Devon Coast 2 Coast, Ilfracombe to Plymouth

Verity statue by Damien Hurst at Ilfracombe Harbour where the Devon C2C starts

We have often talked to friends about our travels and they generally think we are mad, but this year we have persuaded 10 of them to come with us for the first four days. We are going to take them on the Devon Coast to Coast route from Ilfracombe to Plymouth in four short sections. The ages in the group range from about 60 and the oldest is over 80. About half of them have electric bikes. The first night we can all stay at home, then two nights in hotels in Okehampton and Tavistock. On the last day we will put them on a coach to home and we will cycle home before starting our tour.

Bernie and I set off to Ilfracombe in the afternoon. The others were coming by car the following day. It had been a very cold spring so far with gales and rain but we were lucky and seemed to have picked the sunniest 4 days of the year so far. Everyone arrived in good time and we assembled under the dark blue sky for photos before setting off.

The motley crew!
Ilfracombe Harbour
The oldest lighthouse in England at Ilfracombe. Over 600 years old

It was all about coffee and cake. We did do a bit of cycling in between but overall there was a lot of sitting in the sunshine and eating. The group was from the three Bideford Rotary Clubs, and we set off gingerly up the steep hill through Ilfracombe on NCN27. A quick push up through the churchyard then we were on the traffic free trail to the top of the hill. We all stopped halfway up for the first coffee and biscuit break of the day, and lounged around in the sunshine next to the reservoir. Everyone was in their stride after this so in no time we were undulating our way towards Braunton looking at the hazy views out to sea. On the way down we passed Henry Williamson’s summerhouse, where he wrote Ring of Bright Water.

Heading up the trail from Ilfracombe
Our first coffee and cake break of the day by Ilfracombe reservoir
Henry Williamson’s summer house where he wrote Ring of Bright Water

We stopped in Braunton for a long lunch, still in lovely sunshine then dragged ourselves away to tackle the detour hill up around Ashford to avoid the closed Tarka Trail. Everyone made it to the top without too much trouble and we were rewarded with wonderful river and countryside views all the way to Barnstaple. The light wind was behind us as we pedalled NCN3 beside the river towards Bideford. We stopped at Yelland for our last tea and cake of the day then home to relax before we head off to Okehampton tomorrow.

A nice long lunch in Braunton
Our detour took us through lovely Heanton Punchardon
The group on the Tarka Trail along side the River Taw

It was the first time we had lead a group ride. Bernie went up front and I was tail marker. It all went very well considering that the 12 of us have a combined age of 831!

We had made some Caution signs for our jackets as 12 bikes take up a lot of space on the road! The cars were very well behaved.

The second day of our Rotary Group Adventure saw us meeting up in the glorious early morning sunshine on the Tarka Trail in Bideford heading for Okehampton on the edge of Dartmoor.

A lime kiln on the River Torridge

We started off slowly, easing in those aching joints but before long we were rolling along amid much chatter. It seemed no time at all before we arrived at the Yarde Cafe just as they opened at 10. So an hour was passed sitting in the sunshine drinking coffee and eating cake, wonderful! Then we rolled down the Trail to the Devon Wildlife Nature Reserve at Meeth Quarry. There we turned off to visit the lakes and look at any water fowl that might be around. I think they heard us coming but it was all very pretty.

First Coffee and cake of the day at the Yarde Cafe
Heading off the route towards the lakes at Meeth
Pussy Willows
The bird hide at Meeth Lakes
Meeth Lakes
Canada Geese

After leaving the trail at Meeth we split into smaller groups for the short section on the main road to the Made Well Cafe at Hatherleigh where we sat in the sun eating a great lunch before looking around the centre which is a Community Interest Enterprise Company working with people who have special needs. A fascinating place.

The Gallipoli monument at the top of Hatherleigh hill
Wonderful views of Dartmoor rising in the distance, seen from the foot of the monument

We had to get our legs going after lunch as there was a bit of a climb out of Hatherleigh to the Gallipoli Monument where we stopped to find out more and take in the wonderful views of Dartmoor. Then down the prettiest lane of the trip, although full of potholes. The edges were verdant and full of wild daffodils, primroses and wild garlic leaves topped by large old oaks. It was undulating a fair bit and everyone was a little weary so we stopped in Abbeyford Woods for an emergency snack of flapjack before dropping down steeply into Okehampton and our hotel for the night. On to Tavistock tomorrow.

A lovely Devon lane
Stopping at Abbeyford Woods for a bit of a breather

The next day found our intrepid Rotary adventurers setting off up the steep hill to Okehampton Station and the start of the Granite Way. We had promised the trail would be flat but for some reason none of them believed us anymore. It was another glorious day with blue sky and hazy views of Dartmoor with just the touch of a cold breeze from time to time. We stopped at Meldon Viaduct for the views and a little later at Lake Viaduct for the biscuits!

Meldon Viaduct with Dartmoor views

Soon we were heading down towards Lydford. We had noticed this morning that Lydford Gorge and Cafe were shut, hence the biscuits, but as we stopped to admire Lydford Castle and Church we notice the Castle Inn was open for coffee. So more sitting around in the sun ensued. Lovely old pub, full of character. We had also just remembered it was Mother’s Day so everywhere was going to be packed for lunch.

Lydford Church
Lydford Castle
Lydford Inn. Our group having coffee in the sun
Inside the old Lydford Inn

Off again, it was now more undulating, sometimes more steeply than others. We were on lanes but always with lovely moorland views. We puffed up the hill just below Brentor to look at the church perched high above us, St. Michael de Rupe Church. Then we turned off down a small lane lined with beautiful trees as we started a gradual descent into Tavistock.

Brentor with St Michael de Rupe Church on top. Services are still held here by candle light as there is no electricity and acapella singing as there is no organ
Lovely tree-lined lane
Views of Dartmoor from one of the viaducts

Once in Tavistock we headed off to buy a picnic lunch which we ate in the park by the river before finding our hotel. Another good day.

The following morning was the last day for the 12 who, after weaving around small lanes in Tavistock to avoid the traffic, started the steady climb up to Yelverton. Much to see on the way up and we stopped first on the new Viaduct on the Drakes trail across the River Tavy. It was built especially to open the Drakes Trail for cyclists and walkers in the early 2000’s. From there on up through beautiful old woodland, all very different to yesterday. We continued over 3 more viaducts each with lovely views. A final hard pedal up the steepest part got us to Yelverton and a bakery for well earned coffee and cake.

Cycling over a viaduct built specially for the Drakes Trail
View of ancient woodland from the viaduct. So many trees were down after the gales.
There were lots of viaducts with great views

From there life was easy. We coasted along the flat at the start of the Plym Valley Trail, passing the old Dartmoor leat built in the 16th century, in Francis Drake’s time, to bring water from Dartmoor to Plymouth. Then dropped down for miles through more woodland and one long tunnel towards Plymouth. This part of the trail was busy with fast cyclists so we had to be on our best behaviour.

A 16th century leat on the Plym trail, used in Drakes time to bring water from Dartmoor to Plymouth

We arrived in Plymouth through the grounds of Saltram, at the start of the estuary, then wound our way through Plymouth Dock area to the Barbican were we stopped for our final celebratory lunch. We were joined by Sally who had kindly moved everyone’s luggage from hotel to hotel.

Coming into Plymouth through the grounds of Saltram
Under the A30
Arriving at Plymouth Sound
Celebratory lunch at Plymouth Barbican

Then a quick dash up to Smeaton’s Tower on the Hoe for the photo. We finished the ride with all 12 cyclists! And more amazing, I am pretty sure everyone enjoyed it! Then most of the group got on a coach back to Bideford.

Final group photo at Plymouth Hoe
Smeaton’s Tower on Plymouth Hoe
Most of the group went home by coach

Three of us set off to camp on Dartmoor via an exciting off-road route, that involved a steep push up a rocky bridleway, then a ride over Lee Moor that was fairly boggy and hard work. We were cycling into a very strong headwind over the moors. Finally onto moorland lanes we dropped down into the little village of Walkhampton for a pub supper. Unfortunately, the hill out of the village was unbelievable steep, so with our full stomachs we had to push up. A few hills later we found Langstone Manor campsite with nice flat pitches, hot showers and a shop where we ordered freshly baked croissants for the morning. It rained during the night but we were tucked up inside our tents by then.

It was a long push up a rocky track to Dartmoor
Nearly at the top, battling gale force winds
We had to cycle at 45 degrees leaning into the wind
View from the top of Lee Moor

It would have been the perfect campsite, except for the small matter of a large herd of cows being milked fairly close by at 4 in the morning. Not much sleep was had once that started. Having the freshly baked croissants and good coffee went someway to making up for this. Thankfully the overnight rain had moved on through and it was a nice, if slightly overcast morning. I think we were all a bit tired still from yesterday, but we had a way to go. We had an easy run into Tavistock but it was fairly steep from there until we had left Dartmoor behind us.

Our campsite at Langstone Manor with Pew Tor rising behind. We were lucky, if we had been here a second night we would have woken to find snow on the ground.

We had one unfortunate moment. Bernie had seen a nice track on the map that linked two bits of our route, so we headed down that, only to find it was a private road and we met the non too pleased owner. Thankfully she let us carry on as it would have been a long way round.

We stopped off in Bratton Clovelly for a snack. A pretty village with lots of thatched cottages. We were on lanes now with lovely rural views. We hoped to have lunch in the pub at High Hampton, but since Covid it was only open in the evenings. So we headed on up the steep hill to Sheepwash. A picturesque village that has been used as a backdrop in many period dramas. Had a good lunch there. Chris left us there and powered on ahead as he wanted to make it all the way to Ilfracombe that evening. We took it easy and at Petrockstow got back on the Tarka Trail for an easy flat roll back to Bideford, stopping off at the Puffing Billy cafe for tea and cake on the way past.

The old church and school at Bratton Clovelly
Pub lunch in Sheepwash

We will have a couple of days at home now before heading out on the main part of our trip following the GB Duro race route up to Scotland, with a little detour around Northern Ireland on the way. We will also be travelling much, much slower than the race did!

To read the next part of our trip, bikepacking through Devon, Somerset and Avon see below:

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