Tour of Britain - Day 6 - Dartmoor
- Friday 20 September 2013
Savagery and serenity on England’s wildest moor
Tour of Britain stage 6 meanders up from Sidmouth before heading back down towards Dartmoor and a finish at Haytor. Our Dartmoor ride in Great British Bike Rides is a scenic toughy. What a place to be when then weather's like the photo above, but what a difference when the mist rolls in ... Here's Dave and his Dartmoor route:
Dartmoor has long been associated with prisons, ponies and a sense of adventure. It’s a landscape littered with tors, streams and some of the wildest roads in Britain, a land of opportunity for the cyclist seeking something different … something really quite hard.
Have no doubt in your mind that Dartmoor is out to get you. Siren-like, the area’s beauty draws you in before savaging you with unrelenting gradients – once you’ve crawled up its hills and rolled over the finish line this 60-mile route will feel like double the distance.
To begin with, you’re going to get a real battering. Although the riding is quiet, a few sections are fairly desperate as you contend with narrow lanes and ‘rustic’ road surfaces. In fact, this can at times seem more like an off-road venture and you would be forgiven for bringing a cyclo-cross bike.
And if you manage to deal with the rattly tarmac, the endless climbs will hit you with their full weight. At least in return for your efforts you’ll go home with a nice little bag full of classic climbs. The stretch from Tavistock to Rippon Tor has ‘tick list’ written all over it. Firstly there’s the mighty Rundlestone to deal with, a climber’s play written in two distinct acts. The first rises majestically out of Tavistock and brutally shuttles you up onto the moor where act two waits with swords of pain to stab into already-tired muscles as you fight the steepest section to gain the high point of the ride. But your work is not yet done. The climb at Dartmeet is brutally steep and unrelenting;
its sweeping nature almost feeling designed for cyclists. Use this to prepare for Widecombe, a riding challenge that every serious cyclist needs to overcome … once!
Many of the greats have given their all on these climbs. Apparently Chris Boardman still holds the record for the fastest ascent of Widecombe; set when he nailed the national hill climb competition there in 1990 in four minutes and ten seconds. How close can you get? A good rider will be up there in nine – nearly five minutes slower than Chris at his peak! You will need everything in your armoury for this ride: big legs, puncture repair kit, tough tyres and so forth.
You won’t, however, want carbon wheels or the big ring as the shed load of climbs, large quantity of cattle grids and frequently dodgy road surfaces will testify. These roads are indicative of how people used to travel before we came along with our fancy tarmacking machines!
I first planned this route using a computer mapping software package. Fantastic though these packages are, none of them has a setting that allows you to display the ever-increasing amount of pain you will suffer as the ride goes on. If they did, this loop would have started at level ‘ouch’, moved onto ‘amputation without anaesthetic’ and ended at ‘please leave me here to die, I cannot suffer any more’!
Yet on the right day this is a majestic place to be. Hard-won height is complemented by big, open skies and sweeping views over one of England’s greatest wild places. It’s your job to radiate the serenity of one who worked hard in order to gain them. Even on the wrong day, when the mist appears as if by magic, enveloping the moors in a matter of minutes, Dartmoor still manages to feel special, if a little spooky, and you’ll come away with plenty of memories – even if they are just of painful legs!
For full route information, and details of all 40 of Dave's routes, check out Great British Bike Rides - and save 20% at checkout with offer code TOUR2013