Today was one of those days. I’d been buried in my laptop, book, sponsorship and all manner of things and really needed to ride to clear my head. I woke early, which isn’t unusual and pottered around with all the usual things like making coffee. It was a stunning morning, cold and crisp as I walked to the post box to send, yet another, corporate begging letter & I knew I wanted to get out as soon as I felt able!
Deciding to ride up the Tarka Trail wasn’t difficult, it’s lovely at any time of the year and the fact it would be a little soggy wasn’t at all off-putting! I was ready by about 9.00am and as I took the bike out and locked the door, the phone rang. I just got to the phone as it stopped ringing so I sat back down and waited to see if it rang again. It didn’t, so I quickly escaped whilst I could and was soon pedalling along in the cold air trying to wake up.
For those who don’t know it, The Tarka Trail runs from Meeth in West Devon to Braunton near Barnstaple and will be extended very soon up to Woolacombe. Today I was riding the section from Meeth, up past Bideford and back giving me a nice thirty something mile workout. The southern section is always soogy at this time of year and it’s worse right now as the council have had tractors and goodness knows what running up and down in order to cut the hedges back.
For me this trail holds so many memories. It was here that I tentatively got back on a bike after 20 years away. It was the place I rode my first 10, 20, 30, 40 and 50 mile rides and the place where I arrived home after last years Ride2Recovery. I never get fed up with it. I can ride itand ride it and there’s always something to see.
This morning, ‘Irene’, my faithful Santos Travelmaster and I squelched our way onto the trail, splashing through the two streams that bar the way forwards and we laughed as it had become a mud bath!! A few miles further on I couldn’t resist taking a shot down through the beech trees that the trail twists and turns around. In Summer and Autumn this section is so special. It has a great peace about it and is less frquented than the easier to access parts.
The mud and puddles continued and we kept laughing, such was the joy of riding in such wonderful sunshine on such boggy ground. It’s a firm base underneath though, so forward momentum is always possible. As I approached the cafe at Yarde Orchard there was a slight pang that It would be shut, although cake at this stage would probably not help the training. It’s an incline up to here and I’m always surprised at how much of a workout I can get, despite the fact it’s just a few degrees. The gradient is constant and you work at a constant effort, almost like a turbo trainer but with nice scenery.
Over the top and down the other side a Buzzard kept flying out of the hedge and along the trail in front of me. I always call them ‘mum’ as I like the idea that she’s now free from this life to fly like a bird. I was noticing everything today and as I descended to Puffing Billy station at great Torrington I past a lovely sculpture. It’s one of three and should be seen from the opposite direction. Coming up the hill you meet a wooden couple holding hands, the second sculpture is of a man, woman and child and this, the last, is a woman sitting alone with her head bowed down. It moves me to my core every time I see it. It has a sadness about it, this solitary woman, alone in the world once more for whatever reason, hope has gone or at least it’s dashed for now. I had to stop and take a photo of it as it always reminds me to live my life whilst I can and enjoy every day.
Descending this valley a river babbles away in parallel to the trail. Tree lined and fast flowing it cuts its way into the banks on either side. Workmen were coppicing the side of the trail and the exra light it lets in was a pleasure. Plants and flowers are already springing up where the saplings grew, all ready for the springtime when this sunny bank will be a bright show of colour.
Riding past ‘The Puffing Billy’ station the trail turns to tarmac. What a joy after the mud and debris of the last 12 miles or so. I’m soon crossing one of many iron bridges and stop again to photograph the weir in full flood, a tree balanced on its very top, testament to the weather of late. A few more miles and you’re down at the seaside, well the estuary before Bideford. The tide was out and the mud banks golden in the sunshine. Waders were out foraging and a lone Cormorant sat on a rock watching the water for its lunch. People passed saying hello, even a couple on cycles as I approached the old station in Bideford.
By now my mind had forgotten all about the laptop, emails, sponsors and everything else. I felt relaxed and at one with the world, part of it again and alive. This is why I cycle and I’m sure why many of you do too. It isnt the sport, its the peace. Don’t get me wrong, I love the physical effort and challenge but it doesn’t absorb me and detract from the places I travel to anymore. my body gets on with that whilst I have a ring side seat to everything going on all around me.
Past Bideford, I stopped again at what looked like a graveyard for old wooden boats. They must all have a story to tell but they sit there, stuck in the tidal mud and its all a secret with no way of unravelling their lives as fishing vessels etc. I wondered what stories they might tell if they only could speak and then rode on under the main road high above my head. I was glad not to be part of the mayhem of cars, queing to get somewhere at some point in time. Today, time was mine, something that was simply passing without consequence as I soaked up the world I live in.
I turned around just before Instowe. My eye had caught sight of a Heron, flip flapping across the water. I had intended to stop at Instowe itself but I wanted to watch and once it was gone I decided I would head back.
The ride home was much the same until the last few miles when the clouds had built enough to threaten heavy rain and then driop it all on my head. By now I didn’t mind, the ride had done its job, relaxing me as only cycling can. Even the small dog that sunk its teeth into my shoe didn’t bother me although I would secretly have like to have drop-kicked it into the distance!!! The rain sluiced down all the way home but the sun kept shining inside me. For a few hours I was in my element again, pedalling looking and absorbing everything this amazing planet has to offer us. All we need to do is find the time and open our eyes. Who needs computer games?