In­sider’s guide: Taun­ton Flyer

Soar through Som­er­set and swoop down to Devon in an avi­a­tion-themed epic

Cycling Weekly - - Contents -

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.

High planes

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

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