Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Jim gets some exercise in Cornwall and Dartmoor

For the last nine months Jim has been acting as little more than a glorified spare room. He’s proved useful on multiple occasions, but you don’t need 230 horsepower in a garden guest room, and so both he and I have been a little frustrated. Thankfully I had a couple of opportunities to give him some exercise recently.

The first jaunt was a trip down the M3 to Winchester for a last minute trip to the Boomtown Fair music festival. I was working at the festival and consequently was allocated a space in the crew camping field. Most of the crew had been on the site for several days, if not weeks, and so when I arrived on the day the festival started, there were few spaces left in the field. This normally would not have been a problem, but the last remaining spaces were at the top of the field, which required me to navigate a steep slope that had been left muddy and slick after a day of heavy rain. I should have known I’d have problems, as before I’d locked the rear diff, I’d been sliding around the muddy access track down to the security gate the moment I’d left the tarmac.

On the first attempt to ascend the slope, I crawled up with the rear diff locked and made it less than half way up before motion stopped and the tyres began to chew up the field. I then tried a second time with a short run up, and made significantly more progress. On the third attempt I thought that I’d made it to the top, and slowed down to look about for a space, when I tried to pull forward I realised that my jubilation had been premature as my wheels span uselessly in the mud again. I was reversing back down the slope for a fourth attempt, when Jim began to slide sideways off the path, into a pristine VW camper parked adjacently. I managed to bring him under control but it was at this point that I realised that hooning an 18 tonne truck around a muddy field surrounded by drunk revellers and expensive motorhomes was potentially perilous, and looked for an alternative space to park where I wouldn't block access.

My options were limited as I couldn’t drive more than 10m forwards or backwards before hitting a slope and losing traction. There was one lane with space at the end but the slope was even steeper than that I’d got stuck on. Thankfully this path still had grass on it as it hadn’t been chewed up by spinning wheels, and so it provided sufficient traction to allow me to make it safely to the top without ruining anyone's pride and joy. The main issue with the spot I’d made it to, was that it would mean being parked at an absurd angle for the next few days.

I’ve parked Jim at some wild angles before, but this was certainly the most extreme. The shower tray overflowed before the water reached the plug hole, the kettle slid off the hob and needed to be held in position, and I woke up each morning pressed into the wall of the bedroom. Nevertheless I slept well and enjoyed the comfort of a good bed, and a hot shower and cooked breakfast each morning. By the time I came to leave the festival, the site had dried out, and Jim drove out of the field without hesitation.

The next week, Jim, got a second outing, this time all the way down to Looe in Cornwall. If I’d had more than four days off work, I would have preferred to have taken the A303 to Exeter; partly because it shares its name with the classic Roland synth that spawned acid techno, and partly because it takes you through some beautiful parts of the country. Instead, we took the boring trudge of the M4 and M5, passing such national treasures as Reading and Swindon. The drive was straightforward and reasonably fast, although it’s these long motorway jaunts which make me wonder whether something faster and more efficient than an 18 tonner might be more sensible.

The A38 from Exeter going west was easy going, and it wasn't until we turned off onto the smaller roads to Looe that things started to get interesting. I take a kind of morbid pleasure in taking a totally unsuited vehicle to places I really shouldn't, and I can’t deny the enjoyment I got from crawling along the steep and narrow Cornish back roads at 20mph, with a tail of frustrated tourist behind me. There were a couple of grades that had us down to second gear, and there was more than one occasion where I saw a look of undisguised fear on the face of a driver having flown around a corner to be confronted by Jim. The weather had got progressively worse as we headed west, and by the time we arrived at West Wayland Caravan Park we were firmly inside a cloud.

The next few days were spent drinking heavily to celebrate a friend’s wedding, interspersed with coastal walks and trips to continue drinking at Looe and Polperro.

The decision to take Jim, and not to camp in a tent turned out to be a wise one, and whilst other guests endured their hangovers confined to a sodden tent whilst the torrential rain continued outside, we enjoyed a warm, dry bed, and loud jungle music. After four nights at West Wayland, we abandoned the waterlogged field, and after a day spent at the Eden Project, we headed for an overnight stop in Dartmoor.

I sometimes wonder whether I might have been better off as a hermit, as I enjoy nothing more than taking myself to the most remote places I can find. The further from civilisation the better, and I not truly happy with a view unless there is not a single sign of human activity to be seen. It is rare to find such a place in the densely populated south of England, but Dartmoor is certainly one of those places, and as soon as we’d joined the B3212 heading west from Yelverton we were surrounded by rugged hills and stony tors. We stopped for quick climb to admire the view from the top of Sharpitor, before heading onwards to Princetown.

We spent the night in the campsite of the Plume of Feathers Inn, and enjoyed great beer and great pies in the pub. In the morning we took a seven mile walk on the moor, taking us past South Hessary Tor, through the historic tin mine of Whiteworks, across the fast flowing Strane River, past the Fox Tor Mire, and back to Princetown down a path built by conscientious objectors in during world war one. After another great lunch in the pub we hit the road again. Driving across Dartmoor in a heavy truck can be slow going on the smaller roads, but the scenery is stunning throughout the park and I didn’t regret our decision to continue east on the B3212.

Sadly I had to be at work the following morning, and so the rest of the day was spent retracing our route down the M5 and M4. We returned to London that evening, with an empty fuel tank but a more content Jim. I've no idea when Jim will get his next outing, but it was great to finally use him for what he does best, and see a part of the UK I've never explored before.

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