First day of our Devon coast to coast, the rain is drizzling but it won’t dampen our spirits, we can do this! Pull on the waterproof trousers, jumpers, jackets. Raring to go. Wave goodbye to the pretty seaside town of Ilfracombe and come face to face with the mother of all hills. Seriously. Who put bricks in the panniers?
Emmy finds it hilarious. “Pedal faster mummy! Daddy is beating us, come on!” I push as hard as I can, stopping 100m from the top, and promptly take off the afore mentioned jumper and waterproof. Who am I kidding, surely it’s better to get wet than pass out from heat exhaustion.
More than one flicker of doubt crosses my mind. What the hell are we doing? I am so unfit. I’d have struggled to get up this hill before having two kids let alone now…and then Emmy pipes up, “We’re going on an adventure aren’t we Mummy, this is incredible!” Incredible is a word she repeats a lot over the next few days, I start to wonder if she’s just trying to convince herself of this fact, but one glance at her expectant face and it’s enough to push on and claim those glorious views from the top. Matty, tucked up in the trailer, oblivious to the first hurdle having occurred less than 10mins into day one, is already fast asleep.
The ride from Ilfracome to Woolacombe is beautiful. Coastal paths, fields for miles and although descending in a rain storm to Woolacombe beach was more than a little hair-raising, we took it gently and arrived to find the rain stopping and an amazing feast of pancakes in the little beach side cafe. Really relieved we’d brought the kids all in ones we headed to the beach, flying the kite and running along the wet sand. Children make it fun. They have this innate ability to live in the moment. There’s me thinking, wouldn’t it be nice if it was sunny, while Emmy and Matty are busy tearing around the wet sand, chasing the kite, loving life. Time to take a leaf out of their book.
At this point it becomes quite clear to us that nothing is going to get Emmy off her bike. Not wind, not rain and certainly not tiredness! Like many toddlers she sees a daytime nap as the ultimate defeat. She’s back on board and we are just pulling off when David shouts for our attention. The trailer has a puncture. Ah.
Everyone off the bikes again. A bonus of the trailer is that the wheels can be easily removed, so we were able to retreat with the wheel to the warmth of the pancake cafe. David set about mending the puncture and quickly discovered that a massive thorn had lodged itself into the tyre. A tip for all of you thinking of cycle touring with or without kids – bring a pair of tweezers. Thankfully our medical kit contained just that, and after bribing the kids with gingerbread biscuits so that we could dedicate two adult pairs of hands to the repair, we were able to pull out the thorn and David performed a textbook patch to get us back on the road.
Our first play park stop of the trip was in the lovely town of Braunton. For those who are looking to do a similar route I thoroughly recommend Wild Thyme cafe – absolutely delicious lunch stop!
Finally it’s time to be tough with Emmy. She really must have a rest. She’s already ridden 15km, up some epic hills, and the weather has been pretty rough. With a lot of persuasion she eventually agrees to sitting on the bike seat and we’re barely out of Braunton before they’ve both fallen asleep…
Our other tip for anyone cycle touring is look out for library stops. It may sound bizarre, but when the weather is dodgy and you’re going through small towns, a library is actually a fantastic place to take a break. Cosy, warm and child friendly. We enjoyed a lovely hour in Barnstaple library children’s area, reading books and colouring pictures to give them a break from the weather.
With an M&S picnic dinner purchased, we head for the campsite only 5 miles away. Just when we were sure that day one was in the bag, we round the corner to a 12% incline. If we thought the morning’s gradient was the mother of all hills, this was the grandfather. David bravely powered on, hauling the trailer and all it’s contents up, with Matty cheerfully riding in the bike seat. I had to admit defeat. For the first time Emmy and I climbed off the bike and started to push. I looked back at my little three year old daughter, pushing her bike up the hill, determined to do her bit, determined to be “just like you mummy” and I felt absolute wonder. Maybe it was the fresh air. Maybe it was us treating her like an adult. Maybe it was the sheer exhaustion that was making me totally emotional. But Emmy had undoubtedly loved today and that made it all worth it.
While we pitched our tent and got the picnic stuff out, Emmy and Matty made friends with some fellow campers. Kicking a football, balancing on logs, playing with the resident dog and excitedly trading stories about the day. We’d ridden 36.5km and made it up 487m elevation. We all bundled into the tent, it certainly was a ‘squash and a squeeze’, but we were that tired that it didn’t matter.
“What are we doing tomorrow Mummy?” “Another adventure Emmy, just wait and see…”
I hope that the above made for an interesting read, do let me know if we should cover more or less detail? Has anyone got their own tips to share? If you have questions about the specifics of the route and where we stopped for food, just send me a message, very happy to help. We’ve included the route overview and elevation profile below…