Martin Symons talks about his recent challenge travelling across Devon in a specially adapted off-road powered wheelchair.
After the Hadrian’s Wall Coast to Coast in 2009, I wanted to do another journey but perhaps not as long. I hope this will be followed by a longer one in 2012 (maybe Kerry Way??)
After 18 months of fundraising for a new Boma (a special off-road wheelchair), I eventually got it just 1 week before the trip. It is very smart in racing green.
After a long journey to Devon via Milton Keynes to pick up spare batteries, Greg and I arrived at Sandy’s on the Wednesday. Greg who works for me as my PA came as vehicle support and lunch man!
Colin came again so he could help me with things I needed help with. Colin wasn’t a natural cyclist but was prepared to come. Colin has been on almost all my trips. The next one Colin will probably look for a recumbent trike which would suit his style of travel!
We all started the adventure on the Wednesday evening with some fish and chips and a glass of wine around Gill and Sandy’s kitchen table before an early start to get the mini bus to Ilfracombe on day 1. Greg drove me in my car which was going to be the support vehicle and followed. We arrived at about 10:15pm.
Good weather on Thurs. We hadn’t long started when the chain on Helen’s bike broke. There were no bike shops in Ilfracombe and it took a long time to fix so we decided to have lunch before we started the day’s trip. There was a very big hill to get out of Ilfracombe. This was the start of the cycle path and I had to manoeuvre the Boma around gate. I nearly ran over Sandy in the process!! This was the first of many tricky manoeuvres through tight gates that I learnt to tackle over the trip. I became a bit of an expert at the end!
The biggest hill of the trip faced us to get to the campsite in Barnstaple. The Boma got a puncture at the bottom and ran out of batteries. After some hours cycling (riding for me!) a puncture (me as well) and to change the battery on few hundred yards away, we finally made it to the first to Bightcott Barton Campsite in the sunshine. The car was then unloaded and Greg drove Colin and myself to a B&B where we would be staying in Barnstaple.
We joined the Tarka trail to Smytham – weather not too good but the route was flat and we made good progress. We huddled under a door porch of a disused railway station to eat our sandwiches for lunch, and then we carried on in the rain to Smytham. The path to Smytham Manor was wet, muddy and slippery and we had to cross a very thin bridge – I had to get out of the Boma at one point and walk while the team carried the Boma.
Rain overnight and we started off wet and in bad weather for Okehampton. Hard day for cyclists – very hilly hard especially for those pulling trailers.
I was getting the hang of manoeuvring in and around gates and styles – until that is I went over and down the ditch!! This was proper off roading to test the Boma!
The first two nights, both campsite owners kindly refunded the monies for me to donate to charity.
We all stayed at Okehampton Youth Hostel which we shared with some very noisy French students. We all enjoyed a pub meal together before trying to sleep with the noise. We started the fourth day in very wet and windy conditions along the Granite Way heading to Lydford. Along this route Tom Pales from CTC joined us and showed the way along the later end of the disused railway thus missing out the big hills into and out of Bridestow – to the delight of the cyclists! The rain continued to fall but spirits remained high.
Tom invited us back to his for to have our lunch (or rather his mum’s home!). Because I had a bad night due to the noisy French students at the YHA in Okehampton, Tom allowed me the use of one of the rooms to have a rest and go on the ventilator for a while.
After a much needed break we then headed of to Kelly College in Tavistock. Everyone else apart from Gilly, Sandy and Colin had already left. Tom and his mum were going to join us for the evening. The going was good into Tavistock with lots of downhill.
There was no kitchen in the house at Kelly College and we cooked a large batch of pasta on 2 small camping stoves for the whole group. It was a fun evening. We left Tavistock in the rain again and cycled Thro’ Tavistock – over the river and then up another very long and steep big rocky hill and over Buckland moor. The Boma managed the off-road hill in excellent style.
Our last day, Clearbrooke to Plymouth all down hill along Plym Valley. We stopped at a bridge where there were binoculars so you could see the Perigins.
After five days of rain, sweat, punctures, ditch falling and clever Boma manoeuvring and whatever else was chucked at us, we finally arrived at Sultram House in Plymouth and the rain finally stopped.
After loading the minibus and the Boma into the car, we headed of back to Sandy’s for BBQ and congratulatory drink.
It was a very good week. The Boma showed what it could do and for the first time, I was actually Boma’ing in the rain. Two years ago on the Hadrian’s ride when it rained, I was in the minibus till it passed. Progress! It was a challenge for everyone on the team and we all had a fantastic adventure.
By Martin Symons
Team – Sandy, Gilly, Helen plus Lily & Max, Jo plus Evie & Ewan, Tony, Colin
and Greg (and Bracken, the spaniel!).
For information about Martin’s previous Boma challenges, visit his website here.