Lynmouth (1 day of riding 15 miles +1 day chilling)

After several weeks of daily sessions on the turbo trainer (because of a fractured collar bone), I was going stir crazy, and itching to get out on the bike, but I didn’t feel confident enough to put the full kit on the bike and camp. The shoulder was stable, but still hadn’t fully bonded, after conferring with the consultant, he allowed me to ride small distances. The solution; put the folding bike in the car and toddle off to a hotel for a small trip.

West Somerset railway There was a program on TV called 'Britain by bike', hosted by Clare Balding, the one particular programme inspired me to investigate her route. North Devon is two hours away from my home, and in my belief, totally under-rated. I had previously planned to catch the train to Bridgwater and ride to the south eastern terminus of the West Somerset Railway; Bishops Lydeard, travel on the train to Minehead and then ride to Lynmouth. Though, due to the current injury a long ride was doubtful. I searched Google for hotel near Lynmouth (there were loads), but I wanted good food as well as a bed and found the 'Woody bay hotel’.

Woody Bay hotel I travelled by car and drove to Minehead, stopping off for a coffee at the West Somerset railway, then on the A39 to Woody bay. I headed for the hotel and once off the main road, the roads became smaller and smaller, until I started heading down hill on a road I'd describe as 'unused', shaded by trees, green moss thrived covering the roadside walls and the road. Then I stumbled across the hotel. The proprietor showed me my room and I was blown away by the views from my bedroom. Tastefully decorated, the room was clean and sported a modern bathroom. Woody bay is a deep cut channel in the coast, the steep sides are covered with a luscious green blanket of trees. The view opens up to the dark blue Atlantic Ocean, flat and calm today, with a haze in the distance.

I was feeling peckish so looked at the menu. Rather oddly you have to pre-order your food (from an extensive choice) half an hour before the restaurant opens. This didn’t matter as each course was exquisite, rarely have I seen such well presented food and the taste matched the appearance (I have spent a month on what was considered to be the best liner of its time; Cunards 'QE2', the food is comparable to this).

Lee bay Abbey The next day, the breakfast was as equally tasty. After breakfast, I went back to room and waited for the weather to break (which was supposed to be dinnertime). At 11 o'clock I couldn’t wait any more got the Dahon vitesse bike from the car, the sky was battleship grey and tipping down; off I went. Downhill to another bay (Lee bay) and of course back up again. The sun came out at last, on the top of the hill was Lee bay Abbey, being a private religious college, I was unable to look around, but it was pretty from the outside. From here there's a toll road with an honesty box costing £2 each way. At the end of the road a group of wild goats impeded my progress, until one leapt up an almost vertical piece of rock followed by its clan.

Watch out for goats Around the corner was the valley of rocks, and to the left was the coastal path running precariously along the edge of the cliff, it was tarmac, but the feeling of certain death if you strayed two feet to the left, never left you. It did give breathtaking views of Lynmouth. After the second bout of goats and through a gate, the path splits in two; to the left a dirt zigzag path to leads you down to Lynmouth, and to the right, the path goes up to Lynton. I went down, but out of safety’s sake; I walked. It comes out on the esplanade, the sea was unyielding and broke over the walls in an act of defiance. I drink decaffeinated coffee now and in fairness some establishments serve crap coffee and others have superb coffee; I had a decaf coffee at the ‘Coffee mill’ and it was really excellent. I sat there with my second espresso and watched the people passing by; some were leading dogs, some pushing prams, others had rucksacks on their back, but I bet all had arrived here by motorised transport.

I followed Tors road and onto a path that tracks the East Lyn river all the way up to ‘Watersmeet’. Watersmeet seemingly appears out of nowhere when you approach it, I was amazed by the beauty of it's location, it was invigorating. Watersmeet is on the confluence of the East Lyn River and Hoar Oak Water, with some spectacular waterfalls nearby. After another coffee, I set off downhill back to Lymouth, but even though it was a descent; it was unsafe to ride back down all of it, as the path is laden with tree roots. Lymouth is no stranger to the power of water, and an example of this is the water spout over the West Lyn river, powered by gravity alone it squirts water fifty feet into the air.

It was time to go back and I had two choices- ride back up a massive hill or be transported back to Lynton via the water-powered (yes- water powered) cliff railway; it was a no brainer. At the top near the high level station was a market selling local arts and crafts. I rode back through the valley of rocks to Woody bay to complete this test ride. In the evening and after another superb meal, I retired upstairs to the viewing lounge with a glass of red wine and watched the sun set across the Atlantic sea.

What a dreamy place Woody bay is, it’s so off the beaten track, keeping it totally exclusive. It’s one of those places where one doesn’t really need to go out, you can sit in the library and read, walk down to its own little cove and have a dip, or just sit in the observation lounge on the second floor and watch the Atlantic Ocean change and transform itself depending on the weather. I loved it.

  • Gallery

    gallery page Why not have a look at the gallery relating to this ride. Click the image or the title.

  • Barry Island Butlins or Minehead

    Barry Island Butlins I had many a fond childhood memories of Barry Island Butlins and felt sad when Mr. Butlins sold the place. In my view Barry has a better beach than Minehead, it has a train service all the way, where as Minehead railway shut to the main line in the early seventies (yes it still has the heritage line, but I’m having a moan). Maybe I’m bias, but I preferred Barry.

  • Woody Bay

    Remains of the pier at Woody Bay In 1885 the whole of Woody Bay was purchased by Colonel Benjamin Lake, a wealthy solicitor from Kent. Col. Lake planned to develop the bay as an exclusive resort. He converted Martinhoe Manor House into a hotel (now Woody Bay Hotel), and in 1894, opened a new golf course at Martinhoe common. There was a Victorian bathing pool near the beach and the construction of a pier was started, to provide access from coastal steamers. It didn’t work out, which is to our advantage as the bay is now largely unspoilt and remains a beautiful piece of coastline.

  • The valley of rocks

    The valley of rocks The valley of rocks is... what can I say; is a valley with loads of rocks, nothing really to rave about. However the coastal path around the valley is something special, the views are spectacular, it’s like walking in mid-air, but if you don’t like heights (or goats) then stick to the valley, where you can see some rocks.

  • Lynmouth flood

    Lynmouth flood In August 1952, a storm of tropical intensity broke over south-west England, depositing 229 millimetres of rain within 24 hours on an already waterlogged Exmoor. Debris-laden floodwaters cascaded down the valley, converging upon the village of Lynmouth. Overnight, more than 100 buildings were destroyed or seriously damaged along with 28 bridges, and 38 cars were washed out to sea.
    Tom Denham, owner of the Lyndale Hotel (left of the image), said his cellars had flooded before so he wasn't worried at first. He said: "About half-past nine there was a tremendous roar. The West Lyn had broken its banks and pushed against the side of the hotel, bringing with it thousands of tons of rocks and debris in its course." In total, 34 people died, with a further 420 made homeless.

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