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West Dorset Mountain Bikers

2011 Exmoor "Boys" Biking Weekend

This years 'boys only' biking weekend away was organised by Ian and we went to the very picturesque Exmoor staying at Twitchen Farm (Challacombe) (right). Messrs Biles and Sumby ("the unemployed") arrived early on Friday and did a short, but very hilly, ride while waiting for the those 'captains of industry', Summers & Hine, to arrive, well someone had to keep the 'cogs of industry' turning. A much longer ride (29 miles) was completed on Saturday followed by a 15 mile loop from Exford to Dunkery Beacon (the highest point on Exmoor at 519m or 1705ft) on Sunday. Heavy rain during the previous weeks meant very wet and muddy Exmoor hills, just how we like it, great fun was had by all. Beer and Food supplied in the evening by The Black Venus Inn (left), well worth a visit if you are in that part of Devon.

Friday's Ride - Challacombe to Brayford - 16 Miles, 2429ft of climbing

Only GB and Ian on this ride as Ed and Rod had to work and travel down to Devon later in the day. Having lunched on the excellent Sausage Baguettes and Exmoor ales (pity the owner wouldn't say what was in the very tasty sausages or perhaps its better not to know!) at the White Hart Inn (right) in Bratton Fleming GB and Ian were ready to take on the Devon hills. The photo (right) was taken in 1955, an excellent year to be born!

On paper the route was only 16 miles and didn't look to bad, maps can be very deceiving! We dropped down hill (rapidly!) into the village of Challacombe and then picked up a bridleway which ran East and parallel to the road climbing up to Roosthitchen, but as we were to find over the next 3 days cycling on moorland is not easy. It was very boggy and hard going up hill. At the top we turned right towards Moles Chamber, on paper a downhill run, in reality it was to boggy to ride even downhill. Mole's Chamber (left) is so named because in the eighteenth century the Reverend Mole and his horse disappeared into the bog never to be seen again. Our bikes did this a few times, at one point Ian ended up stuck in the middle of a large pool of black watery mud up to his hubs and going nowhere!

Picking up the road (National Cycle Route 3) we had a an easy climb up the hill to Western Common where we took a great track (wet muddy and fast) down to Five Barrow Cross. Disconcertingly we were still loosing height as we carried on to the Poltimore Arms, unfortunately they were shut so no Exmoor ale for us. Another 3km of downhill to Brayford had us worrying about what the uphill would be like when we came to it! However the next 5km were uphill but rideable thru Cross Gate, Lydcott and Gratton to Fullaford where we climbed up to Leworthy Cross on the road, all doable with no dramas. Taking a track from Northland we headed out a cross a field which seemed to stretch as far as we could see, however half way across it suddenly dipped into a very steep sided valley which was totally obscured until you stumbled into it. This was Cornham. We stopped to take photos of this hidden gem before going down steep bumpy track (lots of horse hoof holes), Ian crashed out halfway down giving himself a major dead leg in the process. More photos at the bottom of the valley before the walk, it was never going to be a ride, to the top. It was then an easy run back to Challacombe and the Black Venus, but this was also shut so we headed back to the farm to wash down the bikes in the stableyard and sample some bottles of ale that GB had thoughtfully brought with him.

Rod had arrived after a long dash across from Kent, but Ed was still a few miles away on the road. Scrubbed up and ready for the evening we adjourned to the lounge for aperitifs (Shepherd Neame Spitfire and Marstons Pedigree), travel stories were told and GB & Ian recounted the tale of their afternoon ride, before we moved on to the Black Venus for Exmoor ale and food. A walk across the dark damp muddy fields full of sheep was the shortcut to the pub and was completed with out any drama, but very muddy boots. After a hearty meal washed down with several pints of Trelawney ale we adjourned to the back bar and the Pool Table where Biles & Summers soundly thrashed Sumby & Hine for two games before Mr Hine potted 3 consecutive balls and then fluked the black to win the third. Honours (partially) even we left for the dark walk back up the hill to the farm.

So endth day 1.

The lane around Western Common, a very fast wet and muddy descent!

Ian contemplating in a Yoga position and getting ready for the very steep and lumpy descent down into Cornham. It didn't work! He gave himself a severe dead leg after crashing halfway down and jamming his handle bar into his thigh! Ouch!


Ian finds a new toy to play with at the side of the road, but it didn't work.

The view of the valley at Cornham



Friday's route

A phone signal at last! Western common


Steve take note; this is how you open gates!

GB taking very deep breaths after another lung busting ascent. Bloody hell Exmoor is hilly!


GB starting the very fast, wet and muddy descent around Western Common

GB having a well deserved drink, by a picturesque waterfall, near Gratton. Ian really should submit his detailed plans for producing hydro-electrickery from the waterfall to the local farmer.


The bikes ready for the off, on the descent into Cornham valley

Taking photos at Cornham, the valley between Northland Corner and Buscombe


Cornham valley

A picturesque and atmospheric shot of the bridge over the River Bray at the bottom of Cornham valley or Ian needs to ensure the camera is focused much better!



Saturday's Ride - Challacombe to Withypool - 27 miles, 3364ft of climbing

A quick look at the weather while having breakfast, it was very gray and drizzly, meant that any thoughts of going to Dunkery Beacon were a non-starter. So we decided to do the 27 mile loop to Withypool that GB had prepared instead. The first part was all climbing, 2km on the road and then another 2km across the moor to Wool Barrow to pick up the Tarka Trail to Exe Head and Simonsbath. However the moorland trail was not easy, either to ride or find in amongst the tussocks and bogs! There was much cursing and walking as we made our way slowly across the moor. The bikes were frequently stopped as they were buried up to their hubs in peat bog! Eventually the trail did get more solid and we passed Exe Head, wouldn't have noticed if Ian hadn't told us, and emerged on to a road at the top of the hill at Prayway Head where we met an somewhat surreal site.

In the lay by were about 20 cars (mostly 4x4's) all facing in the same direction looking across the valley. Inside were people (mostly overweight!) with binoculars watching a Stag hunt in the valley opposite. Most of them were wearing camouflaged clothing, a bit weird when you are sitting in a bright red 4x4!

We dropped down the hill into Simonsbath and picked up the Two Moors Way alongside the River Barle. This trail was excellent, solid single track going slightly downhill following the river. We followed the twisty technical trail for about 4 or 5km along the river. A steeping stone section saw GB slip off a rock and badly bashed his shin, this was just after Rod fell off while on camera (see photos below) on a relatively straight section of track! We stopped below Cow Castle for a banana break and for Rod to break out his first aid kit so GB could clean up and repair his damaged shin. We did another 1km along the river before turning away thru a woodland and then up a steep hill. 2km later we reached the top near Lanacre and thoroughly enjoyed the 2km descent to The Royal Oak pub at Withypool (right).

A big sign on the pub door said "No Muddy Boots", we were wet and muddy from head to foot, mostly black peaty stuff. There then followed a long debate on who would remove their footwear to go and get the beers, which was thoroughly enjoyed by the people at the table next to us! In the end we decided Rod should go as he had no cash and had to use his card. The Exmoor ale was excellent, made all the better by having it served by Rod. Rod then decided to wash his white socks, now black from the peat bogs, in the pub toilet. He disappeared into the pub and re-appeared 5 minutes later with some soggy dark gray things that he assured us were his white socks. Ales drunk and food consumed we set off again and as usual headed straight for a very steep climb, not difficult from Withypool as it is a 2 mile long 500ft climb whichever way you go out of the village.

About a kilometer up the hill Ed mentioned that he had gone walking here and they taken the wrong road and that maybe we were now doing the same! Sure enough we were, but a handy bridleway took us off across the moorland to the road we were trying to pick up. At this point the weather changed and it started to rain, the concensus view was to take the road (NCR 3) back to Challacombe. 14km of very quiet country lanes brought us to Mole's Chamber (again) where we did a short 1km hop across the now even boggyer moor, avoiding the pool that Ian got trapped in on Friday, to pick up the main road just above Twitchen Farm.

Back at the farm the bikes were hosed down, a shower, change of clothes, a snooze for some and we were ready for The Black Venus again! A much more subdued evening was had as tired bodies and minds recovered from the days excersions. A few beers, some wine, plenty of red meat, a brandy or two and we were ready for bed!

So endth day 2.


The stone bank section of the Barle River where GB badly bashed his shin, requiring Rod to break out the first aid kit.

Ed and Ian on the trail along the Barle River (Two Moors Way)


Group photo at Pinkery Pond, unfortunately a stray piece of grass got in the way

Saturday's route

On the Two Moors Way by the Barle River.
Rod crashes out (again!) and disappears into the hedge! Excellent timing on his part as I had just got the camera out. This wasn't the only time he fell off, too many to mention really, but this is the only one captured on film.


Another get off and walk moment!

Hiking across the very boggy moor (again!) on the Tarka Trail near Pinkery Pond
The word trail is used very loosely!


The Ford near Pickedstones

The Ford near Pickedstones


The River Barle near Cow Castle

The River Barle near Cow Castle


Sunday's Ride - Exford to Dunkery Beacon - 15 miles, 2810ft of climbing

With the weather rapidly getting better we decided to attempt the ride to Dunkery Beacon. We packed up and said goodbye to the excellent folk who had looked after us so well at Twitchen Farm and to Amanda (MIMP, her Hash name) a Weymouth Hasher who lives in nearby Combe Bissett and who had come over to see Ian. We then set off in the cars to Exford. Rod showed off by putting his car roof down, like something out of Transformers, but probably got wet as it started to rain as we got on the road. We parked up in the centre of Exford and were greeted by a 79 year old chap who told us how he still rode his old bone shaker bike to the top of Dunkery Beacon. Can't be that hard then, or so we thought. A second happy chappy (not!) then appeared and after a long inspection of the bikes started talking to Ian.

Happy Chap - "Those disc brakes any good"
Ian - "Yes, very good, thank you"
Happy Chap - "My mate got killed when his brakes came out and he hit a wall"
Ian (now looking worried) - "Oh really?"
Happy Chap - "Yeah. I used to have a bike like that"
Ian (still looking worried and wondering what's coming next) - "Really?"
Happy Chap - "Yeah. It got stolen"
Ian (thinking "p*ss off you miserable Jonah") - "Oh well, must be going, bye" and peddles off around the car park.

Leaving the car park and 'Jonah' behind we set off out of the village on a steep climb up the South West Samaritans Way. We had only gone about a mile when GB's chain snapped in two (bl**dy Jonah's fault!). Using his new home made supa dupa chain holding tool thingy (or NHMSDCHTT for short!) GB quickly removed a couple links and re-joined the chain, which behaved (almost) perfectly for the rest of the ride. Having reached Hoar Moor the riding became much easier and coats were removed as the sun began to make an appearance. The last 3km were a nice steady gradient until we reached the Beacon where we stopped for snacks and photo opportunities. Ian couldn't resist climbing the beacon with his bike and only fell off once before posing on top with his bike for photos. The 4 mile long 800ft climb from Exford completed, we looked forward to the downhill. GB mentioned that from here the rest of the ride was flat and to his amazement they believed him, the fools!

Setting off on the rocky track downhill, lots of stones, about the size of tin cans, were flying up and hitting us and the bikes! After about 1.5 km, having crossed the road near Robin How we stopped to wait for Rod to catch up as he was obviously not enjoying the trail as much as we were.

Ed - "What's up Rod"
Rod - "Bl**dy wrists, fingers and arms are killing me from that trail, how much more is there to do?"
GB (trying to make it sound not very far) - "Oh you know, about another mile and maybe a little bit more"
Rod (rather loudly) - "What, how much!!!"
Ian - "You need to hold the handlebars more loosely, don't grip so hard. Where are your gloves?"
Rod (rather sheepishly) - "I left them in the car"
Ian - "Oh"
Ed - " Don't sit down on the saddle, grip it between your thighs"
Rod - "Ok, got that"
GB - "What's up with your front suspension, you've only got a couple of inches?" (there are opportunities for too many jokes to be inserted here - GB)
Rod (very loudly and very p*ssed off) - "Oh f***, oh bl**dy f***ing sh*t, oh b*ll*cks!!" (actually I think that this went on a bit longer! - GB)
GB - "What's wrong?"
Rod (leaning over to release his suspension lock out switch) - "I locked the f***ing thing out on the climb up, b*ll*cks, b*ll*cks, b*ll*cks"
GB, Ed, Ian (all doubled up with hysterical laughter) - "hahahahahahahahahahahaha ...................................................................."

From there on down the trail was even rockier and steeper, but great fun, and ended far too quickly in the woods near Brockwell. Massive grins all round, Rod's slightly less so, and we would definitely recommend this trail to anyone MTB'ing in the area. However it does come with a couple of warnings

  1. Switch Your Suspension Fully On!
  2. Don't believe GB about the flat riding, there are lots of hills on the way back between Brockwell and Exford!

From Brockwell we took some lanes and bridleways up on to the hill above Elsworthy. On the way down to Ford Farm we got lost a couple of times, but eventually found our way back onto the road near Raleigh Manor, this is where the problems started! The first part of a dog legged bridleway, to bring us out at Combeshead, was fine, downhill and a rideable track, the second part was not. The track was too steep to ride with 6-10 inches of sticky slimy mud and required a 500m hike to get onto the road at the top. Needless to say there was lots of complaining and questioning of GB's parentage. However eventually, being the roughty toughty MTBer's that we are, we made it to the road. Looking at the proposed route there was another potential hike from Codsend to Langdon's Way, so the 'team' decision was to use the road instead. So from Combeshead we used a farm track (800m long, steep, muddy, full of puddles and lots of small drop offs, i.e. great fun!) to get to Luckwell Bridge and the main road back to Exford.

Luckwell Bridge is 770ft ASL and 4 miles west is Exford at 883ft ASL, however slap bang in the middle of them is Langdon's Way (Exford Hill) which is 1205ft ASL! So we started the climb up out of Luckwell Bridge and with each false horizon (there were many) Rod's sense of humour disappeared a little further into a pit of darkness from which no laughter can escape. Eventually he lost it completely and started calling the hill some very unsavoury names (even made me blush! - GB). At this point fearing for his mental well being and body, GB peddled off up the hill a little faster leaving Rod behind. He was joined about 5 minutes later by Ed and about 5 minutes after that by Ian. At the top of the hill we waited for Rod to appear, after a few more expletives when he arrived still cursing the hill, we descended the two miles of tarmac into Exford.

Having stowed the bikes and put on some dry clothes we retired to The White Horse Inn (right) for drinks and eats. The excellent Venison and Pork baguettes were consumed, but (unfortunately) only Ian could partake of the Exmoor Ales as the rest of us were driving! Sitting in the sun outside of an English village pub by a babbling river it was hard to leave Exmoor, but go we must. So we set off back home to Dorset, another great biking weekend behind us. We had done 3 rides covering 60 miles and over 8600ft of climbing in some very hard terrain, looking forward to the next one already!

Ed and Rod at Dunkery Beacon (1705ft ASL) after the 4 mile long 800ft climb up from Exford



Ian makes a second attempt to climb the Beacon, he fell off the first time!


Rod having a Banana break at Dunkery Beacon

Ian having climbed the beacon is now the highest point on Exmoor at 1711ft!

Sunday's route

View from Dunkery Beacon of the 2.5 mile long 1200ft descent to Brockwell.


Busted chain on GB's bike on the steep climb out of Exford to Dunkery Beacon

Tools broken out to fix the chain using GB's new supa dupa home made chain tool thingy!


The supa dupa home made chain tool thingy in action.

The view from Dunkery Beacon across to South Wales


GB, Ed and Rod at the Beacon

Banana break at the Beacon. Instead of posing and smiling for photos, Rod should have been checking his suspension before the descent!


GB and Ed in the woods near Brockwell at the end of a 2.5 mile long 1200ft descent, massive grins all around


Having 'unlocked' his front suspension Rod enjoyed the second half of the very rocky descent from Dunkery Beacon a bit more than the first half!


GB waiting at the gate for Rod, on the hill above Elsworthy

GB still waiting at the gate for Rod, now with Ed for company, still on the same hill above Elsworthy!


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