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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
short steep climb takes you onto Whitchurch Down, site of a WW2 airfield and an
information board tells you all about it.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 TavistockDay 2: Cycle to Plymouth and back again, stay at Harford BridgeDay 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 routeDay 5: Cycle to Yarde Orchard though Okehampton YHA would be perfectly possibleDay 6: Back to Tavistock
Ilfracombe to Barnstaple
Barnstaple to Petrockstowe Station
Petrockstowe Station to Okehampton
Okehampton to Tavistock
Tavistock to Plymouth