Insider’s guide: Taunton Flyer
Soar through Somerset and swoop down to Devon in an aviation-themed epic
Many events on the summer calendar, cycling or otherwise, are based around historical periods, but the Taunton Flyer is unique in its distinctly 1940s World War Two theme, a reference to the local area hosting numerous war-era airfields. Partnering with the forces charity SSAFA (Soldiers, Sailors, & Airmen’s Families Association), a portion of your entry fee goes directly to the organisation and they will themselves be running a prize draw on the
day, of which one prize is a cockpit tour of a real Spitfire, with the added thrill of firing up the fully working Merlin engine; the aircraft will sit at the start area so everyone gets to take a look too.
The setting for all three aircraft-themed routes — the smaller 34-mile Spitfire, the medium 74mile Dakota and the 113-mile Wellington — is the varied and always pretty countryside of Somerset and Devon. All three routes take in some of the best lanes and minor roads around Taunton — the base for the ride — and drop down through Devon to touch on the outskirts of Exeter, passing the home of the squadrons that performed such remarkable feats during the course of the war.
All three routes head off from the racecourse in a south-westerly direction into the Blackdown Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the climbing starts early. Don’t be alarmed, though; the climbing here isn’t about ripping your legs apart by lunch, but gently swooping up and down leaving you with the time and energy to appreciate your surroundings. This applies to the 34-mile Spitfire route especially, which spends all of its time in the AONB, cutting across from the longer routes and hitting their return roads early, but still taking in three of the six airfields on the way.
The two longer routes head further south, dropping gradually downhill for almost 20 miles to take in the first airfield at Exeter Airport. Nothing much remains of the original base, it’s now a busy commercial airport. Here you turn north and ride through the more urban areas of the route alongside the main A30 at times, so beware of traffic and road hardware. Turning away from the urban roads brings you back into the AONB and marks the hilliest section of the routes too, taking in the biggest climbs of the day in one 25-mile chunk.
On the high plains of these roads you will encounter the ride’s more interesting airfields. Dunkeswell is the location of one of the two (three on the long route) feed stops, but if you are doing well for time the aerodrome is well worth a quick stop; while we were there a few wartime aircraft were parked up and flying throughout the day. Not five miles up the road is the old airfield that was RAF Uppottery, one of the most famous WWII airfields as it housed the US Airborne Division and most recognisably, the men of Easy Company 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment who have now become immortalised through
The Band of Brothers TV series. If you can tear yourself away from the history, you have a few more miles to cover on rolling roads leading back up to Taunton, having joined the route the Spitfire takes back to HQ. At the 70-mile mark the medium Dakota heads off back to the racecourse also, leaving the long route riders to head north of Taunton for the first time on an additional figure-of-eight loop on virtually flat roads, taking in the last two airfields at Merryfield and Westonzoyland, with a third feed station too to restock for those additional miles to get you through to the finish.
Navigate your way past six wartime airfields