Category Archives: Active Exmoor


Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance is holding its seventh annual Coast to Coast (C2C) Cycle Challenge on Sunday 14 May 2017 and is hoping that the public will come out in support of the 600 cyclists taking part.

The event, which is not a race, involves a challenging 54-mile cycle ride which starts at Watchet Harbour in the north and ends at West Bay in the south, following a wonderfully scenic route through the beautiful Somerset and Dorset countryside. A staggered start will see the stronger cyclists set off first at 11am, with the less experienced riders departing at 11.15am. A shorter 11-mile route starts at the Royal Oak public house in Drimpton at 2pm and also finishes at West Bay.

Last year’s event saw people of all ages and abilities take part, raising over £81,000 (including gift aid) for the life-saving charity. With only 600 places available, it was no surprise that the event sold out within 11 hours of online registration being open.

This ever-popular event is renowned for being an emotional and inspiring day out for everyone involved. That’s no surprise given the fact that the cyclists include patients who have experienced the work of the air ambulance first-hand and those who take part in memory of a loved one. Others get involved as part of a team or simply want to challenge themselves and support the charity in return.

This year, for the first time, the cyclists who were fortunate in gaining a place, will be joined by members of the Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance crew who are set to cycle the 54 mile route on triplet bicycles.

The team, who call themselves the ‘COASTBUSTERS’ have been training for the event at their Henstridge airbase and are hoping the public will get behind them and show their support.

In a bid to raise £2,500 and fund one life-saving mission, the team have set up a JustGiving page: where donations of any size can be made. Mobile phone users can easily donate by texting: CREW54 £5 to 70070. Every penny raised really will make a big difference.

Bill Sivewright, Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance Chief Executive Officer, said: “Our Coast to Coast Cycle Challenge is a fantastic occasion and the atmosphere is incredible. The fact that members of our crew are taking part this year makes the event even more special. They are incredible ambassadors of the Charity and I’m sure it will be an extremely emotional day all round; the aches and pains will definitely be worthwhile.

“Every year the event seems to get better and that is mainly due to the wonderful team of volunteers, members of the public and local businesses who help us with marshalling and keeping the cyclists safe.

“Our thanks go to the event sponsors and the various pit stop locations along the route, without their help and support, we simply could not put on such a large scale event.

“Finally, a very big thank you to all the cyclists taking part who are encouraging their friends and family to sponsor them. Let’s hope the weather stays fine and we raise as much as possible and make this the best Coast to Coast Cycle Challenge yet!”

Supporters will be able to encourage the cyclists at the starting point, along the route, or at the finishing line celebrations at East Beach Car Park in West Bay.

More information about the Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance can be found by visiting: or by calling: 01823 669604.


Mountain bike enthusiasts from across the South West converged on Dulverton at the weekend for the second annual ‘Eat Dirt on Exmoor’ event, organised by Calvert Trust Exmoor and supported by Exmoor National Park and the fantastic people of Dulverton.

282 cyclists took part in the circular ride, raising over £5,650 between them, with more sponsorship still coming in. The event started in Dulverton and followed the route of the River Barle up to Tarr Steps, then up onto the moor, south-east to the River Exe and then back into Dulverton for the finish line.

The riders really enjoyed the event. As Paul Mugenyi from Bristol said, “Thank you all so much for an amazing day and course. I really loved it and dare I say it was better than last year! A massive thanks to the organisers, marshals and land owners!”

Rob Lott, Head of Communications at Calvert Trust Exmoor, said, “We were absolutely delighted that so many riders came out to support us and enjoy the beauty of Exmoor. Without the support of so many wonderful people from Dulverton and the surrounding area who allowed us to use their land, volunteered to be marshals and run refreshment stations, and helped set up the route, this event just wouldn’t have been possible. Thanks to your support we will be able to help more people with disabilities to access cycling and other adventurous activities.”

As well as the fabulous volunteer marshals and helpers, Calvert Trust Exmoor would also like to thank the brilliant local businesses and organisations whose support enabled the event to happen: Mole Valley Farmers, The Bike Shop (Tiverton), Ivan’s Coffee, GT Bicycles and AMASS Medical  as well as Exmoor National Park.

Photos from ‘Eat Dirt on Exmoor 2017 can be seen online at Calvert Trust Exmoor hopes to announce the date for ‘Eat Dirt on Exmoor 2018’ in the next few weeks.


Regional charity South West Lakes Trust has launched the ultimate family ‘to do’ list. Put down the iPads, immerse yourself in nature and fill your summer with new adventures and experiences with South West Lakes Trust’s ‘101 thing to do this summer’ booklet.

From dramatic tors, open moorland and historical ancient monuments, to wildlife-rich woodlands, lakes and ponds – the lakes really are the ultimate children’s playground! Little adventurers will love exploring and discovering all of the fun things to do!

South West Lakes Trust takes great pride in the care it provides to over 40 inland waters, from the tip of Cornwall to West Somerset, ranging in size from 1 to 900 acres! Some sites provide unrivalled public access to watersports, angling, walking and cycling. Other more sensitive sites, such as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Sites of Special Scientific Interest or Local Nature Reserves, are managed by the charity’s dedicated Countryside Team.

Explore the South West lakes and discover all the fun things to do as a family. Climb trees, build dens, go on a mini-beast hunt, track animal footprints or take to the water and experience something different – stand up on a paddleboard, race in kayaks or shout ‘arrr’ from a boat.

Andy Parsons, Chief Executive of South West Lakes Trust, said, “We are passionate about people from all walks of life being able to benefit from the wonderful countryside around our lakes. Our work is based around five themes that underpin the work of our charity and our people, one being ‘Play and Explore’. Fewer children are getting a chance to climb trees or play hide and seek in a woodland, so through our ‘Play and Explore’ campaign we aim to provide places for young people and their families to play together. Our 101 things to do this summer booklet is the perfect ‘to do’ list – getting more families outdoors and exploring.”

Download your copy for free from or purchase a booklet for only £2 from the activity centres or cafés at Stithians Lake near Redruth, Siblyback Lake near Liskeard, Tamar Lakes near Bude, Roadford Lake near Launceston or Wimbleball Lake near Dulverton. You can also download activity sheets, too – get your kids identifying trees, discovering bugs and learning through playful quizzes.

Tick off all the things you and your children have tried and share your adventures with us #101swlakes. How many can you do?

For more information visit the South West Lakes website or call 01566 771930.


The Quantocks Events Programme starts this weekend with a woodland spring flowers walk from Aisholt so we thought this would be a good time to share a post from the team at the Quantock Hills AONB…

Grab your rucksack and flask of sugary tea and come and join the Quantock Rangers as the Quantock Hills AONB Service launches its Events Programme for 2017.

Explore the Quantock Hills with our Rangers and Specialists in a series of guided walks throughout the year. Walks include hunting for fossils on our Jurassic Coast Walk, a Wellbeing Walk to help celebrate ‘Naturally Healthy Month’ in May, a Family Bushcraft Day, an evening Bats and Owls Walk and even a Quantock Quiz Walk for the walker who enjoys solving puzzles!

The programme also includes a set of special walks run by the Quantock Volunteer Rangers called Quantock Explorer Walks. These are specially designed to introduce you to different parts of the Quantock Hills and to find out more about the wildlife, plantlife and history of that part of the hills. From Fyne Court to Cothelstone, the Bicknoller loop and a Hill Fort Walk too.

We are also helping to promote others running guided walks on the Quantocks, including a series of walks at Durbourgh Farm including a Dawn Chorus Walk, a Spring Flowers Walk and in the autumn a Fungi Walk. Also, June brings the Quantock Walking Festival run by the Sedgemoor Ramblers.

Quantock AONB Manager Chris Edwards says: “These events are about experiencing the very best of the Quantock Hills, from the 200-million-year-old fossils on the Quantock coastline, to finding out more about how prehistoric people used and changed this landscape. It’s about enjoying the outstanding nature of this important and nationally recognised landscape.”

To book onto an event and to see the programme go to the Quantock Hills AONB website at you can also find us on Facebook at /Quantock.hills or on Twitter @quantockhills


Here is our second blog from Becky Parker…

For most people Easter weekend is a time for relaxing, eating excessive amounts of chocolate, leisurely family strolls, perhaps a cheeky afternoon beverage in a country pub beer garden. For me and around 300 other mountain bikers, our Easter weekend looked a whole lot different…

Enduro mountain biking in its race form consists of six different timed downhill stages spaced out around an area which you must ride or push between. Your times over the six stages are added together at the end of the day and the fastest  rider overall wins.

Southern Enduro is an events company which organises Enduro events across all of Southern England. They run a series of four events from June to September, with the champs and a night enduro in May as extra stand-alone races.

The Southern Enduro championship took place just outside Minehead as a two-day race with practice on the Saturday and racing on the Sunday. Many riders camped overnight in the race village where sponsors had set up shops, local bike shops were on hand to fix bikes and food vans stayed open into the evening when there was music and a beer tent.

With near perfect weather conditions, there was immense excitement amongst riders about to be let loose on trails normally closed to the public. I took part in the race myself and I can safely say I did not see one rider not grinning from ear to end by the end of practice.

Event organiser Scott and his team did a fantastic job utilising existing trails and building a few extra to put together a great mix that would test rider’s technical skills, bravery and fitness, whilst still delivering a fun factor of 100%. All of the transitions were rideable (depending on your fitness level as there were some long old hills), sticking to fire roads that took you through beautiful forests. Occasionally you would come to a sudden opening with stunning views across the valley that would lift the spirits and distract you from aching legs. From the top of three to four they had included a great little traverse and descent on singletrack. Then the transition back over from four to five took you along the ridgeline with views over moorland right out to the sea where you could just about spot Wales in the distance.

Race day dawned to more blue skies and stoke level was high as we set out for the first climb. The schedule for the day was set up so that riders were set off in groups of 12 with a five-minute gap between. When you registered at the start of the day you could write your name on the board and choose your own group, the idea being that slower riders started first and elites had to go at the end of the day.

In the past I have suffered with nerves whilst racing, putting so much pressure on myself to do well that it has ruined the fun of the experience. So my main aim for this weekend was to stay calm, smile and enjoy the sociable side of Enduro that allows you to ride round all day with your friends. I tried to concentrate on enjoying just riding my bike somewhere new and embracing the excitement and energy that gives me. Other than a few nerves before stage two which was the steepest and most difficult of the day that literally EVERYONE was having issues with, I managed to stick to my plan.

There is a great camaraderie to mountain biking that transcends all ages, sex or ability barriers. You can almost forget your racing as you pedal around bumping into friends heading the other way, chattering to total randomers at the bottom of each stage when you’re all buzzing off the adrenaline telling stories of your various successes and mishaps so far that day.

Southern Enduro events include a ‘Fun’ category for men and women that is designed to encourage newcomers to the sport where they will be less intimidated by being ranked against more experienced and serious racers. This is such a fantastic idea and within the women I believe all of the fun category was made up of ladies new to enduro. It was fab to see 24 women racing altogether, an usually high number at a race this far south.

My own race went really well, with very few mistakes to leave me fourth out of ten in my senior category; a result I was very pleased with in such a competitive field. However, the greatest success of the weekend was the ultimate fun I had shredding new trails, learning lots and having a great laugh with friends old and new. Bikes are the best!

Useful links

Event organisers homepage –

Results and pictures from the event –

Link to enter Round 1 of the Southern Enduro series (entries opened on Saturday 22 April) –

PHOTOS  Courtesy Big Mac Photography


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,, 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.

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

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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:

The Crown estate also has a little something for everyone:

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 –

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.


The following is an article which appeared in summer 2012 issue*. As the World Pilot Gig Championships approach, it seems like a good time to repost it on our website for gig fans up and down the North Devon coast and beyond…

* We’ve tried to bring facts and figures up to date as far as is possible but if your club’s membership figures have since risen and you would like us to amend do let us know.

WORDS by Tony James

A strong north-westerly had blown up unexpectedly on that September Saturday and yachts – ours included – scurried towards the shelter of Ilfracombe harbour.

But riding calmly as a gull on the disorderly white water, the sleek burgundy-coloured six-oared pilot gig had no intention of making a drama out of a bit of heavy weather.

Strong, measured strokes brought Ilfracombe Pilot Gig Club’s Rapparee straight as an arrow across the waves, regardless of wind and tide and into the calm of the anchorage where a wind-blown round of applause from a few onlookers on the quay was received with studied nonchalance by the gig crew.

Far from home, the Cornish pilot gig – to its devotees the ultimate expression of the boatbuilder’s art – is becoming an increasingly familiar sight on the sea around Exmoor.  Rowing a delicately-built 32ft boat among the perils of the ‘Drowning Coast’ may sound like maritime madness but today pilot gig rowing and racing is becoming increasingly popular among Exmoor enthusiasts and is constantly getting new converts.

You need to be fit and able to handle a 12-13ft, 9¾-10lb oar at up to eight knots in a lively sea, but now hundreds of male and female enthusiasts from teenagers to pensioners are deriving enormous pleasure and satisfaction from going to sea in a gig.

There are now half a dozen thriving gig clubs along our coast, most of which are about to compete in this summer’s 28th World Championships which attracts over 2,000 rowers and 130 boats to the Isles of Scilly and constitutes the undoubted highlight of the gig-rower’s year.

“Seeing well over 100 beautiful pilot gigs on the water at once is a hell of a sight and one you never forget,” says the Hon. John Rous, current owner of the Clovelly estate and president and a founder member of Clovelly Pilot Gig Club, the first in North Devon and the only one rowing locally-built boats.

Founded in 2001, Clovelly may be one of our smallest clubs, but it’s keenly active.  As well as competing in local regattas and the World Championships, they have (like others including Appledore and Torridge Pilot Gig Clubs) made the challenging 32-mile trip to Lundy.

“We may be small but we’re really enthusiastic,” John Rous says. “We’re particularly pleased that young people are finding the sport so enjoyable.”

The regulations governing gig-building are draconian to say the least and the two Clovelly boats Christine H and Leah C, built by Appledore shipwrights Ford and Cawsey, were checked and measured at least three times by Cornish Pilot Gig Association inspectors.

The criterion for all competitive gigs was established nearly 170 years ago when a boat was launched in a Cornish creek which would make sure that rowing on the sea would never be quite the same again.

The late Ralph Bird in his gig shed, courtesy Tony James.

John Peters and his son William had been building six-oared pilot gigs, which doubled as lifeboats and salvage vessels on the Fal at St Mawes, since 1791 and in 1844 William accepted the starkly simple commission from a Newquay pilot: “Build me the fastest gig ever!”

Peters took on the challenge.  Today the Treffry (pronounced Tref-rye by those who know) is still in racing trim at Newquay and every new boat has to be a carbon-copy of her.  The Treffry was built for £1 a foot.  Today a club can expect to pay £20-24,000 for a thoroughbred racing gig from one of the West Country’s eight specialist shipwrights.

Beam on: work in progress in the late Ralph Bird gig shed.

For that you get well over 1,000 hours of craftsmanship, the finest seasoned oak and elm – and a skill and tradition which is beyond price.

The delicacy of a pilot gig is frightening – the elm planking is barely a quarter-inch thick – but paradoxically it’s the length and lightness which provide its legendary strength and flexibility and allow the boat to survive in virtually any sea.. Photo taken in the late Ralph Bird gig shed, courtesy Tony James as above.

The delicacy of a pilot gig is frightening – the elm planking is barely a quarter-inch thick – but paradoxically it’s the length and lightness which provide its legendary strength and flexibility and allow the boat to survive in virtually any sea.

The stronghold of Exmoor gig rowing can today be found behind Bideford Bar in the Taw-Torridge estuary where four clubs exist in friendly but deadly-serious rivalry.

Appledore Pilot Gig Rowing Club was formed in 2003 after chairman Len White realised that the estuary would be the perfect place for gigs.  “We had them years ago to take pilots out to ships and it seemed an ideal sport for Appledore.”  The idea took off and the club now has more than 80 members, two racing gigs, Verbena and Whitford, both from the Dartmouth yard of Brian Pomeroy, and a couple of training boats.

“It’s a tribute to the growing enthusiasm for gigs that we can have four clubs so close together and they all get such good support,” Len White says.

By the early-nineteenth century at least 200 gigs were stationed around the peninsula.  They put pilots onto ships, often roaming 50 miles out into the Western Approaches in search of business, and were used to ferry flowers, potatoes, animals and passengers from the Scillies to the mainland.

The Torridge Pilot Gig Club, also based in Appledore since 2006, has around 75 members, two classic racing gigs, Will To Win and Kerens, and two training boats financed by fund-raising and sponsorship.  There’s a wide spread of membership, according to treasurer Juliette Hayward, ranging from juniors to rowers over 65.

“We’re pleased to see several generations of the same family getting involved.  Youngsters see their parents rowing, try it for themselves and then often go on to join senior teams.”

Bideford’s gig club was only founded in 2010 although it has been a rowing town for 200 years.  In its very first three months it raised enough money to buy a secondhand gig from Cornwall.

“It’s great just how widely the interest in Cornish gigs has spread,” says club chairman Andrew Curtis.  “You can now find them in Devon, Somerset, Dorset, Wales and Bristol [not forgetting Holland, which is home to a thriving passion for gigs, and even Boston Massachusetts, Bermuda and Kuwait!] and it can only be good for the sport.  We have a lovely piece of sheltered water but to prepare for World Championships conditions we’ve been out practising in Bideford Bay.”

Barnstaple also set up a gig rowing club in 2010 and within 12 months had 50 members and an £8,000 secondhand training gig from Plymouth.  Further fund-raising and a charitable trust
donation allowed the club to order a £20,000 Brian Pomeroy gig which was named Lady Freda and launched in March 2011.

“Our GRP training gig helps cater for a membership which now numbers more than 80 as interest in gig racing in the
Barnstaple area keeps growing,” says press officer Chris Walter.

Over on the Bristol Channel, Ilfracombe’s boisterous nautical past is reflected in the club’s gigs.  Rapparee is named after a cove near the town in which shackled human remains from a slave ship wrecked there in 1796 were discovered 200 years later.  The club’s second boat, Rogue, built by Brian Pomeroy, remembers a local family of wreckers known as ‘the Rogues of Rapparee’.  Rogue, Rapparee and Appledore’s Whitford and Verbena are all built, believe it or not, using timber from the same tree!  Rogue was financed by the sale of
64 shares – a time-honoured way of buying a boat.

Very little is known of the ancestry of the West Country gigs although the present-day craft probably owe something to the shallow-draught fast rowing boats of Arctic Finland and Norway. But we do know that by the early-nineteenth century at least 200 gigs were stationed around the peninsula.  They put pilots onto ships, often roaming 50 miles out into the Western Approaches in search of business, and were used to ferry flowers, potatoes, animals and passengers from the Scillies to the mainland.

On a rare day off, gig crews might row to France for a little smuggling, a round trip of about 250 miles, to bring back brandy, lace and silks.  No customs cutter could catch a pilot gig – resulting in legislation in 1850 banning eight-oared gigs.  Today’s boats still have eight thwarts but one is for the cox and the other is now traditionally called the ‘seagull seat’!

As gig racing booms in North Devon, no one forgets what they owe to one man.  In a workshop next to his Pilot Gig Cottage on a tiny Cornish creek, Ralph Bird devoted his life to building and restoring these beautiful boats and in the process became the father of modern pilot gig racing.

Over 30 years Ralph single-handedly built 29 exquisite gigs and restored some of the original iconic craft, including Treffry. Once when we were chatting in his study over mugs of tea, Ralph admitted that he was still mystified by the alchemy which differentiated a winner from a loser.

“You try to make them all the same but they all perform differently.  I honestly can’t tell you why.”  It didn’t matter: all Ralph’s gigs were winners and when he died at 67 in 2009, the new owners – a Welsh club – named his last boat Ralph Bird, a fitting tribute to a master craftsman and a lovely man.

There’s always something unexpected in gig rowing.  An Ilfracombe crew out training rescued a middle-aged man drifting half a mile off-shore in a rubber dinghy at five knots in the direction of Lundy.  “He had no idea of the danger he was in,” says Stuart Cansfield.

“Another time we picked up a gig oar which had been lost by a Padstow boat 50 miles down-channel.  We took it to the World Championships in the Scillies and gave it back to the Padstow crew.  With oars at £2,000 a set, they were delighted to have it. They never expected to see it again.”

Watch out for more in our summer issue, out in May…


One of Wellington School’s Sixth Formers has successfully achieved the coveted Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award.

Charlotte Galley, 17, who is a School Captain, has completed a personal programme of activities in five different disciplines: Volunteering, Physical, Skills, Expedition and a Residential. The Gold Award is renowned for being notoriously difficult to achieve, as it is such a challenging experience which requires dedication, stamina and ingenuity.

“The whole experience was very demanding but hugely enjoyable,” commented Charlotte. “I was involved in many different challenges, ranging from singing in the Chapel Choir and the prestigious ensemble Girl Force 9, winning a full hockey colour, to a four-day expedition in the Brecon Beacons. I also went to HMS Raleigh for a sailing course at Jupiter Point, where I was awarded my RYA Dinghy Level 2 and I am also Company Sergeant Major in the CCF and have my own company. This year I have been helping them to progress through their basic training.”

Achieving the Gold Award is a huge achievement. It shows that the candidate has the skills, determination and mentality to really succeed, so there is a proper celebration of the achievement at the Gold Award Presentations (GAPs). Charlotte will be invited to London to be presented with her award at St James’ Palace by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh or HRH The Earl of Wessex.


After organising 20 festivals over 16 years, Bryan Cath is retiring from co-ordinating the Exmoor Walking Festival. Over its time almost 5,000 people have attended walks across Exmoor and North Devon during the main festival in May plus a few additional festivals.

Exmoor Tourism are keen to build on the legacy of this, as well as the success of the Coast Festival developed over the past three years, and are seeking to host a combined festival promoting walking, adventure and activities for all throughout the month of May.

It will be run on similar lines to the Coast Festival with different organisations, communities and businesses invited to set up and run their own events which will be collectively marketed and promoted under an overarching banner to attract additional coverage and reach. Not only will the events benefit those running them and the areas in which they are hosted, but the festival will help to highlight the myriad activities available within Exmoor throughout they ear.

Further details are currently being developed but if you are interested in finding out more please contact


We received this letter from Christina, who is a reader, and thought we would share it far and wide in case anyone would like to help…

PLEASE NOTE: You can donate whatever amount you like on the crowd funding page; the larger amounts only relate to the free outdoor activities.

Dear all,

My daughter has been kayaking with volunteers from SASP (Somerset Activities Sports Partnership) for three years now, where she has learnt kayaking and paddle boarding. The kayaking has been run by the most incredible group of volunteers who have not only taught her well, but, at the same time, have been working tirelessly towards establishing an outdoor activities centre in French Weir in Taunton. They have been working on this for the last six years and have raised an incredible amount of money (£960k) in the process. The building (COACH) is now up and looking astonishing! I was lucky enough to have a tour of it the other day, and it really is a magnificent building which will serve families, communities, schools, and youth groups within Taunton, so well. It is much needed.

COACH is a charity organisation and is situated in French Weir Park, on the River Tone.

COACH boasts:
·         A seminar/conference suite for up to 60 delegates
·         Excellent on-site catering/cafe provision by Karen and Peter Hood, proprietors of the very successful Shed cafe
·         An outdoor activities delivery partner – Channel Adventure – and tailor-made programmes for groups of all sizes
·         First-class equipment and facilities for participants’ use
·         A unique indoor-outdoor space for specialist activities

COACH also offers canoeing, rowing, running, cycling and orienteering, a wide range of opportunities for schools, community and youth groups and a base for local park “Friends” groups.

However, in order for the building to be opened, we need to raise an extra £30,000! So, a crowdfunding campaign has now been launched.

I am therefore writing to you, in the hope that you might be able to donate or contribute in some way to helping us raise the extra money urgently needed. Any contribution, however big or small will be very, very much appreciated.

Please, even if you cannot contribute, would you pass this email on to anyone who you think might be able to and would like to take advantage of the some of the activity sessions below – perhaps for their own families or as a business/team building activity.

These are the options on the crowdfunding page:

In return for a contribution, our outdoor activity delivery partners Channel Adventure ( have pledged a team-building/activity session for anyone contributing, based on the following scale:

£250 – A 2 hr activity session for up to 8 people
£500 – A 4 hr session with 2 activities for up to 10 people
£750 – A 6 hr multi activity day for up to 10 people
£1000+ – A Coastal adventure day (Spring/Summer) or White Water canoe/ kayak trip (Autumn/ Winter) – for up to 10 people

Activities could typically include: canoeing, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, mountain biking, axe and knife throwing, archery, team building, sailing, outdoor swimming, raft building, coastal rafting, coasteering, climbing and abseiling, windsurfing

Should you have any enquiries or if you  would like to speak directly with the organisers, please contact Dave Bullock or give him a call on  07834 590883.

This is such a worthwhile cause, that will make a massive difference and huge impact to so many young people. I can personally vouch for the fact that my daughter has had the most amazing time with this group for the past few years. Not only has she learnt to kayak and paddle board, but she has grown in confidence, made new friends and both her and I have felt very much a part of this community.

I’d be so grateful for your help. Thanks ever so much for taking the time to read this, and please do pass this on…