I arrived in Birmingham with enough time to spare for
a look round the centre before catching the 0942 Cross Country train to Taunton. After a slow but punctual journey via Weston-Super-Mare, the train arrived at Taunton for 1200. A short wait saw me onto the 1229 Great Western service to Exeter St David's, where I arrived at 1255. The 1327 train then took me along the attractive single track line to Barnstaple, where I arrived at 1435.
I soon had the bike assembled and crossed the River Taw to follow the well surface cycle track (previously a railway line) beside the Taw estuary. At Velator (1520), I turned onto a narrow lane which meandered through well kept pasture land close to Braunton Burrows. Saunton was reached at 1345 after a climb along the B3231 which gave excellent views of Braunton Burrows and Saunton Sands. I then pressed on through Saunton Down and descended into Croyde (1605) which was as picturesque as I remembered from many years ago with its many pristine thatched buildings.
The road then led uphill through Putsborough and along a rough bridleway which ran parallel to Woolacombe Sands. Woolacombe (1645) was surprisingly attractive and well tended with painted Victorian houses and not an amusement pary in sight. A few brave souls were surfing off the beach. There followed a steep uphill climb to Mortehoe (1700), very attractive with two churches and an equal quantity of pubs.
The road continued ever upwards until the level B3343 was reached followed by a swift downhill run into Ilfracombe (1750). Although relatively inexpensive, my room in the Harcourt Hotel was spotless and well provided with tea, coffee and toiletries. Having tucked the bike in for the night, I went out for my customary evening walk around what turned out to be a very attractive albeit faded resort. I watched the rowers in the harbour as I ate my fish and chips by the quayside. I climbed the cliff to St Nicholas's Chapel and admired the view of the town and sea. Noticing the storm clouds gathering, I swiftly made my way back to the hotel and a good nights sleep.
On the Wednesday, I awoke to sunshine, but this all changed to a heavy downpour during my excellent "Full English". Fortunately, the weather had abated by the time I set off at 0810 although torrents of water were still flowing along the roads. The A399 was quiet and there were a number of good views although some of these were spoiled by the presence of unfortunately positioned caravans. I passed Watermouth Castle and arrived in Combe Martin at 0900.
Combe Martin is a long, strung-out village with the fairly quiet A399 through its centre. I took a slow ride through the village and decided that the place would be worthy of more detailed exploration in the future. I managed to shoehorn my bike onto the 0935 Filers 301 bus and we rattled all the way to Barnstaple where I arrived at 1035. There was a short wait for the Stagecoach 85 bus which sped me on to Bideford. Fortunately there ample bike stowage on this and the next bus.
Bideford looks as though it would be well worth exploring but, no sooner had I disembarked from one bus, my connecting bus pulled in behind and took me to Bucks Cross where I arrived at 1149 under leaden skies. As the heavens opened, I mad my way to the Post office and bought a packet of their excellent homemade bicuits and refreshed myself under cover while the rain poured down.
Fortunately, the rain abated and I cycled a short distance along the A39 before diving into the lane just before Ford. Abbotsham (1255) is a lovely village which boasts its very own "Tardis" by the Church. More attractive lanes led me to Westward Ho! (1330) which is not at all attractive with its pretentious seafront buildings and tacky takeaways. The one redeeming feature is a massive area of rock pools on the beach which I witnessed being ransacked by visiting children.
I had barely time to start to admire the well preserved town of Appledore than the heavens opened. I sheltered in the hope that the rain might go away, but no! I donned my waterproofs and continued on my way through Northam and over the new, high Torridge bridge (1350). I don't know whether the signs advertising the Samaritans were at all effective, but I do know that the thought had not crossed my mind until I saw them.
Onward, in the pouring rain and along the disused railway, now a cycle path, alongside the Taw and through Instow (1430) to Fremington where it finally stopped raining. I arrived, bedraggled at Barnstaple Station at 1540, just in time to catch the train to Exeter where my connection to Birmingham and home left five minutes later.
See the pictures