The Quantock Hills — South-West Gravel Gold
Includes very steep uphill segments
You may need to push your bike.
1.21 mi in total
Bike Touring Highlight
Bike Touring Highlight (Segment)
Katherine Moore planned a gravel ride.
April 15, 2020
Perhaps overshadowed by their neighbour, Exmoor National Park, the Quantock Hills in Somerset often don’t get much of a look-in, yet they’re dream territory for gravel riders that enjoy challenging climbs and more technical terrain.
Although you will find wide gravel tracks criss-crossing along the tops of the Quantocks across the heather moorland, these tend to me much rockier and technical than typical byways or bridleways in the English countryside. If this sounds like your cup of tea, combined with a series of rooty woodland valley singletrack, clear stream crossings and quiet lanes, this Tour is for you.
Starting and finishing from the train station in Taunton, this route is a great day trip for riders across the South-West, and can easily be extended for a great weekender. Why not take some extra time to explore the gorgeous North Somerset coastline while you’re there?
Start by leaving Taunton heading north on lanes towards Kingston St Mary. It’s a fairly easy, flat start until you reach Cushuish, where the gradient ramps up and you reach Ball Lane byway, which takes you directly up into the Quantock Hills on a fairly wide, mucky trail.
You’ll reach the top of your first climb as you approach Buncombe Wood, and from here on in it’s all up and down! After a short drop, climb up Cothelstone Hill, before crossing the moorland onto Lydeard Hill Road heading north-west. From the car park you’re soon back onto the rocky, wide doubletrack along the top of the hills, with big views all around.
You’ll barely notice the climb as you follow the golden road up to the highest point on the Quantock Hills, Wills Neck. From here you can see right down into Devon with Dartmoor and Exmoor national parks, across to the Brecon Beacons and even as far as the Mendip and Blackdown Hills on a clear day.
From the open tops you’ll next descend into a dark, leafy and damp woodland that lines the valley of Holford Combe. These trails have to be top ten on my list of favourite singletrack; snaking alongside the water of the same name, these ribbons of narrow trail cross over roots, short steep climbs and descents, splashing through the stream as you work your way along the valley bottom.
Climb your way back out of the Combe to the tops, a more gradual climb and now much closer to the coastline. After reaching the highest point at Thorncombe Hill, you’re treated to a corking single and doubletrack to the west to the village of Bicknoller, down Bicknoller Combe.
There’s a little village shop here that’s well worth a visit for snacks and drinks, before starting to make your way back to Taunton. If you’re tired, you can take lanes all the way back south, but here I’ve proposed you ride back up onto the Quantocks and along some of the main gravel roads along the moorland, over Halsway Hill and then down to the east along Keeper’s Combe, before passing alongside the pretty Hawkridge Reservoir.
Back into Taunton from here is pretty easy going, a little climbing up Merridge Hill but otherwise all downhill on lanes which should get you back to the county town in good time.
I think this one is definitely more enjoyable on an xc hardtail MTB rather than a gravel/cross bike! You'll appreciate the lower gearing on the climb up Somerton combe, for example, and wider bars, slacker geometry and short front travel will enhance your comfort and enjoyment on the descents down Lady and Bicknoller Combes.
June 22, 2020
Each to their own Jen! Like I say in the description, it's a technical one. I love it on my gravel bike!
Indeed! Probably says as much about me being a 'dyed in the wool' MTBer who's never really 'got' gravel biking. 😆 Respect for anyone who finds this Type 1 fun on a gravel bike though... ...you've better legs and lungs than me!