RCP Charter Cycle – Truro to Taunton

The RCP500 Charter visited the south-west of England last week when RCP registrar Dr Andrew Goddard cycled through Cornwall, Devon and Somerset. With colleagues from the RCP and local physicians joining Dr Goddard on the ride, our charter of modern-day professional values was carried over hills and across water in order to be signed by doctors working in four of the region's hospitals.

8 August 2017 – Truro to Tideford

  • Miles: 62
  • Calories: 4,210
  • Cycling buddies: 1
  • Weather: sunny with showers
  • Mechanical incidents: 0

View the route

I arrived in Truro on the train from Derby at 9pm the evening before and the rain started as I got on the bike for the short uphill ride to the hotel. Both were portents for the 3 days ahead. It had been a great train journey along the south Devon coast through Dawlish and then some of the territory I would be cycling through as well as a reminder just how far I had to cycle. I managed a late evening pint with two old colleagues who had moved to Truro from the Midlands a few years ago. It was good to hear their news but our drink was interrupted by a call from A&E for one of them to go and do some scoping. A gastroenterologist’s lot is not a quiet one.

An early start and gorgeous bacon and egg sandwich for breakfast (cycling has its advantages) and then my sidekick Ian Bullock and I set off for the Royal Cornwall Hospital a couple of miles up the road. Getting to the hospital was straightforward; getting in was less easy as we struggled to find a door that didn’t need a swipe card. A friendly physician spotted our plight and got us in and we got to the charter signing on time. Lots of signatures and encouragement from the local physicians (many of them keen cyclists) got us in the mood and off we set, with support from Morgan and Jacqui from the RCP (a great plan in retrospect).

Cornwall, for the record, is not flat. The only flat bits were covered by ferry (King Harry and Bodinnick) and this took its toll on Ian’s hamstrings. This meant that after a pleasant ice cream in Mevagissey Ian took the opportunity of a break in the support car. I don’t know if he had seen the weather forecast but he then avoided the heaviest showers of the day around St Austell and we re-grouped in Fowey for lunch. I inadvertently cycled the wrong way down a one-way street (which was full of walking tourists) but hadn’t realised until (rightly) castigated by a senior fellow of the college who happened to be in Fowey that afternoon. It was a pleasant surprise to see Professor Kopelman in more relaxed surroundings and I hope the shock of seeing me in lycra did not spoil his holiday.

Dr Goddard and RCP CEO Ian Bullock prepare to take their bikes across water.

Ian and his rested hamstrings rejoined me in Pelynt and we shared the joys of further hills and narrow farm lanes to eventually reach our destination of Tideford next to the rather busy A38 in time for a refreshing pint at the Rod and Line Inn. We then enjoyed the hospitality of Plymouth physician and former RCP clinical vice president, Anita Donley, for a very welcome meal, shower and bed. Anita’s observation that I looked ‘a little tired’ showed her clinical observation skills are still sharp.

9 August 2017 – Tideford to Exeter

  • Miles: 66
  • Calories: 4,790
  • Cycling buddies: 2
  • Weather: cloudy then wet and windy then sunny
  • Mechanical incidents: 0

View the route: Tideford to Derriford
View the route: Derriford to Exeter

After an early start where I left Ian to make his way to Derriford Hospital with the RCP team I cycled a brisk 18 miles via the Torpoint ferry into Plymouth. Having been born in and spent my early childhood in Plymouth it was a bit of a tour down memory lane as we used to live near the hospital. I paid homage at Home Park, the home of Plymouth Argyle FC, who I have masochistically supported over the lows and very lows of recent years. The ‘Green Army’ fans are well known and little did I suspect that I would end the day ‘greener’ than I was at that point.

I met up with the local team and Ian in the main reception of Derriford. I am becoming quite an expert in hospital coffee and particularly enjoyed Plymouth’s offering (nothing whatsoever to do with the 18 miles of Devon hills beforehand). Coffee and charter signing was then stirred by the arrival of a fellow cyclist for the day, one Professor Anthony Nicholls, of the parish of Royal Devon and Exeter (RDE). One advantage of Twitter is that you can get a bit of an idea about someone before you meet them and his account name (@madprofonabike) says it all. Anthony makes the Brownlee brothers look fat and slovenly…I was a bit anxious.

The three ‘mustyteers’ set off and our first challenge was to find the Plym Valley trail which we had been recommended by Simon Dunlop, the local college tutor and another keen cyclist. We found it but it felt like we had lost about half a mile of elevation to get there and knew we were going to have to make that up. Thankfully the trail is a disused railway line and trains hate hills as much as most cyclists and we steadily progressed up towards Dartmoor. The inclines steadily increased as we left the trail and got back on the road. The trees thinned, the wind picked up and the rain started. Dartmoor was saying hello. Ian’s hamstrings started hurting and Anthony’s kept on turning. I saw the former get into the support car and spent the rest of the climb watching the latter jealously.

With much encouragement from the mad prof we made it to Princetown for the first tea stop of the day, having to fight with a coach-load of OAPs for the last pieces of carrot cake. We joined up with Ian again at the top and then descended towards Moretonhampstead. Ian (with fresh legs and enthusiasm) and Anthony disappeared into the distance and I plodded away with only the charter for company. I seemed strangely lacking in ‘va va voom’. Anthony left us after a cuppa in Moretonhampstead to head back to do an evening shift in Exeter's acute medical unit (like you do). He had been great company over Dartmoor and it was a pleasure to spend the day with him. A fine example of growing old disgracefully.

Ian and I wended our way towards Exeter to our hosts for the evening, Ann and John Dean. The word idyllic is overused but was apt for their house set in the Devon countryside among fields of sheep. Their hospitality was fantastic and gratefully received by two rather knackered middle-aged men. I was feeling as tired as I have ever done before and had no appetite at all which is very unusual for me. The reason became clear an hour later when I was fairly violently ill. Green army indeed. Food poisoning or just lack of fitness? I don’t know but it made me fearful about the following day’s cycling and I retired to bed for a fitful night’s sleep.

10 August 2017 – Exeter to Taunton

  • Miles: 35
  • Calories: 1,810
  • Cycling buddies: 3
  • Weather: sunny
  • Mechanical incidents: 0

View the route

I can’t say that I woke refreshed but I certainly felt a bit perkier and managed some mini popadums for breakfast (classy, I know). We rallied at the RDE where I had to do a couple of radio interviews for BBC Radio Cornwall and Devon in the car park. The local press has been quite interested in the ride and its three core purposes of supporting local physicians through the charter, celebrating 500 years and raising funds for physician training in Africa. After that I headed to the hospital canteen for the signing. 

The RCP Charter Cycle receives some airtime from BBC Radio Cornwall.

The physicians at the RDE did us proud and there was a real buzz to the place. I caught up with a few friends old and new and recognised one of the renal physicians but couldn’t place her. Helen then reminded me that I had been her university ‘dad’ when she was a first-year and I was a third-year medical student back in 1988 and it all came flooding back. Twenty-nine years hasn’t seemed to change either of us very much bar the odd family and career and it was fantastic to catch up. It made my morning but I couldn’t avoid getting on the bike any longer.

Ian and I then teamed up with John (last night’s host) and Mike Jeffreys, one of the local physicians, for the day’s ride up to Taunton. All of us donned the purple RCP lycra and although I say it myself we made quite an impressive sight. As the size of the peloton increases the ride gets easier as others take the brunt of being at the front and both Mike and John were stars in that respect that morning. Mike guided us out of Exeter via a churchyard, pub car park and other interesting byways and we made it onto as flat a road as we had had all week. With the sun shining it was a lovely morning to ride as we criss-crossed over the M5 (surprisingly not stationary in the middle of the summer holidays).

Mike left us after a tea break 12 miles from Taunton and the rest of the morning passed uneventfully. The pace was perfect (and remarkably swift) and we made it to Taunton in plenty of time. The Musgrove Hospital campus is quite sprawling but we found our way to the signing next to Marks & Spencer. It was not as busy as at the RDE which may reflect the timing (Thursday lunchtime) but it was still good to see the local physicians. I also got the chance to chat to one of the urologists who does a lot of work in Africa and pick his brain. Ian reunited with his family who were holidaying nearby and after the signing I bided my time before heading to the station to return to Derby.

Reflecting on the previous 3 days I felt both elated and tired: 163 hilly miles, four brilliant cycling companions, four hospitals visited, two sets of gracious hosts and one marvellous support team made for a rewarding trip.

290 miles down, 1,728 to go.

Read previous entries of the RCP Charter Cycle blog to catch up with what has happened already during Dr Goddard's journey. You can follow updates and find more photos on Twitter by searching for #RCPCharterCycle and #RCP500.