Exmoor bike rides: 3 stunning trails
PUBLISHED: 12:03 06 September 2016 | UPDATED: 12:03 06 September 2016
Cycling coach Rob Wakefield recommends three great bike rides on beautiful Exmoor
Taste of Exmoor
This ride starts in Simonsbath where we immediately turn left and up the stunning Simonsbath Hill. This is an amazing Exmoor landscape with steep valleys or combes, descending down towards the River Barle. After a small descent we climb again before reaching the summit of Fyldon ridge where we are treated to a panoramic view right across to Dartmoor. A nice downhill cruise off the moor and we are in South Molton the gateway to Exmoor. The road steadily climbs up to North Molton, a historic mining village at the foot of Exmoor. We head up North Molton Hill, which has a very steep initial section but then the gradient eases as we head up to Sandyway, where we turn left down to Lanacre and across Lanacre bridge. After a steep exit from Lanacre we climb gradually and head back to Simonsbath
Another taste of Exmoor
The second ride starts at the historic village of Dunster at Dunster Castle. We start by winding our way through the wooded valley through Timberscombe where the first of the days climbs begins up to Wheddon Cross. This is a gentle climb which will set you up nicely for the two main climbs of the day. At Wheddon Cross we turn right, then right again and begin the climb up the south side of Dunkery Beacon. It is the north side of this hill that has a fearsome reputation as one of the toughest climbs in the country. For today we are taking on the much more gentle south side before descending down the north side. This is a steep and technical descent so we take it easy heading through the village of Horner and into Porlock. At Porlock there are two options. Either take on the main road climb which features in the 100 Greatest Climbs in Britain book, or take the toll road. For me, my money is always on the toll road - it has to be one of the most stunning roads on Exmoor, winding up, in true Alpine style, with views over to Wales. The climb takes around 30 minutes and at the top we turn left onto the main road and then right, over Exford Common and into Exford. From here we follow the main road back to Wheddon Cross and descend back down to Dunster.
This is a classic day in the saddle taking in every element of what Exmoor has to offer. The ride starts in the village of Porlock. We take the road towards Minehead and follow the road to Horner to begin the famous Dunkery Beacon north side climb. This is a beast of a climb. Ramping up to 17% almost immediately across the cattle grid, the road winds its way through the woods and up onto open moor where the road winds and steepens to the final ramp of around 20%. At the top, the highest point of Exmoor, there are panoramic views over the moorland and hills more than 100km away. From Dunkery we head south, through Winsford to Tarr Steps where we walk over the clapper bridge to the road the other side. The road winds its way through the Barle Valley before delivering you to the foot of a very steep climb up to Hawkridge. From here we head back west along the ridge road to Sandyway, down through Withypool before heading back to Simonsbath and down from the moor. A final few kilometers through the Bray Valley and we are in Challacombe. From here we begin with a steady climb up to Simonsbath before heading north over Brendon Common where you are likely to spot a herd of deer if you stop for a while and look closely. At the top of the common we begin a fun descent down the Watersmeet Valley into Lynmouth. Here we tackle Countisbury Hill which features in the 100 Greatest Climbs in the UK book. The climb starts savagely with the gradient hitting 20% in places. As we head out of the wooded area the most amazing view opens up across the Bristol Channel to the Black Hills. Fortunately the gradient eases up here so that you can take in the view. Nearly finished, we head along the coastal road that featured in the Tour of Britain before descending the Porlock Toll Road back into Porlock. This is an epic ride - just remember to bring the correct gearing on your bike!
Laurence McJannet, the author of a new book on bikepacking, reveals why Exmoor is one of his favourite locations
Exmoor has all the ingredients for a memorable adventure ride. Across the National Park’s 700 square kilometres lie a wealth of tracks, trails, paths and open moorland, with all but the latter remaining surprisingly ridable throughout the year. Though the large swathes of exposed moor can seem endless at times, these barren expanses of gorse, heather, rock, scrub and wild grasses are often punctuated by steep-sided gulleys, technical rock gardens and wooded river valleys, not to mention a 55km stretch of rugged yet beautiful coastline, exemplified by Lynmouth’s ‘Valley of the Rocks’.
All this combines to give Exmoor a really untamed feel – perfect for any epic bikepacking adventure – though with a few exceptions this feeling of remoteness is tempered by the presence of numerous hamlets and villages, with many harbouring a wonderful pub or an idyllic campsite. The terrain is often more hilly than the misnomer ‘moor’ might suggest, with numerous challenging climbs to be found, up to the likes of Dunkery Beacon, the highest point on Exmoor at 519m. If you like your rides long and languid rather than short and steep there are some great long-distance paths to traverse, including the Two Moors Way, which connects Exmoor to its southern cousin Dartmoor, and the Coleridge Bridleway, which cuts a picturesque path from Exfood to Nether Stowey near the Quantocks.
As an ancient Royal Hunting Forest, there is plenty of woodland too, offering shelter from the notoriously fickle Exmoor weather. With a little planning you can create some wonderfully scenic routes, running perhaps from coast to moor to valley and back (the likes of Porlock, Simonsbath, Dunster and Winsford are ideal places to explore), staying en route at one of the area’s many camping or glamping sites, hostels, bunkhouses or inns. Along the way you’ll discover that Exmoor’s ever-changing landscape is the perfect place for an off-road microadventure.
Bikepacking: Mountain Bike Camping Adventures on the Wild Trails of Britain by Laurence McJannet (£16.99, Wild Things Publishing) is available from all good bookshops. For 30% off and free P+P visit wildthingspublishing.com and enter ‘Somerset’ as your coupon code.