The Devon Coast to Coast route is a 103 mile route from Plymouth on the south Devon coast to Ilfracombe on the North Devon one. The route officially starts in Plymouth on the Hoe, finishes at Ilfracombe harbour, and stitches 4 distinct off road paths together to form a well signposted and easy ride across the Devon countryside.
From Plymouth you snake through the harbour, over the estuary into the grounds of Saltram House. The surface here is not really suitable for road bikes or narrower tyred tourers as its rough and stony. You soon leave the grounds though and have to take a bit of a bizarre route the wrong way down a slip road, and finally onto the first of the named offroad trails, the Plym Valley Trail which is mixed tarmac and packed gravel surface and easily rideable on any bike. The end of this track follows a tarmac’d path up onto the lanes at Clearbrook and is surprisingly steep compared to the rail bed you’ve been following up to this point. Anyway, after Clearbrook and a tiny on-road section, your back onto off road paths, this time Drakes Trail, and another ex railway line trail. Drakes trail is tail ended with tarmac path, but is mostly gravel, still fine for almost all bikes. From Yelverton it is almost all down hill as well, which is a bit of a bonus.
At the end of Drakes trail in Tavistock you have two options, one skirts the town and takes you up onto the railway line again and across some more great viaducts, the other through the centre and past the shops. The routes join back together out the other side of town on the Old Exeter Road. You have 3 choices here, follow the current route, follow the old route, ignore the route and just follow the road. The official route stays in the valley through Peter and Mary Tavy but goes over a section of track that is really not rideable on anything other than a mountain bike. Nice bit of a walk though. You then have a climb up to Brentor where all the other route options join up. From there it’s roads again ’til Lydford (there is a sign posted “summer route” option here, this is not suitable for touring bikes) and onto the 3rd of the routes off road rail trails, the Granite Way, which takes you all the way to Okehampton
Bit of a steep climb out of Okehampton gets you on through country lanes to Hatherleigh. No major drama here, just the normal country lanes, though you do get to go past the Hatherleigh Obelisk which has a brilliant view back towards the moors. Here I diverted from the signposted route and just went up the main road to Meeth (there’s currently planning permission going through to provide an off road link) but the actual path loops along another section of reclaimed railway then lanes through Sheepwash and back down to the final named rail trail, the Tarka Trail, at Petrockstow station.
The Tarka trail starts off quite poorly surfaced and ends up being tarmac’d by the end and gets you all the way to Barnstaple. Then its just over the road bridge and on to Ilfracombe. I haven’t cycled the last bit so wont comment on it.
Things to See and Places to Eat
Saltram House – National Trust, chargeable, cafe, shop, loos
Gem Bridge – part of the Drake trail
Church of Saint Michael De Rupe – bit of a diversion on the official route, and you need to walk up to it
Lydford Gorge – National Trust, chargable, cafe, shop, loos
Lydford Castle – free, and on the route
Meldon Viaduct – part of the Granite Way
Okehampton Castle – diversion off the official route, English Heritage, chargeable, small snack shop, loos
Yarde Orchard – good little cafe, used to do camping as well but I think they have stopped
Torrington Station – Puffing Billy. Nice little pub that has recently been renovated
Bideford Station – little museum and a cafe in a train buffet carriage. No toilets!
Instow Beach – slight diversion, but massive, golden sanded beach
Fremington Quay – rebuilt railway station turned into a dedicated cafe for the trail. Gets busy.
If time is an issue, or if you don’t care about being completionist about the route, I would suggest starting at the Sainsbury’s carpark just off the A38. From the North East corner there’s a little footpath exit (no cycling signs, so push through here) onto the underpass. This skips the poor track through Saltram and the fiddling through the industrial areas at the start of Plymouth.
Who can ride it?
This route really is very accessible to all abilities. With only 1 or 2 really steep hills (where you can get off and push) it’s actually an easy ride. There’s also loads of places to stay and eat along the route, and has a very high percentage of the route off road. There are a few fiddly gates on the off road sections (aren’t there always) which could give people on trikes, tandems, or modified bicycles a bit of annoyance.
If you wanted an epic day ride it’s possible all in one go, but 2 days is a good ride for a reasonably fit cyclist, or anything up to 5 days with kids is possible. Worth noting that Okehampton has a YHA and is sort of half way.