Cycle Touring Around the UK on Rough Tracks and Byways – Devon Coast to Suffolk Coast

As England unlocks again from its Covid grip we are keen to set off on our bikes on a new adventure. This year we are taking a roundabout trip around Britain and staying off road and away from cars as much as possible. This first section will take us from the North Devon Coast to the Suffolk Coast and will, I hope, include the delights of Exmoor, the Quantocks, the Somerset Levels, Salisbury Plain, the South and North Downs and then crossing the River Thames into Essex and on to Aldeburgh on the Suffolk Coast.

As we want to travel light we have reduced our luggage to to minimum and wanted to try out our new light-weight tent and bikepacking setups. So we headed off for a couple of days to Dartmoor in wind and rain. The tent stood its ground and we were still dry in the morning, so all good.

Leaving home will probably be the steepest part of our trip, including the Scottish section. We headed off on the climb up to Exmoor. We had booked our first night away in a campsite near Exford but after that we will have to see how it goes.

It was a lovely but slightly rough cycle up onto Exmoor as we headed for Exford

The tracks were dry and our fat bikes coped well

It had started sunny but we could see the rain clouds gathering as we climbed onto the moors
I love the bleak landscape up here
There was only one other tent in the campsite just outside Exford, he was also a cyclist
When I saw this BFG came to mind
On the second day we headed across the top of Exmoor at the start of the Coleridge Way
It was worth the climb to get the view.
The tracks were very varied on this section, sometimes lovely through old beech woodland
and sometimes really hard work. We had to push up through this overgrown steep field as someone had locked the access to the Bridleway
Cycling along the top of Exmoor with views of the Bristol Channel and Wales in the distance. We got a bit lost up here as some of the fences had been moved so the bridleway didn’t go where it was shown on our map
Heading down off Exmoor towards the Quantocks was very steep, very narrow and very muddy. I have to admit to walking some of it as it was beyond my abilities. Bernie rode all the way but was as covered in mud as I was at the bottom.
We had stayed at West Quantoxhead overnight and cycled steeply up the tracks over the Quantocks in the morning
Our fatbikes are perfect for this type of rocky trail and we had a great time. The views over the coast are amazing
The Quantocks are fairly flat once you get to the top
At the far end of the Quantocks we dropped down on single track through some beautiful broadleaved woodland towards Bridgewater.

This is a short video of the type of cycling over Exmoor and the Quantocks

Cycling over the flat Somerset Levels seemed a bit strange after all the hills. There were a lot more people about here
There was the occasional hill
East Lambrook Manor had their wonderful gardens open so we stopped for a wander around
The following morning we visited Montacute House and Gardens, which is a National Trust property. The gardens were pleasant enough, although not on a grand scale
Peonies at Montacute House
We left Montacute and cycled to Sherborne then on to Castle Cary on the South Somerset Cycle route which took us on small lanes through lovely undulating countryside
We stayed in Castle Cary overnight. I hadn’t realised what an old historic town it was, with some nice old buildings such as the market shown here
Bernie had managed to find off-road tracks that led straight up from Castle Cary, with up being the defining word.
Once at the top there was an array of wide track through dairy farmland with great views
Then another lung busting climb on small lanes brought us to a hill crowned with King Alfred’s Tower
From the top the cycling was amazing. We headed onto the forest tracks, again they were mainly stone based, and stayed on them for about 20 km. It was a really hot day so the smell of pine resin was heady. We emerged every now and then to cross a road before plunging back into the forest. This was Cranborne Chase and West Wiltshire Downs which is an AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty).
As we passed Warminster we picked up the King Alfred’s Way which took us on the Imber Trail over Salisbury Plain. There was a fair amount of live firing exercises going on and the red flags were flying
Being Military land, and therefore undisturbed, there were a lot of wild flowers growing on the ranges, such as these orchids
Across the plains there were good but sandy tracks with strange corrugrations where the tanks had been. Again we were glad of our wide tyres
Wild roses were flowering in abundance and in the still, warm day the scent was wonderful
There was a lot of natural grass meadow where the live firing took place which was full of sky larks and other ground nesting birds
This is “The German Village” built by the military during the war
lovely views across the meadows
Approaching Old Sarum, outside Salisbury along deeply rutted tracks

This is a short video of the type of cycling between the Quantocks and Salisbury

We could have gone closer to Stonehenge, but we preferred to keep our childhood memories of climbing on the stones rather than visit a modern visitor centre
Arriving in bustling Salisbury
Salisbury Cathedral
This is how I felt at the top of the last hill
We left Salisbury, still on King Alfred’s Way, heading towards Winchester and on to Liss
Staggering to the top of a steep hill
Winchester Cathedral. We stayed the night in Winchester before heading on towards Liss
These woods were amazing
King Alfred’s Way took us over the South Downs. It was really hard work with big hills, but we loved it. Luckily we had dry sunny weather, it can be really muddy in the wet
Lots more Orchids here
One of the steeper sections, pushing up the Old Winchester Hill
Ladies Bedstraw, gallium varum
A chalk road down to a farm
Wild rose
On the biggest hill of the day, Butser Hill. Here we dropped down to Queen Elizabeth Park before pushing up through the woods on the other side
There were different orchids here
Vipers Burgloss, Echium vulgare
We stayed the night at the Jolly Drovers near Liss, who were busy with cyclists mainly going in the other direction. Then we headed off towards Tilford on a patchwork of paths that Cycling UK had stitched together to make part of King Alfred’s Way
We went through woodland
And passed Wagoners Wells with its 3 ponds
Looking down on the deep sandy tracks leading to Tilford where we were staying with family
The next day we left King Alfred’s Way, which does a large circle, and headed along the North Downs Way

This is a short video of the type of cycling between Shrewton and Tilford

We had been told about the tiny Watts Chaple which is a Grade one listed Arts and Crafts chaple. The paintings inside and ceramics on the outside are amazing
On the outside of the Watts Chapel
The ceiling inside the Watts Chapel
Cycling on deep sand back up to the North Downs Way. Bernie has just been passed by a galloping horse which we didn’t hear coming.
We were dodging puddles today as it had rained hard over the last couple of days
Shooting down the track to a vineyard
After a big climb up through lovely woodland we found St Martha’s Church at the top. You cannot get here by car. It is a Pilgrims Church as this part of the North Downs Way was originally called the Pilgrims Way
A good place to stop after climbing Box Hill
We were fairly high and needed to get down to Reigate where we were staying for the night, so we headed down this wet, slippery and steep bridleway.

It turned out to be too slippery for me. After a bit of a tumble I decided to walk down
It rained heavily overnight and the chalky tracks had our wheels spinning on the hills. Really hard work.

There should have been nice views from up here

We got a bit lost in among all the woodland tracks as the rain and wet overhanging trees stopped our GPS working well.

Many of the trails were overgrown and I was glad to be wearing full waterproofs as protection from the nettles. Could have done with a machete

By now all the puddles had joined together, and some turned out to be a lot deeper than we expected

We could tell we were in an affluent area when even the snails are edible
We finally made it to Gravesend

and caught the passenger and bike ferry across the Thames to Tilbury Docks

There are some lovely old houses in villages on the other side, such as here in Horndon on the Hill

Even though we are in Essex we are still managing to find bridleways, although most of them are not well used

Just about to arrive in Chelmsford where we are having a day off
The weather was still a bit grim when we left Chelmsford

This is a short video of the tyre of cycling between Tilford and Chelmsford

We had been told about the 11th century Chapel in Copford and were lucky enough to find it open and someone there who could tell us the history. It had been the private chaple of the Bishop of London
The walls originally were covered in these 11th century frescoes but had been whitewashed over. The Victorians in their enthusiasm had ruined most of the paintings but this one is original
This painting and the zodiac is also original
We stayed in Colchester which has some amazing old buildings I it, and also quite a few carparks where amazing old buildings used to be.
The following morning we visited Beth Chato’s Garden where I have been wanting to go for a long time.
from there we headed down to Flatford
Over the odd obstacle the National Trust put up
So we could visit the site where Constable painted the Hay Wain. It would have still looked very similar if it wasn’t for the modern National Trust cafe. It was very busy.
Just up the lane from there is the 15th Century Church at East Burgholt. They had been going to build a tower to house the bells, so they were temporarily put in this wooden building. Only the tower was never build so the bells have been rung on the ground ever since
the bells ready to ring
That night we camped at Sutton Hoo ready for a visit in the morning
We awoke to a red kite circling over our tent
We walked around the Sutton Hoo mounds with views of the house. We had got there early so we had the place to ourselves. The coaches were just arriving as we left
we had a lovely cycle down through the woods to Aldeburgh
Yellow Irises
Made it! Coast to Coast 70% off road from Westward Ho! in North Devon to Aldeburgh, Suffolk.
We had heard these were the best Fish and chips in the UK. Not so sure but they were OK

It’s been hard work getting here but we have really enjoyed it. We are now heading up the coast to Norfolk and then across to the start of the Pennine Way where we are going to cycle up the Great North Trail to John o’Groats. At least that is the plan until we hit the Great Wall of Midge in Scotland.

One last video showing the type of cycling between Chelmsford and Aldeburgh

Below is a map of our whole route from Westward Ho! to Edinburgh off-road. If you click on the link you can access our route in google maps and could download it for your own use.

To see the next blogs on this route click on the links below:

The second part of the trip from the start of the Pennine Way in Derbyshire to Settle in North Yorkshire

The last part of the trip from the Yorkshire Dales to Edinburgh

5 thoughts on “Cycle Touring Around the UK on Rough Tracks and Byways – Devon Coast to Suffolk Coast

    1. Hi Brenda, our tent is great, very roomy for two. It’s a Durston drop mid-pro 2. Durston himself is a long distance hiker so he designed a lightweight tent with inner that can be put up with walking poles. As we don’t have these we use lightweight tent poles. You can shake it dry and don’t get condensation. Ours weighs 1.1 kg with poles and pegs and fits on the front fork in a salsa anything cage. The poles are off set inside giving more space. A door and vestibule on each side.

Leave a Reply