July 1998

Cornwall, 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!

So, we 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.

After 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.

We awoke 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.

The climbing 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.

Yes, the 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.


Spaghetti al tonno

8 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

4-5 shallots, peeled and finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

About half a bottle of dry white wine (Soave or Tocai del Veneto if available)

1large tin of tuna in brine, drained and flaked

Generous handful of freshly chopped flat leaved parsley or cilantro

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

500 g spaghetti

Heat 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.

Meanwhile, 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.

Wine 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.


Copyright © Marc Millon 2000


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Copyright © Marc and Kim Millon 2000