“Best 100 mile bike routes”
The Blackdown call it the BBQ for short, is a lovely ride over striking hills and through spectacular valleys. You even catch a glimpse of the sea. It starts in Taunton and the first of the day’s long climbs begins as you leave town. The road wriggles upwards for two and a half miles, and then you ride along the spine of the Blackdown Hills. The first section of this ridge run goes through an avenue of trees, which in summer looks like the vaulted nave of a giant, leafy cathedral. And when the trees thin out the view from up here is amazing. The ridge run ends at the Wellington Monument, which is shaped like a bayonet used by Wellington’s troops at the Battle of Waterloo. You head south now along a lower ridge, then descend steeply into Hemyock to ride along the first of the valleys.
The Culm is a gorgeous little river that lends its name to the Culm grassland that used to cover much of Devon and is preserved in places because of its biodiversity. It’s the product of a badly draining acid soil, but it supports a wide variety of flora as well as butterflies and birds. You leave the river at Culmstock, riding up a shallow climb, while on your right there’s a reconstructed hilltop beacon that was built to give advance warning of the Spanish Armada. The next section goes along some heavy roads typical of inland Devon. They undulate constantly and are made from granite chippings. The combination of their rough surface and gravity seems to drag at your wheels, but don’t despair, just dig in and take your time, gearing down and spinning your legs. Try not to fight your bike; work with it instead.
Eventually you’ll reach the second valley, that of the River Bathern, where you start to climb Haddon Hill at Bampton. It’s a long one, over four miles, and it rises in distinct steps, with the steepest coming just after Morbeath, and there’s another very steep pitch close to the summit. Again, gear down and spin up. The top is another ridge, then there’s a short descent before you climb Brendon Hill for the final ridge run of the day. This is fantastic. There are incredible views across the Bristol Channel to Wales on your right, with Mid Devon rolling away to the English Channel on your left. The ridge goes on for six miles, until a steep descent leads to the final valley and one of the prettiest A-roads in Britain.
The Blackdown. You hit the A396 at its watershed, the point where the Quarme, which later becomes the Exe, flows south and the Avill goes north. You follow the Avill, on a road twisting this way and that between impressive valley sides, past the striking yet homely Dunster Castle to begin the sea section through Watchet. Another climb onto the Brendons follows, then there’s a quick sprint across Taunton Vale to the last hills, the Quantocks. Their ridge road is a bit bumpy, and the way up is very steep, so because they come late in the ride I’ve routed you over Merridge Hill at their eastern end, from where there’s a short descent back to Taunton.You should come back and explore the Quantocks with fresh legs. Go south on the B3170 over the M5 to climb up to North Down.
Turn right at the summit and ride along the ridge to the crossroads just before the Wellington Monument. Turn left to Hemyock. Turn right onto the B3391 and go through Culmstock, over the M5, and cross the A38 to turn right in Westleigh. Turn left in Wiveliscombe onto the B3227, and turn left at the roundabout in Milverton to go through Ash Priors across the B3224 then left onto the A358. Follow this road, keeping the canal on your left, then turn left over the River Tone and climb up to Crosses Farm, where you turn right to go through Clayhanger to the B3227. Turn left to Bampton. Turn right onto the B3190 to climb Haddon Hill and to the top of Brendon Hill. There, turn left onto the B3224 and follow this road to Wheddon Cross.
Turn right onto the A396, then right onto the A39 at Dunster and left onto the B3191 to Watchet. The Blackdown.Turn right onto the B3190, cross the A39 and ride up the hill to the T-junction. Turn left to the summit of Elworthy Barrows, then descend to the B3188 and turn right. Turn left in Wiveliscombe onto the B3227, and turn left at the roundabout in Milverton to go through Ash Priors across the B3224 then left onto the A358. Turn right to West Bagborough and climb Lydeard Hill, then descend to the five-lane junction where you turn right and head back to Taunton. Turn right to West Bagborough and climb Lydeard Hill, then descend to the five-lane junction where you turn right and head back to Taunton.
The Blackdown.Start and Finish: Taunton
The Blackdown.Cafe: Olio and Farina is right next to Six Cycles and is a great Italian-style cafe
The Blackdown.Getting There: Taunton is right by Junction 25 of the M5, with good access to the national rail network through its station.
The Blackdown.Bike Shop: Six Cycles on Pegasus Court just off St James Street
The Blackdown.Cafe: Olio and Farina is right next to Six Cycles
The Blackdown.Local Delicacy: Taunton honey