Ben Harris (bjh21) wrote,
Ben Harris

Six hundred miles in an aluminium box, part II

[ Posted now because I'd like to write a post about WGT ]

When we left our hero and its driver, they were in Wembury. After Christmas, of course, we had to get back to Cambridge. This first involved getting to Exeter. Normal people driving from Plymouth to Cambridge use the A38, so obviously that was out. I was tempted by the A379, which wends its way to Exeter via Slapton Sands, the Dartmouth upper ferry, the bridge at Teignmouth, and the middle of Kingsbridge and Dawlish. However, wiser counsel prevailed and I decided to go back across Dartmoor where there might be fewer traffic jams.

Dartmoor on a clear, dry winter's day is very different from the same place on a rainy night. Every small roadside car park had a few vehicles in it, and there were people scattered over the moor, I suspect recovering from Christmas with their several families. I had intended to stop at the Fox Tor Cafe in Princetown, but I was enjoying the drive too much to want to stop, and I carried on towards Exeter.

I only got slightly lost in Exeter and was soon trundling out along the Sidmouth Road. A sign bearing the magic words "P Free Toilets" tempted me to stop in Newton Poppleford for lunch. At Coryford, I was surprised to encounter a level crossing over an electrified railway. This was the Seaton Tramway, which I suspect has the only electrified level crossing in Devon.

As the road crested the hill to the west of Lyme Regis, a glorious view opened out along the coast ahead down towards Portland. Then the road dropped down into the town and I found myself picking my way through town-centre streets that really shouldn't be an A road. On the other side, I stopped off at Charmouth for some National Trust tea and a quick walk up a hill.

I finally left the coast road at Abbotsbury, heading up a narrow road that mh map showed as passing a monument. The monument turned out to be to Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Hardy, who perhaps unfortunately is most famous as the subject of Nelson's last words. The monument itself is nothing special, but the views from its base all the way to Portland and beyond are quite amazing.

From the Hardy Monument, I headed down towards Dorchester (narrowly missing Maiden Castle, as it turns out) and picked up the A354 towards Salisbury, where the map supplied by the Youth Hostel saved me from the confusion of the ring road and guided me to their gate without a wrong turn.

The next morning was cold and frosty, and a thick layer of frost covered PEH 578L. Despite a pretty decent battery, its starter motor was only able to turn the engine over very sluggishly, presumably because the oil had turned to treacle in the sump. After a few minutes' trying, I decided to leave it a while in case the weather warmed up a bit. There was, after all, a cathedral to visit.

After a chilly circumambulation of the cathedral, I returned to PEH 578L to find it not much warmer. I fiddled with its choke linkage, which seemed not to be fully closed, and added a bit of new and thinner oil. Then it was back to the starter motor. At first everything seemed the same (ruh, ruh, ruh). After a minute though, something fired (ruh, ruruh, ruh), and fired again (ruh, ruruh, ruh), and then a second cylinder joined in (ruh, rururuh, ruh). Finally, with all the cylinders firing (rurururuh) the engine finally started properly (rurururrrrrr!).

I set about scraping frost off PEH 578L's windows and mirrors while it filled the air with a dense white cloud. Even as I cleared the windows, they were starting to frost over again, so as soon as I could see roughly where I was going I set off cautiously down the drive. By the time I reached the ring road, PEH 578L's engine had warmed up enough that its heater was working and all the windows were perfectly clear.

To the north of Salisbury, past Stonehenge, lies Salisbury Plain. The eastern half of the Plain is used as the Larkhill Artillery Range, and across the middle of this range runs the old turnpike road between Salisbury and Devizes. Despite running through a firing range, this is still a public byway, and I hoped that just after Christmas would be a good time to find it open.

There were no red flags flying as I entered the range at the Bustard Inn. The road, while potholed, was fairly smooth and the mud seemed still to be mostly frozen, so I was able to make good progress. In the middle of the Larkhill Range there's a complex junction of tracks. I knew that I wanted to keep heading north, but there was a gate closed across that track, and a large sign telling me that if the gate was closed I should turn around and go back.

I pondered my situation. I knew that the status of various tracks across the range had changed recently, and also that my Ordnance Survey map didn't include the changes. I suspected that 3G coverage might not be good enough to look up Wiltshire's on-line definitive map. Given that, the only choice I could see was to obey the sign and go back to the south side of the range. As I set off, my path was crossed by a very muddy Discovery whose occupant waved cheerfully to me.

As I accelerated along the road to Larkhill, I came to engage PEH 578L's overdrive, only to find that it was already engaged. That, I supposed, would explain why it had felt sightly high-geared and slightly noisy while crossing (and recrossing) the range.

From Larkhill to Cambridge, the journey was long but uneventful. I stopped for lunch at a recreation ground in Wantage. Somewhere near Biggleswade I saw my first Cambridge Road and gave a small cheer. Shortly thereafter I turned onto the road that I knew would eventually become the A603. When I turned off that road again, I'd be in Cambridge.

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