The Tarka Trail

Strawberry Line Bike

Floral Bike, Strawberry Line

I seem to have got my days and photos in a bit of a muddle. The second floral bike I referred to in last week’s post I actually saw on our second day on the Strawberry line so here belatedly is the photo.

After a day at Blue Anchor where we meet up with relatives we moved on again to a very nice campsite near Little Torrington in Devon, giving me a good chance to rest my battered body. Smytham Manor Holiday Park is situated right next to the Tarka Trail, our next planned ride, and is again roughly a third of the way along the route which runs from Meeth to Braunton, passing through Bideford and Barnstable.

At 30 miles, the Tarka Trail is one of the longest railway paths on the National Cycle Network following alongside the river Torridge and the Taw-Torridge estuary. It takes its name from the story of ‘Tarka the Otter’ by Henry Williamson which is set in this beautiful countryside. By the next day, when we set of to ride the trail I was walking slightly more freely although still with much discomfort. There is a half-mile track directly from the campsite onto the trail but this was very rough and slippery with loose gravel and was a steep downhill into the valley and up the other side, much of which we had to walk which was not ideal for me.

As we were starting part-way along we again decided to do it over two days, our need to go ‘there and back’ doubling the distance. So the first day we did the shorter section from Smytham to Meeth. We waited until the afternoon as there were frequent heavy showers in the morning. The track was a mixture of tarmac and compact gravel with some stony sections (the vibrations through the handlebars shaking my grazed arm quite painfully!), gates and road crossings but is relatively easy riding with gentle undulations. Towards Meeth it passes through the Devon Wildlife Trust’s Meeth Quarry with its clay workings before twisting through the oaks of the Trust’s Ash Moor nature reserve where we stopped for a bite to eat and a drink from our water bottles. We continued to the end of the trail where we came to a road section to take us down into Meeth village, which we decided not to do, so we turned back towards the campsite. There are various interesting sculptures along the route, many depicting Tarka himself. The weather was kind to us, though cool.  There were only a few gentle showers but we were able to shelter under the trees from the worst of this. In all this day’s ride was about 17.5 miles.

Tarka Trail seat

Tarka Trail seat

The following day my walking was still improving as we set off to ride the second section of the trail. Once again the track from the campsite to the trail was the worst part to negotiate. We had decided that we would only go as far as Bideford; there and back would be enough – being a somewhat similar distance to our ride the day before. The terrain was similar to the previous day, again stony sections causing me some pain, but the weather was much improved, warmer and drier. The scenery was beautiful. Here and there were rustic seats with statues sitting on them in various poses. The couple here seem to have lost the head of the baby sitting on their laps!  Most of these seats were placed facing some wonderful views and this one was no exception. as you can see from the photo below.

View from seat

View from Tarka Trail seat

Railway Carriage Tea-Room

Railway Carriage Tea-Room

As we rode in to Bideford we came across a railway carriage café and decided to stop there for a cup of tea and a bite to eat. We then rode in to Bideford where we cycled off to find a supermarket for a bit of shopping. Before returning to the trail back to the campsite we detoured to have a look at the famous indoor Pannier Market (so-called because of the ‘pannier’ baskets that the women-folk used to take their wares to market) which the Tour of Britain cycle race had ridden through a few days before we saw them in Cheddar. We returned to the campsite once more via the steep, rough track that I was beginning to hate – in all we cycled just over 21 miles this day.

We were moving on again the next day, down to Cornwall and more trails, so we still have about a third of the Tarka Trail to ride, from Bideford to Braunton; maybe we will finish it next time we come down this way.



by cloud
a feeble sun
tries to break through.

The Strawberry Line

The Strawberry Line is the first of the trail rides that we attempted during our recent two weeks away with the motorhome, cycling some of the Sustrans Trails down in the West Country. Yes, I know I should have posted yesterday but I have been a bit busy with one thing and another since we arrived home on Saturday afternoon. I think I’m going to be a day late all this week as I try to catch up!

This delightful trail runs from Yatton to Cheddar in Somerset and is so called as the route follows a former branch of the Great Western Railway which was used to transport the sweet Cheddar strawberries to market. Now-a-days apples are the most noticeable fruit along the route, which passes through the Thatchers Cider orchard although this section was saved for our second day.

Cheddar Gorge

Cheddar Gorge

We arrived at our campsite near Axbridge, about a third of the way along the 11 mile trail, around midday on the first day of our holiday and that same afternoon we decided to cycle the shorter loop into Cheddar and back which was about a 6.3 mile round trip. I was unable to take any GoPro footage of this section of the trail as the battery was flat, but we cycled on through the village of Cheddar to the start of the Gorge where I took a few photos with my phone.

Cheddar village was something of a disappointment, a quaint village entirely spoiled by commercialism and tourism although I was delighted to see the floral bike outside one shop (photo below).

The following morning we set off to cycle the remaining two-thirds of the route to Yatton and back, GoPro now pressed back into service. To reach the track we had to ride along the road from our campsite for about half a mile and I had assumed we joined the track at the same place. As I bumped up the shallow, sloping curb onto the gravel by the track entrance my front wheel slipped away and I was deposited heavily onto the gravel – my own stupid fault for taking the curb at too shallow an angle. In fact I had not needed to go up the curb at all as we had to ride through the village of Axbridge to pick up the trail further on. In the event I badly bruised the top of my left thigh and grazed my forearm, it took a moment or two for me to get up and when I did I could barely walk, having considerable pain in my groin area.

Hubby asked if I wanted to return to the campsite to bathe my wounds but I knew if I did I would not set out again. So I washed the graze as best I could with the High5 rehydration drink I had in my bottle (no pure water!) and carried on – a 19.7 mile round trip it eventually turned out to be! I actually found I was okay cycling but walking was torture. Having passed through the Thatchers orchards and some other wonderful scenery we stopped at Yatton Station, the end of the line, for a cuppa in the Strawberry Line Café and I washed off my wounds a bit better in the cloakroom. It was not until we returned to the motorhome that I was able to clean up properly and put a dressing on.

Cheddar Floral Bike

Floral Bike, Cheddar

The next day the Tour of Britain cycle race was due to go through Cheddar and on up through the gorge around lunchtime so we decided to cycle in to Cheddar again, by road this time, to watch – about a four mile round trip, but enough for me in my sorry state as I was even struggling to lift my foot up onto my bicycle pedal. Chris Froome and Geriant Thomas were both participating in the event but I defy anyone to pick them out as the peleton whizzed past en masse. Having recharged my GoPro I did actually get some footage of this and maybe when I get to grips with editing I will be able to slow it down and perhaps pick them out, but don’t hold your breath.

Later that afternoon we moved on to Blue Anchor Bay in order to meet up in the evening with our nephew and his family who lived not too far away. After they had gone I decided it was time to remove the dressing on my arm, which was now well and truly stuck. I had to soak it in warm water to remove it but at least a load of ‘gunk’ came away with it and I was satisfied that it was clean, air now being a better cure for it.

Fortunately the next day we were moving on again so it would be a day of rest for my battered body, hopefully being sufficiently refreshed for our next ride along the Tarka Trail, the subject of my post next week.

The Mickleover Trail

Mickleover Trail Route Map

Mickleover Trail Route

The Mickleover Trail is a short cycling and walking route, just 6.5 miles long that runs between the pretty little village of Etwall and the outskirts of Derby. As it is not too far from our home we decided to cycle this short trail on my birthday last week. We had celebrated with a small family gathering the previous weekend as my eldest son and family would be away on the actual day and so I had my presents early. My husband gave me a GoPro video camera and receiving it a few days early meant that I had time to sort out how it worked and could play with it on our ride along the Mickleover Trail.

We parked at the local Leisure Centre and had short ride along the road until we picked up the trail. The route was an easy ride, being mostly flat or only gently rising and descending. It consisted mainly of well compacted gravel with some tarmac sections, especially where it went through open parkland. There was also a nature reserve on the route and several places where we had to negotiate gates, which needed opening and closing, and a few places where there was just a narrow gap, just about wide enough for a bike but which prevented motor vehicle access. Once or twice the there was a short road section before picking up the trail again.

Once again for us this was an out and back route and since the Leisure Centre wasn’t quite at the start of the ride we went on past our first access point to complete the trail which brought us out on a major road from where we had to negotiate our way back to the car. In all we did just over 13 miles. On the way out along the trail we had noticed a BMX track beside the route near the park, so on the way back, seeing no young people on the track my husband decided to have a go himself – slowly! I filmed it but not really being prepared for such a video clip I wasn’t standing in the best position and lost sight of him for a fair bit of the course. I refrained from having a go myself, but in hindsight wish I had done as I could have filmed as I went.

A gate on the trail

One of the gates

The day had started cool but quite sunny and it soon became fairly overcast and rather chilly but it did not rain. We saw several other people on the trail, walkers, dog, walkers, parents with babies in pushchairs and a few other cyclists but these were few and far between and the trail was by no means crowded. Fortunately we had dressed expecting it to be cool so all in all it was a pleasant ride. A got some good footage on my GoPro, which I was well impressed with. The downside is that I didn’t actually take any photos of the ride so until I have learnt how to edit my footage and extract stills from it I have nothing to share. The above map of the route comes from our Sustrans book about the cycling trails in the UK and the photo of the trail is courtesy of Google Images.

By the time you read this I shall be off on holiday for a couple of weeks. We are taking our Motorhome down to the West Country with the aim of riding some more of the trails detailed in our book and which are too far away for a simple day ride – I shall be taking my GoPro and we’ll see what happens. Maybe I’ll find time to get to grips with editing the footage so I can share videos with you but this time I’ll be sure to take photos on my camera as well. At least is will give me plenty to write about after my leave of absence.


Late Flush

The recent rains have brought
a late flush of summer green.
Parched earth replenished.
Mother Nature self-restores.


Rolling road-works now moved on
a little further down the road,
but tucked in behind a road-side sign
an abandoned pair of workman’s boots
still stand.

The Monsal Trail

Monsal Trail, Bakewell end

Monsal Trail, Bakewell end

Just over a week ago our eldest son and his family rode a fair chunk of the Monsal Trail, so that our grandson could finish his ’50 miles’ challenge (see last week’s cycling post here). This is yet another old railway line that has now become a traffic-free cycling and walking route which runs through the Peak District National Park from Bakewell to near Buxton in Derbyshire. It has been on our to-do list for a while but we were unable to join with them on their ride so we took ourselves off to cycle it last Tuesday.

It is a bit further away from our home than most of the other recent rides that we have done, being about an hour and a half’s drive. The trail itself is about 9 miles long but again we would have to go ‘there and back’. We actually started from a car park at the former Hassop Station, a mile or so out of Bakewell. Bicycle hire is available here for those who need it and there is also a café and craft shop. It was very busy as it was a half decent day, if a bit cool, after a wet spell and nearing the end of the school holidays.

Approaching a tunnel

Approaching a tunnel

We rode up the trail to its further end at Wyedale, where there is a similar ‘End of Trail’ sign to the one pictured above and you can go no further. Here we had a drink and some of our packed lunch before the return trip. This trail has a much better surface than many of the others we have ridden, being mostly tarmac, it is also wider and probably had two rail tracks rather than the single rail of the others. It is very popular with families and children as, not only is it an easy ride, but there are several tunnels to go through (which are lit, though not very brightly). How I managed to get this photo with no people in it a can’t imagine as there were many people about, families with small children riding bikes with stabilizers included. We also passed horse riders making use of this wonderful off-road route. It was impossible to cycle at any great speed – not that we wanted to as part of the purpose is to enjoy the scenery.

View from the trail

View from the trail

After passing through Chee Tor tunnel,  the longest tunnel on the route, you come to Miller’s Dale Bridge, where a group of youngsters under instruction were abseiling down to the banks of the River Wye below – not something you would catch me doing. The trail also passes over a viaduct, which our book tells us is one of the most impressive viaducts in Britain. Unfortunately you can’t actually see the viaduct itself when you ride over it!

When we arrived back at Hassop Station the car park was even more crowded. We had another drink and a bit more to eat before setting out to ride the remaining section of the trail, to its Bakewell end and back. The round trip was about 18.5 miles.

We did our good turns for the day – my husband never cycles without tools! We passed a group of three ladies, one of whom had a puncture and stopped to help. It tuned out the bike was a hire one, they had squirted in the ‘gunk’ provided to seal any punctures but it hadn’t worked. However they felt we probably shouldn’t do anything else and were trying to phone the cycle hire place for assistance but had no signal. They must have sorted something because they had gone when we returned that way later. We were more successful helping a family with a kiddie on a small bike with stabilizers. One of the stabilizer wheels wasn’t turning properly so hubby freed it up and also raised the saddle for them – the poor child was peddling with his knees nearly knocking his ears!

This was a lovely trail to ride and ideal for families but if you wish to have a clear run at it then it would be better not to go during school holidays, it is obviously very popular and well used. We took a different route home from the way we had driven out to Bakewell. This brought us past The Roaches where there had recently been wild fires which have completely blackened and ravaged the vegetation around this beautiful spot. The area was still closed to the public but at least the fires were out. Such a sad sight after the pleasure of the cycle ride.



Sunshine and blue skies
between dark clouds
heavy showers of rain.

Roads Closed

electrical cabling.
Local roads closed.
Inconvenience tolerated, work is

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I never thought to use the words ‘electrical cabling’ in a poem! There are road works going on all around our neighbourhood at present. The road was closed in front of our house for a couple of days but as the work is ‘rolling’ no long stretch is closed for too long. Sometimes getting out of the area calls for circuitous routes. Down the road one day – road closed, turn round go up the road. Next day, lesson learnt, up the road to find road closed so turn round and go down the road. We are told the distribution cabling needs upgrading to cope with the new housing being built in the area.

Handlebars and More Trails

When we bought my Mixte bike it had drop handlebars. This is not normally a problem, both my road-race bikes have them. I find them very comfortable and like the fact that I can change hand positions to relieve any pressure. However, for some reason those on the Mixte were not comfortable. Whether this is because the bike is heavier or the reach is a bit further away I don’t know, but I was feeling a lot of pressure around the base of my left thumb, with considerable aching. My husband suggested changing the handlebars, so he removed the drops.

Haughton, Stafford Greenway

Haughton, accessed from the left, trail ahead

At this point we decided to go and finish riding the Stafford Greenway, a local disused railway line that we had already ridden in part, once as a family outing and a second section on our own. We had bought the Mixte’s for rides such as this, but with no handlebars on mine at the time we decided to take the tandem.

We picked up the route by riding through the lanes to Haughton, where we had left it on our family ride and headed up the trail towards Newport, the end on the cycle route. The track was narrow in places and there were quite a lot of dog walkers and joggers out, but it was a very pleasant ride, mostly through trees with a few more open sections, especially towards the end. At one point there was a cow on the track, obviously escaped from a nearby field. We left it to find its own way back!

Free bicycle pump, Newport

Free Bicycle Pump

When we came to the end of the route we were pleasantly surprised to find a bicycle pump fixed beside the track. I have heard of this sort of thing before but never actually seen one anywhere. We didn’t need it but it would be a godsend to anyone who does.

Leaving the track on the outskirts of Newport we rode through the town and made our way home via country lanes rather than retrace our steps down the trail. In all we did a round trip of about 27 miles.

Now, we had a set of ‘sit-up-and-beg’ type handlebars in stock at home which needed shortening. My husband suggested I tried these on my Mixte, so he chopped an inch off each end and put them on the bike. I tried it round the block, a scant half-mile, but I found steering very jelly like, I didn’t like such an upright riding position. Also, I didn’t feel at all secure and I had difficulty in squeezing the brake levers, as the angle of my hands on the bars put strain on my painful thumb when I needed to brake and there really wasn’t any alternative position. On top of that we both decided they looked dreadful, not at all in keeping with the bike. Back to the drawing board.

Hubby’s Mixte bike has straight bars, to which he has added some bar-ends (like Viking helmet horns) which gives him some alternative hand positions. We also happened to have some spare straight bars in stock so my bars were changed yet again. We then got some similar bar-ends and put those on along with some foam rubber handlebar covers.

Last Tuesday, my eldest son had the day off work and we went for another family ride, (without our daughter who is back in Spain). We had decided on another trail ride, along the Biddulph Valley Way – a good chance to test my new handlebar configuration. Yes, this is another disused railway route, running from Stoke-on-Trent in Staffordshire to Congleton in Cheshire.

Border snack stop

Border Snack Stop

The whole route is 12 miles and would have to be a there and back again ride, which was likely to be rather much for our grandson, so we rode about 7 miles to where the route crosses from Staffordshire into Cheshire, stopped for a drink and a snack, and then rode back – a round trip of some 14 miles and which Tom could manage. This is a lovely route, some really smooth tarmac and some gravel tracks, a few road crossings which require care and some wonderful open views as well as a ride through a park with a lake in the early stages.

I’m pleased to say the latest handlebar swap seems to have done the trick, I survived this ride without any aches and pains around the base of my thumb and applying the brakes was much easier – always a good thing. The other good thing about this day out is that our grandson is doing a ’50 miles in the month’ challenge, for which he should get a medal on completion and he now only has about 4 miles left to do. Way to go, Tom!

Biddulph Valley lake

Biddulph Valley Way Lake

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