Stairway to Devon – An Evening With Austin Vince

In a large pub in Bovey Tracey Austin Vince showed his film Stairway To Devon hosted by the Devon Trail Riders Federation. 4 degrees west went along, so see what goes on in the quiet green lanes of Devon.

Stairway to Devon is essentially a pilot episode for an idea of Austins: Off road motorcycling to remote places with historical interest. Austin is a lively chap – white haired, dressed in his trademark shirt tie and boiler-suit and full of passion and old school charm like your ageless uncle that seemed to live in his shed, so it’s an energetic show. The film also stars stand up comic Ross Noble and the end result is a liberal sprinkling of surreal hilarity as the two personalities lark about like two schoolboy friends getting up to some out-of-school mischief.

Austin’s passion, and indeed, notoriety is motorcycling. Off-road motorcyle adventures in particular. And if you’re thinking of Ewan McGregor on an overloaded 1200cc BMW motorcycle, then think again. Austin made his mark riding round the world (twice!) on small off road 350cc trail bikes, described in the Mondo Enduro and Terra Circa books. Travelling light, improvising and making do without a support team, he completed McGregor’s failed Road of Bones, twice, proving that size isn’t everything. Austin sleeps under the tarpaulin groundsheet (in his shirt and tie, it seems) and cooks on a fire using a grill that doubles up to protect his headlight. Boiling water in beer cans and washing in streams is Austin’s way, like Boy Scouts with wine and stubble.

Ross Noble, of course is one of the country’s most well known surreallist comedians. It’s hard to even say his name without a tinge of a northern accent. What is less known is that Ross is a formidable trials motorcyclist, competing and riding at a top level. A brief blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shot of Ross powering his bike up and over a six foot vertical rock face confirms that.

So these two personalities get together, ride somewhere remote, unkown and ‘off the beaten track that comes off the beaten track that comes off the beaten track”, park up, camp and entertain each other.

Austin’s idea was for a series of shows through Europe, showing historical landmarks and their impact on world history. But it’s hard to sell an idea to a TV company that involves motorbikes so he decided to make a pilot show. Downsizing to somewhere remote but accessible that is Devon, getting Ross involved and enlisting the help of the Devon TRF, Stairway to Devon is the result.

So our intrepid duo meet up, and see what off road motorcycling in Devon has to offer. Some breathtaking views and scenery is what it has in abundance, but Austin’s fizzing with energy so they set off to see what’s hidden away. Hidden away is Ross’s plan that because they are in Devon, they are eating nothing but rice pudding. A brave plan when you’re camping.

And what do they find? Well, I’d hesitate to give away the film, but there’s a fascinating look at a hidden Napoleonic fort, only ‘slightly’ illegally accessible, a forgotten railway station and the interesting experiment of how much miniature ponies like rice pudding when it’s smeared on two middle aged biker’s faces.

A blend of historic factiness, laugh out loud humour, and two personalities that crackle and cackle as they show us what grown men get up to when left in the wilderness. I really enjoyed Stairway to Devon, especially it’s underlying theme that you don’t have to go far for adventure and you don’t need much for a great trip.

Austin didn’t seem terribly optimistic that his pilot would be picked up by any TV companies, which is a shame as it’s very funny, very entertaining and a bold step away from ‘celebrity’ focussed entertainment. The film is being shown as part of the Adventure Film Festival in London in ?? otherwise keep an eye on for any upcoming shows. Visit the website anyway as there’s plenty there such as his books, tours and even his distinictive overalls.

Austin also leads Mini Mondo adventures into the Pyrenees, which look fantastic. Parties of half a dozen or so, riding off road trails through Spanish mountains, wild camping and escaping from pretty much everything for a week. These are led by Austin with his astonishing knowledge and experience of the area, with fuel, tarpaulin and food provided. Off road motorcycling experience is recommeded, though Austin also leads a tour for novice bikers too.

The Devon branch of the TRF (Trail Riders Fellowship) is the national, voluntary and non-competitive body formed in 1970 by people who enjoyed exploring ‘green roads’ by motorcycle. The aim is to conserve our heritage of green roads for everyone to enjoy, with an emphasis on fun, responsibility and promoting a clear code of conduct while using the lanes. If you want to ride your motorbike off road legally and meet a bunch of like minded enthusiasts, then the TRF is best starting point.

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