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Buzzards

I don't know if it was the freezing weather, or the time of the year, or what, but there were an awful lot of buzzards around this morning. One of them even flew along in front of us for a good 500m, following the twists and turns of the track. But it was the amazing weather, with crisp white frost and sunshine filtering through golden leaves that really made it. Perfect.

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Autumn colours

The autumn colours are quite spectacular at the moment, with yellow birch, orange-brown oaks and bright orange-red American Oaks (or Red Oaks as the Americans call it) looking amazing, especially with the morning mist filtering through the trees and the sunlight through the dewdrops.  Even the Molinia grass (purple moor-grass, the tall grass you see in the photo below) has a seasonal orange tint to it. For some reason, Molinia has done really well this year, with clumps growing to a meter high or so in places, looking quite magnificent — almost as magnificent as the group of mountain bikers below.

TCW group relaxed Ginkelse Heide

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Veluwe Challenge 2016

Over six hundred mountain bikers turned out for this year's Veluwe Challenge and even though the weather was better than some previous years,  it was still quite a challenge, or at least it was for me. I did the 50 km route, which was a bit over 60 km by the time I'd cycled from home, and by the time I got back home I was quite exhausted. In the beginning, despite my average speed being higher than my usual, I was clearly holding back my fellow club-mate and it was only after his shoulder somehow got entangled with a fence as he passed it that I could feel less guilty for holding him back. The (literal) high point of the route was the Goudsberg. That is an area of very steep slopes made of loose sand which was especially challenging. I must admit I was not so pleased with my performance there, I've (just) managed to get up all the slopes there before and this time I had to get off and push several times.  Mostly that was because the cyclists in front of me stopped, but not every time.  I guess my rhythm was broken by those stops.  Still, I guess it is not much of a challenge if you can succeed every time. Anyway, it was a good ride, with impeccable organisation by WV Ede and the usual friendly atmosphere of such events. 

Photo © 2016  Harald Kouseband Oypo

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End of summer

The ridiculous summer temperatures that we experienced all through September have finally come to an end. The last flowers on the heather are finally fading and when I set off it was cool enough to give me quite a chill for a while. The cloudy sky was looking quite definitely threatening. All those things (well, all except the flowers) were a Good Thing, for the simple reason that after months of sharing the paths with countless dog-walkers, horse-riders and sundry other people out enjoying the countryside, the mere threat of a little drizzle was enough to keep them all inside and out of my way. This week I could not go out with the club, so the sense of having the heaths and woods to myself was even stronger. Bring on the winter, it can only get better!

Ginkelse Heide

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Drunen

MTBroutes.nl gives the Drunen route a relatively high ranking, so when I found I had to be near to there the other day I took the opportunity to take a look.  It is in an area of inland sand dunes call the Loonsche & Drunensche duinen (‘duinen’ means dunes) which means that the landscape is impressive and that there are enough small hills to make it challenging.  They have indeed done their best to make the most of the landscape.  For a start the track winds its way through quite some diversity of different habitats from open sand dunes (the loose sand was tough going in parts) to heathland (August was definitely a good time to be there with all the heather in flower) to mixed woodland with a well-developed understory.  It was in places quite similar to more sandy parts of the Veluwe, but just a little bit more fertile soil, with more brambles and so on in the woods. The track is sufficiently challenging in parts that you need to keep your wits about you, with various small drop-offs and steep (but short) climbs which are definitely easier if you see them coming. Another reason to keep your wits about you is that the area is also extensively used by walkers and horse riders.  Where the paths cross footpaths and bridleways there are clear warning signs but I came across quite a lot of walkers on the mountain bike route, despite many signs saying it was forbidden. The other thing to remember is that you do need a permit, though if you already have one for the Posbank that is valid here, and I did run into a warden (not literally) in the middle of the route, so they do check.

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 MTB Drunen

The route is very clearly signed, though if your colour vision is like mine then the black and green routes look quite similar, but nevertheless a gps route in front of you is certainly handy to let you know when sharp bends are coming up. If you do follow a gps route, make sure you go the right way round (anti-clockwise).  This is not only to avoid bumping into everyone going the other direction but because a lot of the short steep slopes have a metal grid on the uphill bit. This doubtless does a great job in preventing erosion, but it is not a surface I would like to be braking on.

I imagine that the weather in the preceding week is going to make a huge difference to the track.  When I went there, there had been a lot of rain and then dry for a day, which was probably optimal.  In dry weather there will be much more loose sand, which makes it more difficult.  If it is really wet, then parts of the woodland in the second half of the route which were now hard and fast, will be sticky or slippery. Is it worth its high ranking on mtbroutes.nl?  I suggest you go and form your own opinion, you won’t be disappointed.

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East Devon

East Devon is famous for the imposing cliffs and fossils of its dramatic Jurassic Coast, picturesque villages with whitewashed thatched cottages and narrow lanes with old trees, not to mention its cream teas, but what about mountain biking there? The mountain biking does of course give a good excuse for the cream teas, but is that all? It is true that East Devon is somewhat overshadowed by the more popular routes in West Devon (Dartmoor and Exmoor) but that doesn't mean that there is nowhere to cycle off-road in the East of Devon. Certainly not! For a start, the narrow lanes might have tarmac on them, but there are few cars. This is because, as you drive along, your wing-mirrors sometimes brush the vegetation on both sides of the road at once and if you meet oncoming traffic, you have to be prepared to reverse quite some way, neither of which makes them popular with city drivers. And those lanes are spectacular, deeply sunken after years of usage, packed with seriously ancient trees and lined with ferns. The number of woody species in a 30m stretch of hedgerow gives an indication of the centuries of age and without trying too hard we found some hedges of almost a thousand years old. There is also a good assortment of bridleways, which are officially for pedestrians, horses and bikes although in practice I mostly saw walkers on them. One dog-walker exclaimed "that's a first" as I cycled past him on a beautiful piece of singletrack on the East Hills Strips. I also discovered that just because a track is marked on the map, that does not mean that it really exists. There was one which had a style at one end, a gate at the other and even a gate half way down but in between nothing but shoulder-high bracken, prickly gorse and purple moor-grass tussocks. It took me over an hour to traverse one kilometre, mostly with the bike on my shoulders, except for the section where I could crawl under the low boughs of a row of beech trees. That would also have been easier if I had not had a bike with me.

Sid Valley Devon

Some very helpful people on the Singletrack Forum pointed me in the direction of Woodbury Common, and that indeed turned out to be The Place To Ride.

Woodbury Common

Woodbury is a area of pebble heathland and mixed forest. When I was there in July the bell heather and gorse was flowering, which was a spectacular colour combination, especially on views looking out towards the sea and there were also loads of dragon flies and butterflies. Unfortunately they were there in part because of the dense brambles, which apparently thought it was entertaining to put out strong prickly shoots across the paths at ankle level, meaning that I ended the rides with impressive quantities of scratches and blood. It was worth it though, with great trails ticking all the boxes; amazing views, swooping downhills, challenging uphills, small stream crossings (always fun), varied woodland, and diverse surfaces underwheel but little tarmac.

Woodland river, Woodbury Common

Healthland on Woodbury Common

Here is one route I took on Woodbury Common, and here is an extra bit. (To download, right-click the links then download as). It is also on gpsies.

Haldon Forest and Dartmoor

Of course, whilst in East Devon, you and your bike really ought to head west over to Dartmoor. There are all sorts of possibilities there. Just to the west of Exeter there is the Haldon Forest trail centre. The routes are clearly signed, though it helps if you realise that the orange walking route is not actually the red mountain biking route. The red trail, "hard", is definitely the most fun, though the "moderate" Kiddens trail is also pretty good.  However, the other "moderate" trail "Spicers", is actually pretty easy and the enjoyment comes more from the views and landscape than the cycling. The more difficult routes certainly make you work hard and concentrate with twisty tracks, lots of up and down and even a few bumpy bits which you can jump over if you're feeling adventurous, or just roll over if not. And of course, that great advantage of a trail centre, a decent cafe, is also a bonus.

Haldon Forest

But it must be said, the excellent cafe at Haldon Forest has nothing on the "Hound of the Basketmeals" on Hound Tor (where else?) on Dartmoor. Not only does it have a completely brilliant name, but food is just what a hungry mountain biker needs after toiling up and down the moors. I was following the route described as "the toughest of all the Dartmoor rides" in Nick Cotton and Tom Fenton's book. I had foolishly imagined that this would be possible by the end of my holiday, but the ridiculously long steep hills certainly had me struggling. Of course the payback in terms of vast views and incredible long downhills was amazing. Seeing it was in the holiday period and I was following a route in a popular book, I had expected to see quite a lot of mountain bikers, but I came across only one other (from Melbourne, Australia as it happens). But I did see deer, rabbits, stoats, a mouse and a mole, which is not bad, though I have to admit I'm not 100% sure the mole was alive. It was also a ride of great contrasts, from impressive ancient woodland to wonderful old lanes

Dartmoor

to huge open spaces on the tops of the moors. Definitely worthwhile!

Bike Hire

I hired a bike from Soanes Cycles in Coylton (near Axminster and Sidmouth). They were friendly and helpful and booking the bike by mail went fine. The bike was adequate but with weaker brakes than I'm used to, only 8x3 gears and poor suspension, so in the beginning I was worried that would be a problem.  The lack of gears did mean that I had to walk up some hills I might have otherwise managed to cycle, but with slopes of 25-30% in the region you are probably going to be doing some walking anyway and in the end the brakes performed fine down huge steep hills. The big advantage was that the price was very good, so I could afford to hire it for most of the holiday.

Forest Cycle Hire at Haldon Forest Park has good quality hardtails for hire.  They did not respond to my mail reserving a bike to hire but when we turned up they had plenty so it was not a problem.

Do remember that if you're from Wageningen (or much or the rest of the world), the brakes on UK bikes are swapped; the right lever is the front brake.

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