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Ilfracombe, Saturday 27 May, 2017

June 11, 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.

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