Monday, 7 May 2012

Gem Bridge is open!

I was told, via my Devon Coast to Coast cycling holidays site that Gem Bridge was open, as in fully open. This was on Saturday, and I immediately made plans to cycle out there, as Gem Bridge is only about 20 miles from my home.
Now John Lennon wrote "life is what happens while you're busy making other plans" and life certainly happened to me. As a result, I didn't get the opportunity to ride out there until today.

When I got to Yelverton, I contacted a friend of mine, Simon, and asked if he wanted to cycle along to go do some exploring. We agreed to meet at Gem Bridge. While I was waiting for him, I took a few photos:
Looking South, towards Horabridge
Looking North, towards Tavistock.

Looking South. The zig-zag path mimics the original, very rough and nasty path
that snaked its way up the valley side. The original zig-zag path was the main
route of NCN 27 through the Walkham valley!
We continued on from Gem Bridge, too see at what progress has been made with the new route through Grenofen tunnel. From Gem Bridge, the route will still follow (for a short stint) the same path as the "old" route, which is to say along the board walk that hugs the hillside, before heading uphill. At the point where the old route turned sharply left, the new one veers slightly right, before curving right. In no time at all the path rejoins the old railway track bed, where you'd be turning left. 

Now obviously Devon County Council will be giving the whole route the same rather decent surface as what they put in place between Horabridge and Gem Bridge, but when we rode through it was rough and muddy! Bear in mind here that I ride a sensible hybrid, with road tyres and mudguards - it wasn't long before I was having wheel-spin and slipping and sliding all over the place!

Simon soldiered on, riding his mountain bike with knobbly tyres through puddles of mud so deep it was up to his bottom bracket, while I pushed my bike, trying as best I could to avoid what seemed at the time like mud oceans.

The work crews have been doing a great deal of work clearing the overgrown vegetation, leaving all manner of debris all over the track.

A short distance later we cycled into Grenofen tunnel, which I knew, from a previous visit quite some time ago, has a half-decent compacted gravelly surface. However, I forgot about the rain in the tunnel! Yes, it rains inside the tunnel, all the time. This is obviously not proper rain, but rather water seeping through the roof of the tunnel.

The Tavistock side of the tunnel hosts another huge mud pool, which even Simon struggled with, while I did my pushing-my-bike-along-the-side bit, trying not to get stuck anywhere. During my last visit, this mud pool was over 50 meters long, but thankfully it seems the work crews had laid down some gravel, so I could start riding again.

Not long after Grenofen tunnel is Ashmill bridge. It is a small little bridge, with a span of perhaps 3 meters. Except it isn't a bridge, and has no span at all! Somewhere in the mists of time gone by, the bridge surface was removed, leaving a gap. Needless to say, to complete the route, this bridge must be rebuilt.

Ashmill bridge gap, looking North. The stonework is listed, and in need of repair, but
the brickwork at the top isn't listed. 
This is the point at which we turned around. The path surface just on the other side of Ashmill bridge is much better, and has clearly already had some work done, and in the distance we could see some machinery obviously used by work crews.

The path on the Tavistock side of Ashmill bridge.
Cycling back was simply a reverse, and saw me struggling to get past various mud pools again. Finally, near the end of the rough track, one of the thousands of bits of stick lying all over the path got wedged in my front wheel, locking it completely. I had a rather impressive front wheel skid, while on a slight downhill. At the bottom the front wheel sort of wedged in a small mud pool, and the rest of the bike, me included, lifted into the air. I only just managed to land on my left foot, staying upright, and narrowly avoided planting my face firmly in the mud, with the bike landing on top of me!

Despite the near wipe out, and the bits where I had to push, and my front wheel almost locking due to the mud caught between it and the mudguard, it was still an excellent ride, made better due to Gem Bridge being fully open.