Cardinal Spins

Cardinal Spins 1: SW – Day 4

Brown Willy

I went to bed in Holsworthy knowing that the next day held the prospect of some very unpleasant weather. I was supposed to be cycling south west a further 90 miles to a village called Constantine, to get me within reach of Lizard Point on Friday morning. That would make today a full day’s ride even in normal conditions, since the Cornish hills are unrelenting. With stops, I estimated that might realistically be ten hours of elapsed time.

There is plenty of daylight at this time of year and – given the forecast – I decided my best chance of progress was to do something quite out of character and get up before sunrise. It looked like being the only dry time; but forecasts are often wrong. My alarm went off at 4.30am and I was away and riding shortly after 5am. Anyone who knows me will appreciate how big a deal that is for me. But I didn’t really have much of a choice.

It was cool and overcast; but fully light as I set out along the rural lanes of North Devon, slipping unnoticed into Cornwall after just a few miles. The “border” here, close to the Atlantic coast, is not obvious, unlike further south where the River Tamar and its deep gorge almost slice Cornwall off from the rest of England. There was no-one about and I had the lanes completely to myself for the first couple of hours. Ahead of me I could see the higher ground of Bodmin Moor, knowing that I had to cross it before breakfast! The breeze was getting up; but the conditions were fair and I made steady progress.

Davidstow Moor

Highlights were few. I passed the large Davidstow cheese factory as I turned over a cattle grid into the wide open spaces of Davidstow Moor, once a wartime airfield. The road pattern followed the old runways for a couple of miles as I passed through flocks of unfenced sheep, and then a pine forest. It felt odd up here, as if I had entered a place no-one lived. For the next hour I was on a tiny lane that wound its way over the high part of the moor. Big rocky outcrops to my left marked the highest point in Cornwall, Brown Willy, which stands at 1.378 feet above sea level. It was all pretty remote feeling, but beautiful in an austere kind of way.

Bodmin Moor

This continued for many miles until, unexpectedly, I entered a village, St Breward, from above. It was a surprisingly large place whose main street ran ever downwards from over 200m elevation by the church, to around 130m, according to the OS map contours. That’s quite a climb for the Sunday service. Soon after, I reached the bottom of the deep, wooded valley of the River Camel at Wenford Bridge. This marked the start of the excellent Camel Trail, a former railway turned into a cycle path. It runs all the way to the sea at Padstow; but I was going only as far as Bodmin, 9 miles away. It follows the course of the river in a gradual; but ever downward journey. The surface was good; but at this hour cyclists were outnumbered by dog walkers, which required some careful anticipation on the part of all parties.

Ford on Bodmin Moor

Overall, though, the Camel Trail was just what I needed at this stage of my long, early morning ride: shelter from the wind and the assistance of gravity. I didn’t really notice at first because of the generous tree cover; but somewhere around here it started to rain. At first it was gentle; but I had to put on my waterproof jacket to cycle the final exposed mile into Bodmin in search of a cafe for breakfast. It was precisely as the forecast had warned – and this was just the start!

Pots Cafe Special Breakfast

I found a small cafe offering a Full English and warmed myself up. It was time to consider my options. And time was one thing I had on my side today. The weather was getting steadily worse outside, as the forecast had promised. Gale force winds from the south were getting going and the rain was now coming down hard. I relocated to a more comfortable venue nearby – the Old Library Arts Centre cafe – and researched train times, bike spaces, cycling distances and tomorrow’s weather. I had 50 hilly miles still to go today, into the wind, even if the rain relented. It wasn’t expected to stop until the evening. It would be getting dark around 9.30pm. And tomorrow, while an improvement, showed high chances of rain all morning. I had to be at home by tomorrow night for a commitment, so things were already tight. Then I discovered that I could get a full refund on tomorrow afternoon’s train tickets. If I left Bodmin this afternoon instead, I could be home before 10pm and have my birthday at home tomorrow.

These were the options I weighed up over a latte. The bottom line is that I am doing this adventure for enjoyment, and for myself. There was no prospect of enjoying cycling in these conditions and they wouldn’t improve enough to make it an attractive idea even if I could manage the remaining miles. Quite the reverse. It was time to go home.

Bodmin Parkway station – on the Cornish mainline – is five miles out of town. There is a traffic-free way to cycle there; but it was strewn with the storm’s detritus from many trees and I could barely keep my eyes open in the driving rain. If I needed proof of the wisdom of my decision, here it was. Even my sympathetic Airbnb hosts gave me a refund, which was unexpected. I got a table seat all the way home from Plymouth and I caught up on lost sleep. Result.

It’s disappointing that I got so close and couldn’t quite get to the end of my first straight line; but I will be back to complete this unfinished business. Maybe we will yet have a summer, too!