Recently I’ve been getting the hint from Jenny that I should get better at surprises. So far I’ve flat out disagreed. I am full of surprises! I take her on downhill singletrack that she would never expect. I often don’t tell her how far we have to get home or about the next big climb that is around the corner. Okay, I know… I am pretty good the
bad surprises, but not so good at the ones she wants. So I decided to attempt a surprise… with bikes!
The bank holiday weekend had bikepacking written all over it. We had some new gear to test and a final handful of summer evenings just begging for a good camp site! I just needed to book some train tickets and not tell her where we were headed! Perfect!
I thought I would add to the suspense by inviting some mysterious people who she had never met! It was bound to be a success!
It was a manic bank holiday Friday on the fast train from Reading to Exmoor, stuffed to the brim and running 20 minutes behind schedule. We finally arrived in Taunton around 930pm with just enough time to scour the ‘condemned’ aisle of the Morrisons supermarket.With the unwieldy smorgasbord of bargain snacks stuffed in already bulging bags, we made our way out of town up into the Quantock Hills to look for a cheeky camp spot. We nearly had a domestic whilst battling our way up that bastard muddy climb to the top of Cothelstone Hill. It was touching midnight when we finally crawled into our little tent, enveloped by unfamiliar surroundings in the black of night.
The morning brought a veritable gaggle of dog walkers and even some horse riders as early as 0700. What the hell? This was Saturday morning! Why were these lunatics awake and running around in the hills? They didn’t seem to mind the crazy cyclists camping on their hill.We exchanged ‘good mornings’ as I boiled some water for coffee. Shit! I forgot the bloody coffee and all I had were arse flavoured instant ‘mokachinos’! The disappointment on my face says it all.
With all the dog walker traffic on the hill, we were eager to get moving deeper into the Quantocks. We set off north from Cothelstone Hill where we rolled up to a well known MBR route known as the Quantocks Killer Loop, a lovely mix of single and double track through the trees.
Recent rains had bogged things up a bit and we were grateful for the semi-fat tyres.
Conditions improved as the Quantocks Killer Loop merged with the epic EWE bikepacking route.
We followed the EWE route northeast for a while until I realised it was going to be a long ride back over to Dunkery Beacon…
I told Jenny that there was a surprise waiting at the top of the Beacon. She was ready to quit for the day but I begged her to continue. Finally, we found James & Sarah near the summit and we were both thrilled to finally meet them.
We’ve followed their blog ( Big Sur) and exchanging messages over the past few years and we felt like we already knew them.
We shared stories over a platter of cycling grub as the sun fell into the Bristol Channel behind the rolling Exmoor hills.
The morning brought another spectacular view of the channel and fresh air in our lungs. Sarah and James were much more prepared in the coffee department and generously shared some of their glorious hot liquid when they saw our pathetic mokachinos.
We were certain we had picked the quiet route down to Exford, but we still got stuck in traffic.
A bystander was quick to help send us in the right direction to Exford as light rain started to fall.
The Exford Tea Rooms lured us in, promising an escape from the morning drizzle with bacon baguettes and coffee followed by a full on Exmoor cream tea! As we stuffed our faces, I noticed on my phone that Cass coincidentally posted about his recent Exmoor outing where he passed through this same spot! We chortled about the amazing timing as we continued to annihilate our blessed bacon baguettes.
It’s true, I have a tendency to mistake unridable footpaths for adventurous ‘short cuts’.
I promised a fairly rideable Exmoor ‘bridleway’ and instead delivered river crossings and mud bogs.
After surprisingly little coercion, we had nearly crossed the chilly Barle River…
… but it didn’t last, we still had a few kms of banoffee pie to stomp through. James and Sarah were good sports in spite of my silly route choice. They were carrying a lot more weight on narrower tyres. When will I ever learn!
We pounded our coins into the money tree at Tarr Steps for good luck, making wishes to avoid pushing our bikes through that mud ever again! Route Notes
The general lay of the land. The yellow was our tentative route and the others were there for inspiration.
Starting from Taunton, we headed into the Quantocks and then traversed over into Exmoor. It could be made into a week long trip or done on a normal 2 day weekend.
Here are some GPX routes that helped guide us.
You can also hunt for our GPX tracks on my Strava