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Rob Leslie takes a cycle ride to Chudleigh Fort

By North Devon Journal  |  Posted: April 04, 2013

  • SPECTACULAR: Views from Chudleigh Fort. Pictures: Mike Southon. To order these photographs call 0844 4060 269 and quote Ref: BNMS20130328A-001_C (left); BNMS20130328A-011_C( above)

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Chudleigh Fort? Where's that? Cycling enthusiast Rob Leslie takes a mystery history detour to discover one of the area's best kept secrets.

TO reach what must be Bideford's best kept secret located less than a mile away from the busy quay, I indulge in the scenic route with Scuderia Cycles shop owner Malcom Butler via Appledore and Westward Ho! Both out of form from the winter, we resort to what must be one of the strongest caffeine kicks in the region at the Quayside Café.

I have time while downloading the rush of an Americano coffee to ask everyone within earshot if they know anything about the scenic historical landmark that is our destination. Despite being flagged up clearly in view on the immediate horizon, nobody here has even heard of Chudleigh Fort.

We amble east along the quayside to tackle the rocky lane passing beneath the A39 bridge towards the main road's westward cycle path. I apply the word "tackle" because after laughing off our own entertaining rear wheel-spins and near-tumbles, we agree this detour under the bridge would have tested a skilled mountain biker.

Crest the cycle path to turn right along the A386 through Northam before a leftie into the B3236 towards Westward Ho!

An injection of meteorological doping from the typical westerly tailwind has us speeding with ease along Torridge Road by Northam Burrows to my favourite fish and chip shop on the planet. Sylvester's Fish owner Michiel "Claude" Bottger knows how to work the crowds, which he and his heavenly "friery" attract in season, queuing patiently along the Meeting Street pavement at Appledore.

Enjoy Claude's vibrant company out of season over a mug of tea without the need to book a seat. There is only one seat, but it seats three and we all know that's a crowd.

Appledore is already warming up for the next holiday season with tourists visibly outnumbering the locals along The Quay. Again, everyone asked has not heard of our destination landmark.

Our exit route via New Quay Street climbs the steep Wooda Road past the shipyard, where cycling stalwart Malcolm playfully inflicts a cunning burst of sporting acceleration when the gradient hits eight per cent towards the A386 summit, claiming to wait too long for my catch-up. I blame Claude's over-generous portions for my energy sapping excess baggage.

We pass the discreet stone tablet at Bloody Corner which states poetically:

Stop stranger stop

Near this spot

Lies buried

King Hubba the Dane

Who was slain by

King Alfred the Great

In a bloody retreat.

What really happened and who exactly was involved will probably never be known. Before the first known 10th century records of the area, tradition says Hubba the Dane landed at what is now Boathyde with a fleet of 33 ships and marched to attack the Hill Fort at Kenwith.

Legend claims that a thousand Danes killed by the army of Odun the Earl of Devon were buried at Bonehill. Hubba was buried in the cairn area now known as Hubbastone. In Northam Woods is a copse called King Alfred's Cave, where its namesake is reputed to have hidden when chased by the Vikings.

Our own chase out of Northam is a fast rolling eastward descent of the A386 over the A39 roundabout, before dropping back onto the Bideford quayside and crossing the old bridge. Straight on beneath the old railway bridge begins our weave up Station Hill through East the Water via Range Road towards the mystery destination.

Chudleigh Fort is not signposted and I've struggled to find information about it through the usual tourism media, which explains why I get the impression that a park gardener was the only other visitor this month.

Chudleigh Fort is a Civil War fortification now sharing a public grassy knoll with the memorial. While dating back to 1642, it was extensively rebuilt in the 19th century.

The parapet of five unequal sides measuring as long as 25 metres, contains seven old cannon on wheeled wooden carriages. Views through the stone-rubble wall's 14 cannon gaps reach out engagingly over Westleigh, Northam, Littleham and directly into the bedrooms of the neighbouring terraced housing.

Perhaps this is why visitors aren't actively encouraged?

While in ironic vegetarian fashion I fulfil a bacon butty rendezvous at the carriage café conveniently positioned below on the Tarka Trail, Malcolm returns to catch up with the day's trade at his recently launched shop. Nobody at my meeting has heard of the historic fort overlooking them, but they all know about an exotic new Italian racing bike that is rumoured to arrive at Scuderia Cycles.

Information: Quayside Café, 22 The Quay, Bideford EX39 2EZ, 01237 425096. Sylvester's Fish, 3 Meeting Street, Appledore EX39 1QS 01237 423548.

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