"Peddling across the heart of Dartmoor I have plenty of time to reflect and let my mind wander. I have thought this article through on numerous rides, promising to rush home and write it, but I invariably get carried away as I soak up the exhilarating feeling of cycling up rewarding hills and arrive home too tired to contemplate putting pen to paper.
I have to admit I am spoilt - Dartmoor is on my back door. I took up road cycling two years ago and have never looked back largely thanks to the beautiful countryside that surrounds me. There is, however, one downside to living on my farm; it is halfway up one gloriously long hill. As I exit my front gate I am faced with a choice: fly down into the sheltered lanes or slog straight up towards the open moorland around Princetown on cold legs. I’m going to let you in on a secret: I usually step out the door and check the weather before making my decision. My last ride was in warm spring sunshine and a refreshing breeze so I headed straight up the hill to enjoy the stunning views.
I am privileged to have cycled the length of the country from John O’Groats to Lands End and that ride truly made me appreciate what a beautiful island we live on. One of the things cycling gives you is a different perspective on the area you are travelling through. On a bicycle you can cover significant miles in a relatively short time which makes for much more interesting exercise than running when you will have to retrace many of your usual routes. I can hear you asking ‘why not just drive over the moorland?’ - I have done that for the previous thirty years of my life and you’ll be amazed at how much you miss from inside the capsule of your car.
The last ride I went on really awakened my senses. You can tell what time of year it is by the wonderful smells you encounter as you pass woodland followed by newborn lambs, open moorland, flowing rivers, wild flowers… the list goes on. I promise you will be amazed at what your nose can notice on a bike. The heightened awareness of your surroundings isn’t limited to the olfactory senses. The angle and most significantly the speed, I mean lack thereof when crawling up a hill, can give me a very different perspective of features I have seen thousands of times before.
The hills can be challenging but they are also incredibly rewarding. For me cycling along continuously flat roads can become monotonous and worse still cause my derriere to become a little numb. The constant undulation gives you the chance to be nosey whilst crawling up the hills and sheer exhilaration as you cruise down the other side.
My two great loves in life are food and exercise; perhaps the two are inextricably linked but I’ll leave you to decide. Cycling is the perfect excuse to frequent some of the interesting cafes, local pubs and ice cream vans you’ll find all across the moor. On any longer ride I find myself planning the route around a coffee stop and it’s incredible what difference a little caffeine can make on the hills.
My love of cycling has been reinforced by the wonderful countryside in which I am so lucky to live in. My advice would be to get out on your bike and explore it for yourself."
Hopefully Heather has inspired you to take to your bike and get out and explore Dartmoor
About Heather Fell
Heather Fell won a silver medal at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing in the Individual Modern Pentathlon. She is a former Junior World Champion and a former World Number One.
Heather was brought up in rural Devon where she rode horses and swam competitively from a young age. This lead her into the sport of tetrathlon from which she progressed on to modern pentathlon which combines the disciplines of running, swimming, shooting, fencing and show jumping. Heather read physiotherapy at Brunel University where she combined her studies with a hectic training schedule. She found initial success at junior level winning 2 gold medals and a silver medal at the 2003 World Junior Championships in Athens. Her path to Olympic success, however, was not straight forward. In 2006 after a series of injuries and setbacks, her funding was cut; she was forced to move back in with her parents and contemplated quitting sport all together.
Back home in Devon, Heather overcame her injury and worked three part time jobs to fund her own training. Through sheer determination and perseverance, she returned to form and went on to win bronze at the 2007 World Cup in Moscow and gold and silver at the 2007 European Championships in Riga thus qualifying for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. With her funding restored, Heather was able to focus her efforts on training and went on to secure a silver medal in the Women’s Individual Modern Pentathlon at the Beijing Games after a nail-biting day of competition. By the end of 2008, she was ranked world number one and followed this up by winning silver at the European Championships in 2009. She was a silver medallist at the World Cups in both 2011 and 2012.
Heather has recently retired from pentathlon to pursue a career in broadcasting and journalism. She has taken up cycling to fill the void left by full time training recently completing John O’Groats to Lands End and continues to act as a mentor and role model for emerging female athletes. Read more about Heather