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Forests, wild swimming and wildlife – touring from Totnes to Bristol

Amy Jones

Forests, wild swimming and wildlife – touring from Totnes to Bristol

Bike Touring Collection by Amy

4-7

days

3-5 h

/ day

180 mi

9,750 ft

9,725 ft

Whizzing down country lanes, crunching gravel on riverside paths and spending all day outdoors, exploring open countryside and wild spaces – there is little that gives a greater sense of freedom than bike touring.

Packing my panniers felt special for this trip as it had been almost three years since my bike left British soil and rode across Europe to Georgia. The trip felt like a homecoming. It opened my eyes to just how wild and green the UK is, especially in summer.

My trip began with a loose idea of wanting to explore Devon and visit an agroforest close to Totnes on the edges of the Dartmoor National Park. The plan grew to be a five-day trip covering 180 miles (290 km) from Totnes to Bristol; exploring moors, wild camping and swimming in as many rivers as possible along the way.

The journey took me around the edges of Dartmoor, along quiet lanes with jungle-like hedgerows in Devon and through the patchwork fields of the Somerset Levels to Bristol. The stretches along canal towpaths, former railway lines and riverside trails were ideal for switching off and just enjoying pedalling. Aside from the section from Wells to Cheddar, I managed to avoid busy roads. Any kind of bike is suitable for the terrain, although I expect the paths are a lot muddier in the winter.

The hardest part is without doubt the Devonshire hills. It was quite a shock to be faced with so many gruelling climbs the first two days. If you go at your own pace, they’re manageable, but I regretted not being fitter for the first two stages – it was tough. In total, I climbed just under 10,000 feet (3,000 metres) across the five days.

I spent each night in my tent wild camping on the moors and sleeping in fields at farm campsites. For me, sleeping outdoors is all part of the experience of bike touring, but the extra weight did slow me down, especially on the relentless Devonshire hills. It’s easy to find a bed for the night too if you prefer to travel light.

You don’t need to carry much food with you as you’ll always find a farm shop, charming village centre or town to fill up your stomach and your water bottles. I definitely recommend taking a camping stove so that you can brew up a coffee or cook anywhere you choose. Dinner always tastes a little better when you cook it yourself next to a river.

To retrace my tyre marks, you can catch the train to Totnes, a town close to Dartmoor with an alternative Devonshire flair. Returning home from Bristol is also convenient with the train as Temple Meads is well connected to the rest of the UK.

Nature felt so alive in the sunshine – I chased dragonflies down lanes, took breaks under the shade of ancient oaks and watched wild ponies grazing on the moors. If you enjoy being outdoors on your bike in the countryside, this is a lovely route.

On The Map

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Tours & Highlights

  • Map data © OpenStreetMap contributors
    Intermediate
    02:40
    14.9 mi
    5.6 mph
    1,800 ft
    700 ft
    Intermediate road ride. Good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may be unpaved and difficult to ride.

    The hedgerows in Devon are like jungles. Leaves of every shape and colour reach towards you as you whizz down lanes – or more often, sweat up hills. This stage marked my first day of cycle touring this summer. With July’s summer heatwave in full swing, the climbs were relentless.

    I arrived in Totnes, an alternative town with plenty of …

    by
    Amy
  • Difficult
    05:40
    50.3 mi
    8.9 mph
    4,875 ft
    5,850 ft
    Expert road ride. Very good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may be unpaved and difficult to ride.

    The early morning light illuminated the reservoir, reflecting the hills onto the water. I brewed up a coffee, watching birds dart down to drink. Waking up surrounded by beautiful nature is one of the reasons why I love bike touring. Today, I explored more of Dartmoor’s wild heart, sweating up and over one hill after the other.

    This was one …

    by
    Amy
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  • Difficult
    05:29
    44.8 mi
    8.2 mph
    1,075 ft
    1,200 ft
    Expert road ride. Very good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may be unpaved and difficult to ride.

    Today marked the end of the relentless hills as I rode into Somerset. With peaceful stretches along canal paths and open countryside scenes, this is a lovely ride.

    I packed up my tent slower than most mornings, my stiff legs relieved that they wouldn’t have to tackle too many hills. The road into Tiverton along the River Exe was quiet …

    by
    Amy
  • Intermediate
    02:59
    32.1 mi
    10.8 mph
    750 ft
    650 ft
    Intermediate road ride. Good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may be unpaved and difficult to ride.

    Quiet canals, sleepy farms and plenty of ice cream defined my fourth day on the road. It was another hot day so the flatter landscapes and shorter distance were a welcome change as I explored the heart of Somerset.

    I filled up my panniers with snacks and headed out of Bridgwater along the canal, riding under historic bridges and through …

    by
    Amy
  • Difficult
    05:10
    38.2 mi
    7.4 mph
    1,250 ft
    1,325 ft
    Expert road ride. Very good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may be unpaved and difficult to ride.

    Plunging into a cold river, surrounded by wildlife, was the perfect start to the final day of this adventure. In Wookey, a stone’s throw from the campsite, there is a lovely secluded swim spot in the River Axe. After a dip, I pedalled slowly into Wells for a morning coffee – blissful.

    Cyclists staying at the campsite advised I skip …

    by
    Amy

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Collection Stats

  • Tours
    5
  • Distance
    180 mi
  • Duration
    21:58 h
  • Elevation
    9,750 ft9,725 ft

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Forests, wild swimming and wildlife – touring from Totnes to Bristol