Devon TRF Coast to Coast Weekend 2015
Chris hatched a plan last winter to organise a Devon TRF social weekend camping in mid Devon with the aim to travel to the south coast Saturday and the north on Sunday. The idea was floated on the forum and dates fixed and a venue identified, Yetheridge Farm between Witheridge and Chawleigh. The plan was to make it a social event with family also invited and a BBQ Saturday evening. The site was well appointed (it has to be as it’s in the middle of nowhere), with games room, pool, fishing lakes, pony riding, bar/restaurant, shop, basically all mod cons. 20 folk or so signed up and we eagerly awaited summer to arrive. As per usual a high pressure moved in for 10 days, we were bathed in sunshine but as the camping weekend approached, ominous forecasts of thunderstorms and localised flooding on Friday night centred on Yetheridge Farm! This caused a number of no shows, and I bottled out camping Friday night owing to dodgy tent matched to a weak constitution. As is often the case, when I rolled into the site on Saturday morning, I was informed by the hardcore group that pitched up the previous evening that the weather was not quite as bad as forecast, though it still rained so I didn’t feel too bad.
The rain having passed, we were promised an improving forecast with little or no rain forecast for Saturday and Sunday. The site was well laid out, with many areas to camp with allotted pitches, we were based in a group near to the toilets, shop and bar, all mod cons! As the campers yawned and made breakfast, I threw my tent up and sponged a cup of tea off Jacki and passed the time of day with the guys as I rolled the Serow off the trailer. The gang that assembled comprised the Coles, the organisers Jacki and Chris, Jim and his wife Alison, Marc, Vic, Kev, Steve and me. A few of us had sorted out routes north and south and I was keen to try and get to Hartland as they were all new lanes for me up in that far flung corner of Devon. However, Tony ‘Hoc’ Hockin was coming down on Sunday to take a group in that direction so after working out logistics, we split into two groups, one lead by Jim heading towards Ilfracombe and Chris heading south to Teignmouth. I therefore plumped to head south on Saturday then go with Tony on Sunday. So Chris and Jacki (Honda CRF250Xs), Vic (Yamaha WR250F with 47 miles on the clock) Kev (KTM250EXC) and me (Serow) were south coast bound pootling out of the site at around 10 am into a brightening sky. Having lead out for the last few trips I was happy to leave the map at home and be blissfully unaware of where we were heading or what was coming next, only that lunch would be in Teignmouth, somewhere I I’ve never visited before so was looking forward to it.
What I’ve noticed when riding in a group, is that there is a bit of a pecking order that naturally develops as riders find the place and pace that suits them. I slotted in behind leader Chris who I’d not ridden with since a few of us from Loddon Vale visited Devon over 5 years ago and Chris joined Pete Bull and Dave Muller to show us round Devon’s finest. What rapidly became apparent was the fact that Chris (like many of the locals) is a consummate unmetalled road rider with years of experience and a bike capable of soaking up the ruts and uneven surfaces associated with our lanes. I therefore had to lift the Serow’s skirt somewhat to keep up in the first lane. The lane west of Woolfardisworthy was very nice, one I’ve not done before, hard bottomed, which with overhanding trees now fully leafed providing a canopy preventing the recent rain from evaporating therefore leaving the muddy surface and quite slimy, albeit very pleasant. As Chris disappeared around a bend I glanced back to check I was not holding up anyone, the front end of the Serow wiped out and I dived into the hedge. Failing to right the bike before Jacki hove into view and caught me noting the first ‘badger’ of the day to me.
I have noticed that although I don’t go ferreting in the undergrowth that often, when I do, it is invariably on the Serow, rather than the DR350 or CRM250, it is early in the morning and I always wash out to the right. I am certainly reptile like, needing the sun on me for an hour or so before things warm up and my riding becomes more fluid, and may be the front end of the Serow is a bit heavy, the suspension is crude, or more likely I’m just not very good. What is for sure is that me and the Serow are best left bimbling.
We tracked south to Sandford and a perennially loose surfaced sticky steepish lane with a few roots and stones to make it interesting. Again, riding just outside my ‘envelope’ I ditched the bike and face planted into the hedge, no amount of professing to be investigating interesting ecology for future field courses stopped me registering a 2-0-0-0-0 lead on the badger front, Kev asking me if the 18 bhp Serow was a ‘bit of a handful’, sarky sod. I decided that 15psi in the front Trellesport Army Special was too much and I dropped it to 12 psi, hoping not to wang it too hard on rocks to cause a compression puncture later in the day. That did seem to help and the front end gained a bit of bight.
Crossing the river Creedy we took in an easy mostly hard packed lane and stayed right side up, thankfully. Dipping in and out of Crediton and west to the picturesque hamlet of thatched cottages that make up Venny Tedburn we successfully tackled a nice stony climb out of the Culvery river valley. At the top of the hill we stopped for a drink but the farmer arrived on his quad bike and said he was going to drive his livestock along the lane so we rode to the end to stop only for him to catch us up. We had a pleasant chat with him about the lanes and the qualities of his Honda quad and mused how you can live your life in Devon and spend time travelling the world, but not know places within 20 miles of ‘home’. We cleared out of the farmer’s way and headed towards the Teign Valley, crossing the A30, the main artery into Cornwall near Pathfinder Village which always intrigued me seeing it signposted off the dual carriageway. Apparently it is the only park home village recognised as a village, hence the name and was originally set up as a retirement village.
Tracking south and west we entered some very narrow country lanes with grass growing up the middle of the road and Chris spied a unsuitable for vehicles sign and detoured down a steep and wet roughly tarmacked lane only to meet a clapped out Mondeo on a blind corner and rapidly ran out of road, which necessitated dropping the Honda and coming to a halt closely inspecting the Ford’s bumper. The drive, looking slightly startled put his seat belt on (?) and enquired if Chris was alright. Thankfully he and the bike was unscathed, but it does highlight the perils of being ‘on point’ in such lanes. After ungraciously counting the incident a one ‘badger’ to him, at least to make my own tally look more respectable, we gingerly made our way to the bottom of the valley, only to see the sign was actually “unsuitable for wide vehicles” so not really worth riding anyway! Passing through Dunsford we arrived in the steep and heavily wooded Teign Valley, a hidden treasure and worth visiting if you are in the area. Roads and footpaths run parallel to the meandering river as it runs off the northern part of Dartmoor and heads south east to Teignmouth. The thick woods belie an industrial past with many abandoned lead and barite mines around Christow and a still operational clay pit further down at Heathfield. An excellent byway brought us up through Bridford Woods, which is steepish and full of ancient stunted oaks and ferns. As the sun burned through the light cloud we took on water at the top of the woods and chatted bikes and recent TRF developments, what with Directors visiting various club nights on the Tuesday just past.
Rising 200 metres out of the valley we picked up another couple of byways above Bridford, with the last of the bluebells still blooming at these higher altitudes, them having gone over a week or so ago down nearer the coast. Backtracking into Christow we rode up a degrading tarmac road which the council have ‘let go’ putting up an ‘Unsuitable for Motors” sign and providing us with an ever more interesting ride up towards the reservoirs. Another byway ducks through the managed coniferous forest, dotted with bluebells and skirts Tottiford and Trenchford reservoirs finishing under the latter’s dam wall after a slightly stony descent. Dropping down an easy UCR into Bovey Tracey resulted in a bit of road work crossing the busy A38 and A380 before riding a few stony UCRs around Ideford and a nice long lane through Humber Woods. Following the line of the UCR meant picking our way through an active logging area with brush and roots exposed. Jacki managed it get hung up on one and a slight over application of the right hand lead to the rear wheel breaking away and a badger ensured, 2-1-1-0-0, the stats were looking less shaming for me all the time. By now, bimbling at the back where I belong I had relocated my mojo and myself and the bike were feeling more at one. We nipped along a nicely enclosed lane cutting across the intersection of two yellow roads, another new lane for me, only 200 metres long and I’d overlooked previously, but nice enough owing to its narrownish, weaving in and out of rhododendrons in their last flush of gaudy purple blooms. Riding into the back of Teignmouth, we passed the “Statue of Happiness” (below) which towers over the suburban semi, home of Mike Nance, a local sculptor, a large mermaid sits on the roof (obvs).
We rode down to Teignmouth seafront, and after getting fuel, tucked into paninis in the sunshine. A photo op on the prom to prove we got to the coast and we resaddled and crossed the Teign and into Shaldon, home to a myriad of lanes ranging from easy farm tracks with spectacular views through to highly technical stony climbs. You can spend all day in these lanes, so Chris had plotted the best route through, not too challenging and with some perfect views across the Teign estuary. The UCRs here are classic Devon lanes, high hedges separating fertile fields with the still green but near fully grown waving stems of wheat and barley dotted with the first poppies poking through to provide a splash of colour here and there. A couple more UCRs brought us into Newton Abbot and out towards Abbotskerswell where a tricky turn off the A381 which we missed originally, took us up a nice climb and out past Denbury prison on another flat hard packed track. The next lane is a great one, down and across Kester Brook, with mud, some deep water splashes, particularly in winter, but with some unfortunate evidence of 4x4 damage half way along. Passing the old Seale Hayne Agricultural College now subsumed into Plymouth University on another easy UCR brought us back to the A38 and we crossed into the complex of lanes around the pretty hamlet of Ilsington, all rose covered whitewashed thatched cottages. Simms Hill lurks here for the unwary, big rock slabs on a steep climb used in the MCC Exeter trial. Today though we took UCRs to the east and picked our way down Tipleyhill lane which with some off camber rocks if challenging coming up, but not too bad riding down. Jacki took the UCR running across the top of the hill though, owing to a pathological fear of steep loose descents. It’s funny how we all have our own foibles, mine being numerous and ill defined, though deep water and rock steps normally figure highly.
We now headed towards the moors, providing another change in geology and landscape. The long lane at Houndtor wood is one of my fav’s, running parallel to the river Bovey through mixed woodland it starts as hard packed gravel with a few water splashes here and there, designed to catch out suspensions such as that on the Serow where terms such as ‘rebound damping’ is but a fantasy. Three quarters of the way through you cross Becka Brook, a tributary of the Bovey via a bridge then climb up through the pine woods, smelling fabulously, well ‘piney’, on an ever steepening, stony climb. As we crossed the bridge, Chris kicked on up the climb and now fully warmed up, whilst the others fiddled with the gate, I followed in his tyre tracks, finally giving the Serow her head and letting her do what she knows best – and that is climb! We had a great hoot, bouncing and scrabbling up the hillside, tracking the Honda enduro bike in front right up to the gate out of the woods. Being ahead of the rest at least gave me the chance to grab some video of them climbing up through the woods. Tracking north we skirted around Whooping Rock, with a lovely gated UCR across a bit of moorland, hut circles dotted about the hillside and thick bracken lining the lane. The strong Dartmoor vibe was further enhanced via another classic moorland byway near by, running uphill and littered with large stones, not easy to avoid as it is so narrow, barely wide enough for bikes. The ferns are thick here, sprouting from the stone walls and moss covered boulders. At the end of the lane we took a breather and noted time was getting on and there was a BBQ waiting at the site.
Time for a bit of road work and we put a few tarmac miles under our tyres back to the top of the Teign Valley and down the fabulous Fingle Bridge byway which zig zags down into the valley bottom in an area rich in ancient history. The iron age forts of Cranbrook and Prestonbury Castles on the south and north banks respectively dominate the valley here, linked now via a 17th century stone packhorse bridge. John Page describes it in 1895 far better than I ever could:
"How clear the rushing waters gliding beneath the three gray arches! How rich in colouring have the lichens and ferns rendered its hoary walls! and, whether we look up-stream to the hills, softly meeting one another with foliage changing from bright green in the foreground to misty blue in the distance, or downward to where the old mill with its moss-grown water-wheel, nestles beneath the woods, and Prestonbury rises mountainous over all, we shall confess that a scene of greater beauty it has never been our lot to view".
Next we did another tiny lane I’ve never managed to find through the back of Drewsteignton, around Trinity church, pleasant enough, foxgloves jutting from the hedge, their pink spikes and bell like blooms a Mecca for bees. We crossed the A30 and immediately rode a stony UCR track to Forder Farm before heading due north to shortish and largely forgettable UCRs at Colebrooke and Bow. The last lane of the day was just north of Zeal Monachorum leading up from a stream on an excellent climb which caught out Vic on his WR250. The chunky knobblies failing to find grip on the slabs of rock he lost the rear and ditched his shiny new bike in the hedge. This lead to Kev having to stop, whilst I chugged past, the Serow’s mellow ‘power’ and trials tyres finding enough grip to propel me past the stricken Vic and patiently waiting Kev. Reaching the top, I walked down to grab some video of Jacki struggling to get going and lying the Honda down in the hedge and needing a push to help gain some momentum. Rather callously I continued videoing rather than assisting, though I did note we were now 2 all on the badger front… The others rode to the bottom to allow a run and the hill and I caught Vic on camera now charging up the lane, the tyres barely touching the ground and not making the mistake of the first attempt. A few miles back to petrol at Lapford and we were back at the camp site just after 6pm. The northern group had also had a brilliant day, though Alison had taken a few falls and had come back with Steve, who’s TTR250 was in the garage, so was borrowing Marc’s WR450 which scared the pants off him. Jim on his WR and Marc on his XR400 had stayed out to complete a few more lanes.
A shower removed the day’s grime and the light mist in the air cleared and we stoked up the BBQ. The meat had been sourced from the farm with their yummy Devon Ruby Red cattle supplying the burgers and local piggies providing sausages, marinated belly pork and pork loin steaks. I was happy to do the honours and successfully struck that happy BBQ balance between incineration and salmonella…. Accompanied by salad from the girls and Otter Amber beer from the boys, the evening was a roaring success, if a little chilly when the sun set. Thankfully it stayed dry though, and we eventually turned in for a decent night’s sleep.
We awoke to a dry morning and a little early thanks to kids running rampant around the site at before 7.30am, still no point lying around with a busy day ahead so I rolled off the mattress, put the kettle on and had some cereal for breakfast. Breaks in the cloud promised a decent day and I packed the tent up dry which is always a good result. Tony ‘Hoc’ Hockin arrived on his monstrous rip snorting KTM 500 EXC all the way from Bideford to take us back that way. Prior to the off, there was a bit of bike fettling, Vic asked if I had a pressure gauge as we has not happy with the front end handling on the WR. Being a good boy scout I had a handy little one in my pocket and poking it onto the valve confirmed the problem – 50 psi! You can afford to drop a few psi I suggested…….
We split into two groups, me, Marc (XR400) and Tony headed towards Bideford and Jim took Chris, Vic, Kev and Andre on his crazy Chinese Shineray which after a few mods seems robust enough, back to up to Ilfracombe. Being on the Serow behind a stonking Katoom and meaty XR I knew my place was at the back as we set off through Chawleigh and on to Chumleigh to our first lane of the day which involved a pleasant ride past the church and down a stony UCR enveloped by overhanging trees and ending at the Little Dart river which is quite broad and deep in places with a bridge as a chicken option. Tony had a look see and declared it rideable and hooned through followed by Marc, both making it look pretty easy, though it was fairly deep ¾ of the way across. That left me to go, “no pressure” Tony said as he saw me eying up the bridge option….. Drowning the bike and soaking myself on the first lane of the day was not something I relished the thought of. What also heightened my sphincter factor to 11 was the fact I fell off in the Bovey a few weeks earlier which did nothing for my confidence. However, I decided to MTFU and plunged into the river. Pushing a steady bow wave the Serow churned through the sparkling water, thankfully the dreaded algae that normally lurks on the stones creating an underwater skating rink in the summer, seemed absent and although the wheels bounced off the odd stone and the tide rose up towards the cylinder head, I escaped unscathed with a huge sigh of relief.
We re-joined the A377 after running parallel to the river along a white road. At Colleton Mills we enjoyed a climb out of the Taw valley up a UCR and onto the hilltop providing a fabulous view down the Taw Valley towards the sea. We rode up and back to complete the trio of lanes before dropping back down to Kings Nympton along the wide stony lane. Like most of the lanes this time of the year, options for riding grown out lanes are to find your way down the middle diff scrape, often grass covered and masking potholes and deep ruts which catch you out every time, or battle the herbaceous border either side. No matter how lumpy or rutted the centre option is, it is always the best one, or at least the lesser of three evils. Turning left off the A377, once the main highway between Exeter and Barnstaple, now a sleepy back water since the opening of the link road, we took in a narrow climb at Kingford, then a lovely lane up past Libbaton golf course crossing a stream, then another two UCRs in quick succession west of High Bickington. At Sherwood Green we skirted an oak wood along an easy going lane, a couple of miles and back close to the Taw we rode a beautiful sunken lane down across a small ford. The lanes around Yarnscombe were dispatched without incident, hard bottomed and only lightly rutted leaving me to enjoy the splashes of colour in the big Devon hedges, the white of cow parsley interspersed with reds of campion, yellows of dandelion and celandines. We stopped for a break and Marc retied his laces, god knows what his mum taught him, but shoe lace tying was not one of them! He was hampered by the fact he’d forgotten his boots and so was riding using walking boots. Mind you I almost left without my helmet and gloves so can’t be too critical.
A slightly more technical climb at Luppincott had us rising towards Huntshaw Cross with the big TV mast and excellent views over north Devon. From there we could see the Waggadon Farm and the faint scars on the hillside marking out Torridge and District Motorcycle Club scramble track, somewhere I remember seeing some of the now Devon TRF members like Dave Muller and Paul Studley riding the likes of Maicos, Greeves, and twinshock Japanese 2 strokes back in the day. At Huntshaw we rode a very narrow and overgrown lane, but with evidence of 4x4 misuse in places where deep washouts were obvious and challenging to avoid falling into a chasm. Half way along a tree was down, but Tony had a fold up saw and soon dispatched the arm thick branches blocking our way. By now we were building up a bit of a sweat with the sun beating down on our Cordura covered bodies. On top of Gammaton Moor we had a great view over the Torridge estuary and Bideford in the distance, with Barnstaple or Bideford Bay (the name dependent on which side of the water you hail from) glistening on the horizon. The warm sunshine had brought all of the bugs and the hedges were alive with flies, butterflies and bees. None of these are great when riding with an open faced helmet as Chris found several times the day before. Marc went one better and trapped a butterfly in his helmet. Stopping and quickly pulling it off, the stunned, but apparently unharmed small tortoiseshell flapped on its way. We looped around a slightly boggy short lane at Westleigh before heading back west to take in a complex of lanes around Newton Tracey. We completed a couple then rode down to Roundswell to refuel both the bikes and our bellies; a well earned opportunity to shed our sweaty jackets, munch on a sarnie and sip a coffee or cold drinking depending on what takes your fancy.
Doubling back to Newton Tracey we zig zagged through 3 Pristacott lanes which were easy going in the dry conditions but would be more challenging in winter with the stony going under tyre. This area between the beautiful sparkling waters of the Taw and Torridge rivers is made famous by Henry Williamson’s novels ‘Salar the Salmon’ and the better known ‘Tarka the Otter’. The latter gives its name to the long distance path from Braunton to Meeth and includes the odd rideable UCR here and there. Crossing the Taw we entered 3 long UCRs running towards Cobbaton, a mix of mud, a few ruts and hard packed stony bottomed lanes dipping in and out of a couple of shallow valleys with small streams running south west into the Taw. The 3rd one we doubled back and narrowly missed wiping out on some wet roots across a bend in the lane. Tony had been caught out last time and was up ended apparently. Seeing him disappear down lanes though is a sight to behold on the big KTM. If you were to spot him supermarket at the meat counter, you’d not give him a second glance, mild mannered, bespectacled middle aged chap, you’d think…. Put him on a fire breathing 50 bhp four banger enduro bike and you realise he must be wearing a lycraTM suit under his day clothes! Over lunch Tony did confess he did BMX racing for many years before converting to powered 2 wheeled fun, which goes some way towards explaining his balance and jaunty pace.
We arced towards Codden Hill via a long lane between Wrimstone and Hearson running along a stream and through a copse to the west end of Codden Hill, then around the northern side and up the easy but steepish stone track to the summit. From the top there are panoramic views in all directions, from Dartmoor's granite mass to the south across to the shale and sandstone of Exmoor in the north. Being clear we could see a huge swathe of coastline from Hartland almost to Minehead. There are also striking views of the area's whale-backed hills, of which Codden is the most dramatic as well as other conical peaks poking up from the patchwork quilt of small fields recently cropped for silage or hay or even the hybrid of the 2, haylage. This fascinating landscape resulting from the huge forces brought into play by the collision of tectonic plates hundreds of million years ago. On the road, a suicidal squirrel scurried hither and thither in front of Marc’s XR as we weaved one way, the stupid rodent panicked and scampered the same way. Eventually it ducked between the front and back wheels and darted into the hedge.
We dropped off the hill and rode down the river to Bishops Tawton and tracked west to a lane at Brynsworthy then crested a hill for a fabulous view of Instow and Appledore nestling either side of the mouth of the Torridge. To the west was our destination of Westward Ho! with white surf lapping the shoreline, a few whitecaps over the bar protecting the estuary and the ruin of many a ship and offshore on the horizon, Lundy Island. We dropped down and into another rocky UCR at Instow. We passed Tapeley Park with its grade II listed country pile, home of the Christie family, significant land owners in the area with 6000 acres of land stretching from Saunton Beach to the village of Westleigh. We crossed the impressive ‘new’ Bideford bridge providing spectacular views up the river to the old stone arched bridge and down the estuary past the shipyard and across the estuary to Crow Point. It really is difficult to describe these views, you need to go and see them for yourself! The last two lanes before Westward Ho! were interesting in their own right, the first Tony sent me on to get some video as it was steep and muddy slabs and he fancied Marc would find the going ‘interesting’ on his knobblies. The slanting rock slabs eased you to the right hand side of the track which was unavoidable but the Serow dug deep and we carried just enough momentum to struggle up and park up on the flat. Tony rode up, not quite so composed as he’s looked the rest of the day, and admitted it was the worst he’s ridden it in a while. Marc, however, found zero grip with his endure tyres and spun out the rear, coming to a rest in the hedge. Dropping back down the lane for a run up, a second attempt also failed. If I could have seen his eyes behind the helmet I feel I could see the look of defeat, however, with Tony pushing and Marc thrashing the reluctant XR finally made the climb.
The last lane was a cracker, very narrow leading down to the water side at Northam, we carefully passed a couple of cheery walkers and finally rode out onto the shingle ‘beach’ for a perfect photo op. It was a very peaceful scene, the tide was in with barely a ripple on the surface until a yacht motored past on the just ebbing tide. We tore ourselves away and backtracked down onto the front at Westward Ho! for a famous Hockins ice cream, no relation to Tony. The strange town name comes from Charles Kingsley’s novel Westward Ho! which was set in Bideford and local entrepreneurs seeing the opportunity to earn a bob or two, set up the Northam Burrows Hotel and Villa Company and built a town bearing the name. Marketing is not a new phenomenon! As we were past 4pm and energy levels flagging we called it a day. Tony could travel back a couple of miles home and we could blat up the Taw river to the site. When I say energy levels were flagging, I’m talking personally, I think if Tony had his way we’d ridden into darkness! Anyway I have an invite to finally get my Hartland lanes completed come the autumn on one of Tony’s hundred milers around that area. We arrived back at the site seconds ahead of the other group who’s also had a great day out. Every face beamed, we’d had a great weekend, 250 miles all up, many, many new lanes, a few spills but at least I stayed right side up on Sunday, superb farm meat for the BBQ and great company. The first of an annual event we hope!
Sean Comber, July 2015