WORDS and PHOTOS by Becky Parker
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.
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
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.