Days 11-13 of our bike tour took us from Cheddar (in Somerset) down to Exmouth, a small city in Devon at the point where the River Exe meets the English Channel.
Our first day was a little anti-climactic, as our carefully plotted route was cut short by some heavy rain and wind. We took shelter in a pub while our clothes dried and fingers warmed up. After an hour of watching the skies and the highly unreliable forecast, we decided not to risk another drenching and instead set up camp in a nearby campground (by the time we arrived, the rain had stopped and the sun had, of course, broken through the clouds).
The campground owner was an extremely warm and welcoming woman named Jackie who showed us to our campsite and then proceeded to tell us how much she liked “our Trump.” Ugh. We left quickly and went to a nearby pub for dinner and played darts with the teenage bartender who told us about his life growing up in Australia and his aspirations in the hospitality industry.
The next morning, day 12, we packed camp and left early (avoiding the chance of running into Pro-Trump Jackie again) and rode seven miles through beautiful country side to the blue-collar town of Bridgwater. I appreciated this stop as it afforded a glimpse into the more working-class side of England that had largely been missing from our travels to date. We stopped in at a unassuming diner-type spot for an excellent full English breakfast (pictured below; the visual is pretty key to understanding this legendary meal) and then rode another 40 miles, encountering only one (mercifully brief) rain storm en route.
The last leg of the day’s route put us on the luscious Great Western canal path where snacked on our fair share of flying bugs as an appetizer before dinner.
The next morning, day 13, began with the acquisition of a new claim to fame. After packing up camp, we continued along the Great Western canal path in dappled morning sunlight, which eventually let us out onto a country road, which soon thereafter brought us to Ivan’s Cafe.
Picture a big tract of farmland, with a single farmhouse that had been converted into a coffee shop. Hop off your bike and step inside and you will find the distinct and inviting smell of perfectly-roasted coffee beans being elegantly converted into professional espresso drinks. You will also find vintage bicycles mounted on the walls, books about cycling on the tables, and tastefully framed posters of some great bands of the early to mid 2000s as added decor. A friendly barista will take your order, bring you delicious food and drink, and you will begin to consider how one might remain in this location for much longer than planned.
You’ll eventually will yourself to get up, but before leaving, your ever-curious husband will ask the guy behind the bar about the severely underpriced bike for sale behind him. They’ll get to chatting and said guy (who, turns out, is Ivan himself) start nerding out about bikes. Then maybe you’ll ask Ivan how he ended up owning a bike-themed cafe and a Linea 3 grouphead La Marzocco espresso machine (flashing your own nerd card for a brief moment) in rural England?
Then this real friendly, flannel wearing, hands-that-do-real-work having dude will explain to you that he was in a band – Mumford & Sons, maybe you’ve heard of them? – and got really into specialty coffee while on tour in the U.S. Then he broke his neck (we didn’t ask further) and decided to quit the band and return to the UK.
“Got it. Makes sense!” I think I said, doing my best impression of someone cool. Noticing the end of a passing rain shower, we decided to make a dash for it and bid farewell to Ivan, the bikes on the wall, the espresso machine, and Ivan’s Cafe .
A few hours and hills later, we entered into Devon! I’m not sure if it was the post-rain sun or what, but the hillsides looked appreciably greener and more alive here.
We rode further southward through the outskirts of Exeter and down the River Exe to our Airbnb, where we had planned to stay for a few nights to rest and avoid a particularly torrential rainstorm predicted for the following day. After settling in (and getting very excited for a night’s sleep in a real bed! With real sheets! And our very own private bathroom!) we walked twenty minutes down the road to the Puffing Billy pub for dinner.
Here we met Jackson and Adam, two super friendly guys about our age who had both done some extensive bike touring – including down the California coast! – and invited us for a beer. We passed a good hour or two talking about everything from surfing in Peru to Brexit to the wisdom of The Onion, and adventures in deep sea oceanography. We’ve met so many people during our travels, but it’s fair to say Jackson and Adam felt like real kindred spirits. Hope to see you out there on the road, guys!
After dinner we strolled over to the local train station on the water to take in the evening sunset, just before the rains came:
The following few days included some exploration of Exmouth (including dipping our toes into the very cold English Channel for the very first time!); enjoying the start of the Women’s World Cup; getting acquainted with cream tea in its place of origin; going for a few lovely rural and unloaded sunset rides and; a highlight, breakfast with my old colleague Elizabeth and her family, who happened to be on vacation in nearby Cornwall!
After breakfast we made a turn for the east, starting our journey that would eventually lead us to a ferry crossing of the English Channel into France, where le croissant and la baguette beckon. But first, to Weymouth!