I want moor time
As you get older your soon realise that time flies at an unsettling pace without the need for the corners of your mouth to be curled skywards. I find myself constantly reminded of this when I bump into an old work colleague, hear a song from when Top of the Pops was staple Thursday night viewing or visit somewhere that I can vaguely remember being there before. One such occasion was the last time I was in Somerset. It was a school trip and while the events of that day are pretty foggy I do remember a few things like the naughty kid mooning a lorry driver, finding football stickers in the coach and coming home and watching the Really Wild Show while I had my tea (probably faggots and mash). Many years have past since then and, to be honest, I think Terry Nutkins could count the number of times I’ve been back since on what’s left of one of his hands. This isn’t due to any bad memory of the area, quite the contrary – it’s a beautiful part of the world, I’ve just not found myself there, that is, until now.
Heading east out of Minehead is 36 miles of the A39. A stretch of road that takes you from the coastal town of Minehead, to the oldest borough in the United Kingdom: Barnstaple. The journey begins with a couple miles of standard tarmac and hedgerow. The alarm goes off as you pass the village of Porlock and the road wakes up bolt upright as you begin your climb into Exmoor. Pushed back in your seat Porlock Hill lifts you 1,300 ft in less than 2 miles and travelling up this 1 in 4 gradient hill really does feel steep as you head for the heavens. Assuming you’ve avoided any buses with brake failure coming the other way, you’ll find yourself in god-like surroundings very quickly. The tarmac peels away into the distance and urges you to follow. Either side of you the countryside unfolds like a picnic blanket into the distance and the fields on this spring morning are perfectly green and look like row upon row of pregnant putting greens.
Exmoor National Park drapes itself over the border and the moorland surroundings make a stunning backdrop for your transition from Somerset into Devon. This fluid road devours mile after mile of fantastic road with ease but before you know it you’ve used up all the moorland tarmac and are heading for your plunge back out of Exmoor. Countisbury Hill is the more effeminate brother of Porlock Hill with its mainly gentle, straight descent and a particularly wonderful view of Lynmouth beach. As you come to Lynmouth village however, its sibling rivalry bubbles over with a petulant burst of 1 in 4 gradient for good measure. If you’re still feeling frisky by this time make sure you stay on the A39 as you head through Lynmouth by turning left into Watersmeet Road and enjoy an ascent almost mountain-like in its appearance. For the next 4 miles you’ve got chicanes to keep you busy, tight sections to keep you alert and trees straight from the set of a Tim Burton movie to keep you amused.
The final 16 miles into Barnstaple offer a smattering of hairpins, chicanes and fast straights. When you think of what makes a great driving road the A39 probably ticks all the boxes. It’s a lovely drive that has definitely given me a reason to re-visit Somerset again. If someone said I could drive this road every week I’d probably bite their arm off, or maybe just a couple of fingers.