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OLYMPIC TORCH: Early start on the very long and winding road to London

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: May 18, 2012

Torchbearers will be running through the streets of medieval Dunster under the shadow of the turrets of Dunster Castle on Monday afternoon. Right: Bea Holman-Brooks, 14, will be carrying the Torch through Knowle

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After a lively and joyous weekend which sees the Olympic Torch introduced to Britain with two days of travelling through the far South West, the real workaday business of zig-zagging 8,000 miles around the country begins…

Early on Monday May 21 the Olympic Torch Relay will begin a vast arcing curve west and north through Devon, before heading eastwards towards the rest of Britain via Exmoor and West Somerset – and in doing so its grand procession will take on a slightly less frenetic aspect compared to the great razzamatazz it'll have experienced since Saturday morning.

As one Devon town clerk told the Western Morning News: "It will be the start of the working week – although everyone loves the fact that the Olympic Flame is coming through and hundreds will be lining the streets, you probably won't find the big community parties being staged like they were in Cornwall and South Devon during the two previous days."

Added to this, the relay team will have to put a serious move on next Monday because they'll have a huge swathe of the Westcountry to cover that will take it along more than 140 miles of road.

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For a start the Olympic Torch will travel 26 miles west from Exeter to Okehampton, then proceed 28 miles up to Bideford, turning east to traverse 11 miles to Barnstaple, before setting off through Braunton to make its way 15 hilly miles to Ilfracombe.

This will be followed by 17 even more hilly miles from Ilfracombe to Lynton and Lynmouth – and an equally vertiginous 13 miles west again along the great Exmoor coastal ridge to Porlock. Then it's a quick six miles from Porlock to Minehead, followed by eight to Williton, rounded off by another 17 miles along the flanks of the Quantocks to Taunton.

The Flame's first real port of call on this busy day will be at Okehampton where runners will begin the route through town at Moorcroft Court. It will be then be carried down the Exeter Road, through East Street into Fore Street and into Market Street, before climbing Upcott Hill, to finally pass along Glendale Road to finish at the primary school.

"Quite a spectacle, I believe," said a spokesman for Okehampton Town Council. "I imagine the footpaths in town will be teeming with well wishers offering encouragement."

Around 300 young people from the Okehampton Otters Swimming and Lifesaving Club will be meeting the Torch as it passes through the town centre at 8.10am.

Okehampton College student Bea Holman-Brooks, 14, has been chosen to carry the Olympic Torch through Knowle in North Devon later in the day.

In January 2009 Bea was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia and underwent 28 months of chemotherapy and other treatments. But despite battling with her illness, Bea helped raise over £40,000 for CLIC Sargent children's cancer charity and also did promotional work for the National Blood Service.

Her mother, Helen, said: "She is an inspiration to us all."

Once clear of Okehampton the Flame will climb the low ridge of hills that will introduce it to the great sweeping vale of the River Torridge.

There's not much at the village of Folly Gate – in fact it only has a population 70 residents – but there is plenty of community spirit. And an early morning community breakfast will be served at The Crossways Inn in the centre of the hamlet as the Torch passes through to make its way to the ancient market town of Hatherleigh.

In a way it is a pity that the Olympic Relay isn't passing this busy community when Hatherleigh stages one of the best and most traditional markets to be found anywhere in the south of England – but it can be imagined organisers will be glad to avoid the resultant traffic chaos.

So instead of market-goers, it is Hatherleigh's primary school children who will be celebrating the Torch Relay team's passing by staging a series of Olympic challenges as well as displaying the school's own Olympic mascot.

Then the Flame wends itself north past the village of Monk Okehampton and through Merton to reach Great Torrington where it will scale the steep historic ridge to pass through the heart of town before issuing out onto the famous Commons area.

Now it's upstream along the winding Torridge again to Bideford where the Torch will be carried along the famous old quayside from the bottom of Devonshire Park, past the equally famous multi-arched bridge to Pill Road, veering inland to Kinglsey Road before rejoining its motorcade at the bottom of Orchard Hill.

The Olympic Torch Relay now returns to its motorcade to cross the Torridge and strike east into the heart of North Devon district. North Devon Council officers, along with a small army of volunteer stewards from local parishes along the route, have been recruited to manage the crowds that are expected to gather in each town and village to watch the Torch Relay.

"There will be rolling road closures along the route approximately 30 minutes in advance of the Torch," said a spokesman. "However, the roads along some sections of the route will be closed for some time before the Torch arrives for safety reasons."

In Barnstaple, the road from Long Bridge to Taw Vale will be closed from 10am until midday to pedestrianise The Square in preparation for the 3,000 schoolchildren expected to view the arrival of the Torch on The Strand.

"With The Strand designated for children, spectators in Barnstaple are therefore being encouraged to head to Sticklepath Hill, North Walk or Rolle Street for a glimpse of the Torch and to cheer on the Torchbearers," said executive member for culture, Derrick Spear.

"We want as many people as possible to line the streets and cheer on the Torchbearers as they carry the Olympic Flame through North Devon. So local residents need to plan where they intend to watch the Torch and avoid those places that have been allocated to schools."

For more information about the route through North Devon, including a map with arrival times and on which streets the Torch will be visible, visit www.northdevon. gov.uk/london2012.

Various events will be taking place in the North Devon towns and villages, but as this is a school and working day there won't be quite the fuss made on high days and holidays.

However, no one could argue that Combe Martin fails to embrace big occasions with lengthy gusto. In 2002 the Guinness Book of Records recognised Combe Martin as the holder of the longest street party in the UK – the event took place during the Queen's Jubilee Celebrations in that year and stretched over 1½ miles.

The party consisted of some 700 tables with bands, bouncy castles and between 5,000 and 8,000 visitors. Presumably they won't be doing it again to mark the passing of the Olympic Flame – it would never get to Taunton and there's a long way to go.

And that means another climb… this time all the way to Blackmore Gate, then east past the picturesque village of Parracombe to eventually descend to Lynton and Lynmouth. As they run through the twin-communities the Olympic Torchbearers might muse upon the fact that the place has witnessed both life-crushing disaster and life-saving courage and fortitude.

The community's darkest hour occurred on August 15, 1952, when more than 90 million tons of water cascaded down the steep narrow valleys towards the small harbour village causing death and devastation as it went. In all, 34 people lost their lives in what has become known as the Lynmouth Flood Disaster.

Next Monday all such memories will fade as the twin-communities enjoy celebrations planned for the Olympic occasion. Three local primary schools will be attending the Olympic Flame festivities and many of the streets will be specially decorated for the occasion.

Now the Flame must begin its climb up Countisbury Hill – arguably the single steepest and longest ascent it will have to make in the entire Westcountry, if not in all of England.

In two short but incredibly scenic miles the A39 climbs over 1,400 feet from sea level and in doing so those following the Torch might be tempted to muse upon one of the region's greatest ever journeys. It's known as the "overland rescue" and marks the occasion in 1899 when the Lynmouth lifeboat was hauled along this altitudinous route on a 13 mile journey in a successful attempt to save a stricken vessel in Porlock Bay.

Such a stirring tale deserves a stirring community – and Porlock could certainly be described as such a place. It is a village that always rises to the occasion, no matter what's in the public offing – and the passing of the Olympic Flame is easily enough to get parishioners planning ahead.

"Of course we are celebrating," said Denise Lyons, who is a leading light at the village's busy and active tourist information centre. "We are asking the whole village to dress in red, white and blue for the occasion and to follow the Torch through the village. Then we'll be having a big get together in the church gardens."

Next comes Minehead six miles to the east where the Olympic Torch will detour down in to town, passing along The Parks to reach The Parade where it will turn right in to Friday Street in order to exit along Townsend Road.

The station that terminates Britain's longest privately run steam railway belches charm, smoke and steam at Minehead – and, if they had a mind, the Olympic Torch Relay team could catch one of the services east all the way to Bishops Lydeard, just a couple of miles outside Taunton.

But instead they'll travel along the A39, making a detour with Torchbearers up through medieval Dunster, before runners make their through both Carhampton and Washford. At the busy village of Williton Torchbearers will also be running through the centre and up Tower Hill while the community stages a street art exhibition along with other celebrations.

The Olympic Torch must now head south away from the Bristol Channel to begin an inland route along the western flanks of the Quantock Hills which will take it to Somerset's county town.

Taunton is where the Olympic Flame will spend its fourth night in the UK – or the third on the grand relay tour – not that there will be much sleeping going on until the early hours even if the Torch has travelled the best part of 150 arduous miles in a day.

A spokesman for Taunton Deane Council said: "We are hosting a big evening of celebration at Somerset Cricket Club's County Ground for about 6,000 people. But added to that there will be plenty of other things going on – the streets will be dressed with official bunting and so on – and in the day there will be a procession of hundreds of local children. Other events are being planned as well."

Among the people chosen to carry the Torch as it makes its way through town is Judy Gaden, who has worked tirelessly for Armed Forces and community charities since she lost her son Tom when he was on active duty with 1st Battalion The Rifles in Afghanistan.

Starting at about 6pm the Torch will be carried from Heron Drive along Wellington New Road, Wellington Road, Park Street, Corporation Street, North Street, The Bridge, Station Road, Priory Bridge Road to Dellers Wharf and then along the tow path to Somerset Square before entering the County Ground at 6.50pm.

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  • Frantastic007  |  May 21 2012, 2:45PM

    David Middleton also carried the Olympic torch through Knowle, but his name has not been typed up on this website. His family, friends, him and myself are truly upsett about this.

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  • LordorNothing  |  May 18 2012, 5:39PM

    well, all im gonna say is the militants of plymuff are preparing for its reception!

  • MPstink1  |  May 18 2012, 4:25PM

    What a load of bullsh**.......

    |   -3
  • MarkyND  |  May 18 2012, 4:15PM

    The plane carrying the flame has taken off and is on it's way to Culdrose! Watching live here... http://tinyurl.com/78leace

    |   2