: Mike DuffWhere
: Exmoor, SomersetCar used
: Range Rover Sport SVR
"A veteran road rally organiser once told me his almost infallible method for finding good venues for events - 'head to where the people aren't.' And while most of Somerset's minor roads feel tight and congested, aiming for the unpopulated wilds of Exmoor gets you onto some brilliant tarmac. Time your trip well and you can pretty much have the place to yourself.
"From Taunton I take the A358 towards Minehead and then, after a couple of slow miles, turn left onto the B3224 just after Bishop's Lydeard. This starts out tight and hilly but opens up as it crosses into the Exmoor National Park. The only real navigational challenge is remembering the take the right fork a mile or so after the Raleigh's Cross pub. For the next stretch the hedges start to get closer again - this is one of those roads where you can feel like you're going properly fast without ever breaking the NSL. After Wheddon Cross - the most sizeable village hereabouts - I keep on the B3224 to Exford and then Simonsbath. Then I turn right and head north towards the coast on the B3223, a fast, flowing road across open moors that has served as the backdrop for numerous car magazine photo shoots. As you get close to the coast there are spectacular views across the Bristol Channel, all the way to South Wales on a clear day.
"After reaching the sea at Lynmouth there's a choice - either take the A39 along the coast towards Minehead or retrace your steps. The A39 is a lovely road, and has a spectacular clifftop climb as you leave the town, but it tends to get busy with holidaymakers and caravans. A good alternative is to head back across the moors to Wheddon Cross and then to turn south onto the A396, which will eventually take you to Tiverton where you can rejoin the M5."
Why it's a dream drive:
"For sheer variety you'd be hard pressed to cram more into the distance - tight, hedge-lined lanes, fast flowing roads and then a chance for a blast across empty moors. And it feels like a proper journey, from the rolling valleys of agricultural Zummerzet to desolate heathland and then the sea. It's definitely best to try and hit it in the early morning, and on a quiet day you can go for miles without seeing another car. Most of the tourists tend to stick to the coast, so even in peak season Exmoor itself is rarely busy. It's a great place to extend a powerful car, but also a stern test of steering accuracy and body control (two areas where the SVR in the photos acquitted itself particularly well, despite its size). Picking something taller also lets you see over the lower hedges in tighter sections, helping you to spot approaching traffic on corners."
Highlights and lowlights?
"The B3223 north from Simonsbath is practically good enough to justify the trip by itself - open, well-sighted and with some lovely sequences. It's always hard to resist the temptation to turn around and drive it again. On the narrower and twistier bits of the route you definitely need to pace yourself, it's fair to say that life moves a bit more slowly out here and it's not unusual to come around a corner and find livestock or horses on the road, or even a couple of Land Rovers stopped door to door while their drivers have a natter. There are wild ponies and sheep to look out for on the open moorland too. Always consider the weather - few places feel colder, wetter and more desolate than Exmoor in the rain, and any low cloud will deny you the views that make the drive feel epic as it should.
"Also be aware of diverting off the 'main' route - most of the local lanes are almost comically narrow, with a road-laying diversion sending the SVR down what appeared to be a gravel driveway."
Sights, stop-offs and diversions:
"Exmoor itself offers some great hiking, and the chance - as I once did - of finding mega-explorer Ranulph Fiennes honing his sled-hauling skills by pulling an old tractor tyre across the moorland. If you're in the mood for a walk then Dunkery Beacon, just after Wheddon Cross, is an easy climb and offers a spectacular vista from the top. There are some nice pubs along the way if you're looking for unpretentious grub, with more eating options in Lynmouth, although most of these seem aimed at catering for coach parties. Lynton, next to Lynmouth, has the Valley of the Rocks, which sounds a bit Father Ted but actually looks like a mini Lord of the Rings set. Just watch out for the feral goats.
"And Minehead is worth a stop if you want to know what British seaside resorts looked like in the 1970s - it's got everything from Kiss Me Kwik hats to a Butlins Holiday Resort."
Follw the route here.