Bikepacking across Devon, Somerset and Avon – UK

No wonder I was so tired at the end of the first day. After 62 km we had climbed 1271 m.

We had a slow start leaving home that morning, so many things to do before we left. So by 10 am, with the heavy overnight frost melted away by wall to wall sunshine we were off. As first days go I knew it was going to be hard. We live in an area were you are either going up a 20% hill or down one. Nothing is flat around here. Added to this we were staying in Exford tonight, nestled right in the centre of Exmoor, so big climbs.

View from Codden Hill

We went a different way to normal following the route the GBDuro took through here. So we headed inland to Harracott, plenty on hills and small lanes. Lovely views under the blue sky. Then up Codden Hill which was steep and long. We would see for miles as we climbed. All this time it was warmish and my legs felt strong. At the top we headed off on a rocky farm track into a lovely wooded valley only to struggle immediately back up the next steep hill.

Heading down a lane towards Harracott

It was beginning to cloud over now and each time the sun went behind a cloud it got bitterly cold. So one minute we were boiling, puffing up the hill and the next we were freezing as we raced down the other side.

Evening views from Exmoor

I think it was the cold that finished me off. After a massive hill that had us pushing we stopped for a picnic lunch. After that my legs just refused to cooperate. They felt ridiculously tired and even my arms felt tired. All I wanted to do was lie down, but we still had the main climb up to the moor ahead of us.

Up on Exmoor

Lots of digging deep followed, and some very low gears! We even missed out one of our favourite off-road sections across the moor and went on the road via Simonsbath. Eventually we had the 1 mile drop down the Exford and arrived at the bottom chilled to the bone. Normally we camp here but I was thankful we had decided to stay at the Whitehorse Hotel due to the cold weather.

Stopping for a snack near Simonsbath

I felt a lot better in a warm room after a hot shower. More big climbs tomorrow so my legs better sort themselves out.

A very cold Bernie ready to leave Exford

Felt much better the next morning, so had a good breakfast to make sure it stayed that way. It had rained heavily overnight and was trying decide whether to drizzle or rain properly as we got ready. So we left in full waterproofs and as leaving in any direction from Exford involves an epic climb we were soon at the Boil in a Bag situation. Possibly better than freezing but the jury is still out on that.

Hoping we were heading in the right direction across Exmoor

Once at the top we turned on to a rocky track and headed towards Dunkery Beacon. At least our GPS said we were heading that way. Now the rain had stopped we were inside the cloud and could see very little. The track we were on was made out of loose rocks a bit bigger than a fist with plenty of fixed tombstone larger rocks sticking out. Our tyres coped very well with this but you had to hold on tight to stop the handlebars being jerked out of your hands. It was also a good test for our new bikepacking setup as the bikes were leaping around all over the place.

Exmoor ponies appear put of the mist

A little way along we stopped to photograph some Exmoor ponies who had appeared out of the mist and had galloped alongside us. Very atmospheric. Suddenly a voice said “Hello there”. A man appeared from the mist and introduced himself as an Exmoor Warden. We had noticed the moor around us had been burnt and was still smoking in places. Apparently an arsonist had set two fires yesterday damaging an area of thin peat and young heather as well as killing ground nesting birds.

The Exmoor Warden showing us the results of the previous day’s arson

The tail wind was really getting up as we reached Dunkery Beacon, so we took a quick photo in the mist and headed down before we got too cold. Some of the track was harder than others and I managed a slow motion fall where I was able to unclip and step off before I hit the ground.

Up at Dunkery Beacon
Dunkery Beacon

The second part of the descent was harder and I ran along behind Bernie for a bit before I was brave enough to ride down. We found a beautiful woodland at the bottom before emerging in Wootton Courtney, a pretty and very old village.

Bernie disappearing in the mist
Heading back down out of the strong wind
In the woods at the bottom of the hill

We zigzagged along lanes for a while before heading up another mammoth hill and turning off at the top on wide, gravelly forest tracks. This was where I had learnt to ride a mountain bike at the grand old age of 45.

Woodland Oxalis in the rain

Several lanes and hills later we arrived at a pub we knew had good food, and they had an open sign outside. Only they were shut! So we whizzed down the hill to the next village of Roadwater and had a wonderful lunch in the Galant Soldier pub. Not far to go after this but I was wishing I hadn’t eaten the Lemon Meringue Pie when we got to the next hill. From the top we could see the Quantocks rising up steeply in front of us. But that was for the next day.

On a forestry track on Crown Hill above Timbercombe
West Quantoxhead church
Cycling along the top ridge of the Quantocks

It was straight up a lung busting hill, with no warm up, the next morning. I was pleased that this time I made it right to the top of the Quantocks without stopping, although there was a lot of wheel spinning on the second half which had long sections of loose stones. There was no one else up there, probably because the wind was strong and it looked as if it might rain, so we had the place to ourselves. The stunning views out to sea and inland were a bit misty but just as impressive as last time we were here.

Arriving at the top of the Quantocks with lovely views down to the sea
The view inland from the top of the Quantocks

We had a great cycle along the top of the steeply undulating ridge. The Quantocks, with dry stony tracks is a great place to cycle and we were heading down the far side far too soon. We were following the GBDuro route so came down a track we hadn’t been on before. It was a wide with hard packed stone forestry track and we had a fast descent.

An undulating track along the top of the Quantocks
Dropping down from the top of the Quantocks
Me cautiously negotiating a slippery stream bed

We made fast work of the small lanes at the bottom and were soon in Spaxton sitting outside their Community Village Store with coffee and apple turnovers.

Stopping off for coffee and apple turnovers at Spaxton Community shop

Before long we were passing through Bridgwater and cycling along a canal towpath on NCN3. Now we were down on the Somerset Levels there was nothing to stop the wind that had been increasing all morning. Luckily it was mainly a tail wind but once we were back on the lanes, which tend to be dead straight for 2 miles before turning 90 degrees to follow the next field drain, we often had a side wind or head wind.

Along the canal towpath near Bridgwater

Despite thinking of this area as flat we had two big hills to cross, and the A39, before arriving in the Sedgemoor area. Here we noticed that the standard of driving was inversely proportional to the cost of the surrounding houses! The ones around here being between £1.5 and £2 million, and the nuts behind the wheels of their 4 wheel drives didn’t really have time to think about 2 cyclists on the road.

Chadzoy Church on the Somerset Levels
A typical Somerset Levels road, dead straight with a drain on either side

We stopped at Mark for a quick lunch at the village store, the pubs here being shut on Mondays and Tuesdays. Then we only had a little way to go to Wedmore where we were stopping for the night.

This gave us time to look around this beautiful historic town. The town was granted a licence to hold a market in 1255 and is full of very old and interesting houses.

View over the Somerset Levels from one of the hills we crossed
Swans in a Somerset Levels field
The 14th Century Wedmore Market Cross

The next day turned out to be a much harder day than I expected. How could I forget about the Mendip Hills! With 1014 m of mainly off-road climbing it took its toll on our legs.

We set off a bit earlier than of late as the wind has been tending towards gale force by the afternoons. So we had a pleasant cycle along the flat Levels, past the imposing dome of Nymans Hill with the Mendip Hills looming above us as we got closer.

Starting the West Mendip Way

Of course as soon as we got to the start of the first hill we turned off-road as we are still following the GBDuro route. At first it was fairly steep and went up through fields giving us nice views of Cheddar and the Cheddar Reservoir. Then we went through a gate and the slippery mud and even more slippery stones, that we would have for the rest of the day, began. It had rained heavily overnight. It was a long push to the top, but there were a lot of spring flowers to see in the banks such as primroses and violets. The wild garlic was in leaf but not flowering yet.

Banks full of spring flowers
View from the first Mendip Hill of the day
The Mendip Way

Once at the top the track opened out giving us a nice cycle along the top before dropping down to a lane. That was the only bit of off-roading that I enjoyed for the whole day. We were off road for most of the morning as we climbed and dropped down through woodlands. It was grim, really slippery mud, our bikes were sliding sideways on the mud and on the very slippery rounded rocks. I had already started walking when Bernie’s bike slid out sideways in a deep and very muddy puddle. I ended up walking for most of the morning so it was slow progess.

The start of the slippery mud
More pushing
View down to Cheddar and the reservoir

We sat out the hail in a bus stop and just made the George pub for lunch as the skies opened and it rained heavily for an hour. They didn’t seem to notice how muddy Bernie was as he walked in behind me. I was worried as we were taken into a smart and packed restaurant with lovely cream upholstered chairs. Luckily our table had wooden chairs with a flecked seat so I didn’t have to worry, although as we were both mud flecked we got some strange looks from the ladies who lunch.

Lovely woodland

We had one more bit of off-road that we couldn’t avoid, then due to mutiny in the ranks, we stayed on roads! Our last track took us up a hill through a woodland and I thought we were in the middle of nowhere when a deafening thunderous noise started. I looked up an saw a Ryanair flight taking off just above the trees. Bristol Airport! Round the corner were about 20 men in anoraks watching in great excitement as each plane went over. They assured me it was really interesting.

We headed up more super climbs as we neared Clifden. As the traffic was building we turned onto what we thought was a cycle track running alongside. It turned out to be a Mountain Bike Blue Run full of large humps, berms, jump offs, rock Gardens and double hairpins. I was quite pleased with myself when I made it to the end. It was easier than the real thing!

Mistakenly on the Clifton Mountain Bike Trail

Swiftly over the Clifton Suspension Bridge, round Clifton Common, through the lovely Blaise Manor grounds to our B&B. All cream and white so we had tobe super careful. Somehow we managed to get the mud off everything without covering the room and without a Cat in The Hat ring in the sink! (Dr Seuss)

Clifton Suspension Bridge
The grounds of Blaise Castle

This is a short video of mainly the off road sections over Exmoor and the Quantocks.

A short video mainly of the off road sections of Exmoor and the Quantocks

Now heading for Wales! Well we thought we were heading for Wales. We had a pleasant cycle in the sunshine this morning on cycle trails that took us over and under motorways towards the Severn Bridge. As there is a yellow wind warning this morning it is currently closed to traffic. We tried to walk across pushing our bikes but were unable to walk against the wind, very scary and probably dangerous. A pedestrian coming the other way had been blown off her feet three times on the way over. So we have turned around and will be spending the day in the motorway services along with other stranded travellers. The wind is due to drop this evening so will try again at 6 pm.

On a way cycle track heading towards the Severn Bridge. Going under the motorway
Sometimes beside the road
Next minute on a leafy track
unfortunately the cycle track was closed just before the bridge
Didn’t think much of their diversion although the large lorries were very good and gave us lots of room
Our attempt to cross the Severn Bridge failed. The gale force winds were so strong we couldn’t move forward
View from the Severn Bridge to the new bridge. Look at the colour of the water
The long wait for the wind to drop

A short video of the final day from Wedmore to Bristol https://youtu.be/UQWcIbGklP8