On the first Sunday of August each year a bunch of mad mountain bikers descend on the quiet villages and open moorland of Exmoor for a 30+ mile challenge.
Now, as most of my friends know, I am a bit mad when it comes to adventure sports and this was my fifth time on Exmoor. Each year the route changes and it’s not published until the week prior (to eliminate the advantage of local knowledge). This year the start was Minehead, Somerset which is a fair old trek from Helston, Cornwall, where I live but as luck would have it I have friends in Williton, perfect for a pasta dinner the night before. There were four of us in total taking part, I travelled with a friend from Cornwall and we met up with my brother and a mate of his.
The start time is 10 am and over 400 mountain bikers amassed at the rugby club. There’s always a bit of a log-jam at the start (it’s not a race but try telling that to a bunch of macho blokes on bikes!) however the field soon spreads out as people settle into the pace. This year for the first time the course was dissected into three sections, each one returning to the start point for coffee and cake before the next challenge. The first took in the quaint back streets of Minehead, (the locals looked a bit bemused as 400 cyclists sped through) and then a 6k climb up onto the moorland above.
The views were spectacular over Porlock and Bridgewater Bay and luckily it was a clear day so you could see for miles. In the past I’ve taken part in pouring rain and howling gales when the moorland has turned into a peat bog and it becomes impossible to stay upright on a bike (it’s not as much fun when you have to carry it) but this year, after weeks of glorious sunshine the moors were tinder dry with just a bit of mud in the lowland valleys to contend with. I decided stage one was enough for me. I could blame mechanical failure however I just fancied enjoying a coffee by the sea in Blue Anchor rather than pushing myself to the limit. The remainder of the course took in Dunster (a quaint village with stunning castle) and the surrounding areas. Only one of my group finished the whole gruelling course so I didn’t feel too guilty.
It’s not for the faint-hearted but, if you are a mountain biker who enjoys discovering new challenges, this could be just what you are looking for! It’s very well organised, with marshalling at road junctions and arrows to show you the route along miles of bridle tracks with stunning panoramic views. There’s even a mountain rescue team close at hand (I did need them one year after a particularly spectacular fall into a ditch and they did an admiral job of patching me up!)