It's barely 10 o'clock and we're already on Exmoor's highest point, Dunkery Beacon. The morning's haze had lifted just far enough for us to be able to see a small group of wild deer which some passing German tourists pointed out to us.
What goes up must come down. Having climbed to the top of Dunkery Beacon, we almost immediately plummeted down 300 metres via this hard-packed, rock-strewn singletrack carving its way through the gorse. At this point it dived down into some woods near Wootton Courtenay and became a roller coaster of gullies and drop-offs between the trees. Fantastic.
Climbing out of Wootton Courtenay
There was a stiff bridleway climb up into the woods of Wootton Common which really got our legs warmed up. Here are Ash and Dan pausing for breath before we choose which of the multitude of woodland tracks to explore on our way across to Minehead.
At the Seaside
We rewarded ourselves for the sheer exertion of a freewheeling race down to the sea front at Minehead with a celebratory ice cream. The freewheeling race was surprisingly hard work because the road to the sea front isn't especially downhill, so we caused traffic chaos trundling along at less than walking pace. Bloomin' cyclists, tearing around the place at 1mph, scaring people. Shouldn't be allowed. I blame the government.
The weather was so nice that we decided that fooling around on the beach was a better idea than riding any further, especially as everywhere's uphill from sea level. Here is Ash sizing up a dropoff from a convenient outfall pipe. I'll leave it to your imagination to decide whether he went for it or not.
Bicycle on Beach
This is a gratuitous vanity shot of my bike on the beach enjoying the blue sky and sunshine.
Chris on a Bike!
Normally I don't appear in any of my own photos, but just to prove I do ride the bike here I am working off the fish and chips on the beach.
The signwriters in the Exmoor National Park clearly have a sense of humour. We saw this sign leading off the south west coast path just west of Minehead. We didn't go down the footpath to see just how Very Steep it was, but the sea was a long way down and not very far across, if you see what I mean.
South West Coast Path
This is a section of the coast path. A nice, hard-packed track with sea views off to one side. We made swift progress along towards Porlock.
View from Hurlstone Point
Just look at that singletrack heading off across the hillside. Heaven.
Ford at Bossington
On the way to Porlock we encountered the first ford of the weekend. There were to be many more, of course. First rule of a ford is: never use the bridge. That's just cheating.
No sooner had we climbed Porlock Hill by the off-road route than we encountered another ford, this time at Robber's Bridge. Here's Ash testing the waters.
Drop-off into the Water
Here's Ash again taking an unusual route through the river. Splash!
Chris on a bike Again
Here he is again! That's two photos of Chris cycling on one film. Unprecedented.
These river crossings are coming thick and fast now. This one was just a little way further along the road, nestling down by the side of an almost identical bridge to the one at Robber's Bridge. I felt it deserved a photo because it took me 3 goes to ride through it successfully.
Moorland and Big Sky
We took a bridleway across the moor towards Alderman's Barrow and, eventually, Exford. Here we've stopped in the sun for a chocolate break and to figure out where the almost non-existent track goes.
Here comes Ash, down a testing rocky descent towards Exford. What an end to the day.
And here's Bart on the same track enjoying the last of the evening sunshine.
Here's Bart again, but this time the following morning. He's grimacing after a particularly inspired crash on a straight, level piece of track. He just stuck his foot into the front wheel! Not surprisingly, that foot snapped eight spokes and landed him in a heap, fortunately still smiling.
He couldn't have chosen a more idyllic spot for the crash, though: a secluded valley, the morning mist still hanging over the infant River Exe. The whole affair would have been less painful for Bart if he hadn't landed heavily on the can of GT85 and grease gun (!) in his rucksack...
And just to prove it, here's the offending wheel. Count those missing spokes!
Ash heading down towards the river Barle
This was a great little downhill into the Barle valley off Winsford Hill. Since Bart had been obliged to walk back to the Youth Hostel nursing his wounds (and his bike's), someone else had to take over as chief crasher. Shortly after this picture was taken, Ash let go of the handlebars, with predictable and painful consequences!
Dan on Singletrack
The narrow, winding valley which cocoons the River Barle has some excellent singletrack along its length. Here's Dan making the most of it.
Tarr Steps by Bike
This is the famous Tarr Steps, a crossing of the River Barle. There's a mediaeval stone clapper bridge for pedestrians, but everyone else gets to go straight through the river.
Lunch at Tarr Farm
Having expended all our energy pedalling across the river, it seemed only right to stop at the conveniently-situated Tarr Farm Inn for a bite to eat and a puncture repair. Oh, and a good amount of lounging around in the sun, naturally.
Crossing the River Exe near Exford
After a final rocky downhill at the end of the ride, we had to cross the River Exe one more time to get back to Exford.
Tarr Steps by Land Rover
We sort of arranged the route home to involve crossing the Tarr Steps. This route across wasn't very deep but the rocky bottom of the river made for a bumpy ride.
Tarr Steps by Land Rover Again
The first route turned out not to be much of a challenge, so we did it again and found a deeper bit. The biggest bump was the concrete step on the way out!
On the Way Home
We took a short cut along this delightful byway through the woods down towards Dulverton. It looks pretty tame here, but higher up it was a real rock garden with an alarming drop down to the river along one side. Dan, who was sitting in the back, will vouch for just how lumpy the track was once he's knocked the dents out of his head where it kept hitting the roof. Strangely, he volunteered to get out and take the photo.