Here, for your - perhaps surprised - delectation are the glories of the Quantocks and Exmoor, a small pocket of the country absolutely festooned with wonderful biking options of every stripe, for every type of rider.
The Quantocks boasts one of the most densely packed bridleway networks in the country, despite its relatively minuscule size. There are steep slopes aplenty; very stiff climbs, screaming tree-lined descents, technical puckerings and wide open blasts alike. Truly, there is something for everyone here. Unless you don’t like hills. For all its size, this is a place that punches way, way above its weight.
And then there’s Exmoor - so close that it’s actually part of the same geological system as the Quantocks. Actually they’re only separated by a mile or so, if that. Not quite as abundantly be-pathed, it’s still blessed with more than its hair of combes, dells, hills, moorland and unbelievably good riding.
Here are seven representative routes which will give the curious rider a taste of the delights on offer; three in the Quantocks and four in Exmoor. It’s to the Quantock’s credit - and testament to its bridleway network - that the rides hardly intersect despite its diminutive size. The truly masochistic could ride all three Tours and only see their own tyre marks for a few hundred metres. And there’s still room further south to explore.
The Exmoor Tours are a little more spread out, but there’s some astonishingly good riding peppered all over the place. There are relatively easy rides all the way through to lung-busters which seem to cover deceptively few miles, until you look at the altitude gains. And there are plenty of little towns and villages which serve as somewhere to grab refreshments en route - and if there’s not, there’s usually a decent pub a mere stone’s throw away. So take a trip to the West Country and point your bike along some of the best trails the country has to offer!
This is a toughie. Only 37 kilometres (23 miles) long, but it packs a wallop as far as climbing is concerned. You're either grinding up something steep, or hurtling down the other side of something steep.
The rewards are immense though - fast, flow sections, wide open very fast sections (which then turn into alarmingly rocky sections in pretty short order), woodsy singletrack to open moorland. This really is a fabulous Tour.
The route starts in Minehead, and runs along the SW coast path with its attendant views before dropping through the woods into Allerford down Lynch Combe
Horner Wood, which follows, is something of a local highlight; this trail-festooned place yields some exquisite trails if you care to poke it, but be careful; it can bite back!
There then follows a long, long grind up the flanks of Dunkery Beacon, before a glorious hurtle back down again through Wootton Courtenay, and towards Alcombe, on the outskirts of Minehead and back to the start.
There are plenty of things to do and places to park in Minehead, of course (it's the biggest town hereabouts) and there's even a train (from Taunton).
This is a grand ride, taking in some choice trails both in the north Quantocks and in the Great Wood to the south.
It starts off at the carpark at the top of Crowcombe Combe, before striking out north along the top of the Quantocks. It's not long, though, before the route drops down one of the many Combes - this one is Somerton - before climbing up Lady's Edge to Bicknoller post.
The Beacon Hill trail is another highlight, before a frankly unpleasant haul up Bicknoller Combe, down the fantastic Frog Combe and up Lady's Combe. Eventually the route heads back to the carpark before diving down the ancient Drover's Road and plunging into some fantastic singletrack descents at Triscombe Stone before winching back to the car.
This is a longer Tour than the figures suggest. There are many feet of climbing, much fine descending, and it'll likely take over four hours to ride, especially if it's wet. It's well worth it, though - and the wealth of singletrack in Great Wood is also worthy of further investigation if you wish to make the ride longer still.
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This Tour is an excellent day out which encompasses some of the best riding that Exmoor is famous for.
From Malmsmead, the route heads coast-ward before joining the Coleridge way - the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, working nearby, was interrupted from finishing his poem Kubla Khan by a 'person from Porlock' - before climbing up onto there moor proper via Robber's Bridge.
Up onto South Common, the trail strikes out east, eventually dropping down to Exford via Stone Lane. This used to be an excellent slice of rocky, steppy doubletrack - but unfortunately it's been comprehensively resurfaced recently. Hopefully it may eventually return to something like its former glory. A popular diversion would be to take the trail across Kitnor Heath before dropping down to Exford, but this can be a bad move in wet weather.
Exford is a great place to refuel; there are a couple of decent pubs and a general store, and it's a very pretty place to gird your loins for the climb back out.
Actually, the climb isn't too bad - and the Two Moors Way that comes shortly after is well worth it. And after a spot of road work, the route drops down the wonderful Badgeworthy Wood - an excellent finish.
As mentioned, Exford is the place to refuel on the way round, and Malmsmead has the Lorne Doon Inn, which serves food and drink in a very picturesque setting.
Most of the mountain biking reputation of the Quantocks is built on the trails of the Great Wood and further north. But that's not to say that there aren't nuggets of awesome elsewhere in this compact lump of the British countryside; all you need to do is look a little harder.
This Tour has the same feel as the riding further north; sunken lanes, preposterous views, fun descents. But everything is on a slightly smaller scale. That's not to say that it's flat though - far from it. It's just not quite as brutal - but it is a lot of fun.
The route starts in Bagborough. There's parking and a pub. As is so often the case, first, there's a climb. Nothing too severe, but you'll certainly be warm by the time you get to the top.
Now it's a undulating descent down to Hawkridge reservoir before climbing back up to the track by Muchcare. Steep in parts, but generally quite gentle, this can get muddy (as can much of the route) if the weather's been bad. It does drain pretty well, though.
The past part of the ride is the descent down Stout Lane, which is great fun, and it'll have you carving turns in the deep leaves which seem to exist there all year round before leaving you breathlessly in the middle of Bagborough.
Although slightly tricky to get to, Bagborough is the natural starting point; there's parking and a pub. An alternative would be the carpark at Hawkridge Reservoir, which has a car park but no amenities, although refreshments are available in nearby Spaxton.
This is a ride which explores the hills and valleys to the north of Dulverton, taking in quiet lanes, doubletrack, open moorland, singletrack and everything in between.
Although there's a fair amount of climbing on offer for the length, it's not a particularly technical ride - unless you're riding it when it's wet, of course - in which case it becomes typically gloopy in places!
From Dulverton, the ride heads out on the road for a spell before veering off and climbing up Looseall Wood. From here it heads out over fields to Leigh Lane before hitting the moorland proper at South Hill and Mounsey Hill Gate. After bypassing the Caratacus Stone (a worthy diversion if ancient rock scrawlings are your thing) the trail drops down Yellowcombe Lane to Winsford.
Once the delights of Winsford have been thoroughly explored, the route climbs back up Edbrooke Hill and runs along the Exe Valley before dropping back into Dulverton.
Naturally, you could easily start this Tour in Winsford, but Dulverton is arguably easier to get to, and it's a bigger town, with a few pubs and shops.
There has been much written about the Quantocks, and its tiny, but bridleway festooned opulence. This ride takes in some of the best stuff that the north of the hills have to offer.
Starting in Holford, the route climbs up Holford Combe (also a popular descent, so be wary of bikes zinging past), up and through many, many fords as the stream criss-crosses the floor of the valley. The last stretch is a stern test of your climbing resolve, though - much steeper and rooty as it climbs up out of the Combe proper.
It's not long before the trail finds itself on the top of the hills, enjoying the expansive view over to Exmoor in the west - and eventually Bicknoller post moves into view. This marks the start of one of the glorious descents, Weacombe Combe, which weaves its way down to the bottom of the hill, close to Bicknoller.
The climb up from Bicknoller is perhaps best described as 'stout'. Or horrendous, depending on your point of view. But it's steep enough that it's soon over, and then the next slice of mountain bike heaven makes an appearance in the shape of Smith's Combe.
Yet again, the climb back out is horrendous, but it's worth it for the rode down Lady's Edge and Hodder's Combe, which takes in some of the more expansive stream crossings of the day before you retire to the car.
Holford is the best place to start - it's relatively easily accessible, and there's plenty of parking. Sadly the cafe that used to be at the bottom of Hodder's Combe has shut, but the pub in the village does good food.
There is a good pub in Bicknoller too, which is worth a lunchtime stop, but be careful - more than once riders have eaten too much only to find it making a reappearance up the extremely stiff incline of Bicknoller Combe.
This is a relatively low-level, non technical ride which starts and finishes at the renowned Tarr Steps, which legend has it the devil built so he could sunbathe. Why he didn't get a towel and go to the beach like the rest of us is a mystery.
It's also a ride which provides many, many opportunities to get your feet wet - there are plenty of river and stream crossings from Tarr Steps itself and every time the ride crosses something wet!
It's well worth checking the weather - Tarr Steps, as they cross the river, can get submerged when the river in is flood - and much of the ride can also get very gloopy - so this is probably one to enjoy when the weather's fine unless you have a particular thing for mud.
The start of the ride along the river can be a little rocky, but it soon climbs out of the valley before dropping back down again to the first crossing of the day. Closely followed by the second.
From there, the route heads upwards on some glorious and/or insanely muddy trails, hitting the road for a short span before the fun little trail back down to the Tarr Steps and another opportunity to clean your shoes.
This is one of those rides which can be run reasonably in either direction, although the carpark at Tarr farm is probably the best place to start from. Whichever way you ride it, this being Exmoor, there are still plenty of things to climb!