Wild ponies graze on vast moorlands as mist falls on the unusual rock formations nearby, rivers gush through thick woodland and under medieval bridges, waves carry surfers back to the white sandy beaches – cycling the Devon Coast to Coast route is an adventure you will never forget.
The Devon Coast to Coast is a 103 mile (165 km) route through North Devon from Ilfracombe on the edge of the Irish Sea, to Plymouth on the English Channel. The route is suitable for all ages and all levels of riders. Mostly following former railway lines transformed into bike paths, 71 miles (114 km) of the Devon Coast to Coast are completely traffic free.
Some of the trails and paths are unpathed so you may prefer to use a hybrid or mountain bike, although any bike will manage. As there are no big hills to tackle, thicker tyres won’t slow you down too much.
Broken down into seven sections, each stage of the Devon Coast to Coast show you a different aspect of North Devon’s diverse landscapes: from pristine coastline to misty moors and luscious valleys to biodiverse wetlands. If you are looking for a bigger challenge, you can combine the sections together to cover more distance in one day.
Your adventure will lead you through centuries of history: from Norman invasions to Royalist strongholds, centers of the industrial revolution to impressive aqueducts and art nouveau hotels, with plenty of pub stops along the way.
Your journey begins in Ilfracombe, a popular seaside town nestled amongst jagged cliff faces. Known for its pretty harbour and sandy beaches, this quaint town is a lovely place to explore before setting off on your bike.
To get to Ilfracombe, take the train to Barnstaple and cycle or take a taxi from there as Ilfracombe has no train station. Barnstaple has direct trains from Exeter, Bristol and London. Alternatively, National Express runs direct buses from London to Ilfracombe daily. They accept bikes as long as they are correctly packaged in a bike box.
For more information on Ilfracombe, visit: visitilfracombe.co.uk
For information on train travel to Barnstaple, visit: thetrainline.com/stations/barnstaple
With sandy beaches, a pristine shoreline and surfer hangouts, the first stage of the Devon Coast to Coast runs along some of the UK’s finest coast. With the sea never far away, you will cycle 14 miles (24 km) through the North of Devon, enjoying ice cream stops and fresh salty air as you ride.
Starting your day in Ilfracombe, a quaint town surrounded by rugged cliffs with a pretty harbour at its heart, you will follow a traffic-free former railway path out of the centre and along the West Wilder Brook. The route starts with some challenging climbs as you leave Ilfracombe behind and head inland through green countryside.
At the end of the climb, your hard work is rewarded with expansive views over pretty Devonshire countryside as you join quiet country lanes that ascend to the sea.
White sandy beaches, surfers catching breaking waves, children playing in rockpools – you can now enjoy over 6 miles (9.6 km) of seaside bliss. Passing the secluded beaches of Combesgate, Barricane, and Woolacombe.
A small seaside resort, Woolacombe boasts a beautiful stretch of golden sand which has won the title of Britain’s Best Beach and the fourth best beach in Europe. Popular with surfers and families alike, the town is a peaceful place to relax before continuing along a bridleway that runs parallel to the coast.
The final stretch of stage one runs in-land along peaceful country lanes passing Georgeham, a historic village with crooked lanes and a medieval church. Serving guests since the 17th century, The King’s Arms and The Rock are historic places to grab a drink or a bite to eat.
Continuing along country lanes as you leave Georgeham, you will soon join the River Caen before arriving in Knowle village, your final destination. Known for its Iron Age fortification Knowle Hill Castle, Knowle offers accommodation such as Bed and Breakfasts and self-catering cottages.
The second leg of the Devon Coast to Coast will take you over medieval bridges, along meandering rivers, and past rare birds nesting in nature reserves. Today’s easy ride will take you 16 miles (27 km) from Knowle to Bideford. With only 90 meters (295 feet) of elevation gain, you can relax as you enjoy the stunning scenery.
Following the River Caen, you will reach Devon’s biggest village – Braunton. Rich in history, Braunton is home to various manors, an ancient Dean house and Braunton Abbots that date back to the eleventh century.
Heading southeast from the village, you will join the River Taw where it meets the Bristol Channel for the remainder of the route. Following a cycle path, you will pass muddy beaches and wetlands with diverse wildlife, before arriving in Barnstaple.
One of the main towns in Northern Devon, Barnstaple has been an important place since Saxon times when it was known for its wool exports. Today, it is a thriving town with cafes, restaurants, and independent shops – ideal to whittle away a few hours browsing and indulging in local delicacies.
Continuing along the river on the Tarka Trail traffic-free bike path, you can enjoy 8 miles (14 km) of peaceful tranquillity. Keep an eye out for wading birds, otters and wildfowl that live on the river as you cycle.
Stage two ends in Bideford, a pretty town on the west bank of the River Torridge. With pastel coloured narrow streets and a tree-lined quay, Bideford is a pretty town that was Britain’s third biggest port in the 16th century. Today, the town is dotted with antique shops and home to the historic Pannier market which sells local produce and crafts.
Bideford has various accommodation options such as hotels, campsites and self-catering cottages to make your stay comfortable.
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Gushing rivers carving through untouched countryside, tranquil bike paths flanked by ancient woodland and sleepy Devonshire villages brushed with history. During stage three, you will cycle from Bideford deeper into the heart of Devon.
Following the River Torridge as it meanders south, the route gently rises and falls as you head out of Bideford. You will cross the river via historic bridges on more than one occasion as you ride through the green and forested countryside.
The route skirts around Great Torrington, a small market town with many traditional pubs serving real ales. It is worth making a short detour to enjoy the town's local delicacies. The Torridge Inn, The Black Horse, Torrington Arms, Cavalier, Globe and Royal Exchange have been serving travelers for centuries.
From Great Torrington, rejoin the Devon Coast to Coast trail as it follows Langtree Lake through secluded green scenery and farmland. You are more likely to see birds of prey and ducks than cars or buildings during this section of the route.
The trail climbs gradually for almost 4 miles (6 km) before ascending into Petrockstowe. Nestled amongst the Devonshire hills, Petrockstowe is a picturesque village with a big community spirit.
The heart of the village is The Laurels Inn, a seventeenth-century coaching house, with regular events such as a quiz night and Sunday roast lunch, you are sure to get to know the locals during your stay.
Ancient medieval castles built to contain rebellious revolt, sheep grazing on the slopes of gently undulating hills, and meandering streams await as you continue through Devon towards Dartmoor National Park.
Covering 18.6 miles (30 km) and 430 meters (1410 feet) elevation gain, the fourth stage of the Devon Coast to Coast is the most challenging. You’ll be rewarded with beautiful scenery and plenty of well-deserved slices of cake.
Beginning your journey from the quintessential English village Petrockstowe, you will rejoin the Tarka Trail heading west before following a quiet country lane towards Sheepwash village. As the name suggests, Sheepwash was historically a place where sheep were washed before shearing. Sheep washing in Sheepwash was documented as early as 1166. Here, you could stop off at the Half Moon Inn which is known for its fresh fish menu. You can find more information, here: halfmoonsheepwash.co.uk
With a full tummy, you will continue further through the calm countryside before arriving in Hatherleigh. Throughout the year, Hatherleigh regularly hosts interesting events such as a flaming tar barrel run and New Year’s Day jump into the River Lew.
Climbing out of Hatherleigh, you will head north on more pretty lanes. The route heads gently up and down hills before reaching Jacobstowe village. This is where the biggest challenge of the day presents itself – a 2.5 mile (4 km) climb. With good road surfaces and stunning views over the Dartmoor National Park, the extra leg power is worth the effort.
After a few miles, you will reach Okehampton, a bustling market town on the edge of the Dartmoor National Park. The town was established by Baron Baldwin de Brionne, one of William the Conqueror’s knights when he built a castle in the area. Today, you can visit the castle, which was enlarged in the 1300s, in the town.
Okehampton has many comfortable accommodation options to suit any budget, as well as an excellent variety of restaurants such as the Mooplehog Vegan Cafe and Graylings fish and chips.
Wild ponies gallop through the vast moorlands, as they have for centuries, avoiding towering tors, colourful bluebells and meadow flowers sway as the wind sweeps across the misty moors – stage five will lead you through Dartmoor National Park, the most mysterious countryside in the UK.
Today, you will cover 10 miles (16km), allowing you to fully enjoy the vast expanse of the Dartmoor National Park, its history and landscapes.
Beginning from Okehampton, the wild moor landscape slowly reveals itself to you as you climb, leaving the urban world behind you. Following the Granite Way, you will pass Meldon a pretty village on the edge of Meldon reservoir with a stunning viaduct. Surrounded by open moorland, Meldon reservoir is a picturesque place to eat your lunch on the picnic tables whilst looking out for native wildlife.
From Meldon, you will follow a former railway line that once led from Tavistock to Plymouth through the moors. Look out for some of the region’s iconic tors such as Sourton Tors, Gren Tor and Arms Tor as you ride.
Passing the small village of Sourton and its pretty 14th century church, the traffic-free stretch continues into the mysterious moors. Unusual rock formations protrude from the hills, whilst disused quarries scar the grassy plains and low-hanging clouds mist the landscape. According to folklore, many legends and spirits live on the moors such as the Hound of the Baskervilles from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels, and it’s easy to see why.
After a few miles cycling through the secluded countryside, you will arrive in Lydford. A pretty village nestled in the moors, Lydford is home to Lydford Castle and a beautiful medieval church. You will find many nice places to stay here, including B&Bs, hotels, inns and camping just on the edge of the village.
Stage six of the Devon Coast to Coast will guide you 17.4 miles (28km) further into the heart of Dartmoor National Park. Leaving Lydford on quiet country lanes, the first 2.7 miles (4.5km) gently rise and fall through the impressive landscape.
Next, you will face a short, sharp climb up Gibbert Hill. Although steep at times, the stunning views from the top will make you forget your tired muscles.
Your hard work is rewarded with a three mile (5km) downhill stretch. On the way, you will pass Mary Tavy, a small village that was once home to the largest copper mine in the world but is now home to a friendly pub – the Mary Tavy Inn, and calm village life.
From the village, the route runs parallel to Cholwell Brook before joining the River Tavy. Bear in mind that the path can become muddy and difficult to cycle, especially after bad weather, so you may have the push at times.
Running along an old railway line, you will pass many interesting bridges with fantastic views over the treetops, before arriving in Yelverton, the final destination of your journey.
Situated on the edge of the Dartmoor National Park, Yelverton is a large village which is known for Roborough rock, a stone formation close to the Plymouth Road. Named after the rocks, the Rock Inn offers great food and accommodation to relax after your ride. You can find more information, here: therockinnyelverton.pub
Your final day cycling the Devon Coast to Coast will lead you away from the misty moors of Dartmoor towards the salty air of the coast once more.
Before leaving Yelverton, it’s a good idea to stock up on supplies from the local village shop as you will not pass any villages or towns before arriving in Plymouth.
Heading out of Yelverton, you will rejoin Drake’s Trail as it follows the meandering Plymouth Leat stream mostly downhill. After 2.4 miles (4km), you will join the Plym Valley Trail as it ascends towards the English Channal.
Leaving the edges of Dartmoor National Park, the Plym Valley trail carves through woodland teaming with diverse wildlife such as woodpeckers, kingfishers and perigrin falcons.
The pleasant downhill stretch joins the River Plym on the outskirts of Plymouth. Running from Dartmoor towards Plymouth Sound, the river is a popular spot for recreational sports: canoeists, kayakers and fishers can be found here, especially during summer months.
Continuing to follow the river, you will not realise you have entered Plymouth until you arrive at the seafront. The path carves through secluded countryside and quiet woodlands to the sea.
A bustling port city, Plymouth had a turbulent past. The city was burned down by Breton raiders at the start of the 15th century, served as a major port during the slave trade, was beseiged by Royalists during the English Civil War, and more!
With such an interesting history, there are many sites to explore in the city such as the Mayflower Museum, Royal William Yard, and Plymouth Hoe. Today, the Plymouth Hoe serves as the heart of the city with many restaurants, cafes and bars. Here, you will find the waters of the English Channel and the end to your epic adventure following the Devon Coast ot Coast.
Plymouth has excellent rail connections across the country with direct trains to London, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Penzance and Manchester.
For more information on visiting Plymouth, see: visitplymouth.co.uk
For information on trains, visit: gwr.com/plan-journey/stations-and-routes/plymouth