I’ve been thinking about a trip to the Quantock Hills, about 35 miles away from here, since moving daaan saaaf last September but until the other week I’d never quite gotten around to it.
Two weeks ago I finally managed it, and wound up spending a sunday afternoon racking up 13 miles on the muni. I only took the 24" because two days before I’d put the new Big Apple on the 29er, and couldn’t be bothered to remove it already. I planned (very loose use of the term) my ride based on the OS map, which showed a large expanse of Forestry Commission land to the south, so I headed for that. Forestry Commission land is generally excellent for enjoyable and well-maintained trails.
I kept thinking how I should have made the effort to put the knobbly tyre back on the 29er… unfortunately the vast majority of the ride was on fire roads around the valleys, which made a 24" a bit of a slow beast to guide around. A 29er would have been a much better choice for the ride, being able to ride everything but the occasional super-steep bit with more speed and less leg-flailing.
The only time I ended up walking was on discovering the mother of all downhill courses; I would have been severely impressed by anyone managing to ride it as it looked positively lethal! As if the steep gradient wasn’t bad enough, some of the obstacles were extremely daunting… large jumps with no run out at all, or immensely tight, steep technical sections with a handy tree or large drop waiting to catch the unhinged.
The last section of the ride crossed the road into the northern section, after an ice-cream stop. This half is not Forestry Commission, and is much more open with more variety of trail sizes. Here the more nimble 24" came into its own! No fire roads to be seen, the tracks ranged from rocky doubletrack to super-fun singletrack winding down into the valleys.
This section made me want to come back and see what else was waiting to be ridden on this side, as I’d only scratched the surface. This I did last weekend, again taking the muni in the hope of more rooty, challenging trails.
This time I roughly followed a route I found in What Mountainbike magazine. It didn’t venture into the southern Forestry Commission land at all, remaining solely on the area to the north.
What a route it was! A fairly easy start along the fairly level top of the hills before screaming down to one side of the hills along a grass track, trying desperately to slow down to avoid catapulting over the rapidly approaching gate half way down. This was followed by a short section of singletrack amongst the trees along the bottom of the hills, bouncing down a very rocky track before beginning the long drag back up to the top.
This was the worst bit of the ride, and something I think I’d leave out if I were doing it again, even if it meant missing out on the fun previous section. It was too steep, bumpy and seemingly never-ending to ride, and in a sheltered valley facing the sun so was scorching hot. By the time I got to the top I was dripping in sweat and thoroughly knackered.
While stopping to get my breath back and eat sweets at the top a trio of walkers came past and we started talking. He had apparently seen two other unicyclists up there, one or two years ago; I’m guessing this is you, Paul and Sarah?
He turned out to be a keen cyclist who had done John O Groats to Lands End. He mentioned something that truly amazed me; that the record for the fastest JOGLE time is 1 day 23 hours. Is that true? That’s incredible! The AA website says it would take over 16 hours to do that by car, so on a bike that’s some serious cycling.
After that my route descended to the bottom of the hills again, this time into a wooded valley on the north side. This was the /really/ fun bit. The track starts out as a narrow groove winding its way through patches of gorse until it reaches the trees, and from there on down it’s a solid blast right down to the bottom. The track had everything, from excellent swoopy singletrack to log jumps, rooty sections and stream crossings nearer the bottom.
The stream crossings were great fun, ploughing through the water while other people stare in amazement (or possibly bemusement, but hey)… but they obviously got bored of making the track cross the stream, so for a stretch of about 30 metres or so you end up cycling along the stream bed. Truly mental… your feet and legs are getting wetter and you can’t see the rocky bed you’re riding along through all the splashing, so you have no choice but to keep going and hope you don’t come off! Excellent fun.
On reaching the bottom the route moves across to the next valley (past a little cafe - a few cyclists drying their feet in evidence!) and up to the top again. More watersplashes; there are several bits of path criss-crossing the stream most of the way up, so you can choose either to stay on one side and keep your feet dry or see how wet you can get.
The path then leaves the stream and gets really steep once more, although under the cover of trees so it’s not so punishing, and the rideable bits were much more fun than just a long slog upwards.
I got back to the car after 10 miles horizontally, but my legs felt that the vertical distance definitely wasn’t negligible.
The first ride was good, but the second was one of the best muni rides I have been on in a long time. I will definitely be going again… those last two valleys were just too awesome to be only ridden once. Or twice… or…
For the intrigued a map of the area is here. The hill to avoid is Bicknoller Hill, just off the left edge of the map. The really fun bits were Hodder’s and Holford Combes, the north-south valleys meeting at the top. The Forestry Commission land is to the south east, to the south of the road.
Curious: In Halfords yesterday (I went in for a tyre pump adaptor, I ended up looking at mountainbikes… how did that happen?) I noticed they had a helmet named “Furnace”. Given the extremely pleasant British weather of late, they can’t expect to actually sell any of these, surely?