Author Topic: Four Days in Devon and Somerset  (Read 7627 times)

Four Days in Devon and Somerset
« on: 09 September, 2018, 08:42:49 pm »
When asked what I'd like for my birthday, the best idea I had was time ... to go for a ride. 
I made a long weekend out of the August bank holiday, leaving after work on Friday and back by bedtime on the Tuesday.

The goal: big open spaces; quiet roads; stop and take photos; far enough from home that they feel different; accessible by public transport; a route not just a destination.

The not-goals: full camping gear, audax distance or speed.

Incidental things: Jack Thurston's Lost Lanes West gave me ideas; Exmoor is supposed to have nice dark skies for looking at the stars.

A bit of time route planning gave me a few ideas that felt achievable, so I booked places to stay and did Martin's local hilly audax ride as a nod towards reminding myself what hills are.

So, after work I fished my bike out of the garage at work, rode to Brighton station, got the train to London, rode across to Paddington, had a take-away Japanese supper and took the train to Exeter with the moon swinging across the window. The train made a few extra stops and spent rather too long for my liking in Reading, but my cheap hotel was just across the car park so easy to find, and a quick pint to end the day was had.

Re: Four Days in Devon and Somerset
« Reply #1 on: 09 September, 2018, 09:28:05 pm »
(There's more and bigger pictures at my blog, the pictures should link there.)

Saturday, I got up and got going with a good breakfast and minimal faff. My plan involved cycle paths, going in the wrong direction in order to work in a ferry crossing, and being at my bed for the night before the chef left.

Exeter is an unfamiliar city, but with the aid of Sustrans maps I picked my way through the cycle path heading south through the city, criss-crossing bridges, being friendly to the many families out for a ride and working round road works. Once out of the city I was taking it easy, but making steady progress, getting used to riding a loaded bike again, with 25c tyres, on mixed surfaces, and taking in the view. There were still many people out for a ride, and the almost entirely off-road experience took me through a nature reserve and was better than many cycle paths I'd ridden.

At Exmouth I established that there was a wait for the ferry, and found a fishmonger that also did "Sole in roll" (with gooseberry chutney, and very tasty).

The ferry gave a nice view, with dark hills behind the boats and green fields hinting at Dartmoor to come. There were people on the sand and a mix of pleasure and working boats out. I said hello to the couple also out for a ride, and lugged bike and luggage up steps from the mooring and over the railway at the other end.

The coast path to Dawlish warmed me up, then a bit of town navigating got me to some scenic lanes. The Audax control was a surprise, and signalled the first pushing-required hill of the day.

Bovey Tracey provided a source of ice cream and cake, and then it was back onto cycle tracks for a bit - complete with a low bridge. 

Then into the edge of Dartmoor, where Lustleigh was gratuitously hilly complete with house names such as "Uphill" to rub salt into the wound. The cars count dwindled from few towards none, although one that I stopped to let by on a hill paused to commiserate at how hard it is to start again uphill.  

All my previous Dartmoor riding had been on a mountain bike and I'd wondered how much the difficulty was down to rough tracks and a heavier bike. Turns out, not that much.

There were green lanes, with overhanging trees, big lumps of Dartmoor rock by the roadside. A considerable amount of pushing. A little walking downhill too where the steep gravel felt too risky.

Eventually I was over the lumpiest part, and made up some time on the lanes and then a bigger but still quiet old A30 to Sticklepath. Then, one final big hill to get to The Tors Inn - a warm welcome, place to park, a shower, good food and drink and a very sound night's sleep after 87km and 1500m of climb (according to my GPS).

Re: Four Days in Devon and Somerset
« Reply #2 on: 11 September, 2018, 05:24:06 pm »
Today was supposed to be a longer day, and the weather forecast wasn’t great, so I had my bags mostly ready before bed and an alarm set. I slept well at The Tors Inn, and was then fed well to set me up for the day. The other couple staying were planning not to go out on the moor.

It was drizzling and grey when i left, but forecast to get worse so everything waterproof was on. The moor was starting to disappear in the mist, but I was heading the other way. Belstone is well up on the edge of Dartmoor and I’ve  met animals on the road when I’ve visited before, and again today – a large pair of cows that were moving in their own time.

Heading roughly north, i found more “rolling” green lanes … Scenic, almost traffic free, but wet and gritty didn’t make for a relaxing descent. The rain was getting stronger and my enthusiasm for 100km of this was dwindling.

Common sense and a railway station enabled a shortcut from Yeoford to Barnstaple. The station was a single platform, both directions setup (with an old track and platform disused). However, there was a sign pointing away from the platform at the entrance, for Barnstaple. A couple of minutes down a trackside path convinced me that the sign wasn’t for another platform after all.

The rain really got going while on the train and was running in the train doors. There the station cafe at Barnstaple enabled a bit more sitting out the rain and stocking up on something to eat. While I’d shortcut most of the south-north crossing I’d created a longer ride across Exmoor, which promised to be wet, windy and pretty remote. I was hoping that the NCN route was reasonably benign and well signed.

The start out of Barnstaple was a maze of out of town shopping, with everyone avoiding the rain in their cars. Then, via a rather nice bridge becoming more rural … and starting to head up more than down, though not without a few downhills holding the brakes!

Few cars now, though a few as I passed through the houses of the villages skirting the moor. One farm van going fast up as I was coming down. One quad bike that stopped to say hello. One other cyclist that described it as “pretty wild up there”. I paused for a bite to eat on one very long hill, and discovered that my GPS (Satmap 10) had given up with water in the screen. I was glad of my paper map, though finding a spot to fold it in the wind and rain was hard.

Getting up to the top, the wind was blowing hard, streams running across the road where it dipped, the few trees swaying, and it was pretty bleak.

One more turn of the map and I had my destination on the same page as I was on. I was also up on the high moor now, so my destination was more down than up. I also swapped to the B road from Simonsbath instead of lanes, it was quiet enough and with the end in sight I picked up the pace.

My bed for the night was the camping pod at YHA Exford. It was a snug little cabin, nicely done out, with underfloor heating and a bed. But just the one room, and opening straight onto a field and river.

Properly wet and rather grubby from the road, despite shortening my ride to 64km: 20km to the train, and 44 to the hostel, with 1100m of climb.

Re: Four Days in Devon and Somerset
« Reply #3 on: 16 September, 2018, 03:57:24 pm »
Bank holiday Monday and it took a while to get going: I was feeling two days of riding, and it was still drizzling. After breakfast (with a stern “only one visit to the buffet for food”) I decided to abandon previous ideas of a long ride because fewer bags or of riding to a beach but instead take it easy, take in the view and take lots of photos. (So rather more pictures than yesterday’s entry in the rain.)

Inevitably, Exford is in a valley so there was a push within 200m to get back up the hill. This was soon followed by a gentle downhill on a quiet road to Winsford.

Then little and lumpy lanes, with ponies, stone walls, fields and moorland towards Tarr Steps.  Together these renewed my confidence and enthusiasm.

Tarr Steps is a stone clapper bridge, just uneven enough to make me feel cautious, but wide enough to wheel the bike beside me while no one was walking the other way.

The approach to Tarr Steps was busy with cars heading to the car park, but as they can’t cross the bridge itself the road on the other side was a quiet run through trees, gradually climbing above the river. The local gymkhana was on, and there was a pause while guests for that confused each other at a junction. Then, with the commentary in the background, down to another river.

Climbing up the other side, there was a field with a flock of swifts feeding and views across the valley. A bit further up a fence embedded in a tree. There was a lot of pushing, but finally I was climbing back up to the open moorland and big views.

The run along the top was beautiful. This was a stretch of road that connected to the wildest part of yesterday’s route – but a day later was safer and much more enjoyable. There was still some wind, and it was mostly cloudy, but a little sun and no rain. Occasional trees made a focus on the horizon and in photos as I passed. In the far distance the bunk of Dartmoor could be seen as dark grey on the horizon.

I enjoy a neolithic monument, so a couple of times the bike was parked and a short walk on the moor taken to see what I could see – and get an “away from the road” view of things.

Later, starting to be aware that the afternoon was pushing on but there was heather, the road peeking between ripples in the moor, so more photos to take. The road was quiet and well surfaced, and without the steep climbs and drops I could take in the view.

The route back to the hostel was the lanes route that I’d avoided the day before, with sheep by the road and a gentle swooping downhill that didn’t need too much braking. I found a cafe still open, and with an excellent cake, in Withypool. After that, one more push up the hill and a short ride got me back to Exford.

That evening after a wash, I was back to the pub for supper and a bit of route planning for the next day. At 43km today was the shortest day of the weekend, but 860m of climb – rather too much of it pushed up meant I still felt like I’d had a physical day out. The 18km of open moorland had been a highlight and back to type one fun.

Re: Four Days in Devon and Somerset
« Reply #4 on: 16 September, 2018, 05:10:52 pm »
Today I had a train to catch in Taunton, at 14:27. This was to be the first of four trains – changing at Bath, Faversham and Brighton in order to avoid the ban on bikes on Southern trains leaving London at rush hour while still being back before the kids’ bedtimes.

The night before I’d looked at my average speeds over the previous 3 days and how much they were affected by pushing up the chevrons and done a spot of route planning – to avoid the avoidable steepness and work out when I needed to leave by. The result was a 55km route plan and a 9am departure. Nothing outlandish and aided by it being dry, not too windy, and probably a bit downhill overall.

However, it wasn’t solely to be a mad dash for the train. There was a selection of “lost lanes” to take in and a bridge over a reservoir. The first few km repeated the start of the previous day, and with the long gentle downhill gave me an encouraging average speed to build on.

At Exton there was a brief but not too busy A road stretch and then a long push up. At Brampton Regis there was a push down, where I wasn’t at all convinced that my brakes could stop me. Making good progress, with over half the chevrons covered, I stopped for bridge photos at Wimbleball lake.

The green lanes of the Brendon Hills were enjoyable, with a couple of delightful tree tunnels.

Barring mechanicals, or town centre routing disasters, I was becoming confident that I was making good pace. Then I met five sheep in the road. They, of course, ran off as I slowly approached. I backed off, gave them space to become interested in the grass at the verge – but still they ran ahead. Eventually they found some other sheep to talk to in a drive, so I took a short diversion in order to let someone know. They didn’t know the farmer, but felt confident that they knew someone who did. I managed to get back without herding them back in front of me, and pushed on.

The final descent from the hills was fun, and was followed by a fairly muddy lane beside a river. From Pitsford Hill the land was flattening out and after crossing the main road I found the Sustrans route. This promised signs to follow into the centre of town – and it worked. There were a few shared routes around the college, but I had time enough for them. A final few minutes was taken on the busy town centre roads, and I was at the station in plenty of time for a station sandwich – but without fear of a last minute puncture.

There was, of course, a last twist to the journey. Somewhere between booking trains and tickets and the day the train routes had changed. My train no longer called at Bath, so I jumped off at Bristol. I then found that the train to Faversham called at Bristol so after some stress I was back on track. I spent a while chatting to a Sustrans volunteer that was running late for some fundraising. Then I gradually ate my way through my remaining snacks. The train from Faversham to Brighton took ages to get through some broken signals, but I had a seat and bike space, so I gradually browsed my way through my remaining phone battery.

I got home in time to see the family, having had a great four days away. I’d seen fewer stars than I hoped and my GPS had broken, but I’d had an adventure, eaten and slept well, ridden new roads and come home feeling both rested and invigorated.

Re: Four Days in Devon and Somerset
« Reply #5 on: 26 September, 2018, 05:42:56 pm »
Enjoyed that thx.
Get a bicycle. You will never regret it, if you live- Mark Twain


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Re: Four Days in Devon and Somerset
« Reply #6 on: 27 September, 2018, 10:00:02 am »
I live in Uffculme ( ) and so some of the places you went are quite local to me

Pity you didn't have great weather!


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Re: Four Days in Devon and Somerset
« Reply #7 on: 27 September, 2018, 10:51:02 am »
Lovely!  :thumbsup:


Re: Four Days in Devon and Somerset
« Reply #8 on: 27 September, 2018, 08:57:26 pm »
I live in Uffculme ( ) and so some of the places you went are quite local to me

Pity you didn't have great weather!

It’s nice riding there, even if my fitness led to a lot of hiking! And while the Sunday was properly type two fun, for the most part it was really quite pleasant for riding - even if the photos have grey skies. I shudder to think of how much water I’d have needed to carry up the hills if it had been earlier in the summer