This morning, with boys at school and Elaine working from home, I had the rare opportunity of an extended guilt-free ride. I used to keep fit by cycling 100km to work and back each week; after a change of jobs last September it went down to about 50-60, and since I was part-furloughed in March I have to actually be motivated to get on my bike of my own volition. My fitness has undoubtedly suffered so I try to get out whenever I can.
This morning I had a two-hour leg-stretch worked out, roaming around some of the quieter lanes around Ipplepen and Denbury. But it was a fairly loose plan, and I told Elaine I might be a bit late. This happens fairly regularly, and the unspoken agreement is that she doesn’t worry as long as I don’t take the piss.
So today I rode over to Paignton and past the zoo, and turned right up through Blagdon heading for Berry Pomeroy. This was a route I’d never ridden before and it was a good climb on quiet roads, just what my legs needed. After crossing the main road I found myself heading towards Berry Pomeroy Castle, and as a little side trip I took in the view from the hilltop overlooking Castle Wood:
Distant views are always compressed in panoramic photos, but the vista from here includes all of the tors on the SE border of Dartmoor from Brent Hill to Haytor. Fleetingly, I thought how amazing it would be to ride on Dartmoor on a gorgeous day like today, shrugged, and got back on the bike.
I carried on my exploration of quiet lanes all the way through Ipplepen, the only traffic being a pair of horseriders and two dog walkers. The hills around here are steep and hard work, but on a two hour ride it was a perfect challenge. My route took me around the back of Denbury hillfort, where I was supposed to turn right and head for home via Two Mile Oak.
As I came up to the junction, however, there it was again. Haytor. The two halves of the tor appeared like a mirage on the road ahead, suddenly large and looming and much much closer. I knew pretty much straight away that whatever my good intentions I would be riding up Haytor today. Because it’s there? I don’t know. Once you start riding hills, you start to get a bit addicted to the challenge, the toil, the effort. You zone out and get lost in the moment. It’s almost the reverse of the busy but physically effortless lives that many of us live, a brief passage of time where there is only effort.
So I turned off the navigation and freed my legs, on to Ashburton and for the first time faced the absolute horror of the Pennsland Lane climb, a kilometre long 12% slog that nearly destroyed me. At this point I was still only heading for Sigford, but again I came out at a junction tantalisingly close to Haytor and turned left for Coldeast Cross.
Again I retreated into my state of zen and climbed, and it wasn’t long before I crossed the cattle grid and came out onto the open moor. It’s always a special moment and most of the good cycling routes have a point where you leave behind mere countryside and hit ‘the moors’. It also usually arrives with a bit of a flattening out of the gradient, and usually sends my spirits soaring.
The ride across the moor is always too brief. Go a reasonable distance in any direction and there are more hills, and by the time I get up to the moors I am usually pushing the delicate balances of domestic bliss. The wind was fairly bracing, clouds were scudding across the sky, and everywhere around I could hear the sweet-chick of stonechats and the chaotic song of skylarks. I greeted a couple of other cyclists who were in similar states of rapture at their surroundings, and pushed myself along to Haytor.
From Haytor it was very definitely time to head home. I took my favourite route back, turning right down the beautiful road that leads through Ilsington to Liverton and cycled home as hard as I could for lunch.