Glastonbury to Seaton:
91.7km, av. 15.3km/hr, max 45.7km/hr, time moving: 5 hrs 57 mins
Day 3 of the ride starts with me unzipping my tent to see a lone cow standing a few metres away (I thought I could hear cud-chewing…) A lone cow that wasn’t here last night. A few minutes later and I spot a couple of men standing at the gate of the field, and they definitely spot me.
They seem pretty chilled though, and are mainly interested in trying to coax the itinerant ruminant towards them, perhaps so they can identify it (it has a tag on its ear). After a few minutes they succeed in their task and happily wander off, without saying anything to me. Which is nice of them.
I pack up the tent, push out onto the road (closing the gate behind me) and set off – but still undecided as to my final destination for the day. My original plan was to head west, to Bridgewater, through the Quantock Hills AONB and onto Exmoor National Park. But, looking at the map, it’s further than I thought. Plus, I’m not sure if I want to spend a chilly night camping up on the moors. So I decide to go west for a bit to explore the Somerset Levels, and then south, to the sea!
The first stop along the way is Shapwick Heath National Nature Reserve. What a place! A guy I’d been volunteering with at Green Man had been telling me about it, since it was he that helped secure the funding and (from what I could gather) was the architect of the whole project, which has been to turn an old peat-cutting area into an incredible wetlands nature reserve, with a cycle track running right through it.
Unfortunately, for reasons I still can’t fathom, I somehow miss the cycle track! Instead, I go the long (and hilly) way, only later realising my mistake when I have to double back on myself. It’s an annoying mistake, but not fatal.
I still get to explore a decent chunk of the reserve on foot, and “walk the plank” along a restored stretch of neolithic walkway. Tens of thousands of years ago, the area was inhabited by early human; they constructed elaborate walkways to traverse the flooded wetlands. I also find a hide, but don’t have binoculars to try and spot a little egret – they are in plentiful supply here.
It’s an incredible spot, and a place I’d like to see more of another time – along with the Huntspill River NNR & Bridgewater Bay NNR. But, after a spot of brunch, it’s time to get moving, and start heading south. It’s mankini time…
I pass through some wonderfully named places: High Ham, Low Ham, Muchelny Ham, Kingsbury Episcopi, Curry Rivel, Shepton Beauchamp. Some of them via the Stop Line Way, named after the ‘Stop Line’ – WW2 defences against a possible German invasion in the southwest – that now forms part of NCR33.
After the long stop this morning, there’s not much time to rest or pause for very long again; all effort is now focussed on reaching the sea. And reach the sea I do. After passing through the very lovely Axmouth, I roll into Seaton, with its pebbly beach and warm early evening sunshine. I park my bike and head straight into the water, which is refreshing but by no means cold (it’s been a hot summer after all).
Next task: find food. There’s a fairly dilapidated pub on the sea-front that only has one thing on the menu but that’s OK because it’s fresh mackerel.
Dusk is starting to gather, so the next task is to find a place to camp. I’m less sure how this is going to work out; the land around here feels a little more fenced off and, er, ‘owned’, than it did in Somerset. I cycle out of town a bit, through a village called Beer (mmm, lovely beer), and then uphill and inland a little, in search of countryside.
Eventually I find a field that looks promising. I enter through a gate, and look for a place to pitch. Unfortunately, the field borders a local football ground, and there are people in there having a drink or something. There’s also a barking dog that picks up on my presence and won’t shut up. So I push on into the next field, which is green and secluded.
But, there’s a problem… in a field further down, there’s a tractor going about its noisy business. It’s not clear if the fields are connected, but I figure there’s a risk of the farmer driving out through this field, and spotting me.
I decide to abandon this location, and continue on. About 500 metres up the road, I pass a field with a gate wide open, and a huge old dung heap near the entrance. A perfect place to hide a tent behind – I’ll be invisible from the road. Ah, the glamour of wild camping!
Without thinking too much more about it, I pitch up, feeling smug at this stroke of luck, just as it’s getting dark. I then investigate my surroundings a bit more. And that’s when I make an awful discovery. OK, no dead body in a ditch, but…
In the distance, I can see and hear the same tractor rumbling around the fields. My nemesis. And from this angle, it looks like this field is very much joined onto his field. And he left the gate open… (I’m assuming it’s a he, but of course it may not be).
I am now convinced that Night Tractor is going to drive into my field at some point, and turf me out. I watch him for an hour or so while nursing a beer. Sometimes he disappears behind a hill, and all goes eerily dark and quiet… then a couple of minutes later he’ll come roaring back, headlights beaming right onto the place where I’m sat, hiding. It reminds me of the film ‘Duel’.
It’s gone 11pm and he is still out there (god knows what doing), so I decide to call it a night and hope for the best. I drift off to sleep… but after maybe half an hour dozing, I hear the sound of a tractor; the same tractor. And it’s getting louder. I stick my head out of the tent and can see the headlights in the distance; but it looks like he’s on the road. Perhaps he’ll just stay on the road, jump out to lock the gate, and be gone?
Alas, no. Suddenly the tractor (actually it looks much bigger than a tractor) is in the adjacent field, and then… shiiit! He’s in MY field, goddamit! And he’s driving right at me, floodbeams blazing, engine roaring. My head is still stuck out of the tent, I must look like a rabbit in the headlights. The lights are so bright I can’t see into the cab – I can’t see the manic grin on the face of this psychotic driver. OK, this is not looking good. I don’t want to go out like this!
Like something out of a movie, at the last second he turns the wheel and swerves away… Thanks fuck for that. He simply drives towards the gate, stops, shuts the gate, and drives off.
After this slightly hair-raising experience, I don’t sleep so well, dreaming that he’s coming back with all his farmer mates armed with pitchforks.
So, lesson learnt: if a gate’s been left open, it’s not an open invite to set up camp; in fact it’s the opposite.