Saturday, 22 March 2014

Exmoor Training Camp Part 2 - To Porlock, or not to Porlock

Ruth should know better than to let me plan a long bike route without supervision. I tapped away excitedly on a route mapper and declared that we would be riding about 70 miles around Exmoor, and that it would be "really mostly flattish but with a couple of big hills", which she already knew was a bit of a porky.

I very swiftly mentioned that one of those big hills was Porlock, then kept talking really quickly and hoped it had gone unnoticed, but she busted me. Porlock Hill is an absolute beast of a climb that features as one of the UK's toughest in the book "100 Greatest Cycle Climbs", a book Ruth foolishly bought me for my birthday last year. I suggested that we at least get there and see how we feel, as there are a couple of escape routes and she reluctantly agreed, muttering something disturbing but completely hilarious about "grinding the granny hard".

You were saved this time, Ruth
A long but very steady climb greeted us for the first ten miles or so before a fantastic, winding descent led us onto the A39, where we got our heads down and pedalled frantically into the headwind. We took a 'girly banana stop' shortly before Porlock, which involves stopping by a bin, enabling you to eat and immediately discard the peel so it doesn't putrefy in your pocket. With nerves about Porlock Hill riding high, we made a team decision to take an alternative route. What Ruth didn't realise was that my alternative route plan was almost as tough; The Worthy Toll Road is a scrappy, steep-cornered climb full of little bumps and holes to navigate around. However, after riding down there, a sign on the gate said that the road was closed to cyclists, so we had to go back and take the main Porlock Toll Road, which I had never ridden.

Fate has obviously intervened in my evil plan, and delivered us to this absolutely glorious, smooth and easy climb with incredible views out over Porlock Bay and the Bristol Channel. Any cyclist in the area needs to do the Toll Road, it's worth every, single penny of it's £1 charge.

We celebrated at the top by being eejits and taking silly photos before rejoining the now much quieter A39.

We weren't on the main road long, and soon enough we dropped into the valley on the other side, very quickly losing all the elevation we had gained on tiny, winding country lanes. A tricky 25% drop on a corner had us both off our bikes and trying to figure out how to get going again on a road that steep. A few miles stretch on a narrow, gravelly and severely pot-holed road had us both wired, but fortunately we came across a well-placed tea shop to stop and gather ourselves.

The portly gentleman who served us our tea asked where we were going next and - with a small but sharp intake of breath - warned us that there would be a "little bit of up and down". This was a man versed in my kind of understatement.

From the top of Church Hill
The valley meandered alongside the river and at the teeny village of Rockford, I squealed with delight as we approached a 20% climb. It was a lung-buster but didn't last too long. Before I could utter a disappointed sigh we had a mini descent, weaved around a corner and were met with Church Hill, a 1:4 that was long enough to get some lactic acid flowing. Finally!

We couldn't resist a high five at the top, and the celebrations went on as we entered the moor proper. The open road stretched right over the roof of Exmoor, the wind was with us and the views were immense. We picked up the pace and enjoyed the wind-assisted climbs and massive, clear descents which seemed to go on forever.

After passing through Simonsbath and firing along a brilliantly smooth road, we had another few ups and downs before eventually making the final big descent into Dulverton, which was exhilarating with corners just wide enough to lean into and hold the speed.

With just the ten mile drag along the main road left, we ticked away with whatever we had left in the legs, the toughest bit being the cheeky roads leading back to the cottage. By the time we got back, everyone else had left for home, but imagine our glee when we opened the fridge and discovered a feast of leftovers. What happened next was not clever, and not pretty, but made us very happy after a big day out on the bikes.

It was a fantastic ride and a great finish to spring training camp. With battered legs, wind-beaten cheeks and jaws that ached from laughing, we vowed to return soon and take on the real Porlock Hill.


  1. The toll is great, you'll have to come back and do the timed hill climb in September.

  2. 100 greatest cycle climbs - what a clever pressie for you - ideal x