Hike Northbound through Britain with Daryl May
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|River Exe at Tiverton, public domain photo in Wikipedia|
|Shobrook village and bus shelter with cushioned chairs|
|Days N1 - N14 English West Country|
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English West Country
North of England
Thursday, March 29, 2007
Time of departure: 9.15 am
Time of arrival: 5.15 pm
Place departed: Crediton, Devon
Place arrived: Tiverton, Devon
Cum miles: 155.3
Percent complete: 16.7
Bridge Guest House, Tiverton ***
Cost for bed and breakfast: £30 ($60)
| Overview of both
What others say
|Extract from my journal as I
wrote it this evening:
"I live in two worlds. During the day, I am a man of the road, boots donned and pack hoisted, hiking stick pounding away to ease each step. My vision chops between the path beneath, the views, the sky and traffic. My mind is often occupied with distances and landmarks, waypoints and calculations of time-to-go. Often I take stock of the condition of my body, whether of knees or blisters, or the exhaustion produced by a long uphill grade. And, in the afternoon, I add thoughts about accommodation and locate it.
"My second life is the opposite of the first. I am largely immobile, pottering about my room, writing my journal, washing my clothes and myself, making the odd phone call, and perhaps tending to my email. I watch television, adjust room temperature, discuss the weather with ordinary human beings if I find any, and perhaps go out briefly to a nearby restaurant. I sense that my second life recharges my batteries to enable my first life."
This morning, after recharging my batteries at the friendly B&B of Valerie and Peter Brewer, I stepped refreshed into my first life and headed for the market town of Tiverton.
Now Mr. Brewer, and there is no nicer man, warned me against some seriously hilly country on the direct route to Tiverton, and steered me instead to Thorverton to the east, thence to pick up the north-south road that links Exeter to Tiverton and follows the flat Exe River valley.
With an extra distance of the three miles that Mr. B identified, it seemed a good decision. Though the Thorverton road was quite hilly, I am sure that it was less hilly than the more direct route, and it was certainly delightfully rural. But it did not feel like only three miles longer – and, even if it was, I trudged into Tiverton after yet another bruising distance, glad to enter my second life at the Bridge Guest House on the banks of the Exe.
In retrospect, east of Thorverton, when I reached the A396 and turned left to head north to Tiverton, my navigation failed me. If I were using nice, large paper maps, I would quickly have seen that my best route from this easterly point was to head northeast to Cullompton and then on to Sampford Peverell - rather than north to Tiverton and then east to Sampford Peverell. Tiverton had become irrelevant to me once I reached the A396. But I was using an electronic map on my PDA’s tiny screen. So, in ignorance, I lost the opportunity to shave a few miles with a shortcut.
The weather today was predicted to be rain, hail, and cold - with sunny intervals. The weather folks got them all correct except for the sunny intervals. Mostly it was a mixture of misty rain and the lightest of showers. They could have imported it from Seattle. The cold was most apparent to me whenever I touched the aluminum shaft of my hiking stick, but wasn't a major discomfort.
In Thorverton, halfway along my path, I met a man doing yard work in the rain. Recognizing this as an activity as noble and probably as purposeless as my own, I stopped to chat.
“Nice day,” I ventured ruefully.
“Hmm,” he said, not knowing quite how to respond. Indeed, some questions are downright challenging.
“Not sunny like they said,” I went on. The “they” in such terminology is rather like the royal “we” except that it’s in the third person and castigates a ruling entity, like the government or one’s employer, and in this case the weather predictors.
“Hmm,” he said again, evidently a man of few words.
“I suppose,” I went on, “that the rain is caused by global warming. Wouldn’t you agree?”
“Hmm,” he said again.
"And," I went on, "when it's sunny, that's caused by global warming, too."
"Hmm," he repeated.
Struggling to insert a pittance of a social life into my lonely existence, I persevered with “What are you doing in the rain?”
At this, he came verbally alive, explaining that he was cutting down a tree, and it was jolly hard work after his recent heart attack, but he wanted to get it down today because his neighbor would be able to take it to the dump tomorrow. Such self-imposed stress I could easily relate to. So, rather than see him overdo it, we cut the tree down together before parting company, two solo actors that somehow formed a duo on an outdoor stage without an audience for a few minutes on a rainy day in Thorverton.
Just down the road, the Fulwell Inn beckoned. And it was still raining. I had no excuse not to enter. Now I haven't much related that I had reduced my food intake. Except for a notable curry last night, and one or two similar splurges, I was eating mainly small portions of supermarket fare for lunch and dinner. Recall that an English breakfast, which I enjoy when available, "sets one up for the day". With this food regimen, I've managed to retain my energy and still lose weight, and am now at an estimated 175 lb (12½ stone) for my 5'11" (1.80 m) height. I joked to my wife on the phone that I would be walking faster if my belt wasn't so loose that my pants were below my knees, to which she replied that my pants had better not be below my knees for this or any other reason. Apart from anything else, a lighter me will unload my knees and make the pack weight less burdensome.
Another reason for a light lunch is the supposed adverse effect of a large one, and especially a beer, on afternoon hiking. But today in the Fullwell Inn, I ordered the carvery with a pint of ale, which gave me some pork and beef, and let me help myself to Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, new potatoes, turnips, swede (rutabaga), broccoli, carrots, a ratatouille, gravy, and various sauces. I ate it all, and felt none the worse for the four-hour afternoon hike.
Now I can’t let the Fulwell Inn off quite so lightly. Carveries are popular eating places in Britain, especially for Sunday lunch, and the British seem to flock there for a decent serving of hot meat grub. But it’s not so much meat that they get in a carvery as vegetables and gravy. That’s not quite what the term “carvery” hints at to me, and there’s a reason: meat and especially beef are expensive. Thus a carvery server must face a test before he gets his job and is released to dispense meat to the public. A test? Yes, he needs to show his boss that he can slice meat as thin as paper, and smile while urging the customer on to the vegetables and gravy. The uncomplaining British seem to put up with this. As my American and Commonwealth friends have said to me, often over fat bellies, “There are two types of meat servings: British and ours".
On the way into Tiverton, I passed Bickleigh Mill in the rain, and identified it as a place to try to return to. The British are incomparably the best at country pubs, especially those beside a river amidst thatched cottages. From Bickleigh Mill to Tiverton, I took the west bank of the Exe, which offered a continuation of the A396, though a tempting trail lay on its east bank. But Alan Sloman (whom I introduced earlier) had written from just a week or so ahead, that the trail was a sea of mud and that a sewage works lay unpropitiously along the way. So I took the main road on the west of the Exe, grateful for his advice. Mud is never fun, and mud in the rain is a bummer.
The skies cleared after I arrived in Tiverton, and as I lay on my bed overlooking the Exe, I could see that the sunny interval had now arrived. A shaft of sunlight through the window, lasting just the few minutes until sunset, mocked me as my clothes dried on the radiator.
I had been ten days on the road.
|Day N9 © 2007 and 2008 Daryl May Day N11|