wind seems to change so knowing there's a tricky descent I carry on. Eventually I find a suitable site by a community hall. No need for the tarp there's plenty of shelter should it start raining.

A community bivy spot

Left down the rocky track or right up the rocky track? It's going to go up isn't it? A few minutes of pushing then a bit of riding through the farm yard then eventually the track steepens and I get off and push again. When the gradient does ease off I am now facing in to the first part of the forecast storm and it's all I can do to keep walking and pushing the bike forward across soggy fields. I'm not happy and am thinking of quitting. Eventually I reach a road, turn and have the wind on my back. The GPS indicates a right turn and through the mirk I see a track skirting the hillside. But it isn't that, instead it's a sublime piece of rocky singletrack dropping in to the coombe and out of the wind. It twists in and around trees teetering, balancing above the beck until I reach a gate. There's a climb before another great piece of sandy singletrack.

Riding by the River Barle

The problem with following a course on a GPS screen is that you could be anywhere. Yes, you know that the marker on the screen is you but, where is it? Where are you? It could be Devon, it could be Somerset, it could be Cornwall. No, not Cornwall, things aren't that weird. Yet. People in cafes ask me where I've come from: "Bollock?" I reply uncertainly, "then round by Badgerwank Water and down to Lynn Foulds Wood. I don't know! It was PINK!"

"Unsuitable for Motors", I'm pushing up a stupidly steep road, the surface ravaged by previous storms, as I get higher the road appears to be moving - it's water from the surrounding fields taking the easy route to the sea and it's pink. At the top of the hill I'm once again facing the teeth of the gale, it's all I can do to keep pushing the bike, with the cramps I can't ride so I'm unable to generate enough warmth to fend off both wind and rain. I'm done. I make the decision to stop at the next pub or cafe and quit. Of course the next pub is at the bottom of the hill I'm now at the top of so I get even colder reaching it. They've stopped serving food so I'm reduced to cups of coffee and hugging a teapot of hot water.

Despite quitting and having done 200 out of the 240Km (I was that near the end)  I have to say that there's some great riding, some tough climbs and great views.

Cath arrives to pick me up and we head in to Ilfracombe and food: pink crab!