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Lost on Exmoor
This was our third visit to the Blue Ball Inn at the top of Countisbury Hill, near Lynmouth. The hilly area along the North Devon coast and across Exmoor is exactly the terrain that I like to find for our rides but the weather on our first day made riding very hazardous and I was really afraid at times. I rode the 1964 James M15 Cadet and the brakes were not really up to the very steep descents. It has plenty of power for climbing but the drop to Hunter's Inn nearly did for the both of us ! Whilst it did not rain hard, it was a damp day and many of the roads were muddy. Many had stones all down the middle and we were threading our way very carefully. It was the most challenging ride I have ever included on any of my tours.
We survived as far as the coffee stop at Muddiford, however. The rain stopped for a while and the sun came out. We continued to Bratton Fleming, where we were going to take lunch. By the time I got there the pub had closed but we had already decided not to have lunch anyway as our huge breakfast was still weighing heavily on our stomachs.
The Sunday run enjoyed rather better weather. The S7 Sunbeam of Paul March refused to start after filling with petrol at Barbrook. Bill Mills took Paul back to Countisbury to get the trailer.
The rest of us ploughed on. Near Exford we encountered a ford, which was running rather full. I was riding with Chris and Steve Webber. We all lined up along the water's edge to see whether we could decide where the shallowest water was. Chris launched his Norton in and pulled through without a problem so Steve followed him. They had not noticed the little bridge to one side but I walked the James across rather than risk the flywheel mag filling with water. As I restarted and pulled up the hill the throttle cable broke and, in the absence of a suitably small solderless nipple, I stripped the outer cable off and held the cable in my right hand - operating the carburettor manually for the remaining 70 miles of the day's ride. Later on, at the same ford, Bill Mills and Les Waller had to dry their electrics out. Bill hit the water at about 90mph according to those who watched him !
At Winsford there was another rushing ford but we all used the little bridge and pressed on to the Tarr Steps, where we took coffee in hot sunshine at the Tarr Farm Inn. It was a lovely stop and we enjoyed a toasted teacake with our coffee.
The lunch stop was in South Molton, where we found the Corn Dolly tearoom and enjoyed tea with treacle tart/carrot cake/lemon drizzle cake as our simple lunch.
On the afternoon route there was one especially narrow lane. It was a hard pull up through a tunnel of trees and the road was very dirty. I led the way on the James and four bikes followed me. At the top I looked back to discover that the others were nowhere to be seen. I waited for a couple of minutes (the lane was only about 800 yards long). I was just about to turn back when they all came through. Chris had strayed onto the loose stones, lost grip and forward motion. His brother had managed to avoid him and squeeze by unscathed but Derek and Barbara Bentley were not so lucky. In trying to avoid Chris, Derek ditched poor Barbara into the bank and the bike fell on top of him in the middle of the road. Dave and Pam Bradley then had to try to avoid the carnage and very nearly came a cropper too ! Nobody was hurt, no damage was suffered by any of the bikes and everyone saw the funny side of it but for a moment it was mayhem.
The afternoon run via Challacombe and Simonsbath was a bit misty and damp but we did not really get wet. Back at Lynmouth I yanked hard on the throttle cable and the little James shot up the 1:4 section of the hill up to Countisbury in 2nd gear.
On our final day we rode to Chulmleigh by a flowing route via South Molton again. We had coffee in the Dairy in the centre of the village.
The onward route was also on comparatively wide lanes and we were able to keep up a reasonable pace. As we crossed the moor above Molland Chris, Steve and I stopped to enjoy the views and decided that we would not stop at the Sportsmans' Inn for lunch. We then encountered the same ford as on the previous day. I was riding the James trials bike and felt sure it would get through without a problem. I suggested to Chris that he take a photo of me making my crossing. He missed the shot so I had to go back through. He missed the shot again and I went back a second time. Third time lucky and after five perilous crossings back and forth he actually got a picture of me in the corner of the shot - move over David Bailey. We then pressed on to Porlock, where Chris and Steve enjoyed a Devon cream tea and I tried the lemon cake (and the rhubarb and ginger cake actually).
Staff from the auction house Bonhams were labelling and listing all the items in the motor museum and the sale is scheduled for Beaulieu in September. The owner has decided to retire and is simply selling up.
From Porlock Dave and Pam decided to take the scenic toll road but I wanted to try Porlock Hill and stormed up in second gear.
We departed after breakfast on the Tuesday and returned home through torrential rain on the M5 at Slough. Considering the floods that South Devon experienced that weekend, we were very lucky indeed with the weather.
Chris Webber - 1937 Norton