Cycling to Exeter and back

The weather has been awful and unreliable for WEEKS. Although I’ve been able to get out cycling every now and again, I’ve been champing at the bit to get out for a real ride. Usually, I do a circuit of anywhere between 15 miles and 75 miles, but I’m running short of ideas. I fancied a change of direction and struck on an “out and back” sort of ride.

I have been watching the weather forecasts for days, trying to pick a window in the unsettled damp and drizzle, and yesterday was forecast to be good! I know the North of England and Scotland copped it, but down here in the Southwest we had it quite nice – though with a brisk westerly wind. So I planned a ride to Exeter. No reason particularly, just a ride.

I set off at 9am, nervous about the weather and pent up with adrenaline (as I usually am before a ride) with a couple of tops on – merino wool base layer and SS top – still managing shorts, but not for long as the autumn is fast encroaching – and a Goretex top in my saddle bag. Out on my usual stamping ground of the A390 into Tavistock and then north to Okehampton on the A386.

Just before reaching Okehampton, you drop down under the A30 dual carriageway at Sourton Services and are left with a choice of routes into Okehampton town. The signposts urge you onto the dual carriageway, but it you carry on past a couple of miles, you can turn right and make your way down to the Old A30 into town. Or, what I find better, is to take the first right after Sourton and follow the little lane down to the Old A30. However, the little lane is great on the way home, but the dual carriageway is more fun on the way east. I went down the slipway and onto the dual carriageway.

Why is it fun? Because – especially with a tail wind like yesterday – I got up to 45 mph! Great, steep, fast! Only half a mile, but you peel off at the very next junction onto the good old Old A30. Although I wouldn’t recommend the main A30, that bit is absolutely fine, but don’t – whatever you do, try to come back up the hill on it. Always take the little lane instead.

In Okehampton town centre, I stopped at the lights. This is when I first noticed the tail wind. I knew then that I’d have a hard time getting home. I was right – more about that later.

The Old A30 is a typical old turnpike road. Milestones, wide, long curves, nothing too steep, and as the main traffic is on the dual carriageway, quite quiet.

The road climbs out of Okehampton, and continues a gradual climb then down again into Sticklepath and up again to Whiddon Down at a 1,000 ft, then bobs along up and down, mainly down, through Crockernwell, Cheriton Bishop and Tedburn St Mary. From there it’s down “Five Mile Hill” to the outskirts of Exeter. I flew along with a very nice tailwind.

I was told ages ago about a very nice pub on the banks of Exeter Canal, so I found it on the map and drew out a course on BikeHike and loaded it up into Garmin705. The route through the industrial estates weren’t too nice, but I eventually came out onto the canal towpath and made my way to the Double Locks Hotel. Website

I leant bike up outside and went in to peruse the menu and grab a beer! It was 12.15 when I got there. Over 14 mph average speed and 46 miles done. Goodness I flew! I was quite hungry, but not too hungry if you see what I mean, and ordered a baked potato with hand cut honey roast ham and salad. Yum!

As you can see, the staff give you numbered plant-pot to place on your table outside. Quite novel.

By 1.30 I was off back towards home retracing my path – but this time with a stiffening headwind.

Five Mile Hill is a pig. I hated that bit of the journey! It isn’t steep at all, perhaps 5% but with a headwind it was hateful. I was glad when I reached Tedburn, but the wind never let off. The road led me back up to Whiddon Down and gently along into Sticklepath. There, I sat on a bench for a breather next to the Post Office and spied an old benchmark set into the wall.

I noted the elevation on Garmin – 660 ft – and resolved to look it up on the OS website. It turns out that the benchmark is a “Flush Bracket” at 198.7561 mtrs.
Check out this site.

Garmin was only a little out at 660 ft. 198.7mtrs comes out as 645ft ish.

Then it was time to plod on again. I was tired and fed up with the wind, but actually really enjoying myself too. Okehampton came, and I sat down on a bench again, this time by the church. It’s a favourite resting spot for me as I often ride through and to Okehampton – 22 miles from home. It’s a long slog up out of the town to Sourton, and I peeled off to the right to follow the little lane onto the A386 to pass the service area and head for Tavistock – and another rest! and then the 5 miles over the hills back home.

Actually, I didn’t go directly home – I found myself in the Rising Sun for a couple of beers and met Hilary, and we walked the couple of hundred yards back home together.

I made it to the Rising Sun at 5.30 – 92 miles done and rather tired. But Hey! I enjoyed myself immensely. Before anyone says it, I should have found another 4 miles somewhere to make it a Century. I know I could have done, but what the heck. 

Regards to all, and happy cycling!