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Pier Pressure 2016

Day 9 - Saturday 20th August 2016

Ottery St Mary to Barnstaple - 231 Miles

After the epic day yesterday and the previous long days on Day 6 and 7, we all decided that today we would have a small lie in. As it happens I still woke up by 7:30am and found myself having a cup of tea with George, Ruben and Alison in the kitchen not too long after.

Alison had kindly offered to cook us breakfast and it made a nice change to be treated to a proper breakfast before we hit the road.

Ruben had never visited England before this trip, and now 2 days after he landed in Harwich he was sat in a very English kitchen, in very English countryside, being served tea and a traditional full English. I think it’s great the experiences buggy friendship can bring.

Over the next ½ hour the kitchen filled up with Ruth, Alex, Mart and his kids and Rob, Rach and their kids. Al and Mart had kindly offered to do our washing too for us and had thrown it all in the washing machine that morning. We were actually all feeling quite relaxed after the previous day’s stresses and the evening band performance, and it was nice just to take a moment for once and enjoy a chinwag with our breakfast. I even found time to set the Sat-nav for the day ahead with plenty of time.

Today we had just 4 piers to visit, which felt quite serene after visiting an average of 8 per day over the previous 4 days. However  we did have more distance to travel at 231 miles. Today we would be visiting Falmouth Pier, both the most southerly and westerly pier we would be visiting on our whole journey.

Thinking back, we all got a little too comfortable at breakfast and took our time but eventually we got our gear packed up in the buggies. Although there looked like there had been rain over night, the weather was now dry and quite warm. The forecast said it was likely to be a mix of sun and showers all day, so we decided to drive with the hoods off until such time the weather dictated otherwise.

Unfortunately, our washing was not dry by the time we came to leave so Mart agreed to catch up with us later in the day to pass on our clean clothes. So we said our goodbyes and gave a massive thank you to Mart and Al for putting us up for the night. We finally hit the road at 9:20am, which was some 50 minutes later than our scheduled start. My buggy still sounded like an old diesel powered tractor but I hoped Dave had managed to sort something out for me when we met up later on.

Our first stop of the day was at Teignmouth, 24 miles away, and after a slight detour through the country lanes we refuelled on the A3052 on the way towards Exeter. As they would say on the F1, we were now driving on a drying track although there was still a fair bit of water about from the rain during the night. We had a nice drive along the western banks of the River Exe, through Starcross , Dawlish and then on into Teignmouth.

PIER 48 - Teignmouth Grand

We arrived at our 48th pier at around 10:10am and on approach along the esplanade I saw a guy wearing a Pier Pressure t-shirt and waving madly. It turns out Jim from Absolute Graphics was on holiday down south and had come to see us before heading home. Jim and his crew had done all the Pier Pressure graphics on the buggies and it was great to see him out supporting us again.

The Grand Pier is a traditional looking seaside pier, built in 1865 to receive steamers for wealthy Victorians. The front pavilion was built around 1875 and was completely revamped in 2014 following severe damage by storms that year. If you look closely you can see the dates etched on the façade of the Pavilion. As with most pleasure piers of today the pavilion is now an amusement arcade and café.

Waiting for us at the Pier, and nicely saving us a parking space right outside were Dave and Liz in their Green Hustler GT buggy and some new faces - Phil and Ria Sanders in their Black JAS buggy. It was good to meet up with Dave again and even better to hear he had managed to track down some exhaust gaskets for me. Dave had arranged to collect them in Paignton from a local VW parts place and also offered me his garage at his home to replace them.

We took our now customary proof of visit picture before Alex headed off to touch pier as he had done with all the previous 47 piers.

We managed a quick chat with Jim, Dave and Phil, before saddling up and heading off following Dave towards the next pier at Torquay. Here we were meeting the mayor of Torquay and the local press on the pier, a meeting that had curiously been arranged by two separate people without the knowledge of the other. By all accounts the Mayor was a car nut and Dave had used his local contacts and friendship to get the Mayor involved.

Quite separately my ex-work colleague and ex-buggy owner John C had also used his contact through his current employer Torbay Council Highways Dept., to arrange for the mayor to visit us and to get the bollards on the footpath moved to allow us special access onto the pier. I had already contacted JC in the morning to let him know we were running about 45minutes behind schedule due to our lazy start that morning.

The 9 mile drive to Torquay was really pleasurable, and was a route George and myself had already driven a couple of years back when spending a few days down in Devon at Dave’s own buggy meeting. We drove through the Georgian town of Teignmouth, across the mouth of the River Teign on the Shaldon Bridge, through Babbacombe (famous for its model village) and on into Torquay centre

PIER 49 - Torquay Princess

True to his word, JC was waiting for us at the kerbside in Torquay with the key to drop the bollard and allow access to the pier area. We passed down between the Princess Theatre and the Pier Point Café and were met by the Mayor of Torquay and a local press photographer at the pier itself.

The Princess Pier forms one side of the harbour and is built as a steel framed structure with wooden deck boards over a concrete groyne (breakwater). There is no land end pavilion or amusements and the pier was refreshingly open. Althoug once used in Victorian times for docking steamers, nowdays It is used in the main for promenading, fishing and for small boats to moor against.

We parked on a nice promenade area at the shore end of the pier and set about having our pictures taken.

As we were having ‘proper’ press pictures taken we put up one of our Pier Pressure flag banners (we didn’t always put up the banners at each pier, as it depended on the crowds around, the space available and the weather). This almost turned out to be a disaster as over the course of the last half hour, black clouds had started to form and the wind had picked up considerably.

Whilst having the pictures with the mayor, a particularly strong gust of wind almost lifted the flag out of its stand and take myself, George and the 70 year old mayor with it. We only just managed to hold it for the picture before taking it down and packing it away before any damage could be caused.

It was also nice to see some of Ruth’s extended family at the pier who had come out to support us.

In the 1950’s some of Ruth’s mom’s family had moved to Paignton to open a guesthouse. Therefore Ruth had spent the first 25 years of her life having her summer holidays in Goodrington and Paignton visiting the family.

Today her mom’s cousins Margaret and Warwick, born and bred in Torquay, had come to say hello and make a nice donation.

Looking across the bay to Paignton the clouds looked ready to burst and not wanting to get too wet, George, Dave and myself decided to put our hoods up for the next leg of the journey, whilst Phil had no choice as he had no hood. Our next stop at Paignton was just a very short 3 mile spin along the English Riviera and less than 10 minutes later we pulled up at the wide grassed area next to the promenade, imaginatively called ‘The Green’.

The Green sits between the road and the promenade and on this particular weekend the area was covered by a large fair. This meant the access road through The Green was barriered off and therefore by default, so was the access to the pier. Thankfully, as Dave knew a few of the local Paignton Mafia, his dad was there to open up the barrier and allow us through to the pier frontage.

At this point we were still running around 45 minutes against the day’s planned schedule. The rain that threatened didn’t actually arrive at that point in the day, although it would find us later in a very big way.

PIER 50 - Paignton

Paignton Pier marked our half century of pier visits and was a very typically traditional English seaside pier. To the shore end there were retail buildings either side of the decking, with amusements and café. There were a number of smaller kiosks along the pier, a pavilion half way along and a fair on the end with a traditional Helter Sketler.

JC was on hand again with his set of step ladders to get some nice shots of the buggies and he also obliged us with taking our number shot too as well as a picture Alex with a long lost relative.

JC, being a semi-pro motor photographer then directed us to the side of the pier for some more arty shots. At this point Ruth took Alex up to the end of the pier for a ride on the Helter Skelter, as she had been promising him a go on a ride on a pier as soon as a suitable opportunity arouse.  She also managed to get a shot back across the pier from the top of the Helter Skelter and you can just see the buggies on the promenade if you look very closely, (just in front of the yellow roller caoster).

At this point we said our goodbyes to JC and it had been great to spend a few hours with my dear old friend today, as well as catching up with him the night before at the gig. We left the pier around 12:15pm, now just 35 minutes behind our pre-planned schedule. Today we had only travelled around 36 miles but had already visited 3 piers. We had just 1 pier left to visit, although over 190 miles still to drive before reaching our bed for the night and we were just about to put a load more delay into the day.

Dave only lives less than a mile from the pier and he had graciously offered me the use of his newly built garage to repair my missing exhaust gasket.

Dave led us to his place then headed off to collect the gaskets for me from a local spares shop, whilst I got straight into removing my number plate, rear cage and exhaust. Liz, Dave’s wife, was a fantastic host and not only made gallons of tea but offered up biscuits and cake too.

We can’t thank Liz and Dave enough for taking care of us and it simply reiterated how fantastic the whole beach buggy community were in supporting us through our Pier Pressure journey.

Just a week or two before we started our Pier Pressure journey, I had had to have my exhaust off and on numerous times and on advice I had fitted paper style exhaust gaskets. This was the first time in 25 years of buggy ownership that I had not used metal gaskets and therefore I should have known better. Why is this important? Well I only intended just to change the offending single gasket that had broke but as I took the exhaust off both gaskets at the front simply broke into lots of pieces. They were very brittle and to be honest, quite appalling quality things.

I therefore had to make the decision at this point to remove the rest of the exhaust and replace the other two exhaust gaskets at the back of the engine. This obviously took far longer to do and added in un-expected extra time into what I thought initially would be a quick repair. Thankfully Dave re-appeared with 4 standard metal type gaskets which had kindly been donated by the local spares shop, which was a brilliant and unexpected bonus.

Soon I had the exhaust back on, the cage re-attached and the number plate bolted up and on starting the engine it was nice to be able to hear myself think again. As I was just finishing up we had a call from Mart who we had stayed with the night before. He had our washed and dried laundry for us and a few minutes later he turned up as promised with our clothes. Thankfully, we would now have clean pants and t-shirts for the rest of the journey.

At this point we finally said goodbye to Ruben who had been with us now for 3 ½ days. He had provided great support, had helped entertain Alex and it was brilliant to have him share our experience across the south coast of England. Ruben was going to now spend a few days with Dave and see some more of Britain at a more serene pace, before heading back to the Netherlands.

We finally left Dave and Liz’s place around 1:45pm and were now running about 2 hours behind schedule. Our next destignation was the last pier for Day 9 at Falmouth. Falmouth was deep down south in furthest Cornwall and was 90 miles away. As the weather had picked up again we both decided to run with the roofs off for a while and see how it went.

Waving goodbye to Dave, Liz, Ruben, Phil and Ria we headed south west out of Paignton, crossed the River Dart at Totnes, and joined the A38 all the way to Plymouth, some 30 odd miles away. The weather had been patchy cloud but had remained dry until we were just on the downhill approach to the iconic Tamar Bridge at Plymouth when the heavens opened up. It went from dry to real heavy rain in seconds and we had no choice to sit it out as we crossed the magnificent suspension bridge across the Tamar.

Luckily we got some respite from the soaking as we entered the Saltash tunnel on the other side of the bridge and when we emerged the other end, the rain had abated so we soldiered on with the hoods off.

When planning Day 9 we were planned to be driving between Paignton and Falmouth around lunchtime. Searching on Google Maps, I had stumbled on a place called the Chequered Flag Café on the A38 just outside Liskeard. It had only been open a few months and as the name suggests it is a themed cafe, mainly centred around motorbikes but welcoming to cars too. Although we were 2 hours later than originally planned - it was now 3:00pm - we still decided to make the food stop and thankfully we made it there without getting wet again.

As we pulled up outside the cafe, the manageress came out and insisted on taking pictures of us with our buggies, making us stand on the winner’s rostrum which was built against the outside wall.

The inside of the café was brilliantly themed and even the shelves were held up with old pistons and the coat rack was made from scaffold tube. There were a few bikes on display, a TV area showing footage of old bike races, a small shop selling new and second hand bike leathers and of course a café.

It was nice to get a warm meal that didn’t involve chips or burgers, a nice chilli and rice in this case, complimented with a great cup of tea. The staff were very interested in our cars and our charity challenge, so they gave us a 20% discount on our food. After 45 minutes or so we dragged our weary arses out of the oil barrel chairs and got ready to drive on down to Falmouth, still some 45 miles further south west.

It was now getting on for 4:00pm and we still had 140+ miles to go today. As we drove off the manageress filmed us leaving and posted the footage on their Facebook page with a little write up about what we were doing too. All in all I can highly recommend the Chequered Flag café if you are ever that way.

The next part of the journey got very interesting in terms of the weather. Our original route would have seen us leave the A38 and travel more along the coast, through St Austell and onto Falmouth. However as we were well behind time we decided to stay on the A38 to Bodmin, then the A30 and A39 to Truro. Most of this was dual carriageway and we could stick at 55mph to try and make up time.

A few miles after leaving the café we travelled through two or three rain showers with the cloud looking progressively more and more black and threatening. However it was OK as those who have driven in an open top car before, if the rain isn’t too heavy and you keep your speed up you actually remain quite dry.  Then one particular shower got heavier and heavier until we were at that point when more water was running down the inside of our screens than the outside. It got to the point when George couldn’t see me in front due simply to the amount of water falling from the sky and the spray coming off my tyres.
I looked at the now water covered sat nav screen and saw a junction up ahead. The map looked like it was an underbeidge, where we could pull off the A30 and put our hoods on whilst sheltering below the dual carriageway. Unfortunately when we got there it was an overbridge junction, but having no choice as the rain was now very heavy, we simply had to pull off the dual carriageway and put our hoods on, exposed to all the elements on the slip road.

This is where I was envious of George and his one piece hood, which was on in seconds. My 4 piece hood is a right old faff and by the time I climbed back in the buggy I was properly wet through. Even my underpants were soaked. Lovely. We re-joined the A38 and there was no let up I the rain. The spray was intense and visibility was getting really bad. I hope I have painted the picture – it was proper peeing down.

I looked at my now water covered sat-nav screen and spotted a grade separated junction up ahead. The map looked like it was an under-bridge, where we could pull off the A38 and put our hoods on whilst sheltering below the dual carriageway. Unfortunately when we got there it was actually an over-bridge junction, but having no choice as the rain was now very very heavy, we simply had to pull off the dual carriageway, stop and put our hoods on, exposed to all the elements.

This was where I was envious of George and his one piece hood, which was on in seconds. My 4 piece hood is a right old faff and by the time I climbed back in the buggy I was properly wet through. Even my underpants were soaked.

We re-joined the A38 and there was no let up in the rain. The spray was intense and visibility was getting really bad. It was proper peeing down.

In my 25 years of buggying I can honestly say I have never driven a beach buggy in such heavy rain. It got to the point where my wipers, even on fast speed the screen was not clearing, even for a split second. For safety reasons I pulled off the A38 as soon as I could and as luck would have it, it was at a small service station. This was the first time I had ever stopped driving the buggy because of rain. George was so happy too, as I hadn’t realised he was having an even worse time trying to follow in the spray off my rear tyres.

We took shelter under the canopy of the petrol station and took the opportunity to fill up with fuel and pass some time. I also managed to try and dry myself in the loos and bought a kitchen roll to shove in the gap between my screen and my hood to stop the deluge pouring in when travelling above 40mph. We stopped as long as we could before slightly overstaying our welcome at the pumps and finally headed off towards Falmouth.

To be honest I didn’t capture any of this on my camera as we were simply too busy trying to survive and to dry out. Thankfully the rain had eased to just a downpour now and we felt more at ease driving again. Although I now had to contend with steaming up as the water started to evaporate off my clothes.

Any time we had hoped to make up by using the A roads had evaporated like the rain off my jeans, but as we hit Truro the rain began to ease significantly and by the time we reached Falmouth it had thankfully stopped. In fact the dry streets in town suggested that they had actually not suffered any rains at all that day.

We finally rolled into town at 17:30pm, just over 2 ¼ hours later than planned.  The town itself was a lovely Cornish town with tight narrow streets and we soon located the entrance to the pier, through the back of a bus stop layby. We were now than deep into Cornwall that we were only 35 miles from Lands End.

PIER 51 - Falmouth Prince of Wales

Falmouth Prince of Wales Pier (to give it its full title) is a relatively new pier, started in 1903 with the foundation stone being laid by the Prince of Wales – hence its name. The pier now serves as a boat launch to ferries across the bay and up the River Fal and a place to fish from. Unlike a lot of other piers, there are no amusements or pavilions although it does house a nice café and the tourist information centre at the land end.

We pulled up onto the start of the pier and were met by our long time friends Jackie, Richard and their son Matthew who now live in Gorran Haven just up the coast. They had been watching our progress on GLYMPSE, which meant they thankfully weren’t waiting for us for 2 hours.

We arranged the two buggies into the now customary Pier Pressure logo pose but before we took any photos I really needed to get changed. As mentioned earlier I was properly soaking wet through, so I grabbed a change of clothes and headed into the shopping area around the corner. Café Nero obliged with a toilet to change in and as Jackie had come with me (not into the toilets I must add) we grabbed a gaggle of takeout teas and coffees to take back for the weary travellers.

Then in the distance we hear the unmistakable sound of an air-cooled engine with cannons. Through the day I had been in contact with Richard H from Truro and had managed to give him an approximate time when we would be arriving at the pier. I had originally spoken with Richard earlier in the year when I provided a full wiring kit for his buggy and he had worked hard to get his buggy ready to come and join us on the Pier Pressure challenge.

I then got a call from Richard who was driving around the streets of Falmouth but couldn’t find the pier. I managed to somehow direct him and waved him into the bus stop access point as he came down the hill. Richard and his wife Claire were in their fresh out of the box bright green FF buggy. He had only got it on the road a couple of weeks earlier after finishing a really nice build. The colour was great too. We had a nice chat with Richard and Claire and got some additional pictures of the three buggies together.

All to soon it was time to go and say goodbye to our friends as the three buggies headed off back towards Truro and the A30. This was the point when we finally turned for home after 9 days of travelling. We were finally heading back eastbound and back up north, in the direction of home. We still had 2 days to do, but it felt good to be on the final part of our countrywide circle.

We still had 103 miles left to do and the time was now around 6:30pm. As soon as we left Falmouth a few spots of rain soon turned into persistent rain once more and at Truro Richard (without a hood) turned off for home. It was only a fleeting meeting but it was good to put another face to someone I had spoken to regularly by e-mail.

Due to the rain settling back in for the day and as we were now running over 2 hours behind, at this point we made the decision to forego our pre-planned route and take the easiest and quickest route on to our stop for the night at Barnstaple. We had originally planned to head up the north coast of Cornwall, stop for afternoon tea in Tintagel, pass through the lovely village of Boscastle, before heading all the way along the A39 into Barnstaple.

However we had just about had enough of getting wet, we were all feeling quite weary after 4 full on, non-stop days since the delays we had experienced in London and the super long day with late finish yesterday and we were now running very  late again today due to the repairs needed earlier.

Therefore we decided to change our route and take the dual carriageway A30 through the centre of Cornwall all the way to Oakhampton then head up the A386 towards Barnstaple. This way we could just sit at 50mph and get to the Travelodge hopefully at a semi-sensible time.

Somewhere on the way to Okehampton we took a break at a roadside petrol station  and took a 10 minute comfort break.

There is something intrinsically more tiring abut driving a buggy in persistent rain and wind, with the hood on. You just feel kind of damp all the time, the engine drone is amplified like a drum which does your head in and the wind means you are constantly being pushed across the road so you feel like you are sailing move than driving.

To be truthful we had had enough of driving today, all our enthusiasm had just about worn off and we just wanted to get finished for the day. This was perhaps the first time we had felt like this on the whole of trip so far. Whilst doing the long boring slog along the A30 I had the inspiration to get my 9 year old son on the whole social media side of things. Why it had took me 9 days to realise I could just dictate to him and he would happily post away on my phone, I’ll never know – doh!!.  Like most young kids, Alex loves all things electronic and it was a great way of keeping him busy, keeping our followers up to date and keeping me awake in the process.

By now we are all getting hungry and on the A386 in Meeth, George flashes me, did a quick u-turn and headed off in the opposite direction. It turns out he had spotted the Bull and Dragon country pub that offered great food (as they all say on their promotional boards outside). In fact in this instance the self-proclaimed propaganda was spot on at the meal was excellent in this 15th century thatched pub. We spent a nice hour or so in the pub and by the time we left it was now very dark and still very wet outside.

We were still 20 miles from the Travelodge and afterwards both George and myself agreed this was probably the single worst 20 miles of the whole 11 day journey. The dark, the rain, the tight and twisty country lanes coupled with extreme tiredness meant we both experienced almost hallucinogenic type moments with the headlights bouncing off the high hedges. At long last at around 10:45pm, we eventually pull up outside the Travelodge in Barnstaple, absolutely and totally knackered.

We checked in and headed off for our rooms. The day held one last surprise for us, but this time it was a welcome and amazing thoughtful surprise. Peter ‘Mario’ Whiteside, a life long friend of Lee at Volksmagic, was working for Travelodge at the time we were organising Pier Pressure. He had helped arrange all our Travelodge stops, using his family and friends discount to get us massive discounts on our overnight stays. This meant a few hundred more pounds made it into the charities collection pots.

Well Pete had taken it on himself to fill our room with loads of goodies for the rest of our trip. The table top was full of beer, wine, flowers (for Ruth), pastries, cookies and apple juice. How did I know it was Pete? Well he had left a nice note – ‘To Pier Pressure 2016, Keep up the good work folks. Amazing job x. Enjoy xx. Love Peter Whiteside’ and he had also posted a brilliant selfie on his facebook page and tagged me in.

Unbelievable and just what we needed to pick us up after a long and soggy day. Thanks Pete from the bottom our hearts.

We still managed to grab our customary late nigh cuppa before George headed off for his own room and the Chadwicks crashed out. Tomorrow would be our last pier visiting day and the official last day of our challenge.

We had now visited 51 piers in 9 days and travelled well over 2000 miles in the process. Just one final push and we would be there.

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