Day 11 – Misty in the Moors: Exploring Exmoor and Dartmoor National Parks
Today was an exciting day of exploring our final two national parks of the expedition. Exmoor and Dartmoor are renowned for their difficult terrain and unusual weather conditions, both things that our team battled with today. After the heavy showers from the night before, none of us were surprised to wake up to the sound of rain on our tents. Nevertheless, come rain or shine the whole team was up and ready to conquer the exciting day ahead! Our stay at Petruth Paddocks had been another great one, made that one extra bit more special by the send off from the owner’s beautiful golden retriever!
As with most other days, it didn’t take long for our cyclists to find a spot to eat once they had left the camp. We fell upon the Blackmore Farm Shop en route to our first interview in Exmoor and we were not disappointed! The shop sold a variety of locally sourced food products and accessories that promote local business, and more significantly for our cyclists, they had a long menu of breakfast grub that they could tuck in to.
From the farm shop we ventured deeper into the Somerset countryside, losing the rain and entering a thick fog in the Quantock Hills. The Quantock Hills were England’s first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and are made up of various ancient woodlands, heathlands and agricultural landscapes that make for a jaw-dropping experience. Usually you would be able to see stunning views from the hills, but today we were quite literally in the clouds. This made for an eerily beautiful journey across the area, but also a dangerous one. As you can see from the photo below, the mist was extremely thick and meant that we could only see a few metres ahead of us on the road. We made sure our cyclists were kitted with high viability clothing and lights, but they were still difficult to see through the fog.
With our support crew ahead at the next interview the cyclists were able to take it slow over the hills. Up to this point we had been lucky with bike issues, many of them being punctures or chain snaps that could be mended quickly on the road. However, despite all the natural elements being thrown at the cyclists, Alex E’s rear wheel took a beating on the hills, calling for an emergency wheel change. With an interview around the corner Isaac, Lukas and Alex P powered on and Alex E and Sal hung back for our support car to deliver the spare. Luckily for us, Alex E is a wiz on the bike and changed his wheel out quickly so he and Sal could shoot ahead to our second interview location, keeping as much to our timings as possible. The unexpected weather and bike issues meant that our team would need to stay split up in order to keep to the interview schedule. We were extremely eager to hear from both Exmoor and Dartmoor National Parks and luckily our awesome cycle team sped off in time to make sure nothing was missed!
Our first interview location was at Bye Wood in Exmoor National Park where we spoke to Graeme McVittie about the conservation and rewilding projects being headed in Exmoor. Much of our conversation with Graeme focused on the regeneration of woodland in the national park and the they are working to encourage the community to get involved. Graeme showed us where the new native woodlands had been planted, including the non plastic tubing being used to minimise environmental damage. Currently around 14% of Exmoor is woodland. The park are planning to build an education centre and continue promoting community involvement to increase this figure. A common theme of our interviews has been educating people about their local green spaces. We have the same desire to educate people on the importance of green space, so we hope that by reading or watching our journey you will take the time to explore some of your local natural environments too!
On the northern edge of Dartmoor National Park is the Meldon Viaduct and this beautiful location is where our team met up with Hamish, one of the park rangers for Dartmoor National Park. Given our luck with the rain, it was at this moment that the sky decided to open, drenching everyone. Despite this, Sal and Alex had a super insightful chat about the challenges being faced over the ownership of national parks and the restrictions this can put on the ability to promote successful conservation. Dartmoor is one of the UK’s most visited national parks, so preserving its beauty is crucial.
Feeling wet and cold, the cyclists all joined together at Hideaway Camping in Okehampton, where we would be spending the evening in some really cool repurposed accommodation. We were lucky enough to be offered the opportunity to stay in two igloos, converted from old cattle housing. This was the first time we’d seen a bed in a long time and we were all very happy about it! Innovations like this get more people out into nature and have made camping a much more widely enjoyed experience! If you are ever travelling through Devon we highly recommend you take a look at Hideaway Camping!
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