Friday, 18 August, 2017: Land's End to Kimbolton

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John Chivers' Zero DSR electric motorcycle at Weavers B&B, Trevescan, on morning of departure.

Following a quick, light breakfast, I was waved off on my way from Weavers B&B at 07:16 by Bob. Leaving the gravel of the B&B for the tarmac, I had a brief thought of what the journey ahead might hold and considered the relative enormity of the trip, in UK terms at least: not so much from the perspective of riding an electric motorcycle, but just the distance involved, and I had a few of those mental images flash across my brain as to how I imagined sections of the upcoming journey might be.

I arrived at the Land’s End Visitor Centre at 07:30 and, as anticipated, the place appeared to be completely deserted. I rode slowly through the gates to the car park, in case I had missed someone manning the entrance to the car park, but could see that the ticket booth was closed, so, satisfied that I wasn’t going to be shouted after by any angry staff, I continued around the side of the visitor centre and rode down to the famous signpost location.

As I approached, two things struck me: firstly, how quiet it was, there being just a solitary woman taking photos out towards sea, and secondly that there was clearly a lot of rain in the distance over the sea.

I approached the woman slowly, hoping that she wouldn’t be startled by the relative silence of the motorbike. As I drew near she turned around and I called out a friendly “Morning!” to reassure her that I wasn’t a nutter. I quickly followed up with the request

“Could I ask you a massive favour?”

Without hesitation, she responded, having already anticipated my question.

“Absolutely, I can do it! Are you going to John o’Groats?”
“I am, yeah.”
“Well, we’ll see you there then. My husband’s just set off on his bicycle.”

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John Chivers and his Zero DSR electric motorcycle at Land's End. Official moment of departure.

The woman in question, Louise Thompson, was very cheerful and seemed interested that it was the first time the journey had been done on electric motorcycle, but most significantly from my perspective, she managed to capture some wonderful photos using my camera for the start of my journey. Had she not been there, I would have been wrestling with my Miggo flexible tripod, trying to capture some good photos, and most certainly wouldn’t have composed as good photos as she managed, so my great thanks are extended to Louise for capturing those photos.

At the same time, I must confess that I was struck and just a little embarrassed by the relative ease of my impending, albeit long journey, when compared with that of someone making the journey under their own power, whether by bicycle, tricycle, skateboard, or any other manpowered contrivance, or indeed on their own two feet.

I thanked Louise as she headed off, put my stuff away, my rucksack on, and got back on the bike, checking that the video camera mounted to the handlebars was still filming, and started to head off, but as I turned the bike around, noticed a rainbow out at sea. Thinking this made a nice photo, I retrieved my phone and quickly grabbed a photo before I finally set off on the start of the journey proper at 07:45.

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Land's End. Official moment of departure.

Since I had set off, the sky had clouded over some more and I could see that I was heading along wet roads into what looked like some pretty heavy rain. As I arrived on the outskirts of Penzance, a mere 15 minutes into my journey, I could see the heavy, dark, menacing sky ahead meant business, and decided it was the right time to put on my waterproofs. I was only slightly too late, and suffered the panic every biker will know of frantically scrambling against oncoming deluges to cover up sufficiently quickly. Having done so, I remounted the bike, set off again and was soon heading north east on an initially rather wet A30, which is the main dual carriageway and route linking Cornwall with the main road network of the UK.

I veered off the A30, rather pointlessly, initially, to go through Bodmin, but it was the route I had planned, was more direct than the dual carriageway, and provided some respite from the dual carriageway. Then returned on the other side of Bodmin to the A30, before once again leaving it around 13 miles before Okehampton for a more direct, cross-country route to my first charge stop.

I had planned the first stop through a website called Plugshare. Plugshare is one of several Web-based or mobile app-based resources which list electric vehicle charge points or more commonly display them on a map. I had seen that there was a B&B, Upcott House in Okehampton, which had a type two car charge point and had arranged to make my first stop there.

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Upcott House, Okehampton.

Pulling into Upcott House at 10:30, I was struck by the splendour of the place. As I rode the bike down the driveway, I noticed the charge point under a kind of car port, so parked the bike there, then got off and rang the doorbell.

The door was answered by Kay Bickley, who, with her husband John, own and run the award-winning B&B. Initially, Kay was somewhat surprised by my arrival and said that she had expected me a few days before. I put this down to a miscommunication between me and her son with whom I had spoken when arranging the stop, but in any case, she assured me that it made no difference and that I was welcome to charge the bike.

While the bike charged, I chatted with Kay and John about their rather impressive set-up at Upcott House, which has seen the beautiful, but costly-to-run old building transformed into a veritable showcase of eco technology.

Kay showed me around the eco tech they have installed, which includes biomass heating, an air source heat pump, solar PV panels.

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Battery storage and charger/inverters at Upcott House, Okehampton.

They have received numerous awards in the process for their efforts. More significantly, their ongoing energy bills have been reduced drastically. And of course, they drive a Nissan LEAF electric car and offer the charge point to other EV owners: indeed, it was the first public EV charge point in Devon.

We chatted about EVs; green tech more generally; my journey; their careers, both having moved from high-pressure jobs in London to running a B&B in Devon to escape the rat race; and their activities in helping out homeless people. Kay was former mayor of Okehampton and town councillor and still serves as a magistrate. At the time of my visit they were in the process of converting some of the rooms into retirement flats.

She offered me drinks and refused any payment, which was a very kind gesture, along with the free charge. Finally, after a longer-than-planned visit, simply down to socialising, rather than charging time, I set off again at 14:10 on the next leg of the day’s journey.

Following the B3215 to Bow and, the A377 to Crediton, then the A3072 and the A396 up to Tiverton, I was blessed with dry roads and sunny weather, and the roads were a joy to ride, allowing for some gentle progress and nice overtaking opportunities.

My route from Tiverton took me on a direct line across countryside through the villages of Uplowman, Whitnage, and Pitt, riding mainly dry, but occasionally wet and muddy, typically narrow Devon roads. These roads required cautious and smooth riding, which, while prolonging the journey, meant my power requirements were kept low. Leaving Devon, I joined the A38 in Somerset and continued my journey up through Wellington, from which the first Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley, got his title, and on to Taunton.

The stretch between Wellington and Taunton included a lot of crawling traffic, it being close to 16:00 on a Friday afternoon.

From Taunton, I initially took the A3259 and then rejoined the A38, riding in close proximity to the M5 motorway to Bridgwater, where I had my one and only altercation with another road user on the trip. As was the case between Wellington and Taunton, the traffic approaching Bridgwater was crawling and stationary for quite a stretch before the town itself.

One very big benefit of riding a motorbike is the ability to filter around slow or queuing traffic. Contrary to the belief of some road users, this is perfectly legal and indeed promotes better movement of traffic for all road users. It does, however, require a great deal of alertness and is to be avoided at certain danger points, but there are stretches where some considerable progress can be made without hindering any other road users.

On the approach to Bridgwater, traffic was queued along my side of the road, so I took the opportunity to filter along stretches where this was possible. In one particular part, there was a gradual bend in the road in the distance to the left and a bus on my left side, so I adopted a position to the right of the other side of the road both to extend my view and to keep a safe distance from the bus on my left side. This is by far the safest place to be in that situation.

However, a distant car, approaching on the other side of the road clearly took umbrage at my positioning and flashed his headlights at me at a considerable distance, while I was moving back to the left side of the road, plainly under the rather odd impression that I planned to ride into the front of his vehicle, or more likely unaware that what I was doing was not only perfectly legal, but indeed safe.

In any case, as he passed, he thought fit to gesticulate in a rather ungentlemanly matter. I let it pass and carried on my way… always the best thing to do.

Once clear of Bridgwater, I had a fairly clear run to my second charge stop of the day. As the Mendips came into view, the weather stayed reasonable, conditions remained dry, if somewhat cloudy, and I continued along the A38 up to the Sidcot Arms in Winscombe: a Brewers Fayre pub, arriving at 17:15.

After some initial discussions with one of the staff, who recalled the conversation about me charging, there was some deliberation and confusion as to how this could be achieved. However, after a few minutes, I managed to find a convenient double socket in a smaller dining area, off the main restaurant, which was nice and quiet and offered a means for me to charge the bike if I positioned it in front of the window outside and routed the cables through the window.

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John Chivers' Zero DSR electric motorcycle charging at Sidcot Arms, Winscombe.

For the first time on the trip, I retrieved the two, standard two-way extension leads I had brought with me and routed them through the window to the power sockets. I was then able to plug the two external Quiq chargers into one of the two-way extension leads and the internal bike charger into the other, ensuring that the electrical power pull on an individual socket would not be too much. I concede that this method of charging was less convenient than using the simpler method I had used at my first stop, but it did mean that I could charge anywhere I had access to two standard domestic sockets.

Around 20 minutes after arriving, I managed to get the bike charging. While the bike charged, I decided to charge myself and ordered a meal to eat, as the restaurant started to get busier. I amused myself for a while on social media and ordered a couple of drinks to pass the time. Given the nature of the pub, it was less of a situation where you could strike up conversations with people easily, so I kept pretty much to myself, save a conversation I had shortly before leaving with a Scottish biker from Caithness.

I had arrived in Winscombe with an impressive 35% battery remaining, having travelled 77 miles since my previous stop, so knew that my charge time would be decreased somewhat. Sure enough, at 19:50 I was ready to continue, and, having packed away the cables and thanked the staff, I headed off on the third and final stint of the day’s journey.

Starting back on the A38, I stayed on the road for only another 2.5 miles, before I veered off once more onto smaller lanes through the pretty village of Churchill, then, as the light started to fade into dusk, I rode on through Congresbury, where the roads showed signs of recent rain once again. From there, I went on through Yatton, where I stopped briefly in a failed attempt to phone ahead to my planned overnight stop to give an estimated time of arrival. In the event, I couldn’t get through on the phone, so gave up and decided to press ahead. As well as the light fading, the wind had got up quite considerably and low cloud was being pushed along at some clear speed.

I had heard that we might be subjected to the outer effects of what had been Hurricane Brian, and this did indeed seem to be the case.

From Yatton, I headed through Kenn, before I joined the M5 northbound at junction 20 near Clevedon. With the strong wind, I kept to the first lane and kept my speed down to around 50, remaining in the nearside lane. Once clear of that section of the M5 where the northbound and southbound carriageways are on two different levels, I was exposed to the wind across the Severn.

I left the motorway at junction 18, heading around the industrial areas in what were now very dark, oppressive skies, to pick up the Severn Bridge (A48) across into Wales. Being on a motorbike, there was no toll fee to cross the bridge, but the winds were quite a force to contend with and again, I kept my speed down and hunkered down as best I could to keep stable.

Once in Wales, I headed north into the Wye Valley, along the ordinarily pleasant A466. Sadly, under these conditions, I can’t say it was all that enjoyable. I had to keep my wits about me. It was a very dark road, the weather was menacing, and given the almost complete darkness, I discovered properly for the first time how truly inadequate the stock headlamp on the Zero DSR is.

Passing Tintern Abbey, I turned off the main road and onto Trelleck Road, which in turn became the Llandogo Road. This was a single track, woodland road, which took on a particularly menacing character in the dark and wind with such a poor headlight, to the extent that I was pleased to reach the village of Trellech (also spelt Trelleck, Treleck, Trelech, or Tryleg: a few of apparently 26 known spellings of the village name). Once one of the largest towns in Wales in the 13th century, it is now a small, picturesque village: not that I could appreciate it under the conditions.

I was glad when I reached the bright lights of Monmouth just after 21:30, where I pulled over and this time was successful in contacting my destination for the night, giving a rough estimate of my arrival time.

From Monmouth, it was a relatively straightforward ride on the A466, then the A49 back into England to Hereford, the last of the town traffic for the day, and on to Leominster.

Just outside Leominster, I turned off the A49 to Kimbolton, where I arrived at my accommodation for the night: Grove Farm B&B, based at a working farm, at 22:30 and with 10% left on the battery.

I was met by owner, Fiona Bunting. Fiona guided me in the dark through a gate and up to a stable, where the bike was due to be housed, or indeed stabled for the night.

There was a small step up into the stable which required gentle power to get in and Fiona assisted with a gentle push. As the bike had overnight to charge, a handy power socket allowed me to plug in the single lead from the socket to the bike’s onboard charger, so setting the bike charging was simple.

Having confirmed that the bike was charging, I was shown my accommodation by Fiona, who enquired about my leaving time plans. She seemed disturbed initially that I wanted to leave early, but when I reassured her that I didn’t want a cooked breakfast, she was more relaxed, showed me where items were located and left me to it.

I thanked Fiona, bade her goodnight, showered, copied the day’s footage from the video camera onto portable hard drive, relaxed for a few minutes, then got a welcome good night’s sleep.


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