Somerset - Exmoor Ramble
by Norman Hodghton
It was just 10am when I left the car in Winsford (GR906349, OS sheet 181) and rode off in the direction of Exford. About one mile from Winsford a track leaves the road. Signposted "Bridleway to Exford" it is wide and easy riding beside the River Exe. On one side was open grassy hillside, and on the other gnarled trees overhung the river. Being a weekday I had the track to myself and the only sounds were the water flowing between mossy rocks, and the cry of a buzzard circling high above.
After Nethercote the track became rougher as it swings away from the river, and it wasn't always possible to ride. Anyone who has read Bywayman's book "Call of the Road" will remember the account of an all-night ride to Nethercote.
At Lyncombe a footpath continues straight on beside the river, but my route turned right and climbed steeply up a concrete surfaced lane. This eventually brought me out onto the road to Exford, and from here I climbed past the Youth Hostel and through lanes to drop into Withypool. Seeing the cafe was open I felt I had earned my tea and scones.
My next plan was to take the road towards Hawkridge but after a short climb turn left and cross the River Barle by way of the stepping-stones at GR852351.
The lane down to the stones is tarmac to King's Farm, and then a short grassy lane leads to the riverside. It only took a quick survey to convince me that I would not be crossing the river there. The stones were unevenly spaced, some were tilted at steep angles, while others were actually submerged. Earlier I had considered wading across, but this was clearly not a serious option as the Barle is quite wide and deep at this point. A notice nearby warned walkers to take care on the crossing; although it didn't mention anyone carrying a bike! On foot I might have risked it, but with the bike? Not likely!
Back up the hill to the road I continued southwards, then turned left onto a narrow lane that descended until it came to stop at a rather rough track. This track dived down through the woods, which was a bit of a surprise because I had planned to take a road all the way down to the river. A quick look at the map and I realised that I'd turned left at GR847314 by mistake. it always helps to consult the map from time to time. As I couldn't be bothered to go back up the hill I carried on down the track which was a bit of a scramble to the road near Tarr Steps.
This is a very popular tourist spot and despite being mid-week there were lots of people around and Tarr Farm cafe was doing a brisk trade. Ignoring the cafe, I sat on a seat overlooking the River Barle, having my lunch while contemplating where to go next. The map showed an inviting little route upstream to GR862326, where. I could turn right and climb to Knaplock, after which there were other possible tracks back to Winsford.
Leaving Tarr Steps the track was smooth and rideable until it entered the woods. Here the path was close to the water and at one point followed a short causeway of rough rocks along the river's edge.
Just beyond a gate the sign-posted track to Knaplock climbed steeply away from the river and the woods. From Knaplock I found I could ride the fairly level track to the road at GR885333. It was at this point that the rain which had been threatening all day began in earnest, so any plans for more rough-stuff were abandoned as I took the lane down hill to Winsford.