Maybe it was the wrong decision. After all, it was almost midday by the time I set off, but something told me I had to. The sun had finally peered out from behind the clouds on a day I was off work, and just because I hadn’t gotten out of bed very early didn’t mean I had to waste it.
I could just have gone somewhere more locally, but honestly I’m sick of that rubbish. I wanted some adventure again, something to push me out of the norm, to go somewhere I haven’t been before. If I couldn’t go on real adventure, I’d damn well go on a microadventure.
Now that, dear readers, is not a term I’ve just plucked out of my arse, but an already coined, real, existing word. Not of my own making, either. As far as I’m aware it originated with Alastair Humphreys, a man who talks about adventuring in the 5-9. As in those sixteen hours a day you’re (probably) not at work. I read his book on microadventures (or parts of it at least) a few years ago, but it’s never more at the forefront of my mind more than when I’m feeling most downbeat about what I’ve accomplished recently. There’s something to be said for the man that creates adventure of his own, rather than follows the preset.
Hence, I decided that yes, I could be that man. That hero. That possible idiot. Because my microadventure involved me racing to the town of South Molton, through 17 miles of unknown roads and mud tracks, in only five hours – I needed to be there by 5PM at the latest. Oh, and sunset on this very winter’s day? Fifty minutes before those five hours were up.
Seventeen miles you hear? Bah, that’s nothing. Barely over three miles an hour! True and true again, but it’s easier when you don’t stop to take photos. And when you’ve actually done a decent amount of walking recently. Which I haven’t. And when you know where you’re going. That’s a big one! But enough of all that – I’m getting distracted and I should get to it. Read on, and I promise this speediest of microadventures will be at least marginally more of an adventure that you are expecting.
A Microadventure Begins
T’was 11.50 when I set off. Almost time for lunch, I thought, and I was hungry indeed. Food though, was for people with far more time than me. And the dead. You know, time and all that. I set off from my home in a currently unnamed (but totally identifiable if you look this route up on a map) village in North Devon toward Riddlecombe, one of five markers I had quickly drilled into my head. This first part was almost a jaunt. A jaunt at pace, admittedly, but a jaunt nonetheless.
But damn, Devon, I thought. Why the high hedges? There I was, sun shining down, keeping me warm enough without a coat on what was a cold December day, casting a beautiful glow over the countryside that extended for miles around. One problem – I couldn’t see any of it! Devon operates on a strange policy of “let’s line every road with these hedges to be as high as humanly possible”, so unless you’re ten feet tall, on the top deck of a bus, or sat in your combine harvester, there’s nothing to see. I don’t know how they didn’t think of all these problems for me when they designed these roads – it’s just selfish, really.
Soon enough I had reached Riddlecombe, and to great fanfare. Oh wait, nope, just a lady who seemed worried to get out of her car while I was anywhere near, and glared at me as I glanced back at her from further up the road. Riddlecombe seemed that sort of place. Silent, creepy, probably full of people who eat accidental trespassers for dinner. You know the kind. Indeed, one of the houses even had a disturbing wire fence around the garden to combine with it’s “Trespassers Will Not Be Treated Nicely” (I may have amended the graphic language slightly) signs as a ward to intruders. Consider me warned.
I skipped out of Riddlecombe down a small lane at the end of the hamlet, pleased at least that I’d completed my first leg with time to spare. It wouldn’t last. I encountered my first problem here. It was…
…wait for it…
…a puddle of water.
A real microadventure truly would not be complete without one of these, incredibly difficult to pass, obstacles. They’re the sort of thing that Bear Grylls struggles with every day, and Ray Mears, hah! He’s unlikely to solve such a complex puzzle. If I can stop taking the piss for a moment though, there were genuine problems to consider. One; it spanned the whole of the road, and was quite deep. Two; my shoes were not waterproof in the slightest. I don’t really enjoy having wet shoes, and I definitely didn’t want to walk past the scary looking lady again, so I picked option three. Use the thorny hedge on the side to traverse the puddle. It hurt.
Successfully navigated, I charged down the hill only to be stopped by the second obstacle on this leg of the journey. The forestry commission. They were doing some chainsawing, and a professional looking piece of plastic barred the 100 foot stretch to the next road. They might have wanted to mention this at the top of the hill! Remember how long it took me to talk about that puddle? Yeah, well I wasn’t going through that again. I hopped it, successfully avoided being chainsawed in half, and managed to get to the road. Phew.
Having said that, maybe I should have turned back. As I got back on the path again, a third (it’s seriously like the three trials!) obstacle became clear. One that I might have wanted to think about before. When a road gets wet, puddles tend to be created. When a path, on the other hand, gets wet, it turns into a bog. Well, the path was wet. Very wet. For quite a long stretch. And, try as I might, delicately hopping from one slightly more solid piece of mud to another, by the end my shoes were very wet too.
By the time I reached Burrington I was hungry, behind time and had very sodden feet. It was time to feel very sorry for myself.
I pushed on though, heroically. I’d set myself a task and no-one had believed I was going to go through with it, so dammit I would! For speed, now I had to stick to the roads and avoid the trails. Even then, it was going to be a fine cut thing as to whether I could get to South Molton in time.
Fortunately, to keep morale up, I soon caught my first glimpses of Exmoor. Hidden behind the tall hedges, it was a while before I got the chance to see it, but occasionally a gate would appear. With it, in the distance, the looming figure of the moor, covered in the snow that had recently settled on much of the country (aside from most of Devon, of course!). These views were fleeting, and I was soon on my way downhill once more, ready to cross the most significant natural barrier on my walk. That which slices through the North Devon countryside on its way to Barnstaple. The river Taw.
I say significant natural barrier; that may be a bit of an exaggeration – we have bridges for these river things now!
However, this was the point where I started to feel it. A soreness in the calves wasn’t really an issue, but the pull on my hamstrings really spelt out to me that this was the first time I’d gone on a decent walk in months, and that it was a pace that didn’t come entirely naturally for me. A kindly man and his wife pulled over to see if I wanted a lift, but I declined, pride still firm. An hour later and I might have accepted.
At about quarter past three I arrived in Kings Nympton, leg three of my journey complete. There was a bit more life here than the other two villages; primary school kids were chatting along to each other and their teacher as they stood outside the school, and a few people even graced the streets with a presence that made the village feel positively warm in comparison. There was no time to wait though – it really was a race against time now. I was still behind the schedule of arriving in South Molton by 5PM, and worse, the sun was rapidly setting.
Each step now became more of an effort, and my attempts to find a patch of sun to stop and change my sodden socks were thwarted by a mix of the peaks and troughs of the Devon farmland, and the low winter sun. Eventually I called time on it. Sun or not, I would have warm feet. And something to eat. That’s not asking too much, right? At least I picked a good spot; the first view of South Molton. If I could see it, I could get there. Probably.
Luckily, the path was mostly downhill from here. I’d like to emphasise mostly, because I don’t want it to sound too easy. More emphasis on the achievement, please! As the sun disappeared altogether I wrapped up, a guise only complete after donning my awesome Bolivian llama hat with dangly tassels (a cool look if I ever saw one), and plodded on. I plodded past streams, I plodded through the creepy twilight hamlet of George Nympton, and eventually, I plodded past the sign to signify entry to South Molton.
As I strode/hobbled down the street toward the centre, I spotted an old lady up ahead. A fire inside ignited – she was a slow walker, for sure, and steadily I was catching up. Here, I could recover some pride. Here, I could finally beat someone. Here, I could turn around and yell “HAH!” into an unsuspecting lady’s face. Then she turned and entered a shop, and my hopes, so close they might have been, were dashed.
What was not to be, was not to be. More importantly, I did make it to the centre, where my only prospect of a lift back home would be. I’d known the whole way that if I was late I would be stranded. There was little chance of my would be driver waiting for me. After all the palaver, all the rush and all that pain (tomorrow), did I make it?
Checking the time of the first photo taken there on my camera – not just a photo taking device, but apparently a timepiece as well – gives a clear picture (pun not intended) of when I arrived.