DEPARTURE DATE: April 25 2001

First stop on my way back to Weymouth after 3 week intermission of gallivanting round country to give (hopefully) book-boosting cycling talks about the joys of sitting on a saddle (preferably a moulded to hind-quarters one) was my builders workshop to bid him farewell and offload his birthday present – an inflatable camping chair.

It was National Bike to Work Day (20th June), “Hallelujah, the roads should be as empty of cars as in the fuel strike!” I thought naively to myself, but in just over 5 hours of cycling I passed only one other cyclist – an old woman on a rusty bone-shaker with a poodle in her basket. Woe-betide this backward nation of manic motoring mentality.

Despite this cyclists-haven set-back, life felt good as I bowled along westwards with the sun along the spectacular Dorset coast. The long, lean shingle beach of Chesil ran aground into the small daintily tatched villages of Abbotsbury and Burton Bradstock and huddled harbour of West Bay. From Charmouth (where on the campsite I met the traffic chief inspector of Hampshire police who rides a bike) I cycled inland to Chard to visit Paul and Caroline Butterworth. A few years back when my knee went wonky, Paul, an engineer who manages Unicam Therapeutic Pedal Systems, made me an ingenious invention that resulted in me being able to cycle with one leg. Paul’s range of pedal systems provides the means for people who are disabled or injured to enjoy the benefits of cycling whether its part of a rehabilitation programme or as a means of recreational exercise. The systems are available for bicycles or exercise bicycles and are currently in use in hospitals all over the UK.

And so into the vertiginous hills of Devon. I climb and fall, climb and fall which with my weighty cargo is enough to make my legs-a-quiver. Lyme Regis (fossils and Cobb), Seaton (tons of sea and tourists), Sidmouth (lots of medium old people), Buddleigh Salterton (lots of very old people) came and went in a heat haze of hills and red sandstone cliffs.

In Exeter I spent the night at the Heavitree home of head-in-the-clouds high Peter Tansley and his same-size-as-me (i.e. small and compact) wife Gethyn. I’d first met Peter, and engineer, silversmith, bike-builder, para-glider, teacher of autistic children and handyman superior, in 1989, when I rode a wheelchair bicycle from Lands End to John O’Groats. He looked just as large as the last time I saw him and appeared just as amazed at my 4-bowl porridge-eating abilities.

I powered on through Powderham (powdery castle) and Dawlish (warren of caravans). Teignmouth to Torquay would have been a fine plunging up and down sea-view hair-pinned ride had it not been ruined by impatient drivers who displayed an unnerving tendency to overtake me on blind corners with an inch to spare. Oh to rotten-tomato machine-gun the lot of them!

In Brixham I stayed in the haunted house of Ian Hibell – cycle tourist extraordinaire who in 1970 dragged his bike through the swamps of the deathly Darien Gap. He’s nearly 70 now and a full time carer to his 97 yr old mother Dot, but the ever-burning desire for further two-wheeled explorations still simmers within.

Turning the corner at Brixham, the weather turned on its head – rain, wind, storms (one which scored 310,000 lightning ‘hits’ so said Radio Devon – I was camping behind a hedge at the time).

The South Hams proved hellishly hilly but scenically spiffing – just a shame about those supercilious Shogun 4 x 4s that ruin the downhills by pressing past and then jam on the brakes mid-descent when lo, they meet another shiny Shogun coming up.

Now in Cornwall (walls of hills) and autumn gales are forecast this week. Oh for the joys of a British summer. I’d better bash in those tent pegs and batten down the rip-stop nylon hatches of my home. As I write this within tent, it sounds as if half of the saturated sky has landed on my flimsy dwelling. More soon, after I’ve been spin-dryed…