South Dartmoor CTC

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Friday 12 March 2004
1900-2230
Social: Games Evening
2 present: Michael Jones, Ashley Myhill
Another enjoyable games evening.

Sunday 14 March 2004
1100-1700
Morning ride: Converted to socialTorrential rain
4 present: Jason Dart, Michael Jones, Ashley Myhill, Ben Wyeth
In view of the horrendous weather conditions, today's ride was changed to an enjoyable social at Crofters.

Friday 19 March 2004
1900-2230
Social: Games Evening
5 present: Will Burgess, Michael Jones, James Manning, Ashley Myhill, Ashley Unknown (Junior, Devon)
Our usual games evening was augmented by Will's friend Ashley, who was staying with him for the night.

Sunday 21 March 2004
1100-1515
Morning ride: Totnes (16 mi)Sunny & windy with occasional showers
7 present: Tao Burgess, Jason Dart, Michael Jones, Oliver Lindley, James Manning, Ashley Myhill, Ben Wyeth
We hadn't planned too long a ride today despite the bright start, as some of the youngsters present had not been riding with us for a while. Having reached Dartington via Colston Road there was enthusiasm for a cafe stop, so we dropped to the Cider Press centre only to discover that the whole establishment was still closed. We decided to press on along the Totnes cycle path, pausing only while James and Ashley rode their bikes across part of Totnes weir - they seemed surprised that they ended up with wet feet!

Totnes roundabout left Ben, James and Jason totally confused, so Michael took them on a few supervised crossings before everyone was allowed into the cafe near Somerfield. We spent well over half an hour there relaxing with drinks and cakes before setting off for a look at Dartington hostel and the long climb home over Rattery hill. The powerful headwinds on top made the going a little tough for the youngsters, and James insisted on slowing things down even more by riding repeatedly through every puddle and muddy verge he could find. After the enjoyable descent from Pennywell there was the usual after-ride social at Crofters.

Friday 26 March 2004
1900-2230
Social: Games Evening
4 present: Michael Jones, Oliver Lindley, James Manning, Ashley Myhill
Last social of the season.

Sunday 28 March 2004
1100-1530
Morning ride: Dr Blackall's Drive (16 mi)Cloudy but mainly dry
4 present: Michael Jones, Oliver Lindley, James Manning, Ashley Myhill
James asked for some tracks so he could test out his new Trek mountain bike, purchased especially for the Easter tour. When we started along the slightly uphill track along the brook in Hembury, however, he didn't seem too impressed. He had lots of money to spend, so as soon as we arrived at New Bridge he was handing money over the counter of the refreshment van in exchange for a hot dog, and the rest of us just had to wait until he had finished it!

We had plenty of time so we pressed on with the major climb of the day, all the way up Poundsgate hill. James only persevered because of the promise of another refreshment van and an exciting track descent, but on arrival at the top he was disappointed to find no van in sight! Dr Blackall's Drive, however, never fails to disappoint, and Oliver was congratulated for coming up with the idea. We paused at Bell Tor Corner to admire the spectacular view of the wooded Dart valley and climb the tor, then continued a high speed descent along paths and tracks until we finally reached New Bridge car park again. After more refreshments we returned via River Dart Country Park and Ashburton, feeling that we'd made maximum use of the last morning ride of the season.

Friday 2 April 2004
1900-2115
Evening ride: Skerraton Down (8 mi)Sunny
6 present: Michael Jones, Oliver Lindley, James Manning, Ashley Myhill, Phillip Oakley, Gavin Pearson
This well attended first evening ride of the season took us past Nurston Farm to the track the leads across Skerraton Down. It was almost dark as we crossed the high moor, offering a panoramic view of distant village and town lights from Totnes to Widecombe. Our own lights were well suited to the dark descent to Cross Furzes, so it wasn't long before we were back at Crofters, enjoying refreshments and videos beside a warm fire.

Sunday 4 April 2004
1000-1640
Day ride: North Bovey (31 mi)Sunny start, some showers later
6 present: Tao Burgess, Michael Jones, Oliver Lindley, James Manning, Ashley Myhill, Joe Venables
There was anticipation in the air at the start of our first day ride since June last year. We made good speed to Bovey Tracey and then enjoyed the old railway track through the woods to Lustleigh. Sadly, all was not well in the village: the once famous cafe now stood permanently closed, and local shops were clearly concerned at the loss of trade to the village as a whole. We ate our own refreshments in the park and the purchases a few items from the shop before setting off for the big climb of the day up Lustleigh Cleave. We paused briefly to admire an enormous boulder edging the road, known as Parson's Loaf.

Our usual track to North Bovey had been left in a particularly messy state by a fleet of off-road vehicles, but the large pools of water and thick slimy mud didn't seem to bother the younger members at all. In fact, the plastering of mud offered them the perfect excuse to ride the ford and get soaked, despite repeated warnings from the more experienced members that wet feet at lunchtime would turn to cold feet later in the ride!

The return route took us through Heatree Cross to Houndtor, where once again the usual refreshment van was nowhere to be seen. The final trek home across the moor to Ashburton was made less enjoyable by a stiff headwind and repeated showers, but the younger members were all pleased to see the total ride length exceeded 30 miles.

Friday 9 April 2004Tour: Somerset Levels Day 1 Home to Street YH (29 mi)Sunny and fairly warm
6 present: Tao Burgess, Michael Jones, James Manning, Ashley Myhill, Gavin Pearson, Joe Venables
Joe, Tao and Gavin
James and Ashley at North Curry
Joe Venables
James Manning and Ashley Myhill
James Manning
James Manning
View across the Somerset Levels from Burrow Mump
Joe and Ashley explore the ruins on Burrow Mump
Video footage from today's ride
This was a first tour for our three youngsters, all eager for action after being kitted out with the recommended equipment by generous parents. Tao and Joe (13) were first to arrive at Newton Abbot Station on this perfect spring morning. Ashley (15) and James (12) arrived next in Keir's Land Rover, closely followed by Michael and Gavin. Tao was inside the station when everyone else arrived, so Keir soon had to eat his comments about Tao always being late.

The First Great Western 1010 service was perfectly on time. There were 6 free bike racks in the guard's van as booked, and after a longer than planned walk through the train we soon found our reserved seats and enjoyed the kind of conversation that reflected our anticipation of the tour to come. In fact, we talked so much that we forgot to buy refreshments on the train, so the first task on arrival at Taunton was to seek out the cafe at Safeways. Service was not exactly rapid: we spent some time trying to work out where we should be queuing, and then plenty more time standing in line to buy less than exciting refreshments.

The main roads were quieter than usual on this bank holiday Friday. James had a problem with his single pannier falling off, but we were soon enjoying quiet lanes and the peaceful rural villages of Creech St Michael, Ham and Knapp. North Curry village green provided an attractive, sunny location for lunch and photographs.

Next stop was the Willows and Wetlands Visitor Centre at Meare Green. The Somerset Levels is a marshy landscape ideally suited to the growing of Willow. And Willow, as we discovered at the centre, is made into all kinds of wicker baskets and boxes. The youngsters particularly liked the hanging bee-hive seats, and had to test them thoroughly.

Burrow Mump is a small hill that stands out against the flat landscape that surrounds it. From the ruined church on top we could clearly see the network of ditches and drains that helps keep the land free of water. Without the series of pumping stations near the sea, the whole area would revert to an inlet of the sea.

There was plenty of time so we took a short detour along some fun tracks around Earlake Moor and Middlezoy. Burrow Mump soon began getting closer again, but the youngsters didn't seem to notice! From Othery the change of level on either side of the road was marked by Beer Wall, a sluice gate system controlled remotely. Joe did not seem to appreciate the long straight lanes across King's Sedge Moor - he thought he might go to sleep and veer off the road into one of the water-filled ditches on either side. The first real climb of the day brought us to Walton Hill and the National Trust woodland track to Street hostel.

The wooden balconies of the hostel and its rural surroundings always make for a warm welcome, and today was no exception. We were in one of the attic rooms which just added to our enjoyment of this excellent hostel. The youngsters, who all had easy-cook noodle meals, had finished and washed up before the more senior members even arrived in the kitchen, so they provided entertainment outside by performing jumps over the grassy banks outside. We just squeezed in a one-mile ride to the nearby Spar before dark to buy some provisions for supper. On our return there were card games and a viewing of the tour video, but Tao was forced to miss it all and retire to bed at 9pm - he works nights, and had been active for 26 hours with no sleep!

[Photos to follow]

Saturday 10 April 2004Tour: Somerset Levels Day 2 Street to Cheddar YH (27 mi)Cloudy with showers
6 present: Tao Burgess, Michael Jones, James Manning, Ashley Myhill, Gavin Pearson, Joe Venables
View from Glastonbury Tor
Video footage from today's ride
The youngsters deserve credit for being so well behaved overnight - everyone got plenty of sleep right up to the designated time for getting up. Tao felt thoroughly refreshed after 11 hours sleep, and once Michael had got over the shock of discovering that his cheesecake and yoghurt, purchased only the previous night, had been discarded from the fridge (presumably because it hadn't been given a label) we set off for the short ride to Clarks village in Street.

We spent an enjoyable hour and a half browsing the well-priced factory outlets and sampling the hot pancakes while the clouds gathered above. Gavin bought himself a rucksack-cum-camelback, presumably to make up for forgetting his water bottle, but there was no opportunity to fill it for the rest of the day! We were ready to leave as the first drops of rain began to fall, but we had to wait another 10 minutes for James to return from a supposedly 2-minute shopping expedition to get some batteries.

We had lots planned for today, and next on the agenda was Glastonbury tor. There was a nasty shower all the way to Glastonbury, but it cleared up as we approached the tor so we were able to climb it after all. Everyone enjoyed the views, although Joe dismissed it as a pile of dirt just like any other!

We were clearly going to be late for lunch at Wells, and the significant detour we took to avoid main roads did not help, but a final cycle path along the course of the disused railway line eventually brought us past the Bishops Palace into the bustling market square by around 2.30. Lunch was hastily purchased and then consumed in the grounds of the magnificent cathedral. The famous clock (the second oldest in Britain) entertained us briefly with its twin knights striking the bells, but if we had thought to look inside the cathedral we would have seen the far more impressive display of two knights and two Saracens riding around in a jousting tournament. One poor Saracen gets knocked down every fifteen minutes, and elsewhere a seated wooden figure strikes the bell and turns his head to listen after each strike. Oh well, next time perhaps!

It seemed as though there would not be time to include our planned visit to Wookey Hole caves and paper mill, but we made good progress and arrived in time for a visit of more than an hour. James was feeling much better as we left and made good speed on the 200m climb to the top of Cheddar gorge. Michael, however, was succumbing to the same fever that had attacked Tao earlier in the week. The descent of the gorge was exciting and fun, and we surprised ourselves by arriving at Cheddar hostel shortly after 7pm.

We were in the annexe, as on all previous occasions, but carried out our meal preparation in the main kitchen. The showers caused some confusion – to switch them on you had to lower the head unit to below waste height! Obvious really! There was another short excursion to the nearby Spar (on foot this time, as it was dark), and the usual viewing of the day’s video clips – of particular interest to the three who had refused the caves! Poor Michael suffered overnight under multiple quilts!

[Photos to follow]

Sunday 11 April 2004Tour: Somerset Levels Day 3 Cheddar to Crowcombe YH (36 mi)Mainly sunny
6 present: Tao Burgess, Michael Jones, James Manning, Ashley Myhill, Gavin Pearson, Joe Venables
Video footage from today's ride
Starting out a little earlier than usual we decided to explore Cheddar caves. Entry fees were quite high and some of the youngsters were hard-pressed to find the money, but we all spent an enjoyable hour wandering around some truly spectacular formations with the friendly voice of the audio guides accompanying us all the way. The café experience was not quite so enjoyable, with sky high prices for substandard refreshments.

There was time for a short stop at the Spar before we rode the short distance to Wedmore and Blackford. We then turned into the Levels again and enjoyed lunch in a field on the banks of Cripps River. The sun was hot in this sheltered spot, and nothing disturbed the peace except a single plane circling in the distance.

The afternoon ride took us past the Gold Corner pumping station to Bridgwater (where nothing was open on Easter day) and on to the foothills of the Quantock Hills where the ancient church in the village of Over Stowey looked delightful with its many spring flowers adorning the grassy churchyard. James’ bike needed a little attention before the climb to fix a bottom bracket, and Tao continued his regular maintenance of the offending pannier that refused to do as it was told. A challenging climb brought us quickly to the moor and tracks at the top, and James, who had never ridden this far in one day before, did not let himself down in any way. We didn’t feel like any major track excursions so we took the quick descent to Crowcombe and set about negotiating the final lanes to the hostel. On the way we were fortunate to see the steam train on the West Somerset Railway.

Crowcombe Heathfield hostel was up for sale many years ago, but the idea was abandoned through lack of prospective buyers and the hostel is still there now, a magnificent country house set in huge gardens in an isolated location. We had a large first floor dormitory and after adequate showers we prepared our final meals of the tour in the spacious self-catering kitchen. The youngsters were short of food and money so bought a loaf of bread and ate slice after slice of toast. Ashley decided to use the expensive Cheddar jam he had purchased – he maintains it was never intended as a gift for his parents!

[Photos to follow]

Monday 12 April 2004Tour: Somerset Levels Day 4 Crowcombe to Home (25 mi)Sunny and warm
6 present: Tao Burgess, Michael Jones, James Manning, Ashley Myhill, Gavin Pearson, Joe Venables
Video footage from today's ride
After our final breakfast of the tour we set off through the peaceful wooded lanes to Lydeard St Lawrence, Tolland and Wiveliscombe where we felt sure we would fine a cafe. There was a cafe, but whilst the door was open the café was definitely closed. The supermarket was open, however, and the seats in the village square provided an excellent spot for the consumption of beverages in the morning sun.

Pressing on we proceeded through many more typical Westcountry lanes Bradford-on-Tone. Lunch by the riverside in the shade of ancient woodland was absolutely perfect. Our train was leaving from Taunton at 2.36 so we took our time on the final stage of the journey along the river Tone, through Hele and Upcott. Cycle Route 3 led us usefully through some Taunton parkland direct to the Safeways near the station, so we were able to purchase some last refreshments and inspect the well-stocked cycle store nearby before boarding the train for home.

It's amazing how refreshing a 4-day break can be. By the end of the tour it felt like we had been away for a week or more. All the youngsters did well and were eagerly looking forward to their next trip - Salcombe in May. They all felt very pleased to have completed 117 miles over the weekend - an excellent achievement.

[Photos to follow]

Friday 16 April 2004
1900-2115
Evening ride: River Dart Country Park (8 mi)Dry
3 present: Michael Jones, James Manning, Ashley Myhill
The continuous rain of the afternoon finally gave way to brighter weather just before the start of the ride, but James and Ashley didn't want to completely give up their plans for an extended social. The compromise involved a ride through Pridhamsleigh to Ashburton and then along the riverside track from River Dart Country Park to Hembury Woods. James was showing a significant improvement in performance after last weekend's tour.

Sunday 18 April 2004
1000-1600
Day ride: Fermoys (22 mi)Occasional showers
6 present: Louis Burgess, Tao Burgess, Michael Jones, James Manning, Keir Manning, Ashley Myhill
The weather didn't look too promising and Louis probably wasn't ready for a full day ride so we decided to aim for lunch at Fermoys. As it turned out everyone made excellent speed, so when the youngsters had eaten their half price roast meals and we had ridden back to Ashburton via the Rising Sun we still felt in the mood for a detour home along the Hembury Woods track from River Dart Country Park.

Friday 23 April 2004
1900-2130
Evening ride: Chalk Ford (12 mi)Sunny and warm
4 present: Michael Jones, James Manning, Ashley Myhill, Gavin Pearson
On this warm sunny evening we introduced Ashley and James to a new climb to Cross Furzes (via Buckfast) and a new route across the moor from Lud Gate, down the hill to Chalk Ford and out to Scoriton along the stony track. Morris Dancers were keeping the locals entertained outside the Tradesmans Arms, and since they blocked the entire width of the road with their merry antics we just had to watch until the music stopped. Four youngsters, dressed professionally in all the correct gear, seemed to have mastered most of the hops and flicks to perfection!

There was still sufficient light left to enable a slight detour on the homeward route, taking us up the steep climb to Holne and onwards to Hembury Woods.

Sunday 25 April 2004
1000-1845
Day ride: Slapton Sands (42 mi)Very hot & sunny
6 present: Louis Burgess, Tao Burgess, Will Burgess, Michael Jones, Ashley Myhill, Gavin Pearson
Video footage from today's ride
The weather this morning was what one would expect for mid-July rather than late April. We knew we were heading for the beach, and Will and Louis were eager to break the 30-mile barrier for the first time - an amazing expectation for Will who had been off cycling for several months with a broken collarbone! Ben and Jason wanted to join the ride, but when they realised how far we were planning to go they contented themselves with joining us only as far as the top of Dean hill before turning back.

So, we were off on what promised to be our longest day ride for 12 months. With the sun beating down we reached the farthest point of our January attempt, near Diptford, but today there was no rain and everyone was pressing for more. The final downhill to Slapton brought us to Torcross by 1.25. I don't think we planned to stay there for an hour and a half, but some had to buy lunches from the cafe and of course there had to be time for playing in the sand and walking along the shore.

By this time we had already clocked up 21 miles, so it looked like the final mileage would exceed 40 miles. Ashley and Will were dubious about whether they would make it, but they found new stamina after the arduous climb to Strete and were spurred on by the prospect of completing a stage 4 mileage. Corkscrew hill at Tuckenhay offered plenty of downhill fun, and when Will had fulfilled the personal promise he had made to himself on his last visit to Bow Bridge, namely to ride across the ford the next time he was there, the youngsters had to dig deep to find new levels of energy to climb Bow hill.

The descent to Totnes was followed by a thoroughly enjoyable excursion along the Totnes cycle path and a final lap through Dartington to Buckfastleigh. Everyone made it, and whilst all the youngsters were tired they were all very pleased with themselves for achieving a 42 mile ride. After careful analysis we discovered that the ride broke more records: this was the first ride with youngsters in excess of 40 miles since at least 2001! Things are looking up for South Dartmoor!

Friday 30 April 2004
1900-2130
Evening ride: Converted to socialRain
3 present: Michael Jones, Keir Manning, Ashley Myhill
Heavy rain meant that this evening's planned evening ride was converted to a social.

Sunday 2 May 2004
1000-1700
Day ride: Redlake Tramway (21 mi)Warm & sunny
4 present: Louis Burgess, Tao Burgess, Will Burgess, Michael Jones
In previous years we would have planned our off-road excursion to Redlake Tramway, in the heart of Dartmoor, for the summer months to improve the chances of good weather, but with our new flexible rides programme we were able to undertake the ride earlier than ever before.

A brisk climb brought us swiftly to South Brent's Plymco, offering Tao and the lads the chance to buy lunch (which they never manage to pack these days). Everyone also agreed to Michael's suggestion of sharing a frozen strawberry cheesecake, but would it have defrosted by lunchtime? A short trip through the lanes took us to Wrangaton golf course where we were amused to see large notices detailing the club's clothing regulations. Amongst other things, T-shirts were banned, all shirts had to be tucked inside the trousers, and the changing of footwear in the carpark was strictly forbidden! On previous occasions we had been told off for cycling a few metres to the left of the blue markers that mark the line of the bridle path across the course, and had also felt the wind of a ball whizzing past our ears, so today we waited until all golfers were elsewhere before proceeding.

Numerous skylarks hovered around as we climbed Ugborough Beacon and settled down for lunch in front of the tor - the breeze was not strong, but it became quite chilling after a while. There was time to enjoy the extensive views from Mothecombe to Teignmouth in the warm spring sunshine - and the cheesecake was delicious! Thoroughly rested we headed back into the open moor, knowing that we'd see no more roads for several hours.

The Redlake tramway was built in 1910 to carry coal and staff to the clay workings at Redlake in the heart of the south moor. Closed in the early 1930s it is now an excellent cycle path that takes riders right away from all signs of civilisation. We quickly met up with the track and followed its course for several miles, seeing nothing but skylarks and a couple of ramblers. Just before Redlake we left the track and headed across rough moorland to Petre's cross, where we were surprised by a Dartmoor Rescue official popping out from the ring of stones that marked the cross. We weren't quite sure what he was doing there, but after establishing that we knew where we were going he returned to his hiding place!

Descending the steep hillside towards the Avon we were surprised to notice three enormous rings marked on the hillside opposite. These remnants of ancient civilisations had always been there, but we'd never seen them before because the vegetation growth during the summer months completely obscures them from view.

The river was not too high so we managed to cross on the stepping stones without getting wet feet. Progress along the riverside path was hampered by streams, rocks, bogs and walls, but eventually we emerged behind the Avon Dam ready to enjoy the Abbots Way descent to Cross Furzes and home.

Friday 7 May 2004
1900-2050
Evening ride: Ashburton (9 mi)Sunny
4 present: Jason Dart, Michael Jones, Gavin Pearson, Ben Wyeth
A short spin took us to the old mill behind Ashburton and down through the woodland track back towards the town.

Sunday 9 May 2004
1000-1600
Day ride: Coffin Stone, Dartmeet (18 mi)Warm & mainly sunny
3 present: Louis Burgess, Tao Burgess, Michael Jones
As we approached Venford reservoir from the Holne direction, Michael suggested an on-foot exploration of the Bench Tor area overlooking the wooded Dart valley, a place we had viewed many times from the other side. Tao was keen to stay awheel on this occasion, however, so after a short stop to allow Louis to eat some food we continued to the bridleway that starts a little before Combestone tor.

An enjoyable descent brought us to the planned lunch spot, a grassy bank under a tree beside a stream. The area was so isolated that we saw no other signs of civilisation for the whole time were there. The hypnotic sound of the running water tempted us to stay even longer, but we needed to press on.

Further stretches of moorland track brought us quickly to Combestone farm from where a long descent through a field of sheep took us to the river Dart itself. Louis needed a little help carrying his bike across the many stepping stones. The cafe at Dartmoor is now, finally, non-smoking thanks to the forward-thinking new owners, so we were pleased to purchase light refreshments and ice creams in preparation for the climb of Dartmeet hill.

The coffin stone is a little way off the road about two thirds of the way up the hill. Between the 13th and 19th centuries all deceased persons from the Dartmeet and Hexworthy areas had to be carried to Widecombe in their coffins, and the ascent of Dartmeet hill was such a strenuous undertaking (pardon the pun) that the coffin was regularly rested on the coffin stone. People who were highly regarded even had their initials carved on the stone, several of which can be seen to this day.

Completing the climb we moved quickly to the start of Dr Blackall's drive, one of our favourite tracks, constructed by the owner of Spitchwick Manor Dr Blackall in the 19th century to enable enjoyment of his estate. A thoroughly exhilarating descent was over far too quickly, leaving us with just the slalom track in Hembury Woods to conclude one of the best rides of the season.

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