Monday, 19 November 2012

Didn’t we have a lovely time…


Occasionally, adventures happen that are totally unexpected, unplanned and just seem to fall into place, take for instance the day that a dear friend to Curious Adventures, Jan, went to Plymouth with Jayne.

Our friend Jan is in Medical School, training how to cut people up, slice bits off of their feet and make old ladies walking a little better. To do so, she drives a hundred miles from home to Plymouth University and then a hundred miles back home again, every day, clocking up a thousand miles per week. As you can imagine such a journey on your own can be extremely boring, especially when you do it all of the time. So occasionally, Jayne scrounges a lift and goes on a trip to Plymouth, partly to keep Jan company and partly to see friends down there.

On this particular day, it started out grey and dark, but it blossomed into beautiful autumnal sunshine, the trees were hues of green, red and gold, the sky was bluer than a Goth girls veins and the laughter from the car was raucous. We left Curious Towers at just before six in the morning and took a gentle trip down the M5, gently cruising along chatting and being rather silly. The miles slid by and before we knew it, we were passing Exeter and joining the A38.

Driving along enjoying a damn good chat.
As we joined the A38, my tummy started to make complaints, a result of the medication that I am currently taking for a damaged shoulder. I am reminded of a clip from the film Train Spotting, when the main character comes off the drugs and suddenly he is no longer constipated! I felt the same sudden urge and expressed my concern to Jan. She quickly found a service station and we pulled into Kenford Services. I left the car with the clenched buttocks of the runny bottomed. Having been suitably ill, I then discovered that the toilet flush did not work. Somewhat embarrassed, there was only one course of action I could take.

Running away was rather difficult due to the pain in my shoulder, but I did the best that I could, with injury comes a reduction in movement and trying to run does involve using your shoulder muscles. Have you ever seen that half hearted run that people use when they cross the road? That was all I was capable of, but leaving behind the toilet of doom was my aim.

Back on the road, we continued our journey south west and marveled at the beauty of the trees that skirted the edge of Dartmoor. Finally the outskirts of Plymouth came into view at just after eight in the morning, we dropped off the A38 and descended the slip road to the Marsh Mills roundabout.

Seeing my brother Pauly and his wife Lorraine again was lovely, but seeing their beautiful cats, including the three month old Toby and nineteen year old Apricot was worth the journey alone. Apricot is a very beautiful and very vocal calico cat that is painfully thin and grateful for any affection she can get. Why is she like this you may ask? The shocking truth is that Pauly and Lorraine rescued her after her owners abandoned her and even made comments about doing unpleasant things to her. With the love of her new owners, she is recovering, she is growing some body fat again and most importantly of all, she is being loved with out condition. Most of the cats that live with Pauly and Lorraine are rescues, but Toby was a kitten from one of their own and he is lovely, a smoky grey bundle of fluff and affection.

Pauly, Gemma, Lorraine and Toby the Cat

There is however something that Pauly and Lorraine share with Curious Adventures and that is a love of adventures into the wild and unknown be it by mountain bike, by foot or even by four by four! So when Pauly suggested that he take me for a ride in his Toyota truck, I almost danced with excitement. Green lane drivers face a lot of misunderstanding, what people think is that they are brutal maniacs chewing up the countryside with Chelsea tractors. The truth though is that these small groups of enthusiasts campaign for rights of access to the places that many farmers want to deny access to such as old By-Ways, forgotten tracks and roads that are public rights of way, but have not been surfaced. Pauly told me of how some farmers will dump old ruined cars into these lanes or cut down large trees that block the tracks, just to try to stop access. He told me of angry farmers threatening drivers with shot guns and some of his stories were more than shocking just in the way that he had been spoken to. I thought I had experienced bad things as a mountain biker with people trying to limit access to the country side, but no one has ever threatened to shoot me!

Pauly and the truck

Pauly’s truck is a gentle giant, inside it feels like a luxury car, the large supportive seats are comfortable, but the climb up into the cab is surprisingly difficult. Once inside, and with the door shut you would not know that you were in a vehicle that can climb a rocky slope like a tank or can pull a burned out wheel-less car from a tiny lane. We dropped down a tiny twisty tarmac covered lane to a ford that stretched out in front of us for about forty or fifty metres, the water was flowing fast and looked worryingly deep. I was honestly hugely excited, driving a car through a river! What a buzz.

The water splashed up over the sides of the truck and we simply rolled across the river as if it was a perfectly normal road. The bow wave was impressive but what was to come was more than awesome. The truck climbed the slope from the river and then rolled onto a muddy track, the tyres gripped and with a deliberate slow bite into the mud and we started to progress up a track that on a mountain bike would have been damn hard work. 

Driving in the middle of a river with Pauly.

As we climbed the track, the truck gently rocked as it climbed over roots and rocks. I giggled like a school girl and gazed out of the window at the beautiful Dartmoor scenery. As we rounded a corner we came to a stop. In front of us was a rocky outcrop, a section of track that had been cut out of the bed rock, leaving chunks of rock the size of shoe boxes piled up on each other! It looked impassable. Pauly adjusted his gear box into a low ratio gear and we gently started to inch forwards. The engine quietly growled and it sounded like we should have been moving at about thirty miles per hour. Instead we crawled forwards at a walking pace and the wheels started to climb the slate boulders. The truck rocked alarmingly as it climbed across the rocks, but not once did this surefooted machine slip or spin its wheels. Looking out of the back window, all I could see down the leaf covered lane was two lines of compressed leaves. You could barely tell that we had passed.

We passed the rocky section with the exciting ease of a rock climber at a peak of fitness. I have found climbs that have tested me as a climber and I have used my strength and agility to overcome a difficult move with grace and control. This incredible truck did exactly that, with grace, poise and controlled power. Seeing it first hand was a huge amount of fun. From that point the top of the lane was in sight and we exited it onto a tiny metaled road. However, Pauly skilfully managed to turn his truck around and we returned the same way we had just come. To say I was impressed by his driving skill and the abilities of his truck is an understatement, yet what really impressed me was the comfort and luxury in which we made this journey. I really want to do this again, it is fabulous. 

Hanging out with my Bro Pauly.

If you want to try this too, go and look up your local four by four club, study your Ordnance Survey Map looking for these Green Lanes and most of all, treat the country side with respect while you enjoy it. Just bare in mind though, while many people object to four by four drivers going across country on Dartmoor, it has a dark secret. Dartmoor is a National Park. Yes, a National Park that allows live firing by the military, meaning that the moors are in places, littered with unexploded ordnance.

There are also several companies that have open cast mines stripping the china clay from the hill sides and the rivers run turquoise from the pollution of this industry. Farmers and land owners have erected fences and blocked paths. I have seen this as a mountain biker for years and trust me, when you try to ride your bike across a bridle way that has been covered in cow shit by farmers moving live stock, you quickly realise that many of these guardians of the country side are only out for their own gains. I may sound cynical, but in this day and age, we have to fight our corner for access to the countryside.

The Beast of Dartmoor.