Bikepacking: Devon Coast-to-Coast

Barry Godin reports on his bikepacking adventure across Devon.

After a long day at work and the heavens opening on my way to London Paddington Station, I was ready to be somewhere else. Within four hours on the train I was in Barnstable on the north coast of Devon, near Exmoor. It being still February, I started from the station in the dark down the coast path along a section called the Tarka Trail. After passing Chivenor Army Base and having a friendly chat with a man with a large gun, I was pointed in the right direction for Croyde.


The route I planned used the Two Moors Way, which links the North and South Coasts together, but how much I could ride was unknown so most of the navigation was decided on the trail. When planning where to stay, I looked into wild camping but there was not going to be many suitable places until I was halfway across Devon and closer to Dartmoor, so I looked into campsites. Struggling with their websites, I called them up and was answered with laughter when asking for availability. Devon was said to be underwater, after a tough winter that left the ground waterlogged; hostels and B&Bs were the only option.


After a great section of off-road night riding along the Tarka Trail, I was on the cliff tops above Staunton Sands with the vast view of the ocean being illuminated by a full moon. A downhill cruise along the road got me into Croyde. After checking into my accommodation, it was a rush to the pub for last orders!


The next morning my adventure really started and the sun and blue skies were out to greet me. I had a whale of a time on Croyde Beach, dipping my wheels into the sea to mark the start of my coast-to-coast of Devon. I started to work my way along the coastline and cruised along sandy beaches (a good few miles along Woolacombe Beach through the wet sand and on great bridleways which were linked by very steep country lanes).


Ifracombe marked the lunch spot of my day, but a long distance still lay before my destination. Being winter with early nights drawing in, I had to decide whether to continue along my off-road route or hit the roads. You can guess what option I took. It ended up being a mistake as I found myself on an incredibly steep, grassy hill, walking up through the mud on a footpath.

Darkness had officially fallen and I was forced onto the roads. After four hours in the dark negotiating tiny country lanes (which are rough enough to still give the mountain bike purpose), I completed my first proper day, arriving in Exford about 9pm. It was so out of season I ended with an entire youth hostel to myself and found myself in the pub for dinner and well-earned liquid refreshment.


The next day was the planned mad dash across Devon’s interior to bridge the gap between Exmoor and Dartmoor. Rain was forecast later that day so overshoes and leg warmers were on. I was still a little unsure of how much of the Two Moors Way was rideable, but as I came across the first section it was a very muddy double-track trail that was in fact really fun and sent me sliding into the tiny village of Knowstone. Twisting my way from one off-road section to the next, I managed to follow the Two Moors Way for over half of my day, but with wet weather forecast and darkness falling in again I hit the country lanes.


One thing I will remember about Devon is how violently steep and sharp the hills are; it is all or nothing. The rain came down as forecast, and it was three hours clocked up in the dark and rain. I had no accommodation booked so was stopping and walking into pubs looking like a drowned rat and being confronted with the answer of ‘all fully-booked’.


It was a big push to get to Spreyton with my last drops of energy, so when I was turned down again from a toasty local pub, I had only one choice left: I had to make it to Whiddon Down to the local Travelodge. Having paid over the top for the room, I made full use of the radiators, making the room look like a bomb had gone off. After the rush again to the local pub for last orders and an amazing cottage pie with cheesy mash, I returned to my room (which you could smell as you entered the building).


Waking up in my luxury double bed, I opened the curtain to reveal blue skies and the sun out! After a proper good faff with my gear I was up and out the door. The only thing to mare the spectacular day was a very strong headwind, but I was quickly on small undulating lanes on my way to Chagford. The day’s plan was to do some good off-roading over Dartmoor. The combination of strong winds and sideways rain made the off-roading challenging but brilliant fun, and the bike was performing faultlessly. As I climbed to the next summit, Hameldown Tor, the wind was so powerful I could lean my bike up against it. I started my descent off the top but the wind was so strong it kept blowing me off the challenging line of wet rocks, and almost off my bike. Then the rain became hail and that was just painful, so I had to bail out and get down as quickly as possible.


Back on the road and slightly more sheltered from the elements, I hacked along to warm up, looking longingly up at the peaks I should have been on. The rain briefly stopped which gave me a chance to get my third pair of gloves of the day on and warm-up a little. Not easily defeated, I headed in search of some more muddy fun.


The clouds started to clear and I had the most spectacular golden hour of light as started down the singletrack of Bel Tor. This was the section I had been searching for the whole trip, and the views and final setting sun made it perfection. In euphoria, I sneaked off down another track which looked like a local riders’ track; wet roots and rocks littered the tight, steep descent and left me at the bottom grinning from ear-to-ear.


After the night in Ashburton I changed my plans once again and aptly set off down the path of the River Dart to the ocean. It was a day of tiny country lanes and great double-track through farms and tiny villages. After a quick midday coffee and cake in Totnes, I hit the Dart Valley bridleway trail. Some of it was sadly tarmac but got me off the roads towards Ashprington. After another stiff off-road ascent and a fun muddy traverse to Cornworthy, I found a sneaky off-road decent that sent me in to the very pretty village of Dittisham. I had in the back of my mind that I could try and get a boat from Dittisham down the river to Dartmouth, but the locals said it only went to Dartmouth on the weekends (which it wasn’t).


After ringing a small bell and walking down to the end of the jetty, a small boat arrived and I asked about Dartmouth; sadly it could only take me as far as the other side of the river. But unknown to myself, the other side held the National Trust property Greenway, which used to house Agatha Christie during the summers. The recommend route went past the entrance of the house, but after an hour of being pleasantly lost in the gardens I was back on track and thundering down muddy trails once again. All the time the skies were blue with fluffy clouds, and then the sun started to set and the whole landscape started to glow.


It was a great ride down to my next destination, Kingswear, where I got the ferry across to Dartmouth. It then dawned on me that my adventure was coming to a close and that I had crossed Devon! I took some celebratory photos in the dark and headed off to my final B&B. After pub dinner with three celebratory ales, I was ready to hit the hay. The only thing left for my journey was to dip my wheels in the sea on the south coast.

The forecast for the day was rain again, so I was most delighted that after my third coffee of the morning the blue with fluffy clouds had returned. Off I set along the coast with the most spectacular views over the sea from the cliff tops. The lower ferry of Kingswear by Dartmouth Castle took me back across the River Dart, and after yet another ridiculously steep climb I was heading for the beach. There, I found my own private beach: Mansands.


After a ride in the sea and another excessive photoshoot, it was back up out the valley. After five minutes of cowering under a tree while another storm passed, the blue skies suddenly returned. Next stop was Brixham and to Berry Head with its old fort and lighthouse. I passed the bustling harbour of Brixham on my way to Paignton. A very quick dinner and it was sadly back on the train to London.

Devon - Coast to Coast - A Bicycle Adventure


What a great adventure! It’s amazing what distance you can cover in just a long weekend, and with it being winter in England I don’t think this trip could have gone any better. The question left is: ‘Where to next?’



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