Exmoor National Park - 600 miles of stunning countryside

We caught the 8.50am ferry from Lymington and arrived late afternoon having covered most of the trip at a leisurely pace on 'B' roads. The hotel (The Lorna Doone in Polock) was a little tired as are so many, as the holiday industry is suffering badly, but the owner Toni and her staff more than made up for that with their almost 'home from home' service to guests. We had supper at the Hotel.
Having had a great breakfast we left the Hotel at 10.15am for a day exploring. We took the toll road west out of Polock and straightaway were faced with some breathtaking scenery, which in fact became the pattern of the 3 days of touring, as Exmoor is a hidden secret. We headed towards Lynmouth and Lynton for petrol. The ride was a mixture of winding and high roads with moor land, tree lined and coastal views. The approach to Lynmouth was down Countisbury Hill which was a great scenic ride with a gradient of 1 in 4 at the bottom, quite an introduction to Exmoor and what was to be common place during our visit. We stopped in Lynmouth which is in a coastal valley with 24% and 30% roads in and out. Lynton is on a hilltop location, much of Exmoor is extremes of highs and lows with very steep winding narrow roads. In fact the A39 which runs through Polock is barely wide enough for 2 cars. Having fuelled up we decided to revisit Lynmouth later during our visit.
We resumed our pre-planned route on the B3223 down to Simonsbath and along to Exford all the time enjoying the beauty of the area. We then turned southwards on to the A393 and then West on some side roads (er tracks). Lunch was at a pub called The Ralegh's Cross Inn (Brendan Hill) which was a busy place, (always a good sign). We left there and continued on towards Dulverton, again this was a route off the main or B roads and came across the first of many Fords, this one had a very old stone bridge with large stone slabs forming the road surface next to it, close inspection of the Ford resulted in the bridge being used. From Dulverton we continued with views to die for, until, by chance, we came to another Ford which was impossible to cross by motorcycle. This turned out to be an historical area, where the Ford can be crossed by foot on the construction called Tarr Steps!
Tarr Steps (Nr. Liscombe) is an example of a 'clapper' bridge (the term being derived from the Latin 'claperius', meaning 'pile of stones') and is constructed entirely from large stone slabs and boulders. Tarr Steps Woodland NNR is owned and managed by the Exmoor National Park Authority (ENPA). The bridge is listed as a scheduled monument but, although it was once thought to be prehistoric, it is now widely believed to be of mediaeval origin. The name 'Tarr' is thought to be derived from the Celtic word 'tochar', meaning 'causeway'. The reserve primarily consists of oak woodland growing on acid free-draining soils, but pockets of richer soil support ash, hazel and sycamore, while drier areas have been colonized by beech. The woodland is important for its moss, liverwort and lichen populations. In the spring visitors to the woods can see extensive carpets of bluebell. The reserve has a small population of dormice and the River Barle, which runs through the site, is home to otters. In the past much of the woodland was coppiced to provide charcoal for the local iron smelting industry.
December 2012
One of the region's oldest bridges - Exmoor's Tarr Steps - has been swept away by a raging, swollen river as what is likely to be the wettest year on record comes to a soggy end. The iconic 1,000-year-old clapper bridge is the latest landmark to be hit by the aftermath of weeks of relentless downpours. Other areas all around the West Country are still threatened by landslips, saturated ground and the continued risk of flooding. The damage to Tarr Steps - a well-known beauty spot on the fast-flowing river Barle - comes as sections of the cliffs along the Jurassic Coast began sliding towards the waves at the weekend, threatening luxury beach chalets and creating a risk for beach-goers and fossil hunters who were warned to stay away from the cliffs.
More than three quarters of the 50-metre long, ancient clapper bridge, which crosses the Barle between Withypool and Dulverton, has been washed away in the rain-swollen river which has reached depths 10 feet deeper than normal levels. So strong was the force of water washing down the deep Exmoor valley that the twin steel hawsers designed to protect the bridge were snapped by massive trees being swept downstream in the flood. The hawsers were strung across the river exactly 60 years ago after an extreme flood damaged the bridge - and the cable debris-trap has stood the test of time ever since, despite bad weather in the past. "They say the bridge only gets damaged in a year that ends in the number two," commented a barman at neighbouring Tarr Farm Inn. "It was damaged in 1982 and before that in 1952 - and apparently in the past they've brought the Army in to help retrieve the stones and put them back again."
All the massive slabs incorporated into the 17-span bridge have been numbered so that they can be retrieved and put back in exactly the right place.
A spokesman for the Exmoor National Park Authority said: "The stones forming the spans weigh between one and two tons each and have on occasions been washed up to 50 yards downstream. A distinctive feature of Tarr Steps is the slabs that are raked against the ends of each pier to break the force of the river and divert floating debris.
"Despite this, much of the damage has been due to debris such as branches floating down with the flood and battering the bridge."
May 2013 - Fortunately during our visit the stepped bridge had been rebuilt thanks to the foresight in numbering the stones and slabs. We spent 20 minutes enjoying the area and taking many pictures. We then retraced our route and continued, we did get lost, but who cares, it's such a beautiful area whichever way you go. Eventually we got back on route and returned to Polock and the Hotel arriving about 5.30pm, all done in and ready for a cuppa. And so ended our first great day. We had supper at a Café/Takeaway next to the Hotel.
We set off at 10.15am in marvellous and welcome sunshine heading west out of Polock and bravely, (well I thought so), rode up Polock Hill which has a gradient of 1 in 4!! It wasn't as scary as we had imagined it would be and it led us through beautiful scenery, so was well worth the climb. We then headed south over the moors riding towards Exford, once again the scenery was breathtaking, the sun still shone and the conditions couldn't have been better. We then travelled down to Tiverton, making good progress on the smooth fast B3222 and A396, stopping for a welcome coffee in The Exeter Inn, near Bampton in the Exe Valley. After this welcome break, sitting outside in the sunshine we turned northwest on the A361, again making good progress (this was a long ride we were undertaking), turning off onto the A399 heading up to Coombe Martin on the coast. Paul, Steve, Tim, Lyn and I had a wonderful carvery in the Pack o' Cards, a huge pub which was very busy, whilst Michel and Jan decided to find a restaurant nearby. As they finished their meal before us they explored further round the coast to Ifracombe, we met up again as they came back to Coombe Martin and they suggested we all travelled back to Ifracombe with them, which we did, taking lots of pictures in the picturesque harbour. Afterwards we rode on towards Woolacombe on the west coast, returning on the B3343, the A3123, turning off onto the B3358 towards Simonsbath. This road is renowned for being a 'Bikers Road', which didn't disappoint, and we followed it until Exford, this is one road not to be missed in this part of the country. It had been a long day and we then headed north on small winding tracks through picturesque villages up to Polock. Michel and Jan decided to call it a day and returned to the hotel but the rest of us decided to continue through the village and turn off to try and find Dunkery Beacon up a very winding, sometimes taxing, track that lead us up and up to the viewpoints on the top. It was a very worthwhile ride, a real 'up and downer' which rewarded us with some amazing views as it rises to 1704ft, the sun was still out and everywhere looked beautiful. We then rode back the way the way we came and returned to the hotel, tired and well and truly 'saddle sore' and ready to put our feet up for a while before having supper at the hotel. A very good day.
Once again we finished breakfast at 10am and set off at 10.15am for the day's ride. It was a glorious sunny day again, how lucky we have been so far! We rode up Polock Hill again, experts now of course with the 1 in 4 gradient, and on towards our eagerly awaited trip to Lynmouth, just along the coast. This was the day we had planned to ride up the water powered cliff railway that leads out onto Lynton at the top. The ride heading into this beautiful, picturesque town is amazing, one that never fails to delight. We parked up and waited for the railway to descend and entered the carriage and off we set upwards. Wow, what an experience, the views of the town and Bay that opened up the higher we got were truly memorable, we wouldn't have missed it for the world. We had a coffee in the café at the top and a two minutes walk away was the tiny town of Lynton with lots of great small shops. Heading back down again on the railway was as thrilling as the trip up, wonderful! We headed off to find the Valley of the Rocks nearby, which we did eventually, after a couple of diversions! We continued on the coastal road with, once again, beautiful coastal views, making a very enjoyable ride, the tracks just kept opening and heading upwards as we rode through glorious countryside leading down eventually into a village called Berryhabour. We spotted nearby a really old looking pub called Ye Olde Globe. Talking to the landlady we discovered it was built in the 13th century, as one of three cottages which were combined in the 17th century and made into a public house, it had so much character and must be one of the oldest pubs in the area. After having a drink and eating some very welcome sandwiches we rode off to find a scenic road that Paul had planned for our first day that we hadn't done, the landlady of Ye Olde Globe said if we could it would be well worth it. We rejoined the A39 where we found The Lynton and Barnstable Railway at the Woody Bay Station, between Lynton and Blackmoor Gate.
Woody Bay Station, within the Exmoor National Park, is a station on the former Lynton and Barnstaple Railway, a narrow gauge line that ran through Exmoor from Barnstaple to Lynton and Lynmouth in North Devon. The station was situated inland, about 2 km from Woody Bay itself. It opened with the line (as Wooda Bay until the name was changed in 1901) on 7 March 1898, and closed with it after service on 29 September 1935. From 1923 until closure, the line was operated by the Southern Railway.
Woody Bay station was built in part to serve the expected development of a resort at Woody Bay, a mile or so to the north. A pier was built in the bay, although little further development took place, and the pier was destroyed by heavy seas before any trade could be established with passing steamers, and the development was abandoned when the promotor went into liquidation in 1900, and although a route was surveyed for a branch line to the bay, it was never constructed.
Following purchase by the Lynton and Barnstaple Railway Company in 1995, restoration of the station began, and it opened as a Visitors' Centre in 2003. An "out and back" service over a few hundred yards of track began in 2004, and with the opening of a temporary station about a mile towards Parracombe Halt, a regular "point to point" service started in 2006.
More than 75 years after the railways closure you can once more board a train at England's highest narrow gauge railway station - the delightfully named Woody Bay Station - 1000 feet up on wild Exmoor. Run almost entirely by volunteers, we are a "non-profit" organisation owned by its Members with the mission to fully restore as much as we can of the legendary Lynton & Barnstaple Railway.
We enjoyed a 25 minute trip on the train. Leaving the station we continued on our route to a small track, riding through Brendon, Malmsmead, Lorna Doone, Oare, then Oareford, (this was also recommended by Toni at the Hotel as it is unmarked on any map), rejoining the A39, taking the next left down the Toll Road (again, breathtaking), down to Polock and onwards for a quick visit to Polock Weir, a picturesque little place. We returned to the hotel at 5.40pm and later had a lovely supper in their dining room. An excellent varied day, the sun shone all day, the scenery was again magnificent, all in all a very enjoyable day.
4 bikes with 7 friends (Paul & Angie, Steve, Michel & Jan and Tim & Lynne) visit Exmoor on the north coast of Devon leaving on Friday 3rd May and returning on Tuesday 7th May and would you believe once again a Club 4181 trip with almost unbroken sunshine, which considering the UK weather, 5 days of sunshine in a row, how luckly.

Sadly this was the day we returned home, we had our last breakfast and said our goodbyes to Toni and the staff and left at about 10.30. Unfortunately we (I) got lost leaving Polock and it was a while before we were back on track. We stopped at Compton Abbus Airport on the return trip, catching the 4.45pm ferry. A really great few days, and a place to return to.
Write-up and photos Angie