Two, a Tandem and a Tyre Part Six

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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.

Two, a Tandem and a Tyre 11 001 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.















Two, a Tandem and a Tyre Part Five

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We lived up to our reputation, awakening later than ever (about 10am), and looked out to a gloomy world.  A heavy drizzle had set in, and a mist, blowing from the sea, cast an air of depression over the camp.  To some degree we welcomed this, for in its reflected outlook, silence reigned.  From snatches of conversation we learned that many tents had failed to hold water, and leakages were many and uncomfortable.  Our own little ‘Itisa’ was dry and comfortable, and breakfast was a slow orgy of drawn-out delight.  We had an easy morning chatting with various pessimistically inclined and envious campers, writing belated postcards to neglected folks ‘back home’, and paying sundry barefoot excursions across the ooze to other tents, and once to watch the mists rolling in with the tide.

But at noon we tired of the camping ground and packed up, still in heavy rain.  After duly digesting the camp rules, we got along with it down four miles of lanes; four miles of steep hills, deep hedges; four miles of honeysuckle to Brixham.  South Devon is here at her best, even in the rain; old, packed town, tiny, snug little harbour full of craft, and the smack of the salt sea smarting in its sting with the rain on our faces.  Brixham, in sheltered seclusion against the great Atlantic breakers; Brixham and the cliffs of South Devon; Brixham – Heaven, even in the rain.

We started for Kingswear, and climbed a barrier that took half an hour of hard tramping to overcome.  On the top the rain redoubled its vigour, soaked us, blinded us, drove into our faces and our eyes, streamed off our bare heads.  On a fearful gradient we tumbled down to Kingswear, stopping once to survey the panorama of the river Dart which lay below in a slanting veil of rain-mist like a sky beauty behind filmy curtains.  At the ferry we waited for the clumsy traffic boat, and were sedately transferred to Dartmouth.

Like a breath of old Devon, quaint Dartmouth lives on the glory of the past.  When England was in its struggling ascendant, Dartmouth was paramount; she sent ships and men – those bold Devon lads we read of in school books and in ‘Westward Ho!’ though in very truth cut-throats, pirates, and willing plunderers, as murderous as any demoralised Eastern usurper or Chicago gangster.  Here were built the boats of the much-vaunted Pilgrim Fathers, and from the river they sailed to people the New World, as though the New World had not already suffered enough from the ravages of the white man.  First the ravages of the white man’s sword, then the ravages of his religion !

As is my wont, a bright idea germinated in my mind, and though Jack hardly applauded it, he agreed – to sail up-river to Totnes.  That is the best way to see the river Dart.  We went aboard, and after punting back and forth a few times between Dartmouth and Kingswear, we set sail up the river in company with about thirty dejected looking trippers – and a guide.  The guide mounted a box, the audience gathered round dutifully, and in a sonorous voice he rolled out a lengthy history of every house, tree or rock along the route, enlivening the converse with a string of jokes as hoary as some of the rocks themselves.

We gained an impression from him that the weather is always lovely, though, even as our guide quoted this a mist swept up behind, stinging rain came along, and a cold wind blew up in chilly gusts.  Everyone scattered for shelter, and we scattered as well, but really seizing the excuse to get away from what one of us irreverently termed “the endless repetition of a gramophone record”.  The majority of the passengers were of the dear old lady type, with a few subdued-looking men and one or two pairs of lovers, but never a girl who was interesting.  But apart from that and the weather the sail was lovely.  Even in the rain, the wooded hillsides smoking mist, the half-hidden creeks sheltering hamlets and often just a fisherman’s cottage made lovely with whitewash, thatch, and roses, were of haunting beauty.  As we approached Totnes the weather cleared, and a half-hearted sun gave a half promise.  The boat, winding in and out first in narrow channels, then in wider bays, and giving us glimpses of higher, bolder hills, at length churned its way to a jetty, and we found ourselves at Totnes.

Totnes !  I could write a eulogy on its steep main street, but I could not give my eulogy one rich Devon word to make it understood.  Maybe it is enough to say we dallied there, and, remembering many sworn pledges, salved ourselves by posting one tin each of Devon Cream.  Whatever my personal taste may be, who dares gainsay a waft of Devon sweetness on its way to a stifled Lancashire industrial town, to set dreaming – to brighten at least one soul shuttered therein?

The lanes from Totnes, and the many steep hills, gave us a ready excuse to linger, and to find a beauty spot to have a gorgeous tea thereat was our quickly satisfied guest.  We were dispensing with a meal for the second day in succession, but, as I remember the vast quantity of necessities and delicacies we consumed each time, I doubt if our three meals a day idea was of any material gain.  All that we saw of Ipplepen was a hillside cottage or two and an ivy-clad castle kept half-hidden in trees.  We turned to Ashburton to buy in for the night prior to facing Dartmoor.  The early closing demon was following us, for at Ashburton (quite a comfortable little town) we found every shop shuttered against us.  We searched, we pried here and there, we banged at doors until in a side street bakery, a buxom dame beamed on us.  Everyone came out and gathered round the tandem, and as we did our best to buy the whole shop’s stock outright, opinions not always flattering floated in to us.

A rousing cheer, ironical maybe, but quite loud enough to make the much-flattered ‘Amy’ Johnson green with envy, followed us as we made our exit from Ashburton.  We faced wild Dartmoor, walking up a fine hill with a fine descent, and an exquisite riverside ride to a really terrific hill that taxed us sorely.  Came another descent, and with reckless speed we plunged down to a cottage, a bridge, a gate, a lovely little river-ravine, and another hill ahead that foreboded heavy work.  Then came a dreadfully familiar hissing noise at the rear – and the back tyre subsided !  For a time we didn’t even look at it.  We just sat on the parapet of the bridge wondering whether to throw ourselves into the river or not, and eventually broke into a weird dirge instead.  Thus relieved, we set to repairing the thing.

A high wind brought scudding storm-clouds threatening overhead ere we fixed up again.  Night was coming on, and our hopes of crossing Dartmoor that day were fading.  We had got to the first ‘elbow’ on the next hill when we were hailed by a tandem couple in a little hollow, repairing exactly the same kind of tyre burst that we had so much experienced.  They were bound for Ashburton, having crossed Dartmoor.  We became even happy just then, for there was great comfort in the thought that we were not alone with our woes, but even as we stood there, singing blithely there was another drawn out hiss, and lo, our tyre flattened out of its own accord !  The blithe song changed to a harsh croak, even worse than Jack’s normal singing voice.  Frankly, we were ‘stumped’.  Two new tyres and four tubes had been of no avail.  At last it dawned on us that Mr Dunlop was not at fault.  The back wheel-rim, though quite safe for the weight of a girl, was unsuited for two ‘twelve-stoners’ and a load of camping kit.  Nevertheless we should have to put up with it.  Their tyre repaired, the tandem couple gave us their sympathy which, though genuine enough, left us unmoved, and went their way while we occupied their little hollow and once more set ourselves to the task.

Rain came on, the tube was in a parlous state and the patches would not stick:  twilight came over while we still struggled and got ourselves and the whole outfit wet.  At last, realising that time and patience were required, we decided to find a campsite for the night.  We walked back to the bridge and enquired at the cottage, but were met with an apologetic refusal and the ancient yarn of a disagreeable overlord was dusted and trotted out.  Neither could we get eggs or milk.  There was a beautiful common by the river, and there was a large notice which distinctly stated ‘No Campers Allowed’, but we were in no mood to be intimidated by notice-boards, and without a qualm we found a really delectable spot, a turfy clearing amongst great gorse bushes.  With great trees in front and the river rushing noisily beyond a broken wall – with the wind swaying the branches, though we were sheltered and hidden from the road – with darkness growing – with the tandem broken down – abandoned by the wall – we were intensely happy, and ate such a supper that we left scarcely anything for breakfast !

After supper came a discussion.  With lighted cigarettes and drowsy comfort inside the sleeping bags, we were able to make our plans.  Clearly we would have to ‘cut’ North Devon out however much we disliked doing it.  Our loosely planned tour had been cut to shreds, and now our only way was to move homewards.  The morrow would be Thursday; our tyre had gone again, and as it was guaranteed, we decided to return to Exeter and try some other kind.  Just as we were on the edge of sleep, Jack jumped up suddenly.  He had heard something.  We listened; the trees swayed and sighed and on the hills the wind made deep moans; spasmodic rain spattered on the leaves and on the tent; the river gurgled beyond the trees.  After a moment we heard an irregular ‘thud-thud’, faint at first but coming nearer ——- ‘thud…thud’ on turfy grass, and rustling bushes, ‘thud….thud….thud’…..  and rustles, louder, nearer !  We invited each other to look out and see, and we both displayed a marked preference for the warm eiderdowns.  So, eventually, we both popped our heads over the door.  The night was weird.  Grey semi-darkness, with deeper shadows under the trees that waved branches like fantastic arms in the wind, and bushes that were but vague shadows themselves.  ‘Thud…thud’ like a muffled drum close at hand, eerily mingled with wind-sighs and rain-splatters and river-gurgles.  We peered into the grey, and……  there was something moving among the bushes !  A faint, darker shadow amidst the shadows of the bushes, a shadow without shape.  We stared hard, half in and half out of the sleeping bags, ready to jump – in which direction we hadn’t considered.  There were other moving shapes behind…… and the thudding was loud, rapid, now.  The first form took shape, and with a snort, broke into the clearing where our tent was pitched.  The snap of twig turned our eyes to the trees, and there we saw moving figures, four – five, maybe six.  Involuntarily, I gave a shout, and immediately came a rush of forms by our tent – the thud of stampeded hoofs, and five or six wild ponies dissolved into the night.

It was an eerie, ghostly experience, and we laughed at it as we rolled back snugly again.  The explanation was simple.  The spot where we had chanced to camp was the evening rendezvous of a herd of wild ponies who roam the wastes of Dartmoor, and are very timid of man.  They are rarely seen by the traveller unless he leaves the beaten track.






Two, a Tandem and a Tyre Part Four

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We slept late.  Each day the time had been creeping later, and during a soliloquy in the sleeping bag I wondered vaguely if we should pass the noontide abed before our holiday ended.  Something would have to be done, and as Jack was showing his inherent laziness, I became perturbed at the possibility of actually being forced to get up first.  This thought troubled me, for I hate getting up before Jack.  The morning was calm until we began to argue about who should go and see the farmer, for if one of us did not go he would very soon see us.  We wondered if he had already seen us, for the time was 9.30am.  The discovery that we had no eggs terminated the argument, and Jack went off for those requisites, and to pacify the farmer, while I prepared breakfast – and watched and listened for signs of conflict as a faithful pal should.  He returned smiling, for our carefully prepared yarn had “worked”; we were forgiven, and supplied with eggs, milk and water.

At 11am we moved away and soon reached Exeter.  Whilst engaged in a merry game of ‘touch and miss’ with the traffic in the narrow tram-lined streets, our back tyre exploded with a roar, and with dangerous haste we pulled up.  People appeared from nowhere in hundreds, and we found ourselves surveying the wreckage of a tube with a vast throng surrounding us.  A nearby cycle shop sold us a new tube, and we walked to the Cathedral and forgot our bogey in the ecstasy of the magnificent pile – for a time.  We had to take the wheel out to get the new tube on, so I held up the tandem while Jack fingered the chain and nicely blacked his hands.  Then the chain somehow got fast between the gear wheels, resisting all his efforts to free it.  Surveying his ruined hands, Jack begged me to have a try, though only after due deliberation did I consent, and with effort and oath in picturesque combination, we put it right between us and messed up my hands as well, to Jack’s obvious relish.  Then we sailed away, gingerly at first, but with increasing confidence until we were skipping away as carelessly as ever.

Four miles outside of Exeter, when we were speeding away down a steep, narrow lane, there was a great convulsive wriggle abaft; we skidded wildly across, and fetched up in the hedge.  The back tyre had blown off again, and in the new tube was a great rent.  Jack sang a swan-song in studious meditation, and I, sitting on the bank, decided not to disturb him.  He was thinking !  When Jack thinks, a tremendous amount of energy is required – more than he thinks is his share in pushing the tandem.  At last he came out of his trance and said with great weight and finality “We shall have to mend it”.  I applauded this very obvious fact as the result of his mathematical brain, though the solution seemed as obscure as ever.

We mended it with meticulous care, and put the tyre on with equally commendable pains.  We blew it up, and whilst pumping away ever so carefully, the tyre blew off on the unseen side and with a terrifying explosion, our brand-new, four-and-sixpenny tube passed out of existence.  We gazed at it sadly for a moment, then we grinned.  In two minutes we were roaring with laughter !  Seemingly, there was no reason to laugh, but we saw the funny side.  And that was the spirit all the holiday.

A companion who can laugh at mishaps; who can argue and stand argument in the best way; who can ride like a Trojan and face the ‘music’ with a grin; who can turn round when he is up against a continual and dogged ‘run’ of sheer misfortune and laugh outright; who can in that way turn a tour that bids to become a fiasco into the best holiday ever, is a companion to be treasured.  A companion like Jack !

At this latest mishap we came to the conclusion that the tyre was an ‘oversize’, so Jack volunteered to go back to Exeter and get a new tyre and tube.  We stopped a motorcyclist; Jack got on to the pillion, and I washed my hands, gave a youngster the remains of the tube, and went off to a cottage nearby for some light refreshment.  An hour and a half later Jack returned with a new outfit, and then we soon got a move on, feeling strangely secure at last.  Hunger came on; we bought in at a little village overlooking the Exe estuary, and in a side lane ate up everything we had bought and yearned for more.

We slid down to Starcross, a tiny resort on the mouth of the Exe, and in a post office, packed up the delinquent tyre and with it a biting criticism for Mr Dunlop.  Thereafter, relieved to get it off our hands, we went on our way rejoicing that our troubles were at an end.

In the dull heat of afternoon we toiled up a steep lane till – presto! the sea, the warm South sea at last !  A calm expanse of grey Atlantic, and across the river-bar, the bulwarks of Dorset; we dropped suddenly into little Dawlish, and pulled up at the end of the prom where the cliffs come down to the road.  Passing motorists gave us an encore as we climbed up to the breezy top again, and in two miles sped down with screaming brakes into Teignmouth, where we landed onto the promenade.  We were seeking a quiet bathing place for the sea was calm and enticing, but there was no quietude there, and once more we turned away, crossing the long excoriance [sic] that is called a bridge, and paying for it when we ought to have been paid if true values are the criteria.  A monstrous hill reduced us to masses of perspiration, but the views held us in glad wonder, and we began to think the dream coming true in spite of being hopelessly behind our loose plans.

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Once we found a sandy track, walked over a turfy common, and looked over cliffs at a tiny cove, beautiful, though marred by quarries and refreshment rooms.  We flew down through suburbs and crossed a traffic-blocked tram termini to the little jetty of Old Torquay.  A tiny harbour crowded with fishing craft in a picturesque corner of a wide bay where floated the low, grim hulks of several grey warships.  Along the promenade we saw gardens and trees of strange, foreign appearance, for tropical plants grow freely at Torquay.  This was an index to Devon weather, and in anticipation we rummaged out our bathing costumes and fingered lovingly the tiny phial of Lavender Essence that was to be our safeguard against mosquitoes.  But no quiet bathing place could we find.

At Paignton, a tropical-looking attachment to Torquay, we held a hunger council, as it was long past tea-time, and of food we had none, but again it was Early Closing day, and we searched long and frantically for the necessities of life.  Just beyond Paignton, a notice board outside a cottage announced that campsites were available, and upon enquiry, a buxom lady assured us that she could find us (for a consideration), the very place we wanted, and as her description tallied with our ideal, we hailed her as our deliverer, bought some more food, and hied away to our dream place.

As soon as we reached the place we knew that all was not quite as made out to be, but a small silky man with a silky voice virtually grabbed us, and while we gathered our wits, bustled us into a large, fenced off quagmire with tents and caravans all round the edge.  We resigned ourselves to the worst, and bade our crafty-voiced guide lead us to our pitch, whereupon we were taken to a small space between two tents.  That is the best I can call it, a ‘space’ marked off with sawdust and the number 6 painted on a piece of wood.  It oozed with mud, but, as Jack philosophically remarked, it would at least be soft enough.

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Our neat little Camping Club tent was the envy of the camp.  The others were of the heavy canvas type, mostly tarred over, and pegged out by wooden pegs and innumerable guidelines.  Soon we stood in the centre of an admiring crowd which eagerly swallowed every point of virtue about the ‘Itisa’.

Then, like real he-men, we slugged off for a swim.  As the lady had promised, we were on the field nearest the shore, but she had omitted to mention that there was a high embankment between which carried the busy Great Western Railway line, and entirely monopolised the view.  When we divested, the night became immediately chilly, and the sea was ever so cold.  Five minutes was long enough to give us an attack of the shivers, and we returned, our child-like faith in the balmy seas of the West country shattered for ever.

Visitors still continued to inspect our camping complex while we, too hungry to take justifiable pride by showing them, prepared for ourselves a luxurious tea-supper, and got well down in our stock.  The silky man came for his fee, which seemed preposterous.  Jack, in his most disarming tones, hinted that he ought to be glad to pay us for the privilege we bestowed on him by using up a bit of his marshes, but he was a glib and hardened profiteer, so the words went without effect.  He suggested that we take a trip to the middle of the morass to read the camp rules, but without waders we refused to do so.  Besides, camp rules are best read whilst leaving the site.  We learned that we could hire a mattress, blankets, waterproofs, or have our breakfast at the house, but these things were of no use to us.  We travelled complete.

We decided to go to bed early for once, and be up and away early on the morrow.  We had to redeem ourselves somehow.  Just as we were pleasantly ‘passing over’ a motorcyclist started his engine and drove the thoughts of blissful slumber from our minds for over an hour; his infernal persistence driving lurid language from our (usually) respectable tongues.  The silence that followed was short-lived, for an express thundered past on its way to Plymouth, and shortly after another flew by with a piercing shriek – on its way from Plymouth.  In between golden little silences, one or two stopping trains rolled laconically by, but these we could have gladly suffered were it not that a party came in who had been on the spree in Torquay, and spoke not in whispers of it.  This spirited – much spirited – crew yawled and shouted their way into the we sma’ hours until we, tired of issuing threats and tirades, and weary of wooing hopeless sleep, arose, had another supper, and added our quota to the general pandemonium by starting our primus in full blast.  This we kept going in savage glee till the whole camp turned on us, and we went to sleep happy in the knowledge that at least we had done our bit to the general welfare.





Two, a Tandem and a Tyre Part Three

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It was a tearful world to which we awakened next morning, and all around our tent were ridges, puddles and mud.  “The third lumpy campsite in three!” Jack remarked.  By the time breakfast had been disposed of, and all packed up, the rain had ceased and a high wind was blowing the clouds away.

We rolled over the Mendips, exposed limestone downland, in the face of the wind which blew away the lingering traces of dampness from our clothing and set the busy housewives in prim villages a-hanging out their wash.  At Chewton Mendip we settled down for half an hour with cigarettes and a map, but found that frittering time away on holidays is not half as satisfying and enjoyable as when at work.  We joined a narrow lane that clambered uphill for a long way until I was all ‘hot and bothered’.  Jack said that he was sweating too, but I reiterated that Jack never sweats behind me on the tandem, and there was a flare-up behind until we found ourselves free-wheeling down a deepening dale for all the world like a main-road Derbyshire Dale.  The little crags became taller, the road steeper, winding down, down…… our speed increased…… and almost headlong we plunged into Cheddar Gorge.  There, mighty crags rose sheer from the tilted road towards scudding clouds, pinnacles contorted, and shining-grey cliffs, now smooth, now furrowed with age-old cracks and weathered gullies.  Down below was quiet and still, and only the chasing clouds in the narrow strip of sky above gave movement to that picture of silent grandeur, Cheddar Gorge.

Nowhere in Britain has limestone such a sight to show to the open sky, and nowhere in Britain’s limestone nether-worlds are such places of lavish splendour as the Cheddar caves, the greatest of which we “saw and entered not” for two main reasons.  Wookey Hole Cave in the village of Cheddar at the foot of the Gorge is commercialised, and visitors are tied to the expensive apron-strings of a guide.  It is possible to hold an independent exploration, but the cost is prohibitive, and conditions require such things as writing in advance.

The second reason was more important.  Cheese.  That was the first thing that drew our attention on entering the village.  It is advertised lavishly, but nobody ever needs to advertise it.  It advertises itself.  You can get it in paper wrappers, in boxes, in tins, in barrels, or you can seal it yourself in an iron-bound casket, but however you imprison the body, the soul of it will rise triumphantly.  It is sold in little squares and triangles, and it is sold in full-grown cheeses; it is reared up and piled up in every shop window, and in some places it stands by itself unaided.  Restraining a natural impulse to fly, we looked around, but Wooky Hole Cave, picture postcards, and bars of Cheddar rock (probably made in Manchester) seemed to be the only things on view – except, of course, the notorious cheese of Cheddar in various stages of decomposition.  At the far end of the village, where the influence of the Cheese was not so keen, we bought bread and (Cheddar) butter, cakes, strawberries, and Cheddar cream, and ate the whole lot in the quiet seclusion of a little lane beyond sight and sound of Cheddar cheeses.

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The sun came out.  A little lane of exquisite beauty just below the Mendips took us to Wells, and to the crowning glory of that old Somerset city, the Cathedral.  The magic of stone and stained glass in this work of many years commands the admiration of whomever views it, though again the blatant parade of banners of war and violent suppression aroused my rebellious blood.  I enter the wonderful edifices of old England not with Christian spirit, and leave without the dawn of a prayer on my lips or in my heart.  I enter for the sheer pleasure of magnificent architecture, and my reverence is for the preservation of stone, not the religion or the superstitious ignorance of priests.  I hate them !

We reached King Arthur’s Land.  Glastonbury Tor, rising from the plains and crowned by a single tower, could hardly be likened to “Many tower’d Camelot”, but my willing imagination supplied the deficit, and I built it anew – as it used to be and is now in legend-lore.  But romance became knocked off by the persistence of the hard headwind that spoiled our combined efforts.  A rambling lane, perfectly level, led us through tiny marsh villages that have little changed from Alfred’s days, and at the very village where the much-vaunted barbarian is said to have let the cakes burn we quenched our thirsts with cider shandies, a drink which Jack avows “spoils good cider”.  Sedgemoor, where, in 1684 the last battle was fought on English soil, took us to Taunton, where we ‘bought-in’ for tea.  In a lane off the highway we polished off a two-pound loaf, a bun loaf, a huge slab of cake, a tin of beans, tomatoes and a whole box of little St Ivel cheeses without turning a hair, and had we possessed more food that would have gone the same way.  We were acquiring a holiday appetite.  We promised ourselves supper in Devon, for already we had lost a whole day on our ‘dash’ south and had got into a carefree, come what will, attitude.  A holiday attitude.

From Wellington we got a move on; the wind had dropped, and we did really well along miles of rolling highway, crossing the border of Devon, which, on that beautiful night, really did look like dreamy Devon at last.  At Cullompton we found every shop closed except one, for it was early closing day.  That one was a saddler’s , and as dog biscuits and poultry food figured in the window, I suggested that a few dog biscuits for supper might improve Jack’s voice on the principle that a moderate dog-bark is preferable to the hideous croak he calls singing.  All the inhabitants turned out to hear the bother that followed, until, having used up all his expletives, Jack opined that we get along quick ere closing time in the next village.

We had just started ‘getting along quick’ when the rear tyre expired with a sigh, shattering our hopes of having cured the trouble.  Patching it was a tedious job, for it was now all-over patches, and a new tube was imperative.  Once more we got swinging along at a rare pace, but the time grew later and not a village did we see.  Closing time passed; we increased the speed; dusk fell, and ‘blinding’ with the fury that only a wild fear of going supper-less and without breakfast can produce, until, only ten miles from Exeter, we reached a shuttered-up village with a shuttered-up shop.  At the side door our salvation was assured.  For a further five miles we hunted for a campsite, asking a sweet little Devon lass who answered our knock at a wayside cottage door.  She directed us to a farm along a private drive, and I found her an interesting and interested acquaintance until Jack soullessly dragged me away.  The farm was really a small mansion, and everybody was in bed, so we decided to select a site for ourselves and do the asking on the morrow.  Quickly enough were we acquiring that cool cheek that makes the successful hobo.

Without further ado we pitched and had supper – and just restrained ourselves from eating our whole supplies.  As had become the rule, the site was stony, but even a few large clinkers in the small of the back obstructed our slumber little.





















































Two, a Tandem and a Tyre Part Two

At a farm which hugged close to a beautiful old church I obtained smiling permission to camp in the ‘second field by the river’.  Blundering along a footpath, I found myself by the Severn, wide, deep, oily in the dusk, and somewhat hazy as to directions, I chose the nearest field, which was full of ‘bumps’, and soon had the little tent erected.  The tandem pair came up with eggs and milk and the news that an old man had just dropped dead on the village green.  Such cheerful news was followed by the inevitable arrival of a bevy of small boys who stood around with a look of awe on each face, and whispered to each other of our audacity in camping on “Old Skinflints” field.  Enquiries elicited the information that we were in the wrong field, and that “Skinflint” was dead against camping on his ground; he was the small boys bogey, we learned.

Then along came the towing-path keeper, who verified  the youngsters’ remarks, and gave us an insight into the character of the fearful old monster whose land we dared to occupy.  Apparently he was a power in the land, with fabulous wealth, a tremendous acreage, and a local magistrate to boot; consequently he held the means to crush any villager who dared lift a finger or say a word against him or his – and he never failed to use his power when necessary.  All this might appear very terrifying, but it did not the least trouble the town-bred, proletarian minds of Jack and I.  We said so, and implied that fifty village tyrants would not shift us that night, where-upon the towing-path keeper beamed on us.  He said he had waited years for someone who was not afraid of “Skinflint”, and with embellishments suitable to the occasion, told us what he thought of the tyrant – what he had dared tell no-one before.  So he departed, much relieved.

Jack gave me what he called a quiet lecture, stressing my shortcomings as a leader and when left to my own devices, recounting to our amused friend the numerous scrapes we had got into under my direction.  Over supper a wordy battle ensued till at last words, “Skinflint”, and everything was forgotten in the soundness of slumber. Two, a Tandem and a Tyre 04

Once more I awoke to the pleasant sound of a ‘Primus’ stove, but the early riser was not Jack: Jack lay beside me slumbering lazily, though when our friend handed me Ovaltine and biscuits, he promptly awoke and demanded his share.  Life seemed very fine just then !  We went for a swim in the river which was quite warm, but not too clean and very deep, for at that point it is navigated by quite respectably-sized vessels, and when we returned our energetic friend had breakfast ready.

Just as we finished old “Skinflint” came along.  We saw his white smock in the distance and prepared a hearty reception, but beneath the smock and smock-hat walked an insignificant specimen (though of sour ill-tempered feature), that we were frankly surprised and disappointed.  We had expected a ferocious monster with a whirl-wind of fiery oaths descending upon us, but instead we got what Jack contemptuously called “that” (with emphasis), and a surly request to “clear off”.  He went off to count his sheep, and finding all OK, he disappeared.  So we packed up, went off to pay our dues at the farm, and to admire the beautiful church and a sweet modern miss who smiled (the girl, not the church) …….  Jack was relentless, and dragged me into a welter of lanes.  We followed the map, and for once we reckoned right, by lanes of rare beauty, to the City of Gloucester, and to its old Cathedral, which we explored as best we could whilst a service was being conducted, for it was Sunday morning.  The thing that struck me most at Gloucester Cathedral was the organ, which played with a richness and mellowness of tone that I have never yet heard the like.

Then it started to rain.  Our chum departed for home, and we picked up a Bristol cyclist who took us to a little place along the broad Bristol road for lunch and shelter.  Here he persuaded us to accompany him home, and so, for that day at least, we threw our hopes of ‘fetching’ the South coast to the winds.  All along the thirty-five miles the rain poured down, and a strong headwind drove it under our capes till we were drenched.  On the tandem we could have made light of the wind and short work of the miles, but our companion was slower, and ere Bristol was reached he was ‘all out’ in cycling terms.  Suburbia led us to Clifton Downs, and we rode above the famous Gorge and suspension bridge, and descended on a winding road till the Clifton suspension bridge was far above in slender-threaded grace.  Emerging onto wharves, whose main features were large bonded factories for tobacco – for all the world like cotton mills at home, we climbed heavily until the tumbled city streets lay below, and reached our host’s house.  There was nobody at home, and after changing our soaked footwear, and having a wash, we laid ourselves a sumptuous tea.

Our Bristol cyclist was no mean host, and it was late when he led us down his garden packed with full-bloomed roses to our tandem, introduced us to the vicar who carried on business in the church next door, and who was on fighting terms with him, and took us to a nearby shop which a delightful girl and her “Mama” opened for our benefit.  While “Mama” served Jack, I got along fine with the daughter till Jack began a sermon about the time, and other material urgencies.  The Bristol chap gave us explicit directions for the Wells road, but as soon as we bade adieu to him we went wrong and wandered through miles of uncharted suburban deserts.  At dusk we found ourselves at Keynsham, five miles along the Bath road, and then a corrective byway ran us slap into the wind, and we got another drenching as we slogged along open-downs country.  Darkness came on, and storm clouds gave their worst until a place called Marksbury was reached where we gave in – still forty miles from the Devon border – and sunshine and warm winds……….  We pitched our tent during a momentary lull, in a sheltered field, and discovered one or two uncomfortable things such as the loss of a stove valve which rendered the stove just useless cargo for the rest of the tour, and dampness on parts of the sleeping bags.  We had another stove however, and nothing worried us for long on that eventful holiday.  After the soothing influence of supper we turned in and slept as hardened campers should sleep.