End Location - Top of Sandy Lane
Route type - Loop
Terrain - Very hilly containing very very steep climbs
Difficulty - Expert Ride, for experienced riders only
Distance - 100 miles (160km)
|Here is a link to the route on Bike Route Toater - http://bikeroutetoaster.com/Course.aspx?course=198387|
The Pain of Porlock
Heading out of Minehead i spotted my first sign for the village of Porlock which meant only one thing; Porlock Hill was not very far away. you may have noticed that i keep talking about this climb and if you haven't heard of it before you may be wondering why. The reason this climb is mentioned over and over again is because i am shit scared of it and its making my stomach churn as i ride in to it, i have never ridden this climb before but i have been up it in the car and even with a 2 litre engine it was a bitch of a slog. The road climbs approximately 1,300 ft (400 m) in less than 2 miles (3.2 km) up onto Exmoor: a very steep hill with gradients of up to 1 in 4 and hairpin bends. this is a great example of a steep Devonshire climb and just the kind of incline that this area is known for.
i get a few minute to gather my thoughts and prepare my legs as i ride through Porlock which is pretty bust at this time of day, plus i get stuck behind a bus which is trying to negotiate a very tight turn in the village, just what i need, more time to think about what coming up. I soon get going and before i know it i am past the last warning sign which uninspiringly states "Cyclists Advised to Dismount", and i am starting the climb and before i can say "this is steep" i am already in my lowest gear which today is a 39x25, right now I'm thinking i should have put the 27 on! As i begin to take the first right hander which is where the road pitches to well above 20%, every ones worst fears are realised as a learner driver stalls on this kick and is now trying to do a hill start on a 22% gradient. Nice. Eventually she get going and i can carry on with no more worries.
I have been out of the saddle from the start and my arms are really beginning to ache, i try sitting down to get some respite and just about manage to turn the pedals over. Ahead i can see the infamous left turn where the road pitches up to just above 25% whilst it hairpins round, this means the steepest point is on the inside of the turn which is on my side of the road. As i approach, i jump out of the saddle and attack the corner as if i was making a race winning move, i stay over to the white as much as possible and look to wards the point where it eases back. To my surprise it didn't actually feel as bad i thought it would, although a car full of lad coming down the hill still had there opinions of me when the driver shouted "YOU MUST BE FECKING BARMY". After this steep pitch there is still no time to relax as the road stays steep and keeps going for a long while taking you up on to the exposed moor land.
This open moor land is essentially what Exmoor is know for and is home to a huge number of wild ponies. You can stop and approach the animals and will generally be safe due to them being so used to humans taking an interest. you will also notice that a lot of the land is parched and blackened, this is because many fires that have been started accidental over the years due to fags been discarded with out thought, this has basically scorched most of the area and fried much of the foliage. Riding over the moors is a great experience, with the sea to your right and rolling hills to your left, you cant help but be inspired. Just be careful as the cars get get quite a spurt on along here and it can be very windy due to it being so exposed. It took me about 30 minutes to ride over the moor land before i started the decent of Contisbury hill which leads you in to the famous town of Lynton and Lymouth, this is another very steep 25% road so be cautious when riding down this as you go a lot faster than the cars.
Lynton and Lymouth is an amazing place to visit and if you are taking this route gently and taking in the sights then you must stop here and take a look around. This town is famous for a terrible incident that took place many years ago when the who place was essentially wiped out by a freak flood. It killed 36 people and all but washed to town away. Since then the whole structure and lay out has been changed in order to prevent it ever happening again, this hasn't in any way detracted from the areas charm as even though most of what you see is man made, it still retains a very natural feel.
Legs, Lungs and Lynmouth Hill
I resist the temptation to stop for a cider ice lolly as i am determined to make a good time so i press on. It takes about 30 seconds to ride trough the village before you put at the bottom of Lymouth Hill which is the other climb that has been on my to do list and also on my mind since i began this ride. The profile of this climb is pretty savage, its about 1.5 miles long but features a quarter mile section at 25% whilst the rest doesn't drop below 20%. The worst thing about riding this climb is that having just descended Contisbury hill, your legs have been lifeless for a few minutes and this is just how they feel when you start climbing. Again i am out of the saddle and in to the 39x25 almost straight away and again I'm wishing i had a few more gears to reach for. Remember that you will have done a good 60-70 mile by this point so if you have neglected your fueling then it will come back and bite you in the ass when you try and ride this climb.
This baby is steep and it never seems to end, i refuse to use the cheaters trick of weaving from side to side in order to reduce the steepness yet i am weaving anyway just due to the way i am trying to force the pedals round. I keep looking ahead hoping to see it ease back but it just keeps getting steeper, by ow my arms are burning to point of needed an ice pack and my legs are beginning to tire. It gets to the point where i am essentially hips forward and and down in order to keep the pedals going round. This is without a doubt the hardest climb i have ever ridden, possibly because f what came before it but still, it one savage climb.
After a few more minutes of hip thrusting and grunting, a combination that caught the attention of many a passing motorist, i was finally at the top and eased of the pedals and sat back in the saddle. Thank the lord that was over and i could Begin to get the feeling back in my arms, safe in the knowledge that the hardest parts of the ride where over and no matter what i came up against from this point it would almost always feel down hill comparison to what i had just done. well almost!!
Now it was just a case of following the road back along the coast which offers a choice of routes back home. If you are tired then you can just follow A39, A399 and A3123 back to woolacombe which is the fastest route home, or if you are still feeling good then you can head towards the seaside towns of Combe Martin and Ilfacombe which extend the route some what and allow you take in some more fantastic British seaside view, As i was feeling good this is the route that i took. Its always nice riding when you know the hardest parts of your route are done and your arn't to far from home, this always gives me a moral boost and i begin riding as if i was at the head of a race, soloing towards the finish with a big time gap. Along this road you are treated to some nice winding descents which lead you through Combe Martin, which i remember well as its the point where my Garmin died on me! Its also a nice place to stop on the ride or on holiday if your are driving around.
From here you ride past Watermouth Castle which is a family theme park and activity center before taking you in to the bustling town of Ilfracombe. This is probably the biggest town that you will pass through on the whole ride although i only got stopped by one set of traffic lights and managed to keep good pace whilst riding through the town. Like most towns on this route, in order to get out of the place you have to tackle a hill and ilfracombe is no different except that this climb is nice and gradual and allows you to stay seated, grips the tops and pedals a smooth gear all the way up. This climb goes on for quite a while before spitting you out on to hills of Lincombe where again you can choose to take the route back along the B3343which takes you back directly or you can head towards Mortehoe. This is the route i took which takes you along the main road through Woolacombe which can be very busy on a hot day, this then leads you to the final obstacle which stands between you and caravan full of holiday food and drink, This obstacle is called sandy Lane.
Sandy Lane may sound like a sweet little lane but trust me, it is far from it. what it is is a bitch of a lane which pitches up to around 25% and stays there for the pretty much the full mile which the climbs drags on for. This road is only single lane but it pretty good condition, just be careful of the traffic that comes down it as you may have to jump in a bush! Thankfully i was feeling good when i did this climb and managed to ride it at a good pace but boy was i happy when i saw the top especially because i knew my caravan was a few minutes away which meant one thing; Chocolate flavoured recovery drink and mixed berry muffin. jobs a gudden.
overall i can say this this has been one of the best rides i have ever done, not just in the UK but also compared with rides that i have done in France. Being able to compare a UK based route with ones that i have done in the south of France taking in the legends of cycling folk law such as Mont Ventoux and Alpe d,Huez is quite a feat, but very true. This was my first experience of riding in Devon and it was a very good one, the roads are generally pretty good, the traffic is minimal even on what was the bank holiday weekend, the routes are endless, the climbs are challenging and the scenery is spectacular. My advice: Go there, take your bike, take your mates and ride, just ride.
Where to Stay
North Devon and Woolacombe in particular are a British holiday makers Paradise, therefore there is no shortage of places to stay if you are looking to come here for the weekend or longer. Me and my family stayed in a Caravan which cost us £170 for 3 nights. this was the cheapest of the caravans that the park had to offer as they were the dog friendly ones, you can pay much more, up to bout £400 and get a bigger van with a balcony and better fitting but our pad did the job and did us proud.
There are many caravan sight around Woolacombe, most of them belonging to the same company called Woolacombe bay Holiday Parks. The park which we stayed in which is where i planned the start of the ride from is called Woolacome bay and sits at the top of Sandy lane, you can walk from the park to the beach in less than 30 minutes so its a pretty ideal location.
All of the parks have loads of activities to do such as mini golf, tennis, swimming, arcades and nightly shows in the club house.
Eating wise there is again loads of choice. you can do what we did and take our own food, you can order a takeaway from the many places in the town or you can venture out and try one of the local restaurants or pubs that are abundant in this kind of place. Overall, locations wise Devon is perfect with everything you could want or need including all of your usual home comforts.
Like i have said before, this is a tough ride and one that is suited to experienced riders. One thing i would say which goes for any ride is take more food and drink than you think you will need because if you bonk on this ride, you will pay a nasty price due to the up and down nature of the route. Take some money as well as there are plenty of shops in the villages where you can get more grub if you need it.
If you have any spare room in your pockets then take a few layers for different conditions as like anywhere in the UK, you cant trust the weather. Mobile phone, tools, pump and inner tubes are all standard kit that you should take anywhere so i would expect you to remember these anyway. Gear wise depends on how string a rider you class yourself as. The climbs are very steep and i consider my self a good climber and i was just about ok with 39x25 but if i was to do it again i would put on a 27 just make some sections a bit less of a grind.
In Conclusion, i think that this ride proves the UK has just as much to offer in the way of riding as the continent. So if you have a free weekend and are looking to do a few days of riding, you don't need to to head to southern France to get in some hard hours in the saddle, come down to Devon and hit up this route. I can guarantee you wont be disappointed, although i cant guarantee the weather will be good