Exmoor Explorer

2nd August 2015, report by Jim Hutchins.

The start and finish were at "Minehead Barbarians" RFC. on the edge of Minehead between Exmoor and the Bristol Channel. Camping was available on one of the pitches on Saturday night for the modest fee of £3, a "pasta party" was also on offer for £6. The party part was well supported as the club bar was open but only about 8 people had gone for the pasta. I think it was spaghetti bolognaise but whatever it was there was not much of it!
Sunday morning dawned bright and gloriously sunny, bike primpers were up early and a general air of happy expectation prevailed. Many people I discovered had no more idea of what was coming than me.
The event was split into 3 loops, everyone did the first loop but after that you could decide at the finish of loops 1 and 2 if you wanted to do the next one.
Start time was a civilised 10am and there were 334 entries which made an impressive sight shoulder to shoulder filling one side of the road through Minehead. It was a very slow column because the whole lot had to squeeze into a, just about, double track that went straight up the side of Exmoor - forever, and then got steeper. This was the allegedly easy loop, but we were rewarded with a gentle downhill across the coastal moorland with fabulous views across to Wales. We returned to the RFC for the first tea break, or coffee, fruit juice, cake - various, flapjack, Alpen bar or banana.
Loop 1 was about 12 miles and 41 people thought that was enough leaving 293 to do loop 2, "the decider". This was about 18 miles and had a mixture of terrain from short sections of A road to slithering down near vertical wet rocky ditches and everything in between.
Only 55 brave or foolish people, I was one of the latter, went on to do loop 3, called, suspiciously, "the killer"! This was about 14 miles taking in Dunkery Hill, the highest point on Exmoor. The ascent was a bouldery single track with occasional soft peaty bits and the decent started down a roadway of what you might call uncut cobbles. It shook my water bottle out of it's cradle, never to be seen again. Some of the rest was across normally unridden fields full of cow divots hardened by the sun, too steep to resist letting her run but very hard on the legs and teeth.
For the last part of the ride I had the company of a young lad of about 40 who had done the event several times before. He said it was the hardest route he could remember, last year there were a lot of fire roads and double track bringing complaints that it was too easy! I think the organisers got their own back. Creaking to the finish I was pleased to find that there was still plenty of tea and cake to be had, a thoroughly enjoyable and completely knackering event.
The fastest time for the 3 loops was 3hrs 48 mins, - obviously somebody whose mum told him he had to be home for lunch! The slowest time was 7hrs 39mins, I am not prepared to reveal where I came in that range.

Event details available here.