Our cruise to the South Devon AONB was a good one – days like that make you feel glad to be born a cyclist! I was expecting to be facing the prevailing South Westerly wind but as we wheeled out of Castle Drogo I realised it had switched into a welcoming tail wind. Beautiful! Nevertheless, hills are hills, and the weight of the trailers still had a bite. We made good time though, and stopped in Totnes for some lunch. Our place for the next couple of nights was Sharpham Outdoors, part of the Sharpham Trust – an estate a couple miles south of Totnes on the river Dart. I know the site well but even so the view down the river is still worth a gawp!
We were kindly put up by Sharpham Outdoors. On the way was the best welcome – a rare glimpse of what looked to me a lot like a Barn Owl. It was very distant, but I had a hunch. Next morning we rolled out the same drive and was so lucky to see it again, this time a touch closer and with better light. I had my camera handy and, whilst it won’t win any wildlife photography competitions, I’m happy! A great welcome and farewell. Although Sharpham lies within the South Devon AONB, our location was a little further down the Dart and Dittisham Ham. After a short while we saw a sign saying 3 miles to Dittisham. A short ride, I thought. I had forgot that the very hills that make the South Devon a great landscape are sharp and steep – a real challenge with our trailers. The downhills were enjoyable, but very hard on the brakes! Now and again the road would treat us to views down the many creeks that join the Dart.
We set up in Dittisham and set up on the Ham, a large green nearby the village with a great, wide view of the river. It was high tide, and once the camera set up we were able to watch it recede through our time there.
We found the locals so so friendly and all seemed intrigued and eager to step inside. We had a really great mix of villagers and visitors all keen to see the camera working. They had lots of fun playing with the camera, trying to chase the seagulls on the focus screen and tilting it this way and that to distort the image of whoever was standing outside. I really value all the conversations that the project has sparked – we have met so many great characters along the way, many with kind and encouraging words regarding the project, and many with personal reflections on cycling or photography, or both. It seems they are two things that so many people can enjoy and have enjoyed at some point, and they look back really fondly.
I could have stayed much much longer, but we had to pack away a little early as we had a long ride ahead – we were riding to my home in Exmouth for a couple days before our next venue in Exeter. We packed it all up and went to the Dittisham to Greenway Ferry – struggling with the trailers to get them onto the jetty, but we managed. When the boat came, we commandeered the boat completely – our bikes, trailers and ourselves taking up all the room. The ferryman vowed to return for the others waiting in line – we apologised! During the crossing, the friendly ferryman asked just how far we were travelling – ‘Exeter?! That takes ‘least an hour in the car – if you go to Paington there’s a train right there!’. As we unloaded our gear, I could hear him telling his next passengers about our journey ahead. On the other side we bumped into some people who we had shot portraits of that morning, and they gave us a cheer on the slow climb out of the valley and wished us good luck. It crossed my mind that a future project could be the Pinhole Paddlers! Take a boat down these beautiful valleys and scoot along the coast.. at least there would no hills!! Maybe next year..
Our route took us right through Torbay – the lanes of traffic and many roundabouts made it feel like a buzzing metropolis after nearly two weeks of country lanes! We were glad to pull through Torbay and started to head further along the coast, aiming for the bridge at Teignmouth. The climb out of Torbay was really relentless – after the hills in the morning and a day photographing I was starting to feel perhaps the train wasn’t such a bad idea! We pushed on though, pulling over along the narrow roads to allow the traffic to pass, and to scoff down mouthfuls of dried fruit and nuts. All the time we were climbing I knew we had all this height to lose once we reached the Teign bridge.. and a fast, long descent soon signalled the end of the steep hills.. for now!
We rolled into Dawlish and were starting to flag but luckily it is the perfect spot for a big bag of chips on the beach!
Our route then took us along the fantastic cycle route from Dawlish to Exeter – I had been looking forward to this section, the miles just roll by and navigation is super simple. We then picked up the paths to Exmouth, a painless journey even with our trailers. We rolled in at night, packed the trailers inside and collapsed. A good day!
We made it to Dartmoor! The weighty trailers and steep hills did their best to slow our progress but the Plym valley cycle route was not only scenic but a great, manageable way to climb up to the moors from sea level at Plymouth. A group of Dartmoor ponies (what IS the collective term for Dartmoor Ponies!?) welcomed us, and our tyres rumbled over cattlegrids. We’d climbed Dartmoor! Looking back on the way to our campsite in Princetown we could trace the route back to Plymouth and where we had been in the Tamar Valley.
We got in to Princetown and set up camp, happy with progress. I went for a dusk walk and climbed a nearby tor, watching lone headlights trace the shape of some of the surrouding hills as the first stars came out. I sat a while longer, and watched a nearby tower be smothered by low lying cloud – the red of its lights made it glow from within for a while. All this relaxed enjoyment was briefly jolted when I realised I had climbed the tor with light, and it was now dark – where was it I climbed up!? Luckily I found an easier way down, and walked back to my tent. I slept well that night.
Next morning we had a short ride to Bellever, within Dartmoor Forest and very central to Dartmoor. On the way we passed through Two Bridges. Thank you to the driver of the lorry who gave us an encouraging toot and wave as we climbed out and over the valley. I wish I had time to stop at Wistmans wood – a beautful, mystical and rare spot of ancient woodland a short walk from Two Bridges, a favourite spot of mine for photographs. On the last road to Bellever we were pulling our way up the last hill of the day when I heard a birds call, but not one I knew at all. I looked about and saw what made it – a parrot! It was grey with a lighter head and vibrant red tail perched on the edge of a pine branch.
I stopped and had a closer look – yup that’s definitely a parrot! It seemed to be enjoying the pine nuts. A passing motorist also stopped to see what we were looking at, and we guessed how it had got here – an escaped pet, we thought. It seemed to look more at home here than in a cage, despite the unlikely mix! I checked if it was there still later but it had moved on, so I hope it makes the tough Dartmoor winters as it is a long way from home! We are staying at the Bellever YHA, a great little hostel in a stunning location. It would be a great base camp to explore Dartmoor on foot or by bike, I will be back I’m sure. We arrived a little early and I took the time to do some much needed bike maintenance (trailers can be tough on brake pads!) and to explore Bellever wood through which the Dart river flows.
After a good substantial breakfast we took the camera to Postbridge, where Dartmoor National Park have an information centre right by the very picturesque Clapper Bridge. Our first view that we set the camera up looked across the fields nearby where a farmer and his dog was gathering his flock of sheep expertly. The small hedgerow in the foreground was great to show people how cameras are able to shift focus, and how changing the aperture can bring detail to the blurred landscape behind.
We had a great mix of people out enjoying the moors, and lots of intially bewildered German tourists, one of whom (I think) explained he had once cycled from Prague to Scotland. Although my German is very limited ‘einen gros camera!’ seemed to work when combined with some enthusiastic pointing, once inside the light still amazed and excited, and I was able to mime how it worked. We were also joined by some Duke of Edinburgh hikers, families, locals and the lovely Dartmoor staff. Click for information about the visitor centre and view their webcam here.
We then packed up and crossed the road (stopping for a quick ice cream from the Post Office Stores) and set up with a view of the very scenic Clapper Bridge. Apparantly, the name comes from the word cleaca, which means ‘bridging the stepping stones’.
It was great watching the movement of the visitors on the bridge – it is always striking seeing the image move from within the camera as it can be easy to forget that the projection is live, rather than a captured, still image. Watching people photograph the very photogenic setting was also strange from within a camera – it was funny how covert you feel inside the camera, being able to see out but others can’t see in! Despite the size, not many people suspect that it is a camera obscura. I spent some time photographing just the bridge and its visitors before inviting them inside. The children particularly liked this, especially when they could see people they know outside. It was good to hear people notice different things within the camera that they don’t outside – the different colours and shapes of the trees for instance, or a bird flying across the sky.
We had a good mix of visitors enjoying a holiday both from within the UK and further afield, and a number took our worksheets away to take pictures of their own – we are excited to see how they come out.
When we explained that we were carrying all of our equipment by bicycle it was funny gauging peoples reactions – many thought Dartmoor was too hilly or dangerous to be explored by bike. Although the hills are certainly a challenge, I have always found cycling on Dartmoor very rewarding – you can better appreiciate the scale and beauty of the place when you have pedalled your way across it. You can better appreciate the pubs and cafes, also!
We headed back to Bellever for the night, writing postcards and drinking hot chocolate. Early the next day we headed to Haytor.
If you are reading this and have photographs or the land to submit prompted by our visit please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will put them online for all to see.