To Exeter - The Seven Year Itch - CycleBlaze

May 30, 2024

To Exeter

When I climb the three flights of stairs from breakfast for the last time, Rachael’s waiting in the room for me with some thoughts she wants to share.  I know immediately where this is going - she’s been thinking about the day’s ride to Exeter, and the day’s weather.  I’ve been thinking about it too.  I beat her to the punch, and ask before she can tell: Is there a train? Yep.

About the ride.  It’s about 25 miles, with a Devon-normal 2,300’ of climbing.  If you’re trying to find reasonably conservative routes on quiet lanes here, an average lift of about 100 feet per mile is pretty standard - if you’re lucky.  The NCN doesn’t appear to have a direct route defined between Okehampton and Exeter for some reason, so I’ve stared at the map and come up with what looks like our best option.  It doesn’t look too bad but it’s decidedly lumpy the whole way - including starting with that 14% lift out of town toward Belstone I’ve already ridden/pushed up twice - and wasn’t fond of even without the panniers.

About the weather.  It’s quite grey out, and raining at the moment I see as I look out our window at a few umbrellas advancing down the street.  Weather.com assures us that this will end within an hour and stay dry for the rest of the day, though it does grant that there’s around a 20% chance that they’re wrong on that point.  YR more or less agrees, but is more pessimistic.  It feels like we’ve seen this show before, just two days ago when the expected cessation of the rains kept dancing forward all day, a tantalizing horizon you can never quite reach.  We could be all day waiting for the rain to end.

And then there’s the other consideration about today’s weather: the wind.  Both weather sites agree that it will be blowing at 20+ mph (or 9 m/s, as YR puts it), with gusts to 30.  It’s blasting in from the north today, which in our imagination means we’ll be fighting for control of the bikes as we bike up and down in the rain.

About the train: it’s as vanilla as a train option ever is.  It runs hourly all day long, takes bikes but without reservation, costs £4.40 each.  Even better, the line starts here in Okehampton and ends in Exeter a mile from our hotel, so boarding and disembarking should be low stress.

Put that way, it’s not a hard decision to come to.  We check out of our room at 10:30 as required and then hang out in the restaurant downstairs for the next hour while I nurse a last cup of coffee. Then we bike up to the train station, only half a mile away.  And up is the right adverb in this case as it’s uphill for the whole way, with most of it in the 8-11% range.  As we’re climbing I’m thinking the whole way about that 14 percenter we’re avoiding doing this.  And likely the several more after that we haven’t experienced yet.

We’ve allowed plenty of time to get to the train, but we’ve gone slowly enough on the climb that the train pulls in to the station only five minutes after we arrive.  It’s time enough though for me to buy our tickets from the kiosk, appreciating as I do so how much easier this is when instructions are in my native language.  That’s not good enough though to keep me from absentmindedly buying us a pair of round trips instead of one ways.  So it’s not quite the bargain I’d expected, but still at £8.80 each it feels like a good deal.

The train arrives at the Okehampton station five minutes after we do ourselves.
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The ride is as we’d hoped - it’s easy to get on, easy to get off, easy to find space for the bikes on our small train.  As we ride we note that Weather.com got it right today - the sun is breaking through on schedule, but the trees are whipping about pretty violently.  So we could have biked and stayed dry from the looks of us, but neither of us feels any remorse about our decision.

As we ride, we appreciate the attractive countryside flashing by - in particular the recently plowed and planted fields that have an almost cranberry hue.  We can’t get a long look or photo of them though because of the other annoying fact about this part of Britain - there are all these damn trees and tall hedgerows blocking your view everywhere.  Hopefully we’ll get a look at those hills three days from now when we leave Exeter and bike north to our next base.

All aboard. No stress, no problem. Not for the first time I feel a deep frustration about our own country. Why the hell can’t we have nice things too?
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It’s nice that the train is nearly empty today.
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View blockers everywhere you look. Tough Guy Greg would hate it here.
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Gregory GarceauOver the last few days, the Moors were looking so beautiful . . . until the view-blockers moved in and ruined everything.
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3 weeks ago
Scott AndersonTo Gregory GarceauYes, we’ll just have to hold that memory now. It’ll probably just be trees as far as the eye can see now, which isn’t too far because of all the trees. Moors the pity.
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3 weeks ago

We arrive in Exeter right on time, and are prompt about getting ourselves and our bikes off the train.  And it’s a good thing we were prompt, because even though this is the end of the line the train is filling up again at the start of a different line - to Exmouth, I think.  Its pulling out of the station less than two minutes after we’re first standing on the platform.

In Exeter.
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Our hotel is only a mile away, but first we stop off on an errand - to pick up a camera at Exeter’s outlet of the London Camera Exchange.  I haven’t mentioned it before, but I’ve been worried about my camera for awhile.  Its lens cover no longer closes the whole way and gets stuck at times when the camera fires up, so occasionally I get a shot with the corners shadowed because I forgot to open the cover the whole way with my finger.  And more worrisome, it’s starting to make grinding sounds when the lens extends and contracts.  I’ve gone through a couple of iterations of this now, and know it’s just a matter of time.  It’s the one drawback to what otherwise for me is the perfect camera for bike travel.

So that’s one problem with this camera.  The other is that you can’t buy a new replacement any more.  The main camera manufacturers (Panasonic, Olympus, Canon) all discontinued their midrange automatic cameras like this about a year ago because the improved cameras on cellphones are putting them out of business.  It worries me, and makes me afraid that the year’s bird quest will get cut short by camera failure.

So I did some research to see if maybe there’s one still in stock somewhere.  And there is - exactly one, up in Newcastle, at their London Camera Exchange network.  LCE is a nationwide network that deals in new and used cameras and equipment, and their entire inventory is viewable online.  The one camera they have is used, but they confirm that it’s in good condition and completely functional; so I ask them to ship it down to Exeter for me to pick up there.  

And when I pick it up I’m delighted to see that it looks brand new.  I’ll stash away my current one and see if I can get it refurbished over the winter so I’ve got a backup.

We’re staying in Exeter at the downtown Premier Inn, a few blocks from the cathedral.  We’re very happy with our space - we’re on the fourth floor in a room that has a view, has plenty of space, has a tub, has a fridge, has a hot water pot, and best of all has an elevator.  And they let us check in even though we’ve arrived a half hour early, and take our bikes up to the room with us.  All very nice.

In Exeter.
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We were in Exeter two years ago, but only as a train connection on our way to and from Exmouth.  I’d forgotten what an attractive place it is.  I’m glad we’ve chosen to spend three nights here.  We’ve got a few hours before our 5:30 dinner reservation, so while Rachael makes an errand run to pick up a new nose spray, stop in at a bike store to see if they have a mirror she’ll like better than the one she has now (they don’t) and pick up a bottle of her favorite diet drink I walk down to the waterfront for a short stroll along the canal to see if I can find any birds.  Not surprisingly, I do - some species in large numbers.

Exeter has a lovely waterfront scene along the Exe River.
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The charmingly named Cricklepit Bridge provides pedestrian access to the opposite bank.
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Looking back across the Cricklepit Bridge to Exeter Castle.
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I saw many herring gulls, by far the most prominent gull species here.
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Bill ShaneyfeltPuts me in mind of a strutting palace guard!
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3 weeks ago
Scott AndersonTo Bill ShaneyfeltFunny. I had a similar shot myself. It was a lucky accident catching him with his foot elevated like that.
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3 weeks ago
Also, mute swans were present in significant numbers - maybe 20 or 30?
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And, of course, the ubiquitous rock pigeons.
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Keith AdamsLove the gull back-winging for its landing approach.
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3 weeks ago
Scott AndersonTo Keith AdamsNo, that’s the conductor.
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3 weeks ago

And then there were the less common sightings: a few mallards scattered about, and carrion crows, and domestic geese, and of course house sparrows.  And a few singular sightings:

I saw exactly one great cormorant, with its one eel.
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And exactly one greylag goose with its sleepy eye keeping watch on me.
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And exactly one lesser black-backed gull (#247).
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And exactly one pair of adult common moorhens.
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And best of all, exactly one fuzzy moorhen chick. Look at those wing stubs!
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And then I walk back to the room, hook up with Rachael, and we rush off to a dinner good enough that I should have taken food photos.  On the way back we stopped for a photo of the cathedral, but we’ll be back for more.  It’s a small city well worth a look.

A section of Exeter’s walls. It looks like there’s a good walk to be had here.
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A wall with some history.
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Exeter Cathedral.
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Today's ride: 2 miles (3 km)
Total: 1,790 miles (2,881 km)

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Bruce LellmanWhen you are back in the States you might want to even buy one more of those cameras and then you would be set forever. I'm sure you could find another one, probably on eBay. I believe in being well stocked for the future.
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3 weeks ago
Scott AndersonTo Bruce LellmanThanks for the suggestion. Actually, I’ve got another one - in storage, where it’s been locked up for the same bad behavior. I’m thinking I’ll find a repairman who’ll look at both of them.
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3 weeks ago
Bruce LellmanTo Scott AndersonWhen you are back in Portland I'll tell you of two places that can fix your cameras.
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3 weeks ago
Scott AndersonTo Bruce LellmanHold that thought. You can hand me the list when we meet up for coffee.
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3 weeks ago