This was a glorious, tough eventful day. The weather was again sunny, with temperatures reaching about 27C - I had to apply plenty of suncream. The wind was south-easterly which became a headwind at times. As I set out, with the blue sky crystal clear above me, I had no difficulty reflecting on a verse I had chosen for the day: "As high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for us."
I left the Hore-Ruthvens in Clovelly at 8.52 and cycled one hour to Westward Ho, making a little detour to see old friends Mike and Erica Henderson in their new home. When I left them, I made my first big navigational mistake. Hating the high roads and towns, I eschewed the option of taking the Tarka cycle track along the sea to Barnstaple (nice and flat!) and cut across country on a 'short cut'! Alas, the lanes were so small that at one point my prefered, straight route, carefully marked on my OS map, turned out to be a dirt track! I eventually made my way through to New Bridge and, faced with another steep climb over the top to Swimbridge I decided to cut my losses and go round via the southern outskirts of Barnstaple. I reckon this error cost me an hour or so, and 5 extra miles. Still, there were compensations such as a chat with a farmer. 'What's the best route to John O'Groats?' I asked when I was trying to reorientate myself in a maze of country lanes. 'Turn left,' he said.
By the time I got near Swimbridge, ready for the big climb up to Exmoor, it was lunch time and I was hot and hungry but could not find a shop. I flagged down a motorist to ask the way to a shop and she, amazingly, offered to backtrack a mile to a shop and buy me a few things while I waited. She even refused payment. Fortified by this act of kindness, and by the great news received on my mobile from dear friend Laura Trevelyan that she had passed her driving test, I started up the long series of hills towards Simonsbath. A good deal of walking, but mostly riding, saw me reach the highest point I am likely to reach on this trip (with the possible exception of one) - 1570 ft (475m). I asked a passing motorist to take a photo of me there, but when I came to look at the photos it was just a wonderful close-up of the tarmac!
I pressed on to Simonsbath, a tiny, shop-less place, where I filled up my waterbottle at the tea room. Five miles further east, as I descended quite fast into Exford, I had my first puncture (on the back wheel), hitting a small rock which I failed to see. Fortunately it seemed that no damage had been done to the rim or spokes, and I was able to insert a new inner tube and proceed.
Having lost a good bit of time earlier in the day, I decided not to press on to my initial goal of Elworthy or Bishops Lydeard, and found a B&B at Wheddon Cross. It will make for a longer day tomorrow (estimated 75 miles), but that should not be too bad as a lot of it will be relatively flat. (Today I ascended 4690 feet - average 88 ft/mile, bringing my total ascent to date to over 15,000 feet.)