July 26-28, 1998 The rain has finally let up, for a brief spell
at least, and not a moment too soon for the start of our Annual Tandem
Mystery tour. The kids are away with their grandparents in the Midlands,
and the world is literally our oyster, for a few days anyway. We intend
to make the most of it!
dusted off the Dawes Super Galaxy tandem (we have not ridden it much
since last year's tour to Exmoor), tyres pumped hard, chain oiled, gears
adjusted; we loaded two panniers with just enough for overnight stays
in bed & breakfasts; and, OS maps and a good B & B guide in
hand, we set out on Sunday morning for the Cornish north coast. Skirting
around Exeter, then heading west first to Crediton, then Copplestone
and Hatherleigh, it was a majestic, easy ride over the rolling mid-Devon
terrain, the high profile of Dartmoor looming suggestively, temptingly
to the south. We picnicked in a field along the way, and as we rode
over Holsworthy towards Bude, the West Country views, to the north and
south over sparsely populated, mainly agriculture country, the domain
of sheep and cows not people, were splendid, while the rugged Cornish
coastline and sea beckoned ahead. Then down, down through Marhamchurch,
where we sheltered briefly from an intensely drenching shower, and onto
the main road parallel to the coast towards Boscastle, our destination.
This road, too heavy with traffic, is steeply up and down and it was
a hard end to the day's ride, especially when we turned off to Boscastle,
climbed a massive hill again, then had a fast, white knuckle descent
to the tiny fishing harbour, only to find that our bed & breakfast,
St. Christopher's, was actually back up the hill in the old village!
Not to worry, the climb achieved, feeling tired but exhilarated from
the challenging 70 mile ride, we showered, enjoyed a pint of Tinners
Ale and a glass of wine in the Navigation Inn opposite, called the children,
then dined on a quite delicious feast of homemade soup, halibut wellington,
and bramble crumble accompanied by a decent bottle of Soave that was
offered "on the house". New owners, apparently, had only taken
over in the last few days and were clearly eager to impress: on the
strength of our stay, I'd unreservedly recommend the place for its friendliness,
cleanliness of the the rooms, and yes, for the quality of the food.
English B & Bs have certainly come a long way in recent years and
can now provide a more than adequate alternative to hotels.
a breakfast worthy of a Tour de France rider (I had the full works --
egg, bacon, sausage, fried bread, fried tomato, baked beans, toast,
butter and marmalade--, Kim an immense cold platter of homecooked roast
beef, ham, and nettle-covered Cornish Yarg cheese), we set out for the
Cornish south coast, an area we do not know at all well. This was tandem
cycling at its best, an easy 45 mile ride across high, quiet, unspoiled
country that was never flat enough to be boring, but which allowed us
to travel at speed and in some considerable style, first to Bodmin,
then on to Fowey, a most attractive, though crowded and rather claustrophobic
estuary village, and still working port, especially for the transport
of fine, white china clay quarried in the nearby hills above St. Austell.
From Fowey, we took a ferry across the estuary (fare 70 pence), then
carried on to Looe, a rather tacky and disappointing destination somewhat
like Brixham or Torquay in full summer cry, tank tops and tattoos (that's
just the women), candy floss and crying kids. Not our sort of place,
we decided, so we carried on up the river valley for another few miles
and stopped at the Poltraen Hotel, an isolated stone-built ediface run
by a friendly, elderly couple. Not the liveliest of places, but after
Looe, believe me, we didn't mind. And best of all, our room had a bath,
a most welcome luxury after a couple of days in the saddle. Excellent
Flowers beer on tap, a passable wine list, and decent if uninspiring
bar food. And in the evening after dinner? The treat of watching the
day's Test Match highlights as England completed a fabulous victory
over South Africa by eight wickets at Trent Bridge to square the series,
Mike Atherton ending the day an undefeated 98 not out.
on Tuesday to drizzle and fine, drenching mist. The forecast for Wednesday
was even worse so we decided to set out for home. This was a seriously
tough, character ride. The first 25 miles was over confused, hilly terrain
that was not at all easy: first up to Liskeard, then across to Callington,
and down again to Gunnislake. This was quite simply awful, even dangerous
cycling, on roads that were too narrow and busy, and in quite appalling
conditions, the roads slick and greasy, the visibility through the drenching
mist virtually nil. Slow, arduous, painful, sometimes frightening, enjoyable
it was not. Finally, across the torturous, twisting Tamar into Devon,
a sharp, long climb out of Gunnislake, and so on to Tavistock, a charming
market town on the edge of Dartmoor. We stopped there for a hot lunch
at a café by the Pannier Market, then well fortified, began our
ascent of the moor.
begins almost immediately out from Tavistock as the road makes its way
straight up and over the full length of the moor. This is hard, sometimes
savagely steep riding, but the compensations are immense: the roads,
for a start, are quiet, the few cars that pass never in a hurry or inconsiderate;
and as you work your way upwards, you gain a feeling that the effort
is taking you somewhere special (rather than just up and down then up
purposelessly again and again as was the case with the morning's stretch);
and you are rewarded with the most magnificent views across the bleak
bare terrain of Dartmoor, with its outcrops of granite tors, its shaggy
ponies and sheep nibbling the sparse grass and gorse, its patches of
purple heather, its endless open vistas that even through the stinging
sweat that streams down your helmet are quite simply awe-inspiring.
The climb out of Tavistock continues up, sometimes down, but mainly
and unrelentingly up for a good 12-15 miles, through Two Bridges and
Postbridge; finally, just past the Warren Inn, a bleak, isolated, unwelcoming
pub I've never had the slightest desire to stop in, the highest point
of the moor is reached, some 450 metres above sea level (not particularly
high by mountain standards but a satisfying summit all the same, especially
when you are on bike). From here on to Moretonhampstead, the ride is
exhilarating in the extreme, the tandem at times hitting 45 mph as we
descended down steep hills, then pumped hard, Kim an awe inspiring sight,
in the rear out of the saddle, hands on the "drops" in the
style of the great Pantani, powering up the rises, blonde mane streaming
out of her helmet, scaring the wits out of walkers or any brainless
sheep that happened to wander into the road. In all, the distance from
Tavistock to Moretonhampstead is 20 miles across the moor and what a
splendid, glorious twenty; though testing, steep, and unremitting, it
certainly rates as one of the best rides we've ever enjoyed! Then, a
stop to take on water at Moretonhampstead, before the final tough 19
miles across the Haldon hills to Exeter and so home to Topsham, a satisfying,
leg-numbing 64 mile ride in total.
hot bath felt good, the massage even better. But my goodness, we were
famished after all that. Not having planned to be home a day early,
there was little in the house to eat. But we threw together a most delicious
and satisfying meal all the same, our favourite "stone dinner"
of Venetian style spaghetti with white wine, tuna and capers. This recipe
comes from our first book, The
Wine & Food of Europe, a minor classic (just joking), published
a very long time ago (in 1982) by Webb & Bower.
extra virgin olive oil
peeled and finely chopped
cloves, peeled and finely chopped
a bottle of dry white wine (Soave or Tocai del Veneto if available)
tin of tuna in brine, drained and flaked
handful of freshly chopped flat leaved parsley or cilantro
freshly ground pepper to taste
500 g spaghetti
the olive oil in a large saucepan or wok. Add the chopped shallots and
garlic and gently sauté until they begin to soften and colour.
Next add the white wine and a handful of chopped parsley or cilantro,
bring to the boil, and allow to reduce by about half. Then add the flaked
tuna, cook gently for a further 10 minutes, and season with salt and
plenty of freshly ground pepper.
cook the spaghetti al dente. Once cooked, toss in the wok or
large saucepan to coat with all the sauce, and serve garnished with
a little more freshly chopped parsley or cilantro.
Suggestion This simple pasta demands an equally simple, straightforward
honest wine from the Veneto: try with a good Soave Classico (from Anselmi,
Pieropan, or Masi), or Portalupi's delicious Bianco di Custoza.