Thursday 12 April 2012

LEJOG (End to End) Day 2 - East Towards Swindon

Leg 2 - Sourton Cross (Devon) to (Royal) Wootton Bassett

The second day of our epic ride saw us travel in a North-Easterly direction from Devon, through Somerset and then on to Wiltshire.  This was a little bit further east than most LEJOG (End to End) riders would normally travel.  They’d be heading in a more directly Northerly route, perhaps up to Bristol.  However, when we’d started telling people earlier in the year that we’d be doing our Land’s End to John O’Groats ride in the Spring, we got a few offer for us to visit people and stay the night.  The liaison that pushed us further East than the usual route was with Cousin Karl and his family in (Royal) Wooton Bassett.  Not wanting to pass up a freebie and looking forward to meeting up with a family member that I didn’t meet up with often enough we made plans to take the Wiltshire detour.

We were now getting into the ride well and truly.  Whilst the first day was enjoyable, there was a certain amount of trepidation about where we were embarking on and whether we could manage it.  It didn’t fear the long distance riding, but I was concerned about the weight and the mechanical problems we may encounter on the way.  However, with modern technology such as GPS, the Internet and Smart phones etc. the whole thing seem lest daunting than it might have been in the past.  Yesterday, I had started to enjoy things, but today I was really looking forward to the ride.  We knew it would be long and undulating, but I was sure we’d get through it OK.  I was just hoping for fair weather again.

Paul Carries Out a Quick Luggage Check in Oakhampton
We’d roughly planned the route for the day and decided to leave without breakfast and make a brunch stop fairly on in the day.  Paul felt gassed up the day before, and we came to the conclusion that we may have been overdoing on the eating front.  As well as the numerous large meals, we’d been putting away more than our fair share of chocolate, snacks, cereal bars and gels.  All this washed down by a number of electrolyte sport drinks.  We also decided to leave the A30 behind and get on some slightly less major roads.  This turned out to be a good decision, as there was much less traffic passing by and we got to see more of the places on the route.  The road surface were still fantastic.  We were rolling along nicely without a single pothole in sight.

Another Lovely Smooth Road in the South East

We soon passed through Oakhampton and carried on up the road after a quick photo stop and pannier check.  We were going to bypass Crediton and head up to Tiverton for our first stop.  The route was very pleasant, but the roads were very undulating, as we’d expected.  There were no long or steep climbs, but there is very little flat road between each hill.  You seem to be going down a hill only to be immediately climbing up the other side.  However, as I’d mention before the road surface quality was brilliant and this helped speed us along.  We had a slight hold up in Bow, heading out towards Copplestone, for some road works.   They were resurfacing quite large stretch and it was hard to figure out way, as the roads all seemed so good.  However, we didn’t mind being slowed slightly for this type of preventative maintenance.

Views from the Road North of Oakhampton

Another Big Breakfast (Brunch) to Fuel Our Efforts

We didn’t have too long of a stop in Tiverton, we were constantly aware that we needed to ride another forty miles on top of the distance we’d done the day before, so we weren’t for hanging about too much.  Another big (Full English) breakfast and a visit to a nearby shop to stock up on cereal bars etc. was in order.  Other than that we didn’t see too much of the town.  I snapped a picture of what I think was the Town Hall and a few other local landmarks and then we were on the road again.

Lunch Stop in Tiverton - A View of the Town Hall
Once on the move again, we headed for the A361 and up towards Taunton in Somerset.  The scenery and weather were lovely and the roads seemed to be levelling off a bit.  There was always something that seemed worth photographing.  We’d got into a ritual where I’d either go up the road a bit or leave somewhere slightly after Paul to grab a few snap shots to publish online later.  When I’d done my ‘David Bailey’ bit, we’d regroup further on along the route.  We always had the smart phones to stay in touch, so I wasn’t too worried about not always being in visual contact.

Paul Updates Our Followers About Our Arrival in Somerset
We also used the smart phones to stay in touch with out Twitter and Facebook followers.  We again partook in the ritual of stopping when we passed over a county border and grab some pictures as evidence of us standing by the next county sign.  It was a good opportunity to catch up with each other too, have a bite to eat and sometimes take a comfort break.

Ash at the Devon/Somerset Border

The run up to Glastonbury was very nice.  The Sun was out most of the time and the temperatures were pretty good for that time of year.  After the initial relatively chilly start to the day, the arm warmers were off and the gilet was open and blowing in the breeze.  We passed through Burrow Bridge and saw the ruins on Burrow Mump, but didn’t have time to stop and have a proper look around.  Any sightseeing needed to be done from the road, with perhaps a quick photo stop if the opportunity arose.

Ruins on Burrow Mump Near Burrow Bridge
Having said that, you’re in the open air with all round vision and things are happening at a slower pace than travelling in a car, so you do fell like you are taking things in as you pass without necessarily stopping and getting off the bike for a walk around.

A View of Glastonbury Tor from a Distance
As we approached Glastonbury we were able to see the Tor in the distance.  It is quite a landmark.  It was still during the school holidays after the Easter Bank Holidays break, so there were quite a number of tourist and sightseers about.  There was a bit of a climb on the road around the Tor, but nothing to trouble us too much.  We had a breather at the top for another photo opportunity.

A View of Glastonbury Tor Whilst Passing by on the A361

Views of Somerset from the A361 in Glastonbury

Fair Weather in Somerset - Had the Arm Warmers Off

We progressed with our North-Eastward journey along the A361.  It was getting well into the afternoon and we still had quite a bit of distance to cover.  We decided we needed a stop to refill bottles, so we headed for Frome.  I was in front of Paul and headed towards the town.  Paul was behind me trying to get my attention, but I didn’t realise.  On the way in, just off the A361, we passed a Sainsburys with a petrol station and we could have used their water to fill up.  However, I was oblivious to this and continued to descend a pretty steep hill into the centre of the town.  We managed to locate a car park with toilets and whilst a natural break was had, we were unable to get any cold tap water to put in our bidons (drinking bottles).  I took the stop as an opportunity to get in touch with my cousin, to let him know how we were progressing.  He was working in Oxford that day, and when he realised we were in Frome, he suggested that we’d possibly beat him home.  It seemed a bit optimistic to me and in retrospect I think he was thinking in motorbike time, as this is his main mode of transport.

Getting Our Bearings and Catching Up With People in Frome

Paul and I had been regularly using our smart phones for navigating and tried to use them again to plan a route out of Frome and on to the A361 again.  We were unsure, so came to the decision that we’d climb back up the hill to the Sainsburys and get the water we needed.  It was quite a tough one, it certainly felt like more than a ten percent gradient.  We used the machine the motorist normally use to top up their screen wash and coolant systems to fill our bottles.  I had not thought of doing this before and if you’re out riding with electrolyte (salt) tablets, such as the ’High 5 Zero’ type I use, it is a really handy way of topping up liquids.  Unfortunately now more and more garages are starting to charge for the use of the machine, however I think the Sainsburys one are still free.

Back on the main road we traversed a large number of bypass roads with long drags between roundabouts.  We’d travelled seven or eight miles when we passed through a roundabout with a marking tow miles back to Frome.  This was a bit frustrating as we could have taken a shorter route out by about five miles if we had realised.  However, this may have meant topping up water could have posed a problem, so we didn’t worry about it too much.  We road along the last stretch of road in Somerset (for us that day) and approached the Wiltshire county border sign.  What a mess!  Compared to the ones for Devon and Somerset, this one was ‘every expense spared’ and looked like somebody had been carrying out rifle practice on it.  I didn’t want to linger too long in fear somebody might soon commence using the sign as a target again, and I certainly didn’t want to be in the firing line!  We updated our followers and my cousin with our progress.

Ash Poses by the 'Bullet Ridden' Wiltshire County Sign

The final miles of the day seemed to drag on longer than we’d been expecting and longer than my cousin had thought too.  We started to ride on wet roads, but we were not in the rain.  We were approaching some very ominous skies and the rainbow in the distance suggested we were soon to be dry no longer.  Fortunately, the heavy clouds seemed to be moving away and we were heading in a slightly different direction to them, which further pushed them away from us.  Other than a little spray off the roads we remained pretty dry.

Some Threatening Skies in Wiltshire

Night seemed to be approaching rapidly, and we still hadn’t arrived at my cousin’s.  I gave him a quick call to let him know that we were still on our way, but it was taking much longer than expected.  He was now home and suggested that we give him a call when we got closer to his house and he’d guide us in.  I was a bit worried about it getting dark, as whilst I had quite a lot of reflective gear and a number of flashing LED arm or leg bands (normally used by runners), I didn’t have any proper lights, to try and keep the bike’s weight down a bit.  Looking back, for the few grams they would have added, I should have installed some before we departed.

We pulled up at a junction in Calne and had a chat with a passer by to ask directions to Royal Wootton Bassett and to check we were definitely still heading in the right direction.  It turned out he was a lorry driver and had regularly visited a depot not more than a mile from my house.  He confirmed that we needed to be heading out towards RAF Lyneham and wished us well for the rest of our journey.  Dusk was turning into nightfall, but we were almost there.  I had to chuckle to myself when we passed road signs designating that New Zealand was only half a mile away.  How had we gotten so far off track in the space of only a few minutes?

It is Late and We Could be Lost - Is New Zealand Really That Close?

It was pitch black when we arrived in the area where my cousins house was situated.  We picked our way through the local roads and I followed a (Google) map on my smart phone along with remembered a few local landmarks my cousin had highlighted on his description of the run-in during one of our telephone conversations earlier.  We managed to guide ourselves past his local pub and on to his house without needing to request an official escort.  It was a relief to finally arrive at his place and he was a very welcome sight when we knocked on the door and he came out to greet us.  It had been a very long day in the saddle.  We had been on the go for over twelve hours and been riding for about nine and a half.

We settled down at my cousins with his wife, his daughter and the cat after a quick trip out to the local Chinese take away and the pub.  He informed us that he'd decided to take the following day off work and was going to ride some of the journey with us (weather permitting) in the morning.  This was good news, we had somebody with local road knowledge to guide us on the initial part of the next leg up to Birmingham and a night with Paul's friend.

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