Saturday, 26 July 2014


DEVON'S TRUE COAST TO COAST can now be explored by bicycle on the National Cycle Network. At 125 miles, its journey follows the coast from Ilfracombe to Bideford where it abruptly heads south through Tarka country into West Devon. Okehampton is midway where Dartmoor beckons and further on lies the fertile pastures of the South Hams. The end is at Salcombe where the cyclist can deliberate whether north or south Devon has the finest coastline.

STARTING AT ILFRACOMBE harbour, my preferred route initially follows a derelict railway line on NCN27 but turns right on NCN278 into Mortehoe and Woolacombe. This section takes you onto a gravel road that overlooks the stunning Morte Bay. It is both brash at Woolacombe and overwhelmingly beautiful once the tarmac roads are left behind. NCN27 is rejoined at Braunton.
THE TARKA TRAIL is over 30 miles long. This is cycling at its easiest with Barnstaple, Bideford and Torrington on route, towns and coastline easy to stop and enjoy. Meandering along the Torridge valley, Yarde comes next and Meeth Nature Reserve is the southern end of the Tarka Trail.

 CLIMBING AWAY FROM THE TARKA TRAIL, the first hills are encountered after Braunton. The villages of West Devon have a timeless quality that developers and supermarkets have not yet discovered. It is peaceful and rural. Wildlife can often be your only companions whether buzzards are overhead or deer peer out from the fields. This is a land with many trees and wild flowers. A good stop for lunch or overnight is the Half Moon Inn at Sheepwash where Adam gives a warm welcome as he has done for 30 years.

DARTMOOR FOLLOWS after passing through Okehampton, the route's half way point. A steep climb takes you from the centre to Okehampton train station where the "The Polar Express" and pleasant cafe reside. The Granite Way, still on NCN27 takes you on an easy ride to Lydford using an old railway line. Lydford is worth a stop to see two old castles, a mint, a gorge, a farm shop and two pubs. South of Lydford and just before the Mucky Duck (now housing, once a pub), NCN27 divides.
THE MORE INTERESTING is to turn left and follow a track to a gate onto the moor. Here the NCN sign has disintegrated but turn right and cycle across the moor where a stony track will be found after about 600 metres. It is suited to bikes with cross country tyres. This is a beautiful part of the moor. Rejoin NCN27 through Mary Tavy to Peter Tavy (more pubs on route).
TURN LEFT ON NCN274 and enjoy the moors all the way to Ivybridge. Much of this is very quiet with few places to stop. You must turn left again to join NCN272 at Clearbrook.

THE FINAL STRETCH TO SALCOMBE is 20 miles across the fertile South Hams, a rich farmland full of hedgerows, hidden river valleys and ancient woods. The coast joins us as we head south first at South Milton, then at Salcombe itself. NCN28 starts at Ivybridge Rugby Club and neatly avoids the main road but it is hilly in places.

My picture above shows Dartmoor looking north having entered the South Hams. Below is South Milton Beach and next down is Salcombe, the end of the journey

WHETHER IT IS A CREAM TEA, pasty or large glass of west country cider, it will have been earned with this trip. Of course, you could carry on across the ferry to East Portlemouth, Slapton sands and join the valley of the River Dart to Totnes, all on NCN28

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