Chapter One: The Lighthouse - A 3 day BACKCOUNTRY trail ride across Exmoor for Specialized Bikes
This was the trip we had been looking forward to delivering all year, a three day circumnavigation of Exmoor National Park for Specialized and ten of their luckiest customers. From the moment the riders turned up on the Friday morning to the moment the riders left on Sunday afternoon, they had no idea where they were going, what they would be doing or where they would be staying. We’d spent months planning every detail of the expedition, with a stunning 130km route that no one had offered before, yet the customers knew nothing more than the very moment in front of them. Welcome to Trail Unknown Chapter one: The Lighthouse.
We welcomed the group to Exmoor with a beautiful pedal along Horner water and up through the ancient oak forests to descend down a long, flowing natural single track called Granny’s Ride. The weather was el primo and the mossy forests were glowing.
The morning’s challenge was up to the highest point in the South of the UK outside of Dartmoor, Dunkery Beacon at 519m. Dunkery has a reputation for being a mean climb straight up from sea level, but with the assistance of the Specialized Levo’s underneath us, we could enjoy the views out to Wales across the Bristol Channel from the balcony trail known as Dickies Path. As we hit the beacon, we stopped to take in the sight of thirty red deer galloping along the top of the moor together and got close to a majestic herd of Exmoor’s wild ponies. I quietly thanked the wildlife for putting on a good show.
Heading South from Dunkery, we descended down to Exford tea rooms who had prepared a mega spread of sandwiches, cakes, scones with clotted cream and jam, teas and coffees for us to enjoy out on the green in the sun. The afternoon’s ride followed the River Exe, twisting and turning in the wooded valley, taking us away from the sea and deep into the Park. We passed the quintessentially English village of Withypool, over a bridge with kids splashing in the river below us, and climbed our way up onto the Moor, away from everything and into the quiet sunshine. We arrived at a little farmhouse called Blindwell for our first night’s accommodation, so far South that we could now actually see the Tors of Dartmoor on the Southern horizon.
Specialized had requested in the brief that the first day should feel like a journey out into the Wilderness. With that happily ticked, we enjoyed a scrumptious dinner from Tanzie’s Epic Veg food van who made us fresh vegan burgers to order, including oyster mushrooms and crispy coconut bacon. The fire was lit, the stars came out.
If the mornings strong coffee from Boost Coffee Co. didn’t wake everyone up, a long screaming downhill off the Moor into a loose rocky track certainly did the trick.
We followed the Two Moors Way from Withypool heading North to Simonsbath and on to lunch at the National Trust’s Watersmeet Tea Rooms, a former fishing lodge nestled in one of the deepest river gorges in the UK. This was one of the most insanely beautiful sections of the Two Moors Way that we were keen to feature into the route. The Two Moors Way is a coast to coast route that crosses both Exmoor and Dartmoor that we had taken a week to ride in its entirety back in Spring, so trust us when we say this section is a highlight and you should go ride it!
Saturday afternoon’s ride took us back up the Moor and down into the stunning Doone Valley, famous for Blackmore’s Lorna Doone novel - About a family of outlaws who used to dominate the valley, stealing Lorna Doone as a young girl and who later falls in love with a local hero farmer. Read the book if you’re going to ride the valley, it gives your ride a whole new dimension of adventure.
Climbing out of outlaw country, we were now riding along Exmoor’s colossal sea cliffs. With one hell of a descent down to the sea, my vision was 80% blue from riding at the sea and the sky. The downhill finished at Foreland Point Lighthouse, our flipping epic accommodation for the night. Tanzie was on hand to create a mega selection of fresh curry’s from the lighthouse keeper’s kitchen. While people were sipping a cold beer in the late afternoon sun, we snuck our buddies at Drake’s Island in to play their mean guitar riffs, framed by the golden sunset across the sea and the sound of the crashing waves intertwined with the music. Some rides you’ll never forget…
The final day was a Turbo mission home, powering across the Moor and back up to Dunkery Beacon for a fine selection of downhill trail riding bliss from the top of Exmoor. We took in Deddy’s Combe, Flora’s ride and finished with Cat Scramble. The final numbers were in, we’d covered some 130km with 3,500m vert and were still smiling well into our stone baked pizzas back at Horner Farm.
The Lighthouse trip - Explore Exmoor National Park on a 3 day epic trail ride around the park. Staying at the famous Foreland Point Lighthouse. For enquiries email us at Ride@trailunknown.com
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Hugo and Tom are trail hunting fanatics, travelling around the UK to find the best and most beautiful wild riding locations for their mountain bikes. We write about our findings and provide professionally guided mountain bike trips to our favourite spots. We're also big believers in outdoor education for children.