Travellers' Tales: Summit to do

Ian Gawinowski has been using his holidays to tick off the best cycling climbs in Britain

Over the last couple of summers I’ve planned my cycling holidays to include as many of the hills as possible in Simon Warren’s book, 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs. This June I focused on those in the South West.

From my B&B in Minehead there were several climbs within a day’s ride. After unpacking, I decided on a shortish 70km route that would take in climb No. 4, Porlock Hill. Although less than 5km long, it’s an evil climb with some vicious switchbacks that make the legs burn. No wonder it scores 9/10 in the book.

My second day could have been a Tour de France stage: a circular route of 130km with over 2,000 metres of elevation. It went out to Lynton, looped back to Nether Stowey, then returned to Minehead. Exmoor Forest, climb No. 6, was long but easy to accomplish as it’s not particularly steep. Crowcombe Combe (No. 3), on the other hand, was a killer. I crawled up the 25% gradient, getting slower and slower until I had to put a foot down. Instant disqualification, according to my own unwritten rules. I’ll have to return for that one.

A white cottage sits beneath a church on a hill, flowers are in the foreground

A fish and chip supper and a full English breakfast next morning failed to replenish my energy reserves, so I planned a short ride of 50km and a single climb, Dunkery Beacon (No. 5). Although the hill was a challenge it was not as painful as the previous climbs so I was surprised to learn this was rated 10/10 in the book. Perhaps my legs had acclimatised to going uphill?

A white surf hire hut stands in front of a beach front on a sunny day

My final day was a car-trip further east along the coast, starting from Braunton. The climb was No. 7, Challacombe. First I visited Woolacombe, whose beach is a mecca for surfers. I watched their antics while soaking up the sun and having an ice cream. Then I had a climb to conquer. It was another seemingly near vertical ascent, and because it’s a singletrack road you can’t weave across the road. You must power through. I did.