Skip to content

Newton Abbot and Totnes, Monday 29 May, 2017

The morning is a bit of a blur. During the night, I had sustained my first injury of the tour by falling out of bed, so over breakfast I’m nursing a sore back and the irritation that it wasn’t caused by anything to do with cycling. Steve is also tiring, having used up extensive reserves of energy cycling up hills without having gathered much speed on the previous descents.

Waiting for them to weigh in

We decide to split this leg of the tour into two, and do Newton Abbot and Totnes as a separate leg altogether. This means getting a train from Morchard Road (not far from Zeal) to Dawlish Warren, then cycling to Newton Abbott and Totnes  – shorter than originally planned but long enough to meet our ten-mile rule. Fortunately the guards on trains prove nothing less than helpful, and we soon get to Dawlish Warren.

Regular readers of this irregular blog may remember that Dawlish is also a destination, and that we’ve visited it before. Well, here we are again, as last time we never made it to Newton Abbot and Totnes. On leaving Dawlish Warren, we’re informed by some bloke that “the tornado’s coming through in a bit”. Laughing this off, but still concerned that we may be in for some very high winds, he quickly explains that the Tornado is a steam engine which is about to arrive on a special excursion. Sure enough, the roads are lined with rail enthusiasts and even BBC TV cameras, but as we’ve got destinations to cover, plus normal trains to catch home from Totnes, we don’t hang around.

Newton Abbott Racecourse is huge, and it’s nice to see that they’ve chipped in to help maintain the cycle path that runs alongside it, which we of course make use of.

After waiting for them to weigh in (but not for long, as there’s no racing on today, so no horses to weigh), we return to the town centre and set off on a final maze of back roads towards Totnes.

Enjoying non-organic food in Totnes

We don’t encounter any Bickering Fairs, but there is a heritage railway centre where we eat some non-organic food before returning to the modern-day station to get us and our bikes back home (thankfully without let or hindrance this time).

Northam, Westward Ho!, Zeal Monachorum, Sunday 28 May, 2017

We start the day with the unpleasant ascent out of town, pausing to take a shot of the sign for Ilfracombe Town FC.

Rock up, you’re from Ilfracombe

An advert for the local “Ilfracombe Rocks” festival comes into view shortly after, but we don’t want to interrupt our pedalling, despite the highly appropriate nature of the sign. We’re happy to be leaving Ilfracombe, whose every single road seems to be a steep uphill struggle, so much so that even the descents at times feel like they’re going up. And that’s coming from me who lives in Sheffield.

It’s mainly downhill to Barnstaple, and Steve makes it in one piece, despite his poorly repaired brakes. We head immediately to The Bike Shed (our second bike shop visit in three days) and meet another extremely helpful chap, who spends 15 minutes fixing Steve’s brakes properly (only briefly passing comment on my unsatisfactory bicycle repair skils) and refuses to charge him anything. We purchase tea and cake in their in-store cafe and make a charitable donation.

After more twists and turns and getting lost we pass through Bideford in order to tick off Northam and nearby Westward Ho!, which although not quite a massive letdown, is suitably underwhelming.

Westward Ho! – A bit disappointing

Tiring of getting lost I happen upon something of great fortune. The National Cycle Route No.3 is a tarmacced path from Bideford to Great Torrington, along a former railway line (there are many of these in the South West, where Dr. Beeching was particularly unsparing with his axe. The route is also part of the Tarka Trail, so named after Henry Williamson’s novel. Although we don’t spot any joyful otters, it’s a beautiful ride and much welcome at this stage of the journey.

Once off the Tarka Trail, save for one short steep hill, it’s a fairly simple 19 miles along a single B-road almost all the way to the highly-anticipated Zeal Monachorum, which we reach by 6pm, very much ready for dinner.

See also Zatopek, Zeus…

Zeal’s a curious little village. Firstly, we’re unable to see any caravans there, static or otherwise, but secondly, and far more importantly, the family-run hotel, pub and restaurant The Waie Inn https://www.waieinn.co.uk/  has a jukebox which holds a good number of Half Man Half Biscuit songs, including the Referee’s Alphabet, which mentions the village. It’s the first time during the tour that we’ve been able to play a song mentioning somewhere, while sitting in a pub in that very place. Needless to say, after three days cycling, beer was consumed and money was put into the jukebox. You can guess the rest.

Ilfracombe, Saturday 27 May, 2017

We’re up early, thankful that the overnight thunderstorm has passed. Forty-three miles to Ilfracombe isn’t very far, but the terrain is punishing to say the least, and there’s the small matter of the Cup Final to consider (although the FA have kindly pushed the kick-off back to 5:30 for us).

Today’s leg also offers something extra-special. A few years ago, asparagus farmer Stephen Crossman contacted us making a strong case that signs for some of his merchandise inspired some of the lyrics Asparagus Next Left.  Not only that, but he’s offered to meet us at his farm just past the Quantocks  for some cycling and asparagus-sign-related japery.  Needless to say we’re very excited about the possibility of encountering a living character from a Half Man Half Biscuit song for the first time.

Asparagus next left

We meet  Stephen at Court Place Farm.  He’s a most amiable chap, a keen cyclist and Half Man Half Biscuit fan whose agricultural output is not limited to flowering green vegetables. “A man can’t live on asparagus alone”, he dutifully informs us. It’s a proverb we’ll be sure to remember.  We spend a bit of time posing  for pictures with bundles of asparagus and discussing the later career of Adam Ant.

Brimming with excitement, we push  on, prepared for some exceedingly steep hills  and armed with Stephen’s excellent advice on which routes to take. The weather by now has turned. Yesterday’s tailwind has turned into a strong headwind –  it’s cold, it’s misty, and it’s raining. And today, frankly, we’re not liking a bit of drizzle at all.

Porlock Hill

The beautiful toll road up Porlock Hill and the steep lanes inland of Lynton do their best to thwart us, but conditions improve and anyhow, we’re made of sterner stuff. Just as things seem to be looking up, Steve’s rear brake malfunctions and I have a go at fixing it. Badly. This does little to allay his fears of another accident but until we get to Barnstaple there’s little to be done.

After inconveniencing some Germans with motorhomes on the main coastal route through Coombe Martin, we finally arrive in Ilfracombe at 5pm, with half an hour to spare before Arsenal face Chelsea.  Ardent Gooner Steve makes a beeline for the nearest pub, barely remembering to pick up his room key. Being more of an armchair fan (I’m a long-suffering Stockport County supporter), I take my time but still make it before kick-off.  You’ll be aware of what happens next, and the sight of John Terry’s sad little face does much to lift our spirits after a hard day in the saddle.

Bath, Glastonbury, Bridgwater, The Quantocks – Friday 26th May, 2017

I think it was Fred Titmuss who said that to break one collarbone may be regarded as misfortune, but to break two looks like carelessness.   Unfortunately, Steve managed that in 2016, and his second clavicle fracture in 12 months is the main reason it’s been a year since the last leg of the tour.

Nevertheless, we embark upon an epic journey of some 183 miles in four days.  Things get off to a disappointing start as Steve is yet again thwarted by anti-cycling railway officialdom, this time in London, and is prevented from boarding his train to Bristol (where I’m due to meet him for the start), for “not being 15 minutes early”. When he arrives half an hour later than scheduled, having also been forced to buy another ticket for the next train, we’re both furious at his treatment at the hands of GWR.

Light at the end of the tunnel

Steve then  realises he’s  left his Garmin charger at home (which we rely on for route navigation), but a quick stop at the extremely friendly and helpful Bristol Cycle Shack soon solves this, giving us a cable for free. Our  faith in human nature restored, we begin our journey to Bath, along the pleasant Bristol and Bath Railway Path, a route we’d highly recommend, especially the dark tunnels, at the end of which there is light.

Once in Bath we turn back on ourselves slightly and head towards Glastonbury via Wells. Unfortunately we’re only as far as the Mendips when the scale of the task ahead becomes apparent. It’s a long hard drag of an incline up a busy A-road, with the bank holiday weekend getaway gathering pace. Not only that, but the impact of Steve’s most recent crash is starting to tell. The traffic,  and speed of cycling downhill (useful to carry one up the next ascent as far as possible), have become an issue for him psychologically. Frankly, I think he’s got the cycling version of the yips, and it’s going to take more than some overlap grips to solve it. At least we’re blessed with beautiful weather.

In Wells, we begin a regular series of route adjustments to keep on the gentler back roads where possible.  Nice as the little yellow roads on the OS maps are, they present a fiendishly difficult navigational challenge and we soon lose each other until we’re reunited after a couple of phone calls.  Overall, however, it’s a picturesque and leisurely ride as the Mendips give way to flat marshland, punctuated by Glastonbury Tor on a lone hill in the distance.

You call it Glasto

It’s then on through similar terrain towards Bridgwater, before we check out the Quantocks. They’re far from the largest range of hills around, and are best described as a short, sharp shock after a good few hours on the flat.   With the terrain getting tougher and blood sugar levels dropping we make good use of the Lamb Inn in Spaxton.

The Quantocks are certainly a beautiful place to be, especially cycling west  when the evening sun goes down, and it’s a glorious descent into Williton, where we’re mightily relieved that there’s a good curry house open late.

London Clear-up, Sunday 22 May 2016

It’s been another injury-hit season. EustonOn top of the usual back pain, lethargy, work commitments and other ailments that plague men in early middle age, I fractured my collarbone while participating in a rainy sportive in February – proof that proper cycling is an enemy of the biscuit tour.

Still, it’s not like I’ve been captured by Barbary corsairs, so three months after surgery Dawes and I pull the ice axes from our legs and stagger on. Our first tour since last summer is a clear-up of central London (at least until the next album). This is very much one for the purists, comprising four obscure destinations that we overlooked on our two previous jaunts round the capital.

Starting at Paddington, we bowl through Marylebone to Euston Station (which, we’re told, is mentioned in the backwards section of ‘Christian Rock Concert’ – “The body of Shane Fenton is in the laundry chute of the New Ambassadors Hotel near Euston Station” apparently). We belatedly realise that this is our 100th destination.

Marquee ClubIgnorant of the fact that we’ve clocked up our century, we proceed down Gower Street and Shaftesbury Ave into Soho where we struggle with the one-way system, which is neither smooth nor commendable. As we stand on the pavement awkwardly consulting Google Maps on our phones, Dawes wryly remarks that this is the first time he’s sported lycra on Old Compton Street.

We’re looking for the Marquee Club, which doesn’t exist any more, but had various incarnations in the latter half of the past century. We decide that 90 Wardour Street – which of course saw performances from Husker Du, Captain Beefheart, Rush, Meatlof, ELO, Sun Ra, Delamitri and John Coltrane between 1964 and 1988 – is the most appropriate spot, so we take pictures outside what is now the Vapiano Italian restaurant.

Leaving behind the West End, we skirt round Leicester Square and down Charing Cross Road towards Whitehall. Our triumphant ride past Trafalgar Square is greeted by the London Symphony Orchestra blasting out the final strains of Elgar’s ‘Pomp and Circumstance’. We can think of no better way for the nation to voice its collective gratitude for the resumption of everyone’s favourite Half Man Half Biscuit themed cycling tour.

Bagging Whitechapelthe requisite photos at the top of Whitehall, we hit the Embankment and head northeast along the river, making the most of the excellent new cycle superhighway (in your face, angry black cab driver). There’s some speculation that the Whitechapel that gets a mention in ‘Girlfriend’s Finished with Him’ is the one in Liverpool, but the references to costermongers and an Oi! Revival lead us to think otherwise. So we turn inland at Temple, and ride through the City to complete our afternoon’s work.

Heading back down Whitechapel High Street, we ‘photobomb’ (as I believe the modern terminology has it) a family posing for wedding photos. Pausing to wonder why the photographer decided that what the album really needed was a romantic image of the bride and groom standing by a busy cycle lane, we proceed home, speculating that today might represent a revival in the fortunes of the biscuit tour – if only we can stay injury-free….

Today we cycled to:

“The body of Shane Fenton is in the laundry chute of the New Ambassadors Hotel near Euston Station” (Christian Rock Concert)
“Met him at Prestigious Marquee Club” (Whit Week Malarkey)
“As long as my old man’s about / Scripting Whitehall farces” (Sensitive Outsider)
“An Oi! revival down Whitechapel Way” (Girlfriend’s Finished with Him)

Editors’ Recommendations

Nick writes:

Recently, various kind souls have been good enough to show their appreciation for Halfmanhalfbikekit, and I’m going to give them all the social media plugging they deserve. I met a number of keen supporters, particularly at the Indietracks Festival www.indietracks.co.uk, where among others I bumped into Chorizo Garbanzo of the music website http://trustthewizards.com/.

Shortly after returning to London, I was lucky enough to happen upon a presentation of the book and film Last Shop Standing, by Graham Jones http://lastshopstanding.com/, taking place at the wonderful Turnstyle Records, www.turnstylerecords.co.uk, which has recently opened just up the road from me. This proved to be the source of much Halfmanhalfbikekit interest, firstly from the warm, welcoming and encouraging Graham, but also from the affable Scott Bradbury from the band Chips for the Poor http://www.chipsforthepoor.com/, whom I would recommend if they’re playing near you. And as if this weren’t enough local biscuit-related stuff, the shop isn’t far from Norbury, where (as recorded in The Ballad of Climie Fisher) Fisher of course rented a flat when he got a job at the BBC Education Department.

I recommend watching Last Shop Standing, not least because Half Man Half Biscuit provide two songs for the soundtrack (Something’s Rotten in the Back of Iceland and Twydale’s Lament). Apart from that it’s a wonderfully eccentric eyeopener on the state of music retail nowadays, in particular the good old fashioned record shop.

Finally, Pip Piper, director of the film Last Shop Standing, whom I’ve yet to meet but would very much like to, has directed another film, Bicycle, which will surely be of interest to our followers: http://bicyclethefilm.com/screenings/

London Again, Saturday 1 August 2015

Keen followers of Half Man Half Bike Kit will remember that we bagged most of the London destinations last August. Our anniversary tour of the metropolis sees us attempt to add a few of the south-western outliers we were too idle to do then, as well as two new additions from ‘Urge for Offal’.

Amusement at Centre Court

Starting off at what Nick calls “his gaff” (I’m pleased to say he doesn’t really), we head off in pursuit of three icons of British tennis – Centre Court, Henman Hill, and the Lawn Tennis Association. Arriving in leafy SW19, we follow mild-mannered tourists and men dressed like Ian Carmichael in ‘The School for Scoundrels’ towards the All-England Club. Wimbledon being the wonderful institution it is, the officials are very obliging, advising us on the best spots to get the required photographic evidence. One of them is even so kind to take 20 (twenty) pictures of us with our bikes in front of centre Court. In hindsight we should have borrowed some racquets to put up to our faces and pretend we’re Kendo Nagasaki (who incidentally follows us on Twitter) but we’re never organised enough to think of these things in advance. That’s why we’ll never be the main man in the office in the city.

Unfortunately, we’re not allowed in very far so we have to ascend some of the (surprisingly steep) hills in the suburbs around the grounds to try and spot Henman Hill (or Murray Mount as it’s now known). This proves harder than we think, although we convince ourselves that we can see a patch of grass belonging to it in one of the shots we take.

Twickenham Car Park

Lost our Barbours somewhere around here

Our customarily haphazard navigation is even worse today due to mishaps with both GPS and smartphones, and our assumption that we’ll be fine with just an A-Z proves ill-founded as we leave the Home of Tennis behind. Our cross-country route over Putney Heath (which David notes has all the hallmarks of a dogging hotspot) and Wimbledon Common is complicated by a lack of cyclable roads, so we wheel our bikes disconsolately through dog turd strewn heathland before eventually reaching the far more pleasant and bike-friendly Richmond Park.  Heading west on Sawyers Hill we’re overtaken by several proper cyclists, and get lost looking for Richmond Bridge before eventually reaching Twickenham. None of us is a Five Nations Aficionado, so the place doesn’t have the same appeal as Wimbledon, but we’re quite pleased with the shot we get from the car park.

Apollo 1

Coming up next – brand new live at the Apollo

Pausing to look for our lost Barbours and fix a puncture, we head back into town via Barnes, then at Hammersmith remember the eight words that give Nigel the green light to wallow (“Up next, Brand new Live at the Apollo”) of course. We then get slightly lost on London parkland again (Hyde Park this time) and in Bloomsbury, before reaching the day’s final destination. In the hot sun, surrounded by thousands of milling tourists (who’ve presumably come to see artefacts that Britain stole from their countries) the British Museum isn’t a pleasant place to be. We pose for grim-faced pictures and turn our steeds home without even buying a ginger beer from Midge Ure’s concession stand.

Notes

Today we cycled to:

British Museum

There were some tired legs on the pitch at this point

Wimbledon and WOMAD, Ryder Cup and V” (King of Hi-Vis)
“The Centre Court amusement at the ballboy’s mishap” (A Country Practice)
“And a storm broke over Henman Hill” (Evening of Swng has been Cancelled)
“I’m going to prove once and for all to the LTA” (San Antonio Foam Party)
“I lost my Barbour /In Twickenham car park” (Split Single with Happy Lounge Label Mates)
“Elitist preservatives decorate the table of a kitchen in Barnes” (Sensitive Outsider)
“Up next, brand new Live At The Apollo” (Stuck up a Hornbeam)
“Hey, he’s got the ginger beer concession outside the British Museum” (The Bane of Constance)