This is post 1 of 4 for my mountain biking in England series. Read more here!
After flipping through my Southwest England Mountain Biking book, I decided to start my mountain biking adventures in Exmoor National Park, a stunning natural area about an hour northeast of my housesit. The park overlooks the Bristol Channel and is a mix of farmland and wild moor blanketed in heather. It's also studded with wild ponies. I had a good freak out moment the first time I came across the ponies as they crossed the road right in front of my car. I may or may not have squealed with excitement.
The temperatures at 'home' were soaring (for England) so I thought biking might be a bit cooler by the coast. It wasn't. The temps were still in the high 80's, but my first ride in England was definitely a memorable one. While I wouldn't exactly call it a mountain bike ride because the route was mainly on double track or barely used paved back roads, it did include some amazing coastal views, trails through fields full of wildflowers, a few fun descents, and lots of less fun ascents. It was also pretty remote: just me and the sheep most of the time and the occasional passerby. After one particularly steep climb I encountered a small group on horseback who just stared at me a bit incredulously for a minute before someone was able to muster the words: "Do you need water or anything?"
The route started and ended in the small, cute coastal town of Lynton on the north coast of southwest England. I then headed west through the Valley of Rocks, which is a picturesque valley filled with, well, rocks. But they're small mountains of rocks overlooking the sea so it is pretty cool. From there I climbed up a switchbacked trail to the top of a ridge with great views. I'm not going to narrate the whole ride because that would be boring, but let's just say that over the next few hours there was a lot of diversity both in scenery and trail types (single track, double track, road, etc...) I'd definitely categorize it as a cross-country ride.
The book mentioned that the last descent of the day was the best so I was really looking forward to it, especially since my legs were feeling the fatigue, my water bladder was getting light, and I was really forward to an ice cream back in town. But the final trail ended up being really rutted, rocky single track with no flow and lined with mega-sized brambles. I was a bit disappointed and then a bit angry when a wandering bramble arm snagged my shirt causing my front wheel to veer right and me topple over to the left. I was definitely a bit hangry and done for the day, so I was relieved when the 'fun descent' spit me out within an easy peddle ride back to Lynton and my ice cream.
The cherry on top for the day, though, was a skinny dip at a secluded pool below Cow Castle (a big hill, not actually a castle as I came to find out). The pool is located down a two-mile stretch of track just outside of Simonsbath on the way out of Exmoor. I had it all to myself and it was heavenly!