It has been far too long since my last post. Holidays, the day job and moving home have all eaten away at my time of late. But now that life is starting to ease up a little, I can find my cycling legs again. After what seems an eternity of only keeping the miles ticking over to and from work and some weekend warrior rides, I needed to get back out there. The cycling voice in my head had been telling me to get out and explore. Every cyclist knows the cycling bug never leaves us - it always wins and I'm happy to give in!
I got back on the cycle touring saddle in my usual fashion. A good old paper map. Having re-located into a new area in the summer, one of the first things I did was purchase an array of Ordnance Survey maps that cover the surrounding areas. Crouched down on my office floor, it was hard not to be drawn towards the sight of Exmoor. Only 20 miles from my house, this vast area is only something I have heard people raving about. Stories of beautiful countryside, camping, chilled out walks and generally escaping the hustle of life. I started to imagine all the quiet and beautiful scenery as a I rode my bicycle without a care in the world. My destination was set. I was off to Exmoor.
Packed and eager to go early on Saturday morning, I meandered my way through the rolling hills of Somerset. Mile after mile of stunning views and tempting opportunities to explore quiet country lanes were almost endless. I have driven in these areas a few times now, but I do find you don't appreciate the beauty of the landscape around you until you slow down and forget about the world for a few moments. Cycling goes hand in hand with those of us who enjoy the slow lane. With my bed for the night being the only set plan, I let the road take over and allowed myself to get lost. My GPS device was firmly off for today.
I rolled along through sleepy villages until I reached the edge of Exmoor. Took an obligatory photo of me next to the Exmoor sign and carried on exploring. Exmoor really is a cyclist dream. Not much in the way of traffic, good roads, awesome views and hills to make you cry! Lunch was taken down a farm track after one of these monstrous hills! My treat was my lunch, hot tea and chocolate once I made it to the top.
As the day drew to a close, it was time to track down my bed for the night. Stopping to look at the map and switch on the GPS, I worked out my way to the youth hostel. I needed setup my tent before darkness fell, and more importantly, find some dinner. I had never stayed at a youth hostel before, but have always been intrigued. The YHA site in Exford (in the centre of Exmoor) is situated by the river Exe and consists of a large house with a variety of shared dorms, private rooms and a camping area. You also get access to a shared kitchen, laundry room and a lounge area for chill out time. With the weather being pretty good (late summer), I went for the camping option and pitched my trusty Terra Nova tent by the river. With only one other tent nearby, it made for a peaceful setting. Sitting there after setting up, all I could hear was the sound of the river and the birds fighting in the tree above me. A quick freshen up and as luck would have it, there was a pub opposite the hostel. A few beers and pie and mash left me feeling good and slightly drunk! Feeling warm and content, I headed back to my tent for a peaceful night. Stumbling back I couldn't help notice the wonderful stars shining brightly down. From what I read, Exmoor is listed as an International Dark Sky Reserve and I could truly see why. It is a shame my camera couldn't capture the beauty of what I was seeing.
I awoke the next morning to a beautiful sunrise. After brewing coffee on my stove, I sat down and ate my pastries and let the coffee rudely awake my body! I got packed up and began my cycling day with a 20% gradient hill! I had conveniently forgotten coming down the same hill the evening before. Now well and truly awake, I started the final day of cycling Exmoor in the general direction of home. Still allowing myself to get lost and explore, whilst stopping along the way to take some great photos of the area. Hill after hill was followed by more coffee breaks and cafes to load up on bacon sandwiches - all in aid of keeping my legs spinning! It was soon time to head home and bring this great little tour to an end. Although I was only away for a little more than 24 hours, it had been what I needed. Cycling somewhere new always inspires me to get out more. Break the routines and go exploring.
A while back I talked about running mini cycle tours across Somerset and surrounding areas. This little tour was a test run. I'm really keen to get people out in this and other areas of the UK and enjoy the beauty that we sometimes don't see right in front of us. It seems many of us run out of time these days with our everyday lives taking over and little trips like this help us get away for a couple of days and unwind. I'm hoping to connect with as many people as possible and inspires others to get into cycle touring. Watch this space. Details of dates to follow.
Check out all the shots from this mini bike tour.