“A beacon a day keeps a heart attack at bay,” according to my husband. So, for our first cycle ride in Exmoor (29th December 2014), we didn’t just pick any old hill to tackle (and there are plenty of them around here). No, we decided to head for the highest point in Exmoor, indeed Somerset – Dunkery Beacon. Although I was hoping to break myself back into cycling gently (I haven’t been on my bike since the Alresford trip in October), it was a clear sunny day and it made sense to head for the beacon to make the most of the views.
To get anywhere out of Porlock (our starting point), you’ve got to climb, and our efforts were soon rewarded with magnificent views over the Vale of Porlock and the Bristol Channel.
From then on, it was a tough slog along the road, through Horner Wood, up Dunkery Hill. We emerged from the trees onto a great expanse of heather-covered moorland, and still the road kept going up! By this point I was in the the lowest gears and my front tyre was lifting. I’d love to say I cycled all the way, but as the road got steeper there was a fair bit of pushing involved. Despite the winter sun, the higher we got the colder it became, and there were large patches of ice on shaded areas of the tarmac.
Eventually, we turned off the road onto a rocky track, and struck across the heather-clad moors with the beacon in sight – it is marked by a huge rock cairn and there were people crawling all over it.
Ham sandwiches and hot vimto had never tasted so good. And the views were truly magnificent. But we soon started to cool down, and didn’t linger too long, heading onward along the rocky track for the circular route back to Porlock. The good news: it was all downhill from here. The bad news: the path was covered in sheet ice, and I hit it wrong. My bike went one way, I went the other. There were tears, there was blood, there was a hole in my cycling trousers, but apart from slightly less skin on my knees and a broken front light there was no real damage to me or my bike.
Still, we could see that the downhill route was going to take us longer than expected, given the conditions, so we cut short part of the ride and took the road down over Wilmersham Common, with a steep descent down to Pool Bridge (really tough on the brakes!). We took it steady, as there was frost and ice all over the road.
We then climbed back out of the valley and back down into Porlock for a much-needed hot bath and cup of tea.
If you’ve walked or cycled to Dunkery Beacon, please share your experience below. Thank you.