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           Devon Coast to Coast

158

KILOMETRES

2

DAYS

1408

METRES CLIMBED

98

MILES

Section 1 - Ilfacombe to Barnstaple

Pictures

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The start is at Ilfracombe and what better place to start than the enormous statue designed by Damian Hurst. Not only is it striking but it's also easy to see as she points to the sky. The first part is convoluted, as the folks designing these routes will do anything to keep you off a main road however it does make life interesting. Past the harbour and all it's attractions before heading through the side streets. One part that you may find tricky if you are fully loaded is the trip up the steps and through the graveyard. Thoughtfully a ramp has been provided on the left but with a full load it's quite a balancing act.
As you climb your last street you are led to a railway path. The initial fencing on the left was the railway station long gone, but the track bed remains with quite some gradient as it passes 2 reservoirs to arrive at 196metres. A tarmac path leads onwards between the campsites before you are on the local lanes and there is still climbing to be done. However the views both left and then right are beautiful. Windmills and fields to the left, coast to the right as you start to descend. Ahead you can see Braunton and more beaches and it is a steep descent, and be careful there is a left hand bend.
Braunton seems to be the UK centre for surfing. Numerous surf shops and even a museum run by volunteers. The route itself passes through the centre along quite narrow tarmac paths shared with pedestrians. Hire bike centres appear so you know the Tarka Trail is close where you join this on the outskirts of town. Broadly the route heads around the estuary. The trail is flat well surfaced and with lovely views over the water. The other side seems tantalizingly close but it's 16km to reach it. The large bridge over the Taw appears and route 27 takes this avoiding Barnstaple altogether depositing you on the southern bank, which is a shame as the town’s waterfront is very attractive. So I would suggest carrying on along the river to have a look. The bonus is that this was once route 27 and the infrastructure is there, including a bike/foot crossing at the far end (In 2021 it was closed for repair for a defective footing, so please check)

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Section 2 - Barnstaple to Petrockstowe Station

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The track on the other side is much smoother; where the other side was full of raised tarmac due to tree roots this side is as smooth as glass. Fremington quay is extremely popular. The site of former industry there is a playpark, large picnic area and a bustling cafe with about 20 picnic tables. If you prefer somewhere a little less frenetic the excellent Sandbanks Cafe is a few km further on and there is always Instow.

The estuary has a lot of birdlife especially in winter and the marshes to the right provide habitat as the route moves slightly inland. Entering Instow the route heads on, but if you are bored with tunnels and track go right opposite the MOD place, bear left through the car park and take the coast road past the long beach before rejoining at Instow Signal box.

Onto Bideford and the trail follows the eastern shore of the River Torridge with good views to the right. As you approach Bideford you pas under the high bridge that carries many people to Cornwall’s north coast on the North Devon link road. Across the water are the quays of Bideford for like Barnstaple it was also once a thriving port. The boats that you can se vary from restoration projects to a semi-floating cafe. You arrive at Bideford by a very short section of preserved railway. As with Barnstaple it really is worth taking the time to look at the place. There are steps next to the Royal Hotel with a flat piece put in on the right to wheel your bike down. Cross the bridge and head right for the town centre opposite the quay. The road with the 4 sculptures on the wall (cooper to start) are very good. There are also toilets on the quayside here.
The section to Great Torrington is through woods and follows the railway line, though if you were here before that you would have got your feet wet as there was a canal and this provides the main points of interest. You can see a sea lock (just) through the trees. A little further on the top of a waterwheel chamber and then a beautiful aqueduct on the right that crosses the river, now a private drive. There are a few walks as well and bike stands are thoughtfully provided. The first to the former stables only takes 10 minutes and has more explanatory board
Torrington has another short section of track at it's station as well as a hire centre and a cafe at the station. If you're feeling like a hill head out of the station and go right for a hard climb into Torrington. It's an attractive small town with a museum, but the main reason is if you are here at the right time you will see the stupendous construction in the park on the left as you enter. These change every year and are burnt annually. When I passed in 2021 there was a full sized replica of the Mayflower and quayside buildings.
The section to East Yarde is through trees and the surface changes to hard packed very small gravel. The first 5km has quite an incline.
The Tarka trail continues but after the climb, now a descent. A Petrockstowe you leave the Tarka Trail to start on the lanes and villages of Northern Devon.



Section 3 - Petrockstowe Station to Okehampton

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A Petrockstowe you leave the Tarka Trail to start on the lanes and villages of Northern Devon. There are a number of hills in this section and you'll encounter the first on the way to Sheepwash, but the reward is your first view of Dartmoor to the south, which you'll pass on the journey south.
Sheepwash is derived from Schepewast and was first named in 1166. Its river was the perfect place to wash a sheep before shearing. It continued as a major market town until a fire in 1743. Today it has a very attractive village centre with a church and thatched buildings. Even better for cyclists is that the Methodist church (on the right as you exit) has a picnic area and toilets behind it and encourages cyclists to use it.
More hills before Highampton after which a cycle and horse path avoids the A3072. Hatherleigh has a busy Tuesday market and is a traditional market town. Like many routes, the coast to coast avoids the centre but it is worth having a look. Past the co-op on the left there is a tearoom and further up the hill is an open area with toilets close by and a small volunteer manned tourist information centre. If you do this taking the High Street will save a little extra climbing. You leave Hatherleigh climbing, passing thatched houses before the North Dartmoor Vista opens in front of you. To the left is a monument dedicated to a victim of the battle of Balaclava and the information board tells you about the tors you can see on the moor. A convenient picnic table by the junction is a great place for a snack with a view before a lovely descent with expansive views that then tunnels through the trees of a high hedged Devon lane.
You’re passing through agricultural land now as you pass through Jacobstowe and onwards towards Okehampton. Close to the town you bear left at Hook to take a steep descent and to your right you will see a decorated granite stone with the name of. There are a few similar ones along the route, origin unknown.
Okehampton is signaled by its industrial area but the infrastructure of this route takes you easily straight to the centre of town. Again it is worth exploring the town. For larger shops this will be your first chance for a while, so carry on into the town and head right at the traffic lights. There is a rural museum and cafe and an excellent castle on the edge of town.

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Section 4 - Okehampton to Tavistock

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Dartmoor tors loom above you and it is towards these that you climb from the centre of Okehampton. Pass behind the church not missing the mural/statue on the left before climbing Station Road to Okehampton Station, which has just been reconnected with a passenger service to Exeter. The route now runs along the Granite Way along the former Tavistock to Okehampton railway. The initial part still has track but as you pass Meldon Quarry on the left the tracks disappear leaving a wide tarmacced path heading south. There are two points of note now. Firstly you are at the highest point of the ride and secondly you traverse Meldon viaduct. Opened in 1874 it's 46 metres high so be careful in high winds. The Granite Way is gradually downhill and is well used. There are slopes of northern Tors to the left and intermittent fine views to the right because there are quite a few trees on this route. A few more viaducts litter the route, a good chance to take in the views.
On the edge of Lydford, the cyclepath ends and you will spend the next few miles running alongside the bridges and track which are not in public use which is a shame because it gets quite lumpy now.
Lydford like many villages and towns along the route had its heyday a few centuries ago. Site of a castle/prison, the ruins are free to enter. There is also a spring and a church with individual carvings on the pews. Of Practical interest there is a toilet and pub here but no shop. Close by is Lydford Gorge and you plunge towards this as you leave the village. If you stop at the bridge you can see the iron railings allowing visitors to walk the 2km gorge. You'll pass the entrance and tearoom in a few kilometres. The road now rises and into view comes St Michael's Church at Brentor.  Legend has it that it was built by a merchant in exchange for saving his boat at sea from the devil. Whatever the legend we are left with the smallest church on Dartmoor perched on a Tor that can be seen for miles.  

You’re best view is from the moor itself that allows sublime views in all directions before descending through Mary Tavy. Over the years these routes have been constructed to avoid any large roads and so you approach the hardest section because to cross the River Tavy you descend a very rough track to cross a wooden bridge and through a field. The reward though is the company of walkers as you push your bike and the pretty village of Peter Tavy after which you descend to the outskirts of Tavistock.

Tavistock has two railways and you enter the town on the Okehampton branch coming on and off the old track bed. Be careful though as the turn t Plymouth is easily missed. On a downhill stretch you need to turn left to head towards the viaduct spanning the centre of this fine Stannary town. In the whole route, this is the hardest, it’s almost as if no one wants you to find the viaduct. It’s not well signed, but find the council offices, old wall and old station, stay level and you should be fine.



Section 5 - Tavistock to Plymouth

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There were 2 railways from Tavistock and the viaduct that dominates the north part of town has now been opened as a cyclepath giving lovely views over the town hall and centre. Unfortunately much of the railway path has been lost so to get out of the town the route twists and turns towards Plymouth Road, skirting the main school and crossing the canal. The infrastructure avoids the busy road to Plymouth as it passes through another set of housing before you arrive at Drake's Trail. Named after Sir Francis Drake who was born in Tavistock it extends to Yelverton using the old Plymouth Line. The surface is good mostly tarmac and it has a few notable attractions. You'll pass through Grenofen Tunnel, which is long enough that you can't see the other end. It's also quite dark. It is lit but the lights are low down and there are definite black areas. It was also the wettest tunnel I have ever been through, constant drips from above, so take care in it. The Gem viaduct is next. Costing over £2 million it replaced the bridge that last took a train in 1962, partially dismantled and then demolished in 1965. It is indeed a fabulous piece of engineering, a little lower than the original, and pieces of the old bridge live on scattered about as seating. The last viaduct is Magpie viaduct, built in 1902 to replace an earlier one with wooden pillars.

A short steep climb takes you onto Whitchurch Down, site of a WW2 airfield and an information board tells you all about it.

The joy of these routes is that there is infrastructure built and this comes into play crossing the main Tavistock to Plymouth Road at Yelverton. It’s also a good chance to pick up a snack or have a coffee.

You cross the start of Roborough Down, zig sagging along a good path following Drake’s Leat. Built in the late 16th century, the 17.5 miles took water to Plymouth and you can see the dry granite lined channel as you cycle along. There are a number of double wooden gates here, so don’t expect to be that quick.

Descending to Clearbrook brings the Plym Valley trail. This gradually descends to Plymouth crossing more viaducts and passing through a tunnel. It finishes at the Plym Valley railway that has re-laid some of the track; there may be refreshments here. The route then crosses a few roads before passing under the Devon Expressway to take a delightful trip through Saltram (National Trust) and along the edge of the Plym Estuary. It’s shared in part with pedestrians and is undulating and unlaid, but most tyres will cope with this. At the end pay attention and follow the 27 signs as the route pleasingly winds its way right to the heart of old Plymouth at the Barbican. The walled section at the end with good views across Plymouth Sound is a delightful surprise.

You finish at Plymouth Hoe with it’s lighthouse, but can continue to the docks as was intended as the Coast to Coast is part of a European Cycling Network. I hope you enjoyed the ride.

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Along the Way

Below are a list of things to see, places to eat and places to stay


                                        Places of Interest

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There is interest from top to bottom on this trip, here are some places to consider
The obvious one to start with is Verity This 66 foot statue designed by Damian Hurst dominates Ilracombe harbour. To understand a little more about the town, maybe visit Ilracombe Museum on the right as you leave town.
The start of the Tarka Trail is at Braunton, but it's also got one of the largest collections of surfing shops n the country. Experience it's history at The museum of British Surfing. Run by volunteers it's in the centre close to the main car park.
Through Barnstaple and heading south, there are remnants of the path before. South of Bideford the Tarka Trail was built on the railway and the railway on the canal. You can see parts of the Rolle Canal along the way. The railway is well represented, with the signal box at Instow as well as the stations at stations at Bideford and Torrington.
Between the end of the Tarka Trail and Okehampton aside the views the one point of interest is the Hatherleigh Monument, somewhere to take a picnic on a conveniently placed bench.
Okehampton has a few things to see. The castle isn't on the route but is worth the detour. The museum of Dartmoor though is closer, 100 metres from the route and there is a tearoom here as well.
Rising out of Dartmoor, you are onto the granite way which runs along the former Tavistock to Okehampton Line. The most spectacular remnant is the Meldon Viaduct where the wind can blow, don't miss the viewing area under the bridge on the southern side (towards Tavistock)
Through Lydford with its castle after which you can take a few hours to walk the deepest river gorge in the South West to admire a 30metre high waterfall.
Heading towards Tavistock, you'll get great views of a distant Brentor Church before passing through the ancient stannary town to begin Drake's Trail towards Plymouth. Through Horrabridge and Yelverton you will ride alongside Drakes Leat built to take water from Dartmoor to Plymouth.
Finally Plymouth arrives and there are lots of things to do. The ride deposits you at the Barbican where you can spend time at the UK's largest aquarium or visit the Hoe to climb Smeatons Tower or just take in the atmosphere at the Barbican







                                           Food and Drink

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As can be seen from the maps of the 5 sections there are plenty of places to find a cuyp of tea and a piece of cake. However there is definately a hunger gap between the end of the Tarka Trail at Petrockstowe and the start of the Granite Trail at Okehampton, simply because you are in such a remote farming area, though Hatherleigh is an oasis in the middle.
For large shops, you will pass close to Barnstaple and Bideford, go through Okehampton, bypass the centre of Tavistock but end up in Plymouth

                                            Places to Stay
                             Campsites / YHA and hostels

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There is one YHA on the route at Okehampton which also allows you to camp.
There are lots of campsites along the way, and one at Yarde Orchard has a small bunkhouse.
For Bed and Breakfast establishments and hotels please refer to local listings

                                       Logistics

The obvious question is 'how can I do this ride?'
Well you have a variety of options

1) Start at Ilfracombe, go to Plymouth and back again

2) Drive to Ilfracombe or Plymouth, do the ride and then one member of the family go back for the car

3) Take the train to Barnstaple, then cycle to Ilfracombe to head south to Plymouth and take the train home again

4) Here's how I did it

Day 1: Stay at Harford Bridge near Tavistock
Day 2: Cycle to Plymouth and back again, stay at Harford Bridge
Day 3: Cycle to Yarde Orchard
Day 4: Cycle to Ilfracombe and start your way back south staying at Incledon Farm campsite, a km off the route
Day 5: Cycle to Yarde Orchard though Okehampton YHA would be perfectly possible
Day 6: Back to Tavistock


                             Further Information

                                      There is information on both the Granite Trail and Drakes Trail by clicking these links
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