Tour de (gale)force
A week on the wild and windy moors
The idea was: wait until the wettest, darkest and coldest part of the year, take a sleeper train to a distant corner of the country and then cycle home. Didn’t say it was a great idea, but I like the occasional cycle trek, and I hadn’t been anywhere for 3 months. So, after being awoken at 6.30 by a microwaved bacon roll, I wedge my clothes and kit into my panniers and greet a gloomy Saturday morning in Penzance, a few miles from Land’s End. Ahead of me is 370 miles of track and trail back home to London.
The reason why many cyclists attempt the renowned LEJOG (Land’s End to John O’Groats) route from south to north is to follow the prevailing wind direction in the UK. But not this week… no, this week the 30 mph winds are going in exactly the wrong direction. However, I batten down the hatches and set off along National Cycle Route 3, passing St. Michael’s Mount as the sun rises behind it and snap my best pictures of the trip.
The first destination is the picturesque port of Padstow on the north Cornwall coast. Despite the breeze, the sun is up and cycling along the back lanes of Cornwall brings warmth, adrenalin and a satisfying sense of adventure. I’ve cycled in Cornwall and Devon a lot, but somehow, I always forget just how hilly it is, especially with three bags of clothes, tools and snacks adding to the gravitational drag. As always, when I get home, I’ll realise that I could have managed with about half of it.
After 55 miles battling into a headwind, the B&B in Padstow is a welcome sight, as is the authentically enormous Cornish pasty that will end up sustaining me for the next two days. But weather conditions aside, this isn’t an overly arduous trip. I’ll only cover about 50-55 miles per day, I’m not camping (it is January after all) and my evenings involve Guinness and a variety of pies. Nevertheless my MyZone app tells me I’m going through about 4,000 extra calories per day, so a big breakfast is definitely required.
The rest of the week’s cycling follows the same pattern: breakfast, pack, cycle for three hours, stop for coffee and cake, cycle for three more hours, relax, eat, sleep. The weather changes as frequently as the landscape: from the windy hills and valleys of Cornwall to the thick fog of a stark-looking Exmoor to the beautiful and sunny flatlands around Glastonbury and Wells. The last couple of days across middle England along the Thames Valley are nice and flat – but also much less picturesque or traffic-free.
It’s almost impossible to feel angry or stressed from the saddle of a bicycle; the self-sufficiency of travelling through a country this way lets you detach yourself from the 21st century for a while. For me, the great enjoyment of cycle touring is the basic idea of reaching a far-off destination under my own steam, going slowly enough to appreciate the journey whilst still being physically challenging. And at the end of the day, any activity that allows you to eat six consecutive full English breakfasts and come home weighing 3 kg less can’t be too bad, whatever the weather is doing.