EXCITEMENT BUILDS FOR SOMERSET STAGES

Just a quick post to wish all entrants the best of luck tomorrow!! Hope you have a fantastic day here in West Somerset.

Over 100 crews from across the UK will head to Minehead this weekend as the Somerset Stages Rally returns to the seaside resort for its annual event on Saturday 8 April.

Organised by Burnham-on-Sea Motor Club and Minehead Motor Club, the event forms the second round of the RAVENOL BTRDA Rally Series and the opening round of the Maxxis Tyres MSA English Rally Championship which once again brings some of the best rally drivers to the region.

Crews from the national championships are joined by contenders in the Reis Motorsport Insurance ASWMC Loose Surface Rally Championship and FMP Rally Challenge; ensuring spectators are in for a real treat during the day in the Exmoor forests.

Wearing the coveted number one on the door this year will be 2016 event winners Luke Francis and co-driver John H Roberts from North Wales who bring their potent Mitsubishi E9 to the South West.

The duo will be hoping to repeat their dominant performance from last year and boost their BTRDA title chances.  Northumberland’s Stephen Petch and Michael Wilkinson follow at number two in their Ford Fiesta WRC. Petch admits to be still getting used to the powerful machine but will certainly be looking for outright victory in Minehead.

Callum Black and Elliott Edmondson start the event at number three seed in their Fiesta R5. The newly formed duo have impressed so far this season and will be looking for a podium spot at the weekend.

Karl and Guy Simmons have swapped their Citroen DS3 R5 for a WRC for the event and start the event at four. David Wright and Steve Pugh lead a duo of crowd-pleasing Ford Focus WRCs and are seeded at five with Hugh Hunter and Rob Fagg just behind at six in a similar machine.

2013 event winner Connor McCloskey and John Rowan will return to the event at seven and make the trip over from Northern Ireland in their Fiesta WRC. Scotsman Fred Milne makes the long drive south to Somerset in his Mitsubishi E9 to start at car eight with co-driver Jamie Edwards alongside.

Tom Preston starts at nine in his Skoda Fabia R5 with co-driver Andrew Roughead; the Somerset Stages saw the debut of the car last year.

Rounding off the top ten are local crew Martyn and Dawn England from Illminster. The husband and wife team were another to debut their Ford Fiesta R5+ on the event last year and recorded an impressive set of times, finishing fourth overall in the process.

Other local entries include Michael Threlfall and Mulberry Threlfall-Eyres from Taunton who will compete in their Mitsubishi Evo X. Threlfall last contested the Somerset Stages in 2013 and will be looking to go one better than the retirement sustained that year. They start the event at car 22.

Look a little further down the list and you will see another Threlfall name, this time sons Harry and Alfie in a Renault Twingo R1. Harry was once a regular in the British Rally Championship, but returns to the sport after two years away to complete his University degree.

The event also plays host to the Army Land Rover team who bring six of the impressive machines to Somerset.  A favorite with spectators, the crews often put other more suitable cars to shame and are worth staying to the end of the field to watch.

The bulk of the event mileage takes place in the Exmoor forests and The Beach Hotel will house Rally Headquarters during the event. Teams will base themselves along the Minehead seafront for the scheduled services throughout the day.

The field will be flagged away from the ceremonial start on Warren Road Seafront bright and early at 8am on Saturday.

For something a bit more fast paced, the spectator stage in the Kennisham forest complex is the place to go, offering the chance to see the action twice during the day. The first run through the stage kicks off at around 9.45am and provides around an hour and a half of action with the second run of the stage at 2pm.

Those fortunate enough to complete the event will get the chance to celebrate at 3.45pm with the ceremonial finish on the Minehead Seafront (Warren Road), with the winning crews spraying champagne to celebrate victory.

More information is available at www.somersetstagesrally.com and you can keep up to date with all the latest news on the event Facebook and Twitter feeds.

www.facebook.com/thesomersetstages
www.twitter.com/somersetstages

Good luck everyone!

PHOTO: The 2016 event winner Luke Francis / John H Roberts in their Evo9 – courtesy Gasmark Media.

 

MOUNTAIN BIKING ON EXMOOR BY BECKY PARKER

WORDS and PHOTOS by Becky Parker

Photo of Becky racing by Tom Bridge

Becky is one of our new team of Active Exmoor writers. She will be providing us with blogs from time to time and she will also be appearing in the magazine on our Active pages. Becky is a part-time groom and freelance writer based in North Devon. She is a huge mountain bike and trail running enthusiast, never happier then when out exploring the moorlands and forests of the South West accompanied by her faithful collie dog. She pens her thoughts about the outdoor adventure lifestyle and lessons learnt from her own experiences on her blog. Her work has been published on a selection of mountain biking and running websites such as Total Women’s cycling, Outdoorista and Women’s Running. She also has a website, runridewrite.com, and is on Instagram: beckyparker_runridearite

Welcome to the team Becky and thank you for your first blog for us!…

When most people think of mountain biking they picture Wales, Scotland, the Lake District or the Alps. Yet tucked away in a corner of the South West this hidden gem that is Exmoor has some of the best riding the UK can offer, with a modicum of the trail traffic. The success of the new enduro race ‘The Ex’ has brought Exmoor’s trails to the attention of the industry. In a feature about the event they spoke highly of the variety of trails on offer before one of the organisers, Michael Wilkens, stated how he couldn’t resist the potential the area offered with “its perfect combination of hills, ancient woodland and stunning coastline, and, of course, the incredible network of trails.” Following the success of the race, Exmoor appeared as one of just seven trails in their ‘Must ride in 2017’ feature – high praise indeed!

Much of Exmoor’s appeal lies in its lengthy untouched ribbons of natural singletrack. Though it is a relatively small area in comparison with the likes of the Lake District, it makes up for this with the vertically up, vertically down nature of the terrain. This makes for a tough day on the legs – almost all instructions beginning with the motto ‘Pack your climbing legs’ – but in a relatively short ride of 30km you can often pack in 1,000 metres of climbing and, better yet, descending!

If you’re putting in all that effort to climb out of the valley, you want to make sure the descent is well worth your while. There is nothing worse than descending on a road – criminal! So here I have written a round-up of some of what I think are the best sources for anyone trying to find a ride that works for them.

MAPS
First things first, you will be needing a map. Only a silly person ventures out into the middle of nowhere relying purely on modern technology. Signal is never fully reliable. I personally use and can recommend OS Explorer maps. OL 9 1:25000 covers the whole area. (pictured here). If you would like something a little more detailed, on a bigger scale and laminated take a look at this example from a series www.croydecycle.co.uk/mapsandguides.htm

GUIDEBOOKS
There are a few good guidebooks out there, my pick of the lot and the most highly rated is South West MTB by Nick Cotton and Tom Fenton, who produce a series of books covering all the UK. It includes routes for Exmoor, Dartmoor and the Quantocks, caters for all levels and is super easy to use and follow. www.amazon.co.uk/South-West-Mountain-Biking-Quantocks/dp/1906148260

Other options for guidebooks include:
Around Exmoor and Dartmoor (Rough Ride Guide) by Max Darkins

Exmoor, North Devon and the Quantocks Mountain Bike Routes by Al Churcher

DOWNLOAD GPS ROUTES
Despite my earlier cynicism regarding modern technology, where smart phones and the internet do come in handy are for sourcing new routes to ride and then downloading them to  follow easily on the go. Here is a selection of what I think are the best websites with Exmoor routes for you to browse.

Mountain Bike Rider (MBR) is a popular UK magazine that includes four new routes with every monthly issue. If you buy the magazine itself, you also get a handy A5-sized 0S map with the route on one side and instructions on the other. Of course, Exmoor is only featured once in a while but all of their past featured routes are available to download from the website. This link is for all of the South West, search Exmoor for more trails that were featured as part of ‘best of’ articles www.mbr.co.uk/routes/south-west-england

Mountain Bike UK (MBUK) is the other UK magazine which also includes four routes with maps in its print publication. MBUK shares its routes through the Viewranger map app. If you click on ‘view all routes on a map’ you can then search for Exmoor specifically where there are around eight different routes of varying length and difficulty to choose from. You do have to download Viewranger to use their routes; no bad thing as it’s a useful and free app. my.viewranger.com/user/details/727299

During my research for this blog post I stumbled across this rather excellent website that shows on a map where the best trails are and what names they are known by. Trying to describe trails to friends/mtb acquaintances or your local bike shop as they struggle in vain to direct you to this new epic descent someone has found can be a total nightmare, so this is a really handy resource. Unfortunately, it does seem to be limited to one area of Exmoor though by general consensus Dunkery and Horner do contain the best technical trails. www.trailforks.com/trails/map/?lat=51.186029&lon=-3.598682&z=13&m=trailforks

ROUTES FOR ALL
Locating family- or beginner-friendly trails on Exmoor can be somewhat of a challenge due to the perpendicular nature of its hills. Several of the above resources, particularly the Nick Cotton book, do provide ‘easy’ level routes which will be achievable for anyone of average fitness and teenage children. There are several beautiful and mostly flat bridleways following the river such as stretches of the Coleridge Way, Exe Valley Way and Two Moors Way. These are mostly designed as walking routes, bike access is limited in places, so it is best to check online before attempting your chosen section. The section from Simonsbath to Withypool is a good place to start.

Wimbleball Lake has designated cycle trails, a play area, a café and an Outdoor and Action Centre for any children who don’t want to cycle too: www.swlakestrust.org.uk/lakes-and-facilities/the-lakes/wimbleball-lake

The Crown estate also has a little something for everyone: www.thecrownestate.co.uk/media/5388/dunster_estate.pdf

Tourist Information or National Park centres are the perfect place to pick up leaflets and information for easy access and family friendly cycle routes. Check out this website to find your nearest one – www.visit-exmoor.co.uk/information-centres

Mountain biking is a fantastic way to get outdoors, explore and appreciate this amazing National Park which we are lucky enough to have on our doorstep. What better way to enjoy the variety of moorland, coastal trails, forests and river valleys than on two wheels that can take you anywhere and allow you to fit in so much more to one day? Mountain biking can be a tranquil pedal alongside the river listening to the birds, spotting deer and bird watching or embarking on a lung-busting climb followed by a white-knuckle descent. The ride is what you make it but best of all it is another way to get and enjoy Exmoor.