Four old boys, Pete Mewton, Archie Warren, Martin Hollands & Steve Webb along with guest rider, Yorgos started out on Battle of Britain Day, Thursday 15th September from Topsham, Exeter, finishing at the school as planned four days later on Sunday afternoon. We were, however, escorted out of the school by the caretaker.
Cyprus resident Archie initially suggested Exmouth to Truro and sixty miles a day. Steve after a brief Google Maps search determined that would be far too much effort and that an ‘old school approach’ might best be applied in the planning process. Thus armed with Ordnance Survey, water and beer proof Explorer Maps, plus a CAMRA 2016 guide book, the route was fine-tuned down to a maximum of only 45 miles a day with suitable strategically located rehydration points.
Given the hilly terrain, some sort of training was essential. Archie & Yorgos could only manage regular 60 mile days out on the mountainous roads of Cyprus once the mercury was regularly dipping below 40c. Dehydration and warm beer was always going to be a problem. Organic Cornish farmer Pete stuck to his new found social cycling group and had had his address tattooed onto one leg just in case. East Anglian Fen resident & Conservationist Martin noted that hills did not agree with his girth but after one year of training was noticeably fitter. Steve gave himself just two weeks to get road match fit much to the disgust of his Springers because of lost sniffing and rabbit and chasing opportunities.
A right motley lot. Archie was happy to borrow Steve’s bruised and battered full suspension 29er mountain bike even though shod with tank looking tyres. Small of stature but strong in leg, Yorgos hired a three speed Brompton and insisted on commuting with his luggage. Martin had bought a new tourer, fitted with all the gizmos. Unfortunately, it was missing an engine. Only Steve & Pete used ‘traditional’ type road bikes.
Steve does not appreciate power naps being disturbed by noisy helicopters. He has accordingly replaced all his bikes’ tubed wheel rims & tyres with the more reliable tubeless variety following an untimely puncture when racing an Austrian cable car.
Day One: Topsham – Brixham Marina
Having met up before the start with jovial local Martin Buzza, also from ‘66, we took the wrong turn within 50m, discovered a ferry master who professed to hate cyclists but liked fees more, crossed the Exe & hit the Exe Trail. Pete was not too happy with the route initially but cheered up no end when we hit our first pub after just five miles – a delightful real ale & cider tasting establishment. Archie & Yorgos subsequently continued to moderate Pete’s and Steve’s A to B surges by stopping off at every beauty & vantage point for a tourist peek.
Leaving Teignmouth, the first big hill we encountered was our first eye opener of what was to come in that you think you’ve arrived at the top as the road levels off and then around the next corner it’s back to square one again.
On reaching Brixham and after essential rehydration, it was a little bit too cold & windy for a quietish evening sail on Steve’s boat. Steve did though treat everyone to his evening birthday bash at Rockfish.
Day Two: Brixham Marina – Mount Batten, Plymouth
Hardest day – almost 45 miles with 3900’ascent according to Pete. Martin sensibly took Steve’s advice and joined up for lunch at Torcross – the hills out of Brixham & Dartmouth being to no one’s liking. Archie ate & drank too much and unashamedly blamed Debbie, Steve’s wife, for incorrect nutritional advice. Drink can also mean water.
Well rested, Martin was now on a roll and led the pack but Engineer Steve had made a terrible ‘faux pas’ in that he had neglected to consider the effect of cars not overtaking slow riders along a narrow twisty A379. Actuary Archie was duly made responsible for counting the vehicles following Martin. A calculator would certainly have helped matters. Archie subsequently noted that we knew we were closing in on Martin because we started catching up the said queue of cars. Steve also blew his gasket with non-overtaking drivers – but that’s another story.
Eventually the five of us staggered into the only pub in Brixton where the barmaid said she had never experienced five sweaty thirsty men first ordering a pot of tea each. Not wanting to let the school’s reputation down, we had no choice but to move on to fluids more in keeping with the establishment.
Finishing off at Mount Batten in Plymouth, we caught the ferry to the Barbican whereupon we were chauffeured across the border to Millbrook by Debbie and Martin’s never complaining partner, Sue.
Day 3: Mill Brook – St Austell via Fowey
Pete was missing his cows and had skived off. Pity because it was the most scenic day. Martin was not at all happy about the immediate detour to Cawsand since it meant one extra hill and as Martin kept informing us, ’hills are symmetrical, hills are symmetrical’. He kindly however bought us all tea & cake at the Seaton beach café before we proceeded along beautiful tree lined roads up the immense Looe Hill towards Looe. After a professional liquid lunch we proceeded to Fowey having agreed that the hill out of Polperro was just one steep hill too many. Martin had gone on before us, missed a turn as expected, and as the pack arrived at the ferry point to Fowey we could only wave to Martin who was delightedly already crossing on the ferry. Surprisingly on arrival in Fowey, the first priority was Cream Teas. We needed to carbo load. Martin then heroically insisted on cycling alone the eight miles up to St. Austell. The route was considered too residential and boring by Steve (his excuse), so Debbie was summoned from the Eden project whilst we enjoyed another pint in the sun. Unfortunately, Yorgos was not in any sort of real ale tasting mood in that having assumed England was cool and flat, he had neglected to wear his hat and was now dehydrated and suffering from heat stroke. He had been warned so no sympathy there.
Day 4: St. Mawes – Truro
Owing to low spring tides at lunch time our planned ferry trip from St. Mawes to Malpas was not practical. Plan B was to be dropped off in St. Mawes and cycle to Truro via the King Harry Ferry.
As we passed the Punchbowl pub near Feock, Archie gleefully noted that they had refused to serve him way back one Sunday afternoon in 1970 (the pub was actually shut then and now). The pub door was open so we all piled in; how could we not be served? Done deal, the publican’s brother was an old boy, but it had taken 46 years to get that pint.
Back on the Old Coach Road we had a surprise welcoming committee as we passed the slowest of Truro half marathon stragglers before proceeding to the William IV to meet Pete again after his Sunday social ride. Then onto the school where we discussed with the cooks our ‘delightful’ school food before being removed from the premises by the caretaker. Later we all met up at the Heron in Malpas for our final meal.
We all loved this ride together and thanks from all of us to Steve for managing the logistics. There were at least five other ‘66ers that showed an interest in meeting up so we need to consider a different format which is more inclusive and easier to arrange. It might be more sensible to locate to one centre in Cornwall with a number of shorter and longer circular routes noteably avoiding main roads and based both on dry / wet conditions, rider stamina and fitness. Maybe even some racing. Non-riders can always meet up in the evenings. All suggestions would be welcome.