If your weekends are all about adventures, the great outdoors and interesting conversations over hearty food and glasses of red wine, then a Moor Retreats luxury cycling weekend will certainly be up your street.
We love a long weekend, so we were only too happy to sneak away from the office early on a Friday for a head start on our journey to Chulmleigh in Devon, to meet up with Ross Lovell – the host and (excellent) ride leader for the weekend.
Moor Retreats is described as a fusion of two things: a love of all things endurance-related (road cycling, sportives, triathlons, mountain biking, marathon running, ultras), and Ross’s infectious and immense enthusiasm for his Devon homeland. His pride in the region is justified: the Devon landscape is incredibly beautiful.
Having a ride leader on hand who knows all the shortcuts, scenic routes, best views, hidden gems and the finest hills is a luxury in itself and Ross will happily wax lyrical about what makes his home county so great for cycling.
He is a certified British Cycling coach who has Everested both the iconic Haytor (twice a summit finish in the Tour of Britain) and the notoriously punchy Dartmeet, ridden a Coast-2-Coast-2-Coast and even a 330mile nonstop lap of the Devon borders. Elsewhere in the world he has raced the Absa Cape Epic in South Africa and 1000km Transportugal mountain bike races, ridden the 330km Tour du Mont Blanc three times, is a double finisher of the infamous Norseman, has 20 marathons and ultras under his belt and spent 6 months bikepacking around Europe, amongst other things. He has worked with brands like Skoda, Mitsubishi, Trek and Continental on big European rides as well, so definitely take the chance to tap into his knowledge of some of those infamous words in cycling – Galibier, Sa Calobra, Stelvio, Grossglockner, Izoard, Bonette…
Following the somewhat inevitable M4 Traffic snarl-ups our arrival was somewhat delayed at the charming Old Rectory in Chulmleigh, but the welcome from the friendly group who had assembled around the refectory table for a hearty supper and wine soothed any woes. What better way to unwind on a Friday night than with a group of like-minded cyclists over a bottle in Rioja in beautiful surroundings?
Our bikes were checked over by the on-site mechanic, Frank, to ensure they were in good shape to hit the road the next morning while we all turned in, ready for an early night. On our beds were fabulous goodie boxes, full of treats for cyclists: OTE nutrition packs, Le Col cycling jerseys, a wonderful Simpson cycling magazine and Veloskin skincare products, plus tee-shirts and chocolate.
Both Ross and Frank worked long into the night finishing bike builds for those who had taken up the option to ride out on the stunning Factor One bikes. For a small additional cost of £50 those on the retreat weekend can experience ride either a Factor ONE or Factor O2 for the day. All bikes have Di2 gearing and Black Inc carbon wheels and member of the Factor UK team will ride along with you and be on hand to answer any questions about the bike.
We didn’t take the opportunity to ride the Factor bikes this time around, but we would definitely go for it next time. They are gorgeous pieces of machinery and all those riding walked away from the weekend with big smiles and various acquisition plans.
The next morning the alarm went off at 7am and we sprang out of bed for breakfast. Homemade granolas, fresh fruit, eggs and toast, juice and coffee set us up for a big day of cycling: our itinerary showed a 75-mile ride with around 6,000ft of elevation lay ahead, so we were all pretty keen to fuel ourselves well.
After the usual discussions that cyclists have about what kit to wear for a ride – “Are you wearing arm warmers?” “Should I take my shoe covers? Is it going to rain?” “Which jacket are you wearing? Are you putting a baselayer on?” – it dawned on us that with a support vehicle, we could simply throw extra layers in the car to cover all eventualities. (Mostly wet ones). We set off in high spirits, ready to explore Dartmoor by bike.
What a day. Utterly fabulous – if a little damp. If there is one thing which can be said about the British climate, it’s that it is reliably unreliable. It goes without saying that if you’re going on a long ride with high elevation in the UK, you should take extra layers and waterproofs.
After a bit of a downpour in the morning, we paused at a pub to dry off and warm up with a coffee and biscuits before pressing on towards our lunch stop. I’m not going to lie – it’s a challenging route, and if climbing ain’t your bag, a cycling weekend in Devon probably isn’t the right thing for you. But if you’re not afraid of a challenge and you’ve got some miles in your legs, the peaks and troughs of the region are spectacular – and the views second to none.
Almost as spectacular as the hills of Devon are the treats baked by Ross’s mother, who is clearly employing some sort of wondrous witchcraft in the kitchen to create such utterly mouthwatering morsels. Her millionnaire’s shortbread, rapturous rocky road and, frankly, exquisite crispy cakes were just incredible. If you think I’m exaggerating, all I can say is, book a Moor Retreats break and see for yourself. (Ross could also launch a Moor Treats cookbook – it would be a huge success!)
The weather did take a turn for the worse, and as visibility lessened, Ross sensibly decided we should take a slightly shorter route home for safety. Nevertheless, we covered 50 miles and more than 4,000ft of elevation, so it was by no means a picnic – we all felt that we’d earned the massages and hearty supper that awaited us back at The Old Rectory.
The expert team from Devon Sports Massage, who can count Olympians, Commonwealth Games athletes and now mere mortals to their roster of clients have a huge amount of experience across both Deep Tissue Sports Massage and Therapeutic Massage and after a long day in the saddle it was the perfect way to unwind.
A hot shower, a cuppa and freshly baked scone later, and I think we were all in that state of bliss that comes of intense physical exertion, tiredness and satisfaction. Collapsed on the sofa watching the final stages of the Vuelta on TV, we were a happy bunch – not least because our muddy bikes were being carefully cleaned and checked over by Frank. Is there any greater luxury than someone else cleaning your bike for you after a ride?
Unsurprisingly, nobody was up for a late night after a big day in the saddle, so we all called it a night after another good homemade supper ready for a 7.30am yoga session in the fitness studio.
Annelie Carver who led the yoga session has over the years she has experimented with Yoga styles ranging from Hatha and Iyengar to Ashtanga, Kundalini and Vinyasa flow. More recently however, she has developed a new style called Yoga Conditioning which incorporates traditional Yoga practices and dynamic sequences with a focus on improving posture, developing core stability, stamina and improving strength and flexibility in a wide range of muscle groups.
The cyclist-targeted yoga session was so worthwhile and, along with the sports massage the previous evening, really helped us all to limber up and feel ready for another day of riding.
The route for Sunday was a little bit shorter than Saturday’s planned ride, at 55 miles. And while Saturday’s route took in Dartmoor, Sunday’s route made for Exmoor. It was a gentler start, in much better weather, crowned by a magnificent descent to Dulverton, seriously this is one of the best descents we have made in the UK – long, sweeping and on beautiful tarmac with low rolling resistance, the stuff of dreams.
In Dulverton we paused for lunch (and more of Ross’s mum’s treats). Victoria opted to bow out at Dulverton and take on the role of photographer; whether it was her aching posterior or the fact that she could see more rain clouds gathering overhead, I’m not sure, but she certainly hopped in the support car at an opportune time as the heavens opened. It was a wet pull up over Exmoor but the bleak landscape and native ponies wandering across the road made for a memorable ride, and with only 20 miles to go, a bit of rain didn’t matter.
Back at the ranch, a hot bath eased the legs before another supremely satisfying supper around the refectory table – a delicious lentil and feta bake with Mediterranean vegetables which tempted everyone back for seconds and thirds. (Despite the exertion, you may gain weight on one of these weekends).
At Vamper.cc we are lucky enough to receive invites to all manner of cycling related launches and trips, but there was something special about the ‘out of the blue’ invite from Ross and the team at Moor Retreats that spurred us on to make the 450 mile round trip. As it turned out that initial feeling was spot on. The weekend with Moor Retreats and our fellow cyclists was a memorable one for all the right reasons.
The attention to detail, the level of planning and execution, the setting, the Old Rectory venue, the food and the general level of support was absolutely first class.
For those fearful of being holed up for the weekend with aggressive, bolshy club riders, fear not… nothing could be further from the truth.
The rides are challenging, yes, but where would the sense of achievement come from if that were not the case? The weather does have a tendency to sometimes throw a spanner in the works, yes, but you can ensure that no two days will ever be the same.
The Moor Retreats Devon cycling weekend was one of the most enjoyable we have had on a bike – spending time with engaging, funny and positive people with cycling as the thread that held us together is the stuff we all dream about.
For more information on a Moor Retreats weekend visit: