MY SPECIAL RIDE
Go on a riding gastro tour of Exmoor p36
If food is high on your list of a great ride’s ingredients – along with corners and eye-popping scenery – then you could do worse than the north Devonshire coastline, and a quality gastro-tour.
The ride loops along the A39 from Minehead west to Lynmouth, then via Simonsbath and Wheddon Cross, back to Dunster. The map says 55 miles and around two hours. To eat... I mean ride... your way round it properly should take twice that.
Out of Minehead on the A39; 40mph gives way early to 60mph as the road widens, but go steady – the triple lane is dangerous, and the way soon narrows again to high hedgerows and hidden junctions: last thing you want this early is to get creamed at a T-junction. Although, as the road drops and twists like crooked elbow into Porlock, maybe a cream tea isn’t such a bad idea (we’re still in Somerset, so jam or cream first; doesn’t matter). The Anchor in Porlock Weir does cream teas and a roaring fire, in a wonderfully bizarre dining room.
Then hoof it in first gear up the crazy one-in-four hairpins of Porlock Hill – novices beware, it’s properly steep, rising 1300ft in two miles – and onto the heathered top of Exmoor and its high, broad view out over the Bristol Channel to south Wales and beyond on one side, and across a great expanse of tussocky hillsides and moorland to the other. In the summer an ice cream van sits in a layby at the top if you are in the market for more calorific goodness.
The A39 clambers over the hills, winding around corners cutting and jutting into the moor-sides, past an AA box, over a cattle grid, then dives through a beech tunnel past The Culbone restaurant (a must-eat).
The tarmac rises again, moors slowly shape-shifting into open fields; watch out for random sheep and lowflying game birds.
Past the biker-friendly Blue Ball Inn on Countisbury Hill, then a vertiginous drop down the hillside in front of Lynmouth’s pretty, white-faced hotels and houses perched on a dense, tree- filled notch where the moor meets the sea. Turn left over the river, and follow the A39/B3223, signposted Simonsbath.
Clear of the town, the narrowed road kinks back and forth, climbing with a rock face on the right and a low wall and steep drop on the left – it’s one vehicle-wide, so take care. At the top take the B3223 to the left, under more trees, a couple of nice hairpins, then back onto a purple and brown moorscape again. Look for the lone, wind-blasted tree just after the cattle grid – good for arty photos.
After Simonsbath stay on the B3223, then straight onto the B3224 into Wheldon Cross. The road is smooth, rolling and tumbling through low hills and trees. At Wheldon Cross follow the sign for Dunster on the A396, another lazy, rising and falling through fern forests into the village of Dunster – where, you guessed it, a spot of tea awaits. With a scone and jam.
‘The Anchor in Porlock Weir does cream teas and a roaring fire’