First, the iffy bits: From Lydford, the official route takes you via a roundabout way through Bridestowe onto the point where you cross the A386. After crossing the A386 you will be cycling on a track, with some parts being rough, muddy, narrow and steep. Things improve once you’ve finally made it up to Lake Viaduct, when suddenly you find yourself on a decent track, following the course of an old railway.
And just when you’re used to the decent, tarred path, you encounter a sign informing you that there are gates ahead, which may be locked if the landowner feels like locking it. In such a case, you’d need to back track and take the nasty alternative route.
In all fairness, this will almost never happen, but having the possibility raised isn’t particularly pleasant.
What you will find is that, as soon as you’re through the first gate, the path now becomes very narrow and overgrown. It is unsurfaced and very muddy in parts, but fortunately this section is very short, and before you know it you’ll find yourself passing through the second set of gates, and back on a decent, tarred path.
After having cycled under several bridges along the way, you’ll suddenly happen onto the splendid Meldon viaduct.
Between April and September, on weekends you can have some food, a drink, or ice-cream at the old railway dining car that is now a restaurant, right by the viaduct.
As the path continues on towards Okehampton, there is an ugly industrial yard right next to the tracks.
Further along is another iffy bit where the path crosses underneath a very busy road. However, before long you’ll find yourself back on a decent path, running parallel to the Dartmoor heritage railway. A short stretch on and you’ll arrive at the railway station, which incidentally has a restaurant that is worth visiting.
Now given all the negative points I’ve listed above, why do I still feel the Granite Way is better?
The devil, as they say, is in the detail. For starters, the bridges have little signs showing their names. There are many ponds along the route, and they have name signs, too.
Then there is the path itself: unlike the Plym Valley Trail, which also follows an old railway line, it isn’t simply straight. Instead, there are gentle meanders around ponds, or even the odd tree. This means you almost never get to see very far ahead along the path. There are many benches dotted along, most locations obviously picked for the stunning views they offer. Talking about the views, from when you make it up to Lake viaduct from the rough track that passes underneath it, there are stunning vistas galore.
There are even a few information signs in places, while people around the Granite Way also support it. A prime example would be the cream teas offered in the Sourton church hall, just off the path.
Without being a show-off, and while being honest about its shortcomings, the Granite Way brags about its heritage, and it tries to remain interesting along its length.
The Plym Valley Trail, by contrast, offers no names or information signs, save for three you-are-here maps. It has an incredible heritage, but you wouldn’t know anything about it unless you went hunting for information.
It had three benches along the way, but the one at Shaugh Halt was removed by a road maintenance crew and never replaced. It has no little surprises purposely hidden along it length.
Drake’s Trail has one information sign, about the leat and the old tramway. Again, in an area so full of heritage, it is almost like it is hiding its heritage on purpose, like some dirty family secret…
For example, where is the information sign telling people about the fighter pilot, from RAF Harrowbeer, who crashed into the church in Yelverton? How many churches can claim such an incident as part of their history?
Where are the information boards showing what Brunel’s original wooden viaduct over the Walkham valley looked like?
Given the discrepancies between the three routes, it is hard to imagine the same county council is responsible for them! Remember, all three routes are part of NCN27 and the Devon Coast to Coast route.