After a troubled night of spasmodic rain came troubled morning. We were up earlier – about 8.30am, and were dismayed to find most of our food had gone in last night’s supper orgy. A two pound loaf, half a pound of butter and a few biscuits were all we could muster, and after that we went hungry, promising ourselves the best dinner a man could hope for. With care and patience we repaired the tube, packed up, and were just about to move when the common-keeper came up. The turf was pressed down to the shape of the tent, but he had apparently no direct proof that we had camped on the hallowed spot, and after eyeing us very suspiciously, he went on his way. After walking up and down the fiercer hills, we rode tenderly into Ashburton and joined the Exeter road – the main road from Plymouth.
It was a beautiful main road with a swinging contour and a roaring wind behind; the temptations were many for Jack and I on that sporting tandem, and we quickly and conveniently forgot the rear tyre and bowled along for many a jovial mile, through rain and sunshine to Chudleigh where we raided a confectioners shop. With such delicacies to make the urge for lunch unbearable, we climbed gradually until we reached a little place with shelter and tea to drink, and views of the rolling lands o’er Dartmoor.
There came a breathless descent, on which we left amazed motorists behind in a frenzy of speed which the unrestrained impetus of the tandem lapped at nearer forty miles an hour – for a few brief minutes. A few miles from Exeter came the heartrending repetition of the past – another burst, and once more we added patches to carry us to the fringe of the city, where another burst compelled us to walk to the cycle shop. After explaining our case, the shop assistant tried every tyre of the same size in the shop, and every one we rejected as being too slack. The next size lower was too tight; we wanted to force it on, but the assistant would not let us take the risk of breaking the wire. The manager was sent for, and the whole stock was formally tried with the same result. With a new inner tube, we levered the lower sized tyre on whilst the manager wrung his hands, but we got it on in the end, and the shop-keeper, nobly standing by his guarantee, refused to charge for the new tyre. We thanked him and left Exeter in a happier frame of mind than we had known for days. We were assured of no more tyre bursts !
We still had a shred of the tour left, and agreed that we would make a homeward potter of the four days at our disposal, so we headed up the Exe valley, lapsing into song as our troubled past slipped away behind – forgotten things in a remembered land. Jack ‘lapsed’ into song – I ‘ascended’. There lies the difference ! We had covered five beautiful miles when a sharp hissing aft broke our song, and with suitable adjectives we dismounted. No need to look, we just knew that hissing could only mean one thing, the rear tyre. We wept in vexatious unison for fully five minutes, throated a funeral duet for a further period, then set to work. This time the tyre was too tight and had nipped the tube ! We had a hellish struggle to get it off, and in replacing it we waxed hot and furious.
At Tiverton we bought new rim tapes, and just beyond the Thing went ‘phut’ again, and another half hour was wrestled away. Near Wiveliscombe, where the Exe and us parted company, a third puncture occurred, and while we were making faces to each other, an aged man and a young lady came along on ‘dreadnoughts’, and proffered help. We allowed the man to mend the tube and replace the tyre, which he did with infinite care, and guaranteed it. Then we joined a little lane route, hilly, but very, very pretty. We had no tea, but kept on, map in hand, through an intricate network of Somerset lanes till dusk found us at Cothelstone Hill, a 1 in 6 ‘teaser’, we pulled up at a vicarage and ‘put’ the question to the old rector of the village. He had no land except a little paddock at the rear, and we could pitch there. We accepted, passed through a maze of privet trees and reached the paddock, a tiny, railed off, precipitous slope with more bumps to the square yard than any other we had met. It was a problem to pitch the tent, and one or two places were not as taut or as slack as they should be, but we had passed the stage of criticism long ago. Over supper, the rector came to chat with us, and proved a very well-informed chap on cycling and geographical matters, which is not what most parsons are, being too full of Scripture to allow of anything really sensible.
Tired enough, we rolled in and in spite of a host of bumps beneath, slept like logs.