Uneconomic cycling in Exmoor – a week on the roads less travelled (Part one)

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OK, so you're going for a ride. How far? How fast? Your call, but to some extent out of your hands. Blame the weather, the hills, your lack of training. But how direct? Just A to B? Round trip? Stopping off on the way, stopping as little as possible, stopping to smell the roses? Here's a little tale about joining two points by the least efficient way I could find.



Directions? Or invitations?

Google Maps Minehead to Lynmouth

Monday's and Tuesday's rides – Google Maps

It depends on why you're riding. Dropping a letter off at the postbox? Shopping? Or out for the day? Your agenda, your goals and your motivation will all be different, so your choice of route, and riding style will follow. Yup, I commute to work by the most direct route possible, as it's not cycling for fun as such (though I far prefer cycling to walking.) But even when I'm touring I'm going to set my route depending on what I want to see in a day, how hard a day's ride I want or can manage, what the terrain is like, and where I plan to sleep that night. It could be forced upon me if the nearest hostel or B&B is 60 miles away by the most direct (A-road) route – in which case I'd probably have to limit what I want to see en route, and not hang about too much. But once in a while, and in fact the more often the better, it really pays to be able to take the least direct route between where you are and where you want to get to. Welcome to the world of exploring by bike.

Allerford, just off the beaten track

Allerford, just east of Porlock – and just off the beaten track.

In February-March 2012 I took a week riding around the West Country, hugging the coast as far as possible from North Somerset to mid-Cornwall and, as is common for my cycle trips, trying to discover something of the area I was cycling through rather than just ticking off the roads I'd covered and occasionally noting a view or two as I passed by. I was starting in Exmoor, so this was obviously somewhere to investigate further, but I'd never cycled in Devon before and some of the Cornish fishing villages were also on my 'to do' list. I also wanted to check out a few hill climbs en route, and visit a few other spots that I'd passed through but not had the chance to stop and visit with enough time in hand to do them justice. So much for the 'holiday'! But where other folks come back from their Mediterranean Sun-and-sand break fatter, poorer, sunburnt and hungover, I couldn't spend a week on a beach all day and in a bar all night – I go and explore somewhere, breathe clean air, learn about a place, and come back leaner, fitter, tanned and refreshed, and with a cameraful of photos, a bunch of postcards and a memory bank full of the places I've visited. I've covered a pretty impressive amount of the UK this way over the years. But never mind the acreage of the UK I've seen, the chance to do so on minor roads, with time to see sights that the A-roads you'd choose by car would never reveal, is really what makes trips and tours like mine special.

Doone country.. The Oare Valley

Doone country.. The Oare Valley

More about my Exmoor to Truro ride... (next page)

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7 comments on “Uneconomic cycling in Exmoor – a week on the roads less travelled (Part one)”

  1. Patrick wrote:

    Excellent report and photos Dan, part 2 included. If only the British weather was a bit more reliable – though you did well for February. Of course if less people jetted off to the sun and pottered around the UK instead these places might not be quite the same as you found them. Or perhaps they might. You are right that if anyone bothers to poke around and look, the British Isles are fascinating in the detail but it's surprising how few holidaymakers seem willing to change their habits (in spite of Julia Bradbury, Neil Oliver, and even Michael Portillo). They prefer mock woollen mills and visitor centre places where you can spend money.

  2. Hilary wrote:

    Yes, a most inspiring report Dan with excellent pictures. Its an area I've only had an odd fleeting glimpse of some years ago and have been wanting to go back and cycle there ever since. I really must make the effort, its clearly well worth it.

  3. Kern wrote:

    Hills ... there are hills, and then there are hills. There would be a fair amount of walking for us over these roads, no question.

    You are right, Dan, about the charm of the backroads. A significant part of the lure of Europe (for us colonials)_ is the network of small roads and villages. And the artifacts. And the history. Our distances and choices of route are much more limited. The best way to see Europe is on a bike, partly because of this richness of choice.

    Great photos, by the way. They bring to mind "the road not taken" ...

  4. Patrick wrote:

    I like this one especially.

  5. Mary wrote:

    I am blown away by this report Dan. Thank you so much for this. I did 'The Great South' during my LEJOG last year, I was unable to choose the route as it was with a holiday firm, but I vowed never to return to it. Your report has totally changed my mind.

    All those chocolate box cottages, the Exmoor ponies (we had one our selves – Jakayna, she was a wonderful character and straight off the moors).

    Not read Report 2 as yet, as Im off out and about myself this morning, and I want to read it with tea and relaxation.

    You write so beautifully, you should be a cycle travel writer. 🙂

  6. Dan wrote:

    Awww shucks *blushes*, thank you for so many lovely comments! Yes, I enjoy writing about my trips as well as doing them, and having just compiled an omnibus of my Iceland blogs for a non-computerised grandmama, I've been taken back to some of my thoughts from then as well. Great memories! Loads more pictures on flickr (and many many more that aren't worth uploading) – part of what takes the time in writing blogs though is finding and uploading photos that illustrate a point in the story! A noble endeavour though and a good challenge. Yes, the scenery in the West – and its history and geology – makes it fully worth a visit, regardless of how good the roads are, and sometimes the atmosphere of a place can be striking even if not in a cheerful way, a 'bad' picture can be more inspiring than a picture-postcard, sun-drenched image of the same area. Not all worthwhile experiences are happy ones. 🙂

  7. Kern wrote:

    Mary has an interesting point about the route Dan has chosen here. There are many out-of-the-main alternatives for cycling routes – the difficulty is finding or knowing about them.

    It would be fun/useful to build up a catalog of secondary cycling routes which avoid the frantic tension of heavy traffic. But maximum-gradient hills need not be a mandatory criterion 🙂 .

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