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Devon Coast to Coast

The Devon Coast to Coast is a 99 mile route from Ilfracombe to Plymouth. Part of the Sustrans National Cycle Network, this way-marked trail is the perfect challenge for a weekend adventure!

Having spent most of the previous year off the bike through injury, I was looking for an adventure to get me motivated to get back on the bike. Teaming up with my Mum, who is always up for a challenge, we chose to take on the Devon Coast to Coast. Promoted as a route suitable for beginners to cycle touring we were probably naive to what we were taking on! With just one 20 mile training ride under my belt, I was definitely a little under prepared.

We were lucky enough to have backup support, which made the logistics a lot easier and meant we didn’t have to carry our equipment. We also had transport to Ilfracombe and didn’t have to worry about negotiating the trains. Choosing to do the ride in 2 days definitely made it more a challenge, it would have been more relaxing over 3 days.

We were both riding hybrid bikes – mine is a 20 year old hard tail mountain bike with skinny tyres. Most of the trails are well-surfaced, with just one proper off-road section to navigate (others are optional).

After spending the night at Little Shelfin Campsite on the outskirts of Ilfracombe we began our day dropping down the A361 into the town centre. We metaphorically dipped our wheels in the water at Wildermouth beach and began to climb back out of Ilfracombe, following the Route 27 signs, slowly winding our way uphill.

Opting not to take the longer Route 278 to Woolacombe, we stuck to Route 27 and followed quiet, undulating minor roads all the to the small town of Braunton.

Distance covered: 10 miles

All smiles at the start in Ilfracombe

At Braunton the trail picks up the Tarka Trail. A 30-mile traffic-free section on almost entirely level former railway lines beside the Taw and Torridge estuaries. We could really pick up the pace here, and the miles quickly flew past. The views over the estuary were really pretty (if very moody looking on an overcast day).

Bypassing the busy town of Barnstaple, and keeping on Route 27 we cycled through the pretty towns of Instow and Bideford before leaving the coast behind. The route follows the River Torridge on a disused railway path and we stopped for a well earned lunch break at the Puffing Billy just outside Great Torrington.

Distance covered: 20 miles

Pretty harbours and open estuaries on the first section of the route

It’s always painful getting started again after a break, and the rain that had now started to fall heavily definitely didn’t help! We followed the Tarka Trail for another couple of miles before the route splits at Petrockstow and we picked up NCN 3. This central section of the Devon coast to coast leaves the railway paths behind and follows quiet country lanes. Being Devon, this means hills!

Passing through delightfully named places such as Sheepwash, where we rejoined NCN 27 to Hatherleigh. It was a steep climb out of the village of Hatherleigh and with the rain now pouring down, chocolate was required to keep the energy levels up. The views probably are lovely, but all we could see was mist and low cloud!

Following more minor roads we weaved our way through hamlets and Abbeyford Woods to Okehampton. Our stop for the night was at Sourton Camping and Caravan Park so we still had a few more miles to go. The steep climb up through Okehampton was not a welcome sight. We pushed our weary legs up one last hill to the station to join the railway path.

Passing over the Meldon Viaduct and skirting the edge of Dartmoor should have been a moment to savour but we were to tired, wet and bedraggled by this point. Thankfully the campsite was directly off the path and the warm showers that awaited were very much appreciated!

Distance covered: 25 miles

Day 1 complete – 63 miles ridden in total

The edge of Dartmoor

Okehampton to Tavistock

Having first fixed a puncture and feeling yesterdays ride we tenderly climbed back on our saddles for day 2. The cycleway continues to follow the railway path for another couple of miles before climbing up onto the moorland. We finally had some sunshine and the views were lovely. Pretty villages followed as we criss-crossed our way down country lanes towards Tavistock.

We followed the NCN 270 over the railway bridge and through housing estates to avoid Tavistock town centre before coming to the start of the Drake’s Trail.

Distance covered: 15 miles

Tavistock to Plymouth

We stopped for lunch on the outskirts of Tavistock just as the heavens opened. After an hour, and no sign of the weather changing, we had to accept we were going to get wet (again!). At Tavistock the route joins the Drake’s Trail. This 21 mile route would take us all the way to Plymouth. So it really felt like one last push to complete the Devon Coast 2 Coast challenge.

A gentle uphill section took us across the edges of Dartmoor to Yelverton. This section really is quite the feat of engineering, crossing several magnificent viaducts that span the wooded valleys below. From Yelverton it was pretty much downhill all the way as we headed through the Plym Valley and Cann Woods. It would have been nice to enjoy this area more. But with the rain still pouring down we were keen to get to the end!

It was a bit of an anticlimax to arrive into the outskirts of Plymouth and a retail park. But after navigating across several major roads the route did have one last nice surprise. The sun came out as we passed through the National Trust Saltram grounds and followed the estuary towards Plymouth to mark the end of our ride.

Distance covered: 21 miles

Day 2 complete – 99 miles ridden in total

Plymouth – The end is in sight!

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