Here, not before time, is the where, when, why, who with and what happened on Devon’s Sea to Sea cycling and pram-pushing mission that I went pram-pushing on last Easter.

 

WHERE?

The Devon Coast to Coast. Created by Sustrans (the sustainable transport charity). It’s a beautiful and often very hilly route that runs from Ilfracombe on the north Devon coast to Plymouth in the south. The direct route is about 100 miles long but with diversions for lodgings, food and daily veering off to look at interesting things we did 138 miles. Over half the route is along disused railway lines and includes the Tarka Trail, the Granite Way and Drake’s (Francis!)Trail. The rest of the way uses generally quiet country lanes and bridleways.

 

WHO PUSHED, WALKED, OR RODE WHAT?

Molly (11) walked, Daisy (7) rode her bike and Jack (4) scooted along on his bike (we had to take the pedals off his pedal bike as he wanted to scoot (as opposed to pedal) along on two wheels from coast to coast).  I pushed a 4th-hand pram loaded to the gunwales with kit and which provided a handy seat for Jack when he needed his afternoon siesta. To prevent the pram collapsing under the sheer weight of the bags and bodies that flopped across it Gary  reinforced the pram with welded bits of metal. At my request he has also attached one of my old kitchen chopping boards to the pram which acts as a handy footplate for Jack to rest his feet and to attach an extra bag.

HOW LONG?

We walked/cycled/scooted/pushed/pulled and heaved our way from north to south Devon for 12.5 days averaging 11 miles a day.

Waiting for the train at Yeovil Junction to take us to Exeter St Davids.

Waiting for the train at Exeter St Davids to take us to Barnstaple.

Arriving on Easter Sunday in Ilfracombe (the start of the Devon C2C) in very atmospheric torrential rain.

WEATHER?

Highly unpredictable! Snow was forecast for Easter so I packed my survival shelter lest we got caught out in a wayward snowdrift on the barren ruggedness of Dartmoor. A survival shelter is a big bright orange lightweight waterproof bag-thing (with a porthole!) that can fit 4 people and kit in and, when held to the ground with body weight and bags, forms a microclimate – useful if you feel hypothermia setting in. Luckily the snow never materialized but we had storms, torrential rain, heavy rain, medium rain and spitty-spotty rain. We had high winds, low winds, gusty winds and trying-to-push-us-over winds. We had high cloud, low cloud and very low cloud (fog!). On top of all this we amazingly found some sun. And very welcome it was too.

HOW DID WE GET TO THE START (ILFRACOMBE)?

On Easter Eve I crammed all bikes, bags, pram and offspring into the camper van and then Gary gave us a lift to Blandford in Dorset where his mum lives in a sheltered housing complex where we were to sleep for Night No.1 on the floor of a cramped room in the nurses’ quarters. This was not a good night for two reasons. Firstly Nanny Val had failed to tell us that a serious diarrhoea and vomiting had broken out among the inmates of this complex (on arrival we discovered a big sign at the door advising all visitors to keep away due to the stomach/bottom-churning bug. By then it was too late so we had to stay). Then just as Jack and the girls had gone off to sleep a police helicopter hovered outside our window which of course awakened my brood. There then followed an air ambulance flying low and loud past our window to land at the hospital next door. Half an hour later it took off and racketed past. Result: a good night for excitement levels, but not for sleep.

From Blandford, Gary gave us a lift 40 minutes west-north-west to Yeovil Junction where we crammed all our wheels and clobber onto a train to Exeter St. Davids. There we changed onto a little bumpy train to Barnstaple. The bus that should have transported us to Ilfracombe was able to take the bulging pram and Jack’s mini bike but refused to take Daisy’s bike because although it’s not a fully grown bike it still looked too much like a bike for the bus company so we were refused entry  (the joys of Britain’s integrated transport!). So a money-eating taxi it had to be. Being Easter Sunday most taxi firms in this neck of the woods had shut up shop to eat Easter lunch. But I did strike lucky and find a taxi company run by three men called Gary, Stumpy and Chunky. Stumpy turned up with a well-used and small (for our amount of prams, bikes and bags) VW Touran but by way of some ingenious dissection of wheels and steeds I managed to pack the whole lot in with not a millimetre to spare. Jack and the girls found a small space to huddle in the back in a slightly illegal fashion while I sat in the front with garrulous and strong-Devon accented Stumpy who gave me a taster of his colourful life story (which includes being hurled into a Spanish jail).

Jack in the rain studying watery hillside south of Ilfracombe.

Still raining! Woolacombe and Morte Bay – looking south.

Woolacombe’s lovely whatever the weather (it’s raining) – looking north.

WHERE DID WE SLEEP?

Mostly in bed-and-breakfasts. Some were good. Some were not so good. In one we had to share the toileting facilities with a very rotund ship-builder who never put the seat down. Aaaaghhh! His snoring was phenomenal too.

Molly and Daisy having a farm gate sit-down. Jack’s snuggled in pram and asleep. Country lane south of Georgeham.

WHAT DID THE LOCALS MAKE OF OUR OVER-LOADED PRAM-PUSHING ROAD-TRAIN?

Some were intrigued, some were dumb-founded, some were amazed. And all were incredibly friendly. Some were so generous they would walk or drive past us, head off to their home or a shop to stock up on food and drinks before backtracking to find us and shower us with their goods.

A Molly-made photo during a lunch stop.

Hmmm. Jack seems to be asleep again. Path alongside River Taw.

Molly and Daisy limbering up (before falling off the wall) on the north side of the River Taw near Barnstaple.

On the sunny south side of the River Taw.

Alongside the River Torridge near Bideford.

Feeling happy we’re down here on the quiet scenic riverside bike path and not up there on the noisy A39!

View of Bideford with large tidal mudflats.

Bikes in Bideford mud flats. Luckily not ours!

 

Fancy bench erection near Great Torrington.

Jack and the girls emerging from an old railway tunnel south of Great Torrington.

Snooze time for Jack south of East Yarde.

Sunny warmish moment between the wet near Sheepwash.

Another steep hill near Totleigh Barton.

 

The effects of a steep hill near Hatherleigh.

HOW DID JACK AND THE GIRLS COPE WITH THE ARDUOUSNESS OF THE TERRAIN?

Daisy flew along on her bike on the flat bits but struggled with the copious hills (many were near-vertical). Jack bounced and crashed his way through and up everything in his path with boyish enthusiasm and energy before flopping for an afternoon siesta in the pram. The biggest surprise was Molly. Back home, sometimes just trying to get her outside to sniff the air is a battle beyond belief but here she managed to walk 12 miles in wellies up and down dale in the rain without complaint. Mind you, it did help having a constant fuel supply of Fox Glacier Mints, twisted helix marshmallow Flumps and stale donuts on tap.

All aboard the Hatherleigh shepherding sculpture.

Daisy wondering what on earth Molly is doing sitting in the road in the pouring rain…

…before deciding it looked liked a good idea. Rainbathing!

Admiring Meldon Viaduct (south of Okehampton) from down here.

And riding along it up here.

 

A wooden Daisy.

Edge of Dartmoor near East Tor.

 

Lydford Castle.

 

Up and up near Mary Tavy.

 

Where there’s a puddle there’s a Jack. Near beautiful Brent Tor.

High up looking out over Dartmoor.

 

Daisy getting a fine swinging view of the impressive multi-million pound traffic-free Gem Bridge south of Tavistock.

Top spot for picnic stop.

More long dark dripping tunnels.

Plymouth! And the not-so-lovely A38 careering over our heads.

More Plymouth – the end is nigh!

Plymouth railway station and about to board the train home with our not-very-easy-to-stow pram, bikes and clobber.