The Mountain Bikers weekend away on Exmoor started with Rob, our guide from Wildbikes, describing the first day's riding as consisting of four climbs and four descents. We found he wasn't kidding as we rode from the door of our Minehead bunkhouse (at sea level) straight onto steep bridleways climbing up to Selworthy Beacon (over 300 metres). Fortunately we were well rewarded when Rob lead us down a "cheeky" trail which switchbacked steeply down on a slidy, loamy surface through beautiful mature woodland to emerge into Porlock, back at sea level. A climb up picturesque Hawk Combe took us up to the top of the moor, after which there was only one way - down - and Rob ensured that we used gravity wisely as we ripped down narrow singletrack to arrive at the picture postcard thatched pub at Porlock Weir for lunch.
Suitable refreshed, we climbed back to the top of the moor on perhaps the only Strava segment where you have to stop at a toll booth half way up and cough up £1 per cyclist - 4 miles of Porlock Hill, climbing steadily 350 metres. This climb was rewarded by an even better descent, through Horner Wood - not steep but continuously descending, through mature oak woodland. Further reward was taken in the tea rooms in the village of Horner before tired legs tackled the final climb back to Selworthy Beacon which gave us the height to enjoy an exhilarating final run down back to Minehead.
The following day, on Saturday, while Surrey basked in sunshine, we enjoyed a succession of soft, misty showers blowing in from the sea. Low cloud meant that only two of the eleven riders tackled the climb to Dunkery Beacon, Exmoor's highpoint at 519m. The group reassembled in the Horner tea rooms for an early lunch followed by more of the superb singletrack in these woods (which, guide Rob informed us, is a SSSI because it is one of the largest concentrations of sessile oak in the country).
Exmoor is really one of the best areas for mountain biking in the south of the UK as it not only has a tremendous variety of terrain, but also an enviable network of bridleways - apparently more miles within the National Park than of footpaths. I call that getting your priorities right!
The weather on our final day was dry, and Rob lead us on a circuit of the nearby Quantock Hills. These hills have a long ridge, with combes dropping steeply off in all directions. The descent into Hodder's Combe was particularly noteworthy as at one point the bridleway and the river merged for 50 metres, requiring some careful riding over slippery rocks before popping back out onto dry land.
Another highly successful weekend for the mountain bikers with Wildbikes, with many thanks to Gwyn Williams for the organisation.
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