We’re delighted to feature an article written by cycling enthusiast Jim Marshall (known on social media as @WildishDad) on the benefits of Exmoor National Park for road cyclists. He’s a father and writer with a passion for exploring the great outdoors – something he is determined to share with his young daughter as he knows “kids are never too young to catch the ‘outdoor enthusiast’ bug”. If you want to know more about Jim’s adventures, visit his blog or chat with him on Twitter.
One destination that I would urge all cyclists to visit is Exmoor National Park. If you are looking for a haven of quiet, rural roads, great views and brutal climbs, then Exmoor is the place to go.
Now I may be a little biased, as Exmoor is right on my doorstep, but having cycled all over the UK, I reckon I can say with a certain level of confidence that Exmoor has something very special to offer the road cyclist: be you a casual day tourer or hardcore, powermeter-slave, speed demon.
But what is it that makes Exmoor so unique and why it is a ‘must visit’ cycling destination?
Exmoor has some of the most amazing scenery that I have been fortunate enough to see; providing the visual goodies to keep your eyes shining bright and a big fat grin stuck on your face.
You like rugged, wave-crashing coastline? No worries!
Open moorland with awesome views? Yep there is that too – and we can throw in some deer and Exmoor ponies for good measure (Dunkery Beacon ticks all the boxes here).
Quiet villages, ancient bridges, fords, and centuries-old woodland? They’re all over the place.
No matter where you go on a bike it is so good to know that, bar from a few exceptions, you are guaranteed to be riding in some stunning scenery.
Which is just as well really, as hopefully the the views will help distract from the pain caused by Exmoor’s other big draw for cyclists….
There are three hill climbs in the ‘Top 10 of the Britain’s 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs’ located within Exmoor National Park (Exmoor Forest, Dunkery Beaconand Porlock Hill in case you’re interested) and the difficulty of these climbs sets the tone for the whole region.
Whilst the three climbs identified are particularly epic, I assure you from first hand experience that there are plenty of less well known but equally lung-busting hills to enjoy. The road from Elworthy Cross to the Ralegh’s Cross Inn is a particular favourite and the gradual, long rise from the beautiful medieval town of Dunster up to Wheddon Cross, taking in mile upon mile of wonderful woodland, along peaceful A roads, is another.
Cyclists soon get used to seeing lots of single, and more often than not, double chevrons on their OS maps, harbingers of challenging ascents and descents.
The legs are going to hurt, but it is so much fun!
Peace and quiet
One of the things that I can’t emphasise enough is how wonderful it is to cycle along the lanes of Exmoor and just enjoy the peace and quiet. Sure there are some stretches of road near the bigger population centres that are a bit busy (the popular tourist resort of Minehead for example), but even a few miles away from these and you can find yourself cruising along with the bother of only the occasional car.
Whilst even most of the ‘main’ A roads are pretty chilled, if you move on to the smaller, minor roads you can find yourself cycling all day and only bumping into a hand full of traffic. Some of the really minor roads may be a bit pot-holetastic, and have grass growing down the middle, but it is well worth the putting up with the challenges that these conditions pose to enjoy some car free miles.
Perfect pubs and cake laden cafes
Exmoor is also blessed with having a plethora of pubs and cafes; catering for both the holiday crowd and locals alike. The joy of this is that most villages will have somewhere – probably depending on your cycling goals – you can either find a restorative flapjack and coffee or pint of real ale with Scampi Fries.
A couple of my favourites include The White Horse at Exford (Exmoor Ale or Thatchers Gold – how am I supposed to choose?!) and the Tantivy Cafe in Dulverton (gluten free cake – winning).
Wherever you go, you are likely to receive a warm welcome – even when you clip clop along in your cleats, resplendent in full lycra.
Exmoor has a lot to offer the cyclist and over the years I have noticed a marked increase in the number of cyclists around and the positive attitude that most people in the area have towards us velocipede fans.
For me the real draw of the area is the perfect combination of challenging terrain, peace and genuinely jaw-dropping beauty of Exmoor. It is a first class cycling location and I hope to see some of you reading this out on the roads of Exmoor National Park one day.
I’ll be the one with the giant smile on his face, pretending that I haven’t opted for the Scampi Fries…
For more information about road cycling on Exmoor, you can also visit Exmoor National Park’s website page.