Last Wednesday’s holiday ride then…
Before heading off on holiday I had gone through my collection of maps taken from MBUK magazine and found a few that were on Exmoor, including one that started and finished in Winsford, which looked pretty close to where we were staying at Wheddon Cross.
On the way back from visiting my parents etc. on the Tuesday we had driven past the Winsford turning so that I could get a feel for how far away from base it was.
So Wednesday morning came, the sun was threatening to break through the cloud and there was no rain. My wife took the kids off to the pony centre and I got kitted up, got my bike out and set off. This was my first ride since obtaining a GoPro camera, which I had mounted to my helmet, and the still pictures accompanying this post are taken from the video recorded that day.
It took longer than I had anticipated to get to Winsford, and it was practically all down hill too! This meant that even at this early stage I was having to consider how far along the roughly twenty mile route I went before I might need to head back to the holiday let, and I didn’t fancy a final five / six mile uphill slog from Winsford to Wheddon Cross at the end of it all!
Having made it down to Winsford I consulted my map which directed me past the Royal Oak Inn and uphill until I had passed a cattle grid at Halse Farm. And what an uphill it was! I thought at times it was never going to end and it seemed to be ages until I finally reached the cattle grid too.
Having crossed the cattle grid it was then off-road and onto the moor itself – although typically enough it was still uphill for some way. By the time I finally reached relatively level ground at the summit of the hill my legs already felt like they’d had enough!
Just to add to the fun the clouds, which had become increasingly dark and grey, decided to open as I navigated my way through the puddles across the waterlogged moor. Before long, though, I had reached the road and crossed over to start the descent on the other side until I got to a farm above Tarr Steps.
Now, at this point there was the option of two paths down to Tarr Steps – one described as avoiding the boggy field which, bearing in mind the weather conditions last week, seemed like the best option to me. Through the farmyard and then through the first of numerous gates that needed to be opened and closed from that point on.
The wet grassy and muddy track soon gave way to a rockier surface which made for a quite boneshaking descent as I rode from Knaplock down to the River Barle.
Towards the final part of this track, though, the scenery became much more attractive as a stream came into view and I got closer to the river. Reaching the river itself I decided not to take the path left towards Tarr Steps (having already visited them earlier in the week) and so picked up the route heading right along the riverbank.
The water level was clearly swollen by the heavy rain of the previous day, and I guess that it was this (and more recent rainfall) that was responsible for the next spanner in the works. I soon reached the footbridge mentioned on the route details, at which point I crossed the river to travel along the west side as per instructions. Unfortunately, however, that path was closed off meaning that I had to re-cross the bridge and use the east side footpath instead.
This proved to be easier said than done, as the path seemed to disappear into the river itself in places, meaning a trudge up the face of the hillside to get to the next clear part. Some of the riding was very good, though in places the proximity of the path to the edge of the drop high above the river gave things an extra thrill!
Soon after this, as my ride neared the two hour point, I found myself riding across fields as I made my way towards Withypool. The sun was breaking through but there was still plenty of surface water to be found.
I discovered at this point that the GoPro’s battery ran out just after two hours of recording, so the rest of the ride wasn’t visually recorded.
Having reached the road above Withypool I made my way uphill, through the equivalent of a large stream coming down the road off the hills, to the main B3223 road and abandoning the MBUK route due to rather weary legs continued on the road, rather than going back off-road, to the nearby village of Exford in order to avoid a ride back to Winsford and the uphill to Wheddon Cross.
Great plan… until I realised that amount of uphill riding from Exford along the B3224 until a short descent into Luckwell Bridge and a final climb along the road to Wheddon Cross! What a relief it was to finally make it back to The Travellers Rest.
So twenty one miles in just over three hours and 42 minutes. Not my best performance for sure, and a bit of a wake-up call in terms of fitness levels. It was definitely hard work but I’m really glad I did it and I did enjoy the experience.
I do feel that overall we have better riding here in the Forest of Dean. This is in part because it’s not so remote, meaning that should you need to cut a planned ride short there are usually a variety of routes you can take back to your start point, which isn’t something I felt on this ride. In fairness, though, that may be due to my lack of local knowledge with regard to Exmoor…