Welcome to the West Country Way, a long distance mountain biking route that links the coasts of South Devon and Somerset via the two moorland National Parks of Dartmoor and Exmoor. This 121 mile (195 km) route is a journey taking in the diverse landscapes of glorious Devon, from the cobbles of Plymouth harbourside to the wild and rugged beauty of Dartmoor, the quaint chocolate box cottages of rural mid Devon villages and the lush green of Exmoor, before revealing North Devon’s dramatic cliffs and Somerset coastline.
A large part of the West Country Way is comprised of the Two Moors Way; a bridleway linking Dartmoor and Exmoor. Expect wide traffic-free gravel trails, as well as some muddy climbs, wooded tracks, valley-side singletrack and field trails, linked by quiet lanes through picturesque villages — the perfect setting to pick up some food and drink and a pretty place to stay overnight. Passing through Dartmoor, you have the unique opportunity to wild camp as it’s the only place in England where you can legally do so (read more at dartmoor.gov.uk/enjoy-dartmoor/outdoor-activities/camping).
This is a mountain bike orientated Collection, but there’s little reason why you can’t do it on a gravel bike. It’s also worth noting that a full suspension mountain bike will probably be a bit overkill for this distance too.
Choose the spring, summer or autumn for this challenge. It’s not recommended to attempt this in the winter due to unfavourable ground conditions on the moorland which can get very boggy, and as the weather on Dartmoor especially can be harsh and unpredictable. In any season, make sure you have a survival bag and basic first aid with you and are familiar with the local emergency procedure.
This route is presented in four stages, which you can opt to ride as four days, more or less. Ridden in this way, you’ll get to experience a night of wild camping on Dartmoor followed by two to three nights in Devon and Somerset villages and towns.
Access to either end of the trail is easy and train services are recommended as this is an A to B rather than circular tour. There’s a major train station in Plymouth at the start, where stage one begins, before leading you to The Hoe for the official start of the trail (see more details at gwr.com/plan-journey/stations-and-routes/plymouth). At the other end in Minehead it is less simple; either you extend your route heading west to Barnstaple Train Station, or ride south east to Taunton (24 miles/38 km by road, or 25 miles/40 km by mountain biking route over the Quantocks), which is on a more major train line. Therefore, it might be worth considering taking a night’s stay in Minehead at the end of your trip before riding towards the station the next day.
Please note; this is not to be confused with Sustrans’ West Country Way, a long distance road cycling route from Bristol to Bude on National Cycle Route 3: komoot.com/collection/889051/vibrant-cities-emerald-hills-the-west-country-way
The official start of the first stage of the West Country Way is not until the Plymouth Hoe next to Smeaton's Tower, however here we start at your likely joining point at the train station, making the first stage 32 miles (51 km) long. Start by leaving the station and heading south through the city to the Hoe, where you’ll find the iconic Smeaton’s Tower lighthouse looking out over the English Channel. Trace the coastline to the Barbican, over the cobbled streets and then take a network of cycle paths and roads out of the city heading east, crossing the River Plym and onto the traffic-free cycle route, the Plym Valley Trail. You’ll gently climb up through Plymbridge Woods; in fact you’ll be climbing pretty much all of this stage as you go from near sea level up onto Dartmoor! Join the road soon after the Dewerstone, heading east now and continuing up onto the moor on Hoo Meavy climb. As you pass Gutter Tor, the off road will start ‘proper’ – this is what you’ve been waiting for! Named after the disused tin mine here, Eylesbarrow is a fast and fun section of singletrack leading up to Eylesbarrow summit. Take Ivybridge Lane singletrack all the way north to Princetown; home of Dartmoor’s famous high security prison. Good news; there is also a fantastic cafe here and village shop – bet you’ll be hungry already! Then head east out of the town, along singletrack over Royal Hill before joining a doubletrack gravel road to Hexworthy Cross, then on lanes past Dartmeet to rejoin a doubletrack riding against the flow of the East Dart river. Cross the river twice before entering Bellever Forest, where you’ll find a fun and technical singletrack to finish the stage. We suggest wild camping here in a secluded spot, although if you’d rather a roof to stay under, there’s a YHA Youth Hostel just a short ride north in Postbridge – also a great place to get an evening meal in the East Dart Hotel.
On the second stage you’ll cross over the second half of Dartmoor to reach the eastern edge, then head north past Castle Drogo into the rural heart of mid Devon to spend the night in North Tawton, notching up 29 miles (47km) on the way.Cross the Bellever Bridge out of the woods and start riding north east on lanes and singletrack bridleway, past Soussons Down wood and take the singletrack contouring around Challacombe Down, passing by the ruins of the medieval village – do take a look if you’ve got plenty of time. Continue north with the Webburn River to your right, then start to climb as you pass Hookney Tor, reaching your summit as you pass the crossroads by Shapley Tor. Enjoy the rapid singletrack descent down to Shapley, where you’ll rejoin lanes heading north to Chagford, leaving Dartmoor National Park behind. Don’t think that’s the end of the incredible landscapes though, as rural Devon has many more hidden gems. Take some time in Chagford to get something to eat and drink before heading on to the Teign Valley by Castle Drogo – one of Devon’s best kept secrets. Here the singletrack hugs the steep valley side through the estate woodland, offering spectacular views over the moorland peaks on a clear day. You’ll ride next through Drewsteignton to complete the stage on quiet lanes before reaching North Tawton. Here you’ll find a small selection of guesthouses and Airbnb’s – as always, best to book ahead.
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On the third stage you’ll travel from the heart of Devon into West Somerset, crossing into the greener Exmoor National Park, and totalling 37 miles (59 km). Follow the River Taw for the first stint, crossing from lanes to singletrack and back again, before you meet the B3220. It’s all lanes from here north to Chulmleigh, with lots of little climbs and descents. After passing through the quaint village, the long and steady road climb up to Knowstone starts, not a hard gradient but one you’ll certainly feel with a couple of hard days in the legs! Start your climb up onto Exmoor from West Anstey with much sharper gradients, then into the park along a short stretch of National Cycle Route Three (Bristol to Bude). Singletrack and doubletrack will lead you to Hawkridge on the Exe Valley Way. It’s just a little further up the River Barle now to the famous Tarr Steps, and the nearby Tarr Farm Inn which is well worth visiting if you’re peckish or thirsty. After a break, take the Watery Lane bridleway climbing away from the river to Knaplock, then north still climbing alongside Winsford Hill, your last climb of this stage. It’s a short descent into Withypool for the night, where you’ll find a selection of guesthouses and inns for the night, or even more choice in nearby Exford.
The final stage of the West Country Way will take you across Exmoor National Park to your finish point of Minehead on the West Somerset coastline, looking across the Severn Estuary to South Wales not so far away. You have 24 miles (38 km) left to ride – hope you have the legs for it! Leave Withypool behind as you ride north to Exford on the moorland singletrack, where you’ll start the bridleway climb up Dunkery Beacon. Although on this route you don’t go right to the summit of this peak, the highest point on Exmoor, there’s nothing to stop you taking a small detour here if you’ve got plenty of time! Contour around the south east side of the peak on the Coleridge Way, into the woods near Brockwell and then around to the northern face. Descend off Luccombe Hill into Horner Woods; a paradise for mountain bikers! After a short stint on lanes you’ll reach the start of the climb up to Selworthy Beacon. Why not stop after the village at the Periwinkle Cottage Tea Room for lunch or tea before you reach the summit? Up on the top you’ll be treated to magnificent views on a clear day; spreading as far as South Wales, East Somerset and Glastonbury Tor, mid-Devon and the coastline below. Enjoy your last descent along the bridleway portion of the South West Coast Path down into minehead, hugging the weathered cliffs before reaching the hustle and bustle of the seaside town. Congratulations – you’ve conquered the West Country Way!