Exmoor 03: Exford — Taunton

Monday, July 10th

I followed the river Exe – the gurgling water I’d camped by, to Exford in the morning. It was raining very lightly and a little misty but the drop in temperature was a relief as I’d burned my hands and legs in the sun yesterday.

It was a briefer and easier ride than the day before. I later found out I’d climbed nearly nearly 7000ft the previous day which is way beyond what I was prepared for or expected. Today had it’s hills, but they were more gentle and less frequent as things plateaued out towards civilisation.

I worked out that I had somewhere between 30 and 40 miles to get back to Taunton and needed to meet a train at 15.23. It was more than enough time really, but I was reluctant to drop my pace too much or have lunch until I reached Taunton.

Around 5 miles out of Exford I arrived at the bottom of a climb up through my first taste of what looked like real moorland – an open landscape with clumps of windswept bushes and views from either side of the road off into the foggy distance. It looked a little like Yorkshire or something with the beautiful bleakness i’d only ever associated with the North.

The road cut a winding path through the open space before a long descent dimmed by trees eventually took me to Dulverton. A small but busy town next to bends in the river Barle. It was the first time I’d seen a Co-Op since leaving London last week and a sign that i’d soon be leaving the countryside behind.  I’d not been anywhere truly remote – in the UK I’m not even sure true remoteness exists, but the ride had given a least a little taste of the open spaces you can find in between things, the greenery, and the open sky.

After topping up on water I stopped at a coffee shop in town where I bought some fudge and drank coffee in the courtyard now the sun had emerged. I lingered a little bit, wondering what it would be like to live in a small town like this, but soon detached myself from the cafe and my daydreams, stuffed the fudge inside my bag, and started to climb the road out of town.

From there followed a series of tight winding country lanes, crossing a ford, passing a reservoir,  until I hit Wiveliscombe, 15 miles away. It was one of the most wiggly and indirect sections of the ride, but also the most enjoyable.

And then it was the beginning of the end. The main road through to Taunton was mostly gently downhill. Though I diverted off this after a few miles for a quieter route back to where I started it was still effortless compared with the experience of Sunday, an Saturday too.

So I found myself back in Taunton, on the high street, a Monday afternoon, the countryside behind me, looking for something to eat whilst I waited two hours for my train.

The separation between city and country is something you’re made more aware of when travelling by bike, yet it’s still always a little surprising find yourself back there again.

Taunton high street was a hard place to imagine spending more than two hours, especially if there wasn’t a train waiting for you to take you far away. But I found a cafe which allowed me to wheel my bike inside. It looked like it hadn’t changed in at least 40 years. A guy who I assume was the owner proudly said he’d been working there 32 years.

Each table was surrounded by orange seats, on top was a neat arrangement of sauces and a laminated menu which contained food which was cheap, fried, and tempting. I was the only customer.

I waited out most of the time there, eating fish and chips and drinking bad coffee, reflecting on the past few days. The ride had been a good primer for my riding in America again – both in terms of getting used to the distance and the bike, but also remembering the mental state you enter when travelling alone. It was a short trip, but a challenging one all the same. And it felt good to reconnect with what i’d spent a large part of 2016 doing, and thinking about ever since.

I got to the station and over the next four hours made my way home by crowded hot trains filled with commuters. Happy to be home, excited to leave again.