DayCycle – Drake’s Trail

Drake’s Trail is a 20-mile long cycling (and walking) route, mostly on traffic-free disused railways, linking Plymouth with Tavistock, and incorporates the Plym Valley Trail.

The entire route guide for Drake’s Trail is now available as a PDF, for you to easily download, print and take along on your ride

Feel free to use this page as a resource, should you find it useful, but please don’t copy anything from it without asking first.

Also, this guide gets a lot of visits. I’m glad, as when I first started exploring by bike, this would have been exactly the resource I was looking for. As there was nothing like it out there, I created the guide I would have liked to have. It will always be a work in progress, which means I have to cycle the route often.

Drake’s Trail starts in Plymouth and at first mostly follows the course of the river Plym, eventually leading to Clearbrook, which is a village on the edge of Dartmoor. From Clearbrook, Drake’s Trail leads on to the town of Tavistock. Some may say it starts in Tavistock and ends in Plymouth. Whichever way you want to view it, it remains a very nice bike ride!
The trail forms part of the Devon Coast to Coast (C2C) route and Sustrans’ National Cycle Network route 27 (NCN 27).

The route described below is 20 miles each way, and at a leisurely 10 mph pace should take around 2 hours each way, excluding any breaks. Overall, you will do some 1 200 feet (400 metres) of climbing, with the steepest gradient being a short stint at just over 6%, which for Devon isn’t steep at all. Some experienced cyclists who regularly ride far longer distances at faster speeds may choose not to have breaks at all, but I would go as far as to say in doing so they’d be missing out on so much this stunning route has to offer.

With a route like Drake’s Trail, the destination isn’t important, but instead it is all about the journey. My advice therefore would be to stop frequently, take in the views and absorb everything you can from this ride.

Plym Valley 
The first part of Drake’s Trail follows (as you may have guessed) the valley carved out by the river Plym, which gave the city of Plymouth its name. There’s some confusion about exactly where the trail starts, with many (most?) arguing that it starts by Laira bridge. Of course, that ignores the last bit of the Plym, which mouths into Plymouth Sound.
I will ignore all of the debate and suggest you start on The Hoe, then follow the NCN27 route markers through the Barbican (do divert for a snack past Cap’n Jaspers – they’re world famous for good food!), over the swing bridge and past the National Marine Aquarium. (Officially, NCN 27 actually starts, or ends, at Millbay docks, but this guide is for Drake’s Trail, which includes the Plym Valley Trail.)

Silver fish in the paving stones outside the Marine Aquarium
From there, follow Teats Hill road until it joins Commercial road.
Many people will turn right here, and follow the road around the corner, where it becomes Clovelly road, and then follow it all the way to the traffic lights.
I will suggest that you turn onto Clovelly road, but turn right into Breakwater Hill, which is only about 60 metres along.
A map tile, showing part of the Drake's Trail cycling route
Breakwater Hill itself will lead into a fuel depot, so look out for the South West Coast Footpath “rocket” and follow that route instead. In practical terms, this means veering off to the right. Although it isn’t signposted as such, you will find yourself on a section of Cattedown road.
A sculpture of a medallion of St Christopher on NCN 27 (Devon Coast to Coast route)A mild uphill will reward you with some excellent views, and a few surprises along the way. Look out for the Green Man, and St Christopher. This section is free from motorised traffic, and so much more pleasant.

After a nice downhill run, you will again find yourself on a road shared with other traffic, in an industrial area. Generally traffic is light here, but do be alert as you may be sharing the road with large articulated lorries. Incidentally, you are now very close to the caves where they found remains that came to be known as Cattedown Man.

Simply follow the road, and after a while (right on a 90-degree bend to the left) you will need to turn right into an industrial/office park. Almost immediately after having turned right, the road will turn 90 degrees to the left. Simply follow it straight, going past the booms that may or may not be down. The last building on the right will be the Theatre Royal’s TR2, and you will cycle past the huge TR2 letters. Just keep following the path as it turns left, then right, to meet Finnigan Road.

When you get to Finnigan road, cross the road to the new shared path on the pavement, then turn right. Surface-wise, it’s rather good (certainly better than the road) and is very wide.
The old path used to have very sharp bends on the corners, but that has now been sorted, though it still forces you to yield to every side road. Because of these reasons I tend to cycle on the road, which is fairly wide, but you may feel different.

When you get to the traffic lights, you have a few options. You can cross Laira Bridge road to the far side, then continue along the dedicated cycle path that starts on the opposite side, or you can turn right at the lights and cross the bridge. The pavement is a shared use path and you’re allowed to cycle on it. My advice is to follow the route described in Laira Option B below..

Laira Option A: This option isn’t officially part of the Plym Valley part of Drake’s Trail, as apparently it is on the wrong side of the river. Even so, I’ve included it, as you will still be following the course of the Plym.

If you’ve crossed Laira Bridge road then continue along dedicated off-road cycle path that eventually connects with Embankment road. From there, simply follow Embankment road all the way until you get to the Sainsbury’s at Marsh Mills roundabout. Stay on the pavement shared path until you get to the traffic lights at Sainsbury’s, then simply follow the pointers to Plym Bridge.
Here’s a map – the numbers show mileage:

Laira Option B: If you followed the official route pointers, you would have crossed Laira Bridge Road, by the traffic lights. On the far side, take the shared, traffic-free path that leads perpendicularly away from the road, until you get to a T-junction. Be careful here – it’s a blind corner to the left and some cyclists can be a bit quick.
When safe to do so, turn right and cycle across the old Laira Rail Bridge. When Laira Rail Bridge ends, continue over the new bridge over The Ride. Once you’ve crossed The Ride, take the ramp on your right down to the road.
When you meet the road, cross directly to the opposite side, then turn right along the rather scenic, segregated cycle path. Follow this path until it finally passes by a small car park, then continue along the tarred path that runs between the river and the road.

Follow the path right up to the end, where you should be careful as the surface will no longer be tarred. You will be cycling along a slight slope, on a path shared with pedestrians, right by the water’s edge. No, I have no idea which brain surgeon decided it was a good idea to not tar the path right where a decent tarred surface was most need.

See also  The Roman Road (Cambridge)

Here is a map – the route shown is exactly one mile:

End of Laira Options

Once past the mini beach to your left, you will be on the Saltram House estate and you have two options: either take the river-side path, which isn’t sealed, or take the other path that is tarred.

Saltram Option A: The official route follows the river-side path and is far more scenic. There is a pleasant grassy area with some benches in front of the folly, a fine picnic spot with superb views over the Plym estuary.

The Saltram folly, shortly after a rock fall. It’s all been cleared now.

There is also a rather nice hide from where you often can observe many different types of bird. Shortly after the hide, the path will head downhill, then effectively split into three: the right-most path leads back to Saltram House (and the restaurant!) via a short but steep uphill. The other two paths both join the same path you’ll need to turn onto, but the left-most one can be a tad rough. I therefore suggest you proceed up the middle path, but do be careful: the gravelly surface can be tricky to ride on especially when very dry. Cycle up the gravelly path until you meet another path at the top, then turn left.
Here’s the map:

Saltram Option B: If you chose the tarred path, follow it all the way to Saltram House itself, then turn left, passing  right alongside the fence in front of Saltram House. By the way, the restaurant is pretty good (if a bit pricey) and happily caters to weary cyclists.
The path will then go downhill, passing through a wooden gate. At the bottom of the downhill, the path splits – keep going straight, up the little hill.
Here’s the map:

End of Saltram Options

Follow the path over the brow and down the hill and across the train bridge.

Apparently some train drivers have a sense of humour, and have been known to blow the train’s very loud horn just by the bridge. Believe me, if you weren’t expecting it, it is enough to make you jump a mile, so do yourself a favour and look for trains! After the bridge the path is again of good quality, if a little narrow and often covered in gravel.

A word of advice here – the entire area around the train bridge is covered in graffiti, and some people feel very ill at ease here. I’ve cycled through here many times per week, at all sorts of times of day including after 23h00, and I have never felt any need to be alarmed. Well, aside from having been frightened out of my skin by a train driver!
Before long the path will join Plymouth road, where you can turn left, or right.

Incidentally, whichever way you came, you are very close to Sainsbury’s. In terms of cycling kit they are extremely poor, but if you want to stock up on snacks and drinks then a visit will be a good idea as the next supermarket is the Co-op in Yelverton. The petrol station also has free air, in case you want to inflate your tyres.
And here’s the map:

End of Laira Bridge Options
Whichever route you’ve chosen back at Laira Bridge, you should now be in the same spot.

Plymouth Road Option A: Turn Left
If you turn left, then the pavement is a shared-use path, so stick to it until you get to the toucan crossing, where you can safely cross Plymouth road.

On the far side of Plymouth road you again have two choices: continue along Plymouth road (busy!) for a very short stretch, or head down Longbridge road.
Option A-1: I suggest the Plymouth road option, and if you don’t want to cycle it you can easily walk your bike along the narrow pavement for 70 metres or so, before cutting through the McDonalds. You may want a snack or a cold drink, as this is the last place to get something for some time. Follow the road to the parking exit, turn left and keep going straight.

Option A-2: Please note this option isn’t available, as the old weighbridge over the river has been closed. If you avoided Plymouth road, you’d be going down Longbridge road for a very short stint, before crossing the Plym using the old weigh bridge. Annoyingly, there are huge steps each side of the bridge, meaning you’d have to lift your bike twice – not fun with laden panniers on the bike!

Once over the bridge, follow the path past the old toll-house cottage. You can still see some tracks from the old Lee Moor Tramway, just after crossing the bridge, as well as in places along the path.
The path can be very muddy and in poor shape here, as well as overgrown with stinging nettles, but before long you’re back on the road, where you need to turn left.Plymouth Road Option B: Turn Right
The official route tells you to turn right and continue along a rather narrow pavement, marked as shared use. At the bottom, you need to leave the pavement when you get to the train tracks, and continue along the road, passing under the bridge as you do so.
Be careful here: effectively you will be crossing train tracks diagonally, on a blind corner!
Shortly you will see a B&Q to your right, and the road will do a hairpin bend, crossing the tracks in the middle of the bend. You need to turn right just after having crossed the tracks.

End of Plymouth Road Options

From this point on all options join up again. The road will disappear into what is the yard of Princess Yachts, but the cycle path entrance is just to the right of their entrance. Sadly the start of the off-road path isn’t signed. The path initially is fairly narrow, and at times can be quite busy.

Just before this point, in the corner of the Park and Ride car park, you will see the small building of Plymouth Bike Hire. As the name suggests, you can hire bikes from them, but they also sell coffee and other drinks, and are usually happy to let you borrow their pump.

Do bear in mind that pedestrians have priority and be especially aware that it is normal to find many small children walking, or riding along here. As a result, be prepared (and willing) to slow right down, or even stop.

As you cycle along you’ll see the re-built railway tracks of the Plym Valley Heritage Railway – they’ve extended the tracks all the way to Plym Bridge itself.
Once you reach Plym Bridge, you will need to cross the little road that feeds the car park, then up an incline to get back onto the old railway bed. The Plym Valley Heritage Railway has built a new platform here and this is the end of the line for the train.
Usually, you will find a coffee van here, selling hot drinks.
Most of the path follows the course of the old railway line that served Princetown, so the gradients are mild, and the path surface is mostly good. Despite this, from here on it is uphill almost without exception, until you reach Yelverton. Just take comfort from the fact that there are no steep uphills, plus there are some beautiful views to be had as you pedal along.
During summer months, you can often get to view Peregrine falcons nesting at Cann quarry.
Unbelievably, this lovely carved bench was stolen by some lowlife scumbag!
It has since been replaced with a more plain bench.
See also  High Peak Trail traffic-free cycle route

Along the way you will catch regular glimpses of the railway heritage that made this gorgeous cycle path possible. These range from the railway cottages at Cann viaduct to the old Shaugh Bridge halt, and many others. Not long after the old station, you will arrive at the Shaugh tunnel built by Brunel. Look out for a wooden bench on your right – just the place to rest a bit and admire the view.

When seated here, look slightly to your left where you should be able to make out the Dewerstone Rock. If ever you have crossed Blackfriars Bridge in London, you have reaped the benefit of the granite quarried at Dewerstone.
The tunnel itself curves to the left, so you cannot see right through it, but it is lit (even if rather dimly) along all of its length. In case you were wondering about the dim lighting, it is so not to disturb any bats that live in the tunnel. Do note that it is only lit during the day and once the lights have switched off it really is very dark.
There are stories of a ghost that haunts Shaugh tunnel – a ghost that supposedly likes to push cyclists off their bikes. Quite predictably you won’t ever find anyone that claimed to have experienced this. Instead, it is always one of those “it happened to to someone who once sat on a bus next to the best friend of a 2nd cousin of a neighbour” type of stories and in all the hundreds of times I’ve cycled through there I saw no sign of the ghost. Unless the ghost was on a tea break?
A short while after the tunnel the track will run right alongside the road. In years gone by the only sensible option was to leave the track, and cycle up the very steep hill. Fortunately, those days are behind us now, and all you need to do is follow the track.
Soon you will notice it starts veering slightly to the left, and climbing, along the ramp that was built to replace the old nasty off-road section. Simply follow the tarred track until you get to the tarred road in the village of Clearbrook, then turn left to cycle up the hill.
As ever, please ensure you close the wooden gates behind you, to avoid animals from straying onto nearby roads.
You may want to stop at the rather good Skylark pub, a short distance uphill and on the right.
Near the top of the hill you will pass a road turning off to the left, after which the road will cross an old leat. Immediately after crossing the leat you must turn right, to find yourself back on a traffic-free cycle path. Please bear in mind that you’d be sharing this path not only with other cyclists & with walkers, but often also with ponies and sheep.
Look at the stones visible to the left of the path. They were used to anchor the rails of the old horse-drawn tram, the route of which you are now following. If you’d taken the Plymouth Road Option A2, you will have crossed the old weigh bridge that was used by the horse-drawn tramway.
As with old railway track beds, old tramway routes also offer gentle  gradients. After a while you will arrive at double wooden gates, and the track surface will deteriorate and become unsealed. Soon you will cross the tramway stones diagonally, then pass through some more gates.
Now the surface is tarred again – that’s because you are now cycling on a road. It is rare to encounter cars here, but it does happen occasionally, so bear that in mind, especially if cycling with children. Simply follow the road along several gentle sweeps and bends, as well as a sharp left and sharp right combination, before arriving at another set of wooden gates.
Be careful here when the ground is wet, as tractors used by Yelverton Cricket Club cross the path, often leaving a huge muddy mess in their wake that they cannot be bothered to clean, and which makes cycling rather interesting! I’ve been through here when the club’s tractors left ankle-deep soft mud behind.
Once through the gates, it is but a short stint before arriving in Yelverton.
In Yelverton you have a number of options for refreshments. Some people opt simply to pop into the local Co-op, while others prefer the more civilised atmosphere to be had at Viera’s. Viera’s is a restaurant and coffee shop who will happily cater to road-weary cyclists. Another alternative is of course to head over to the Rock Inn, which offers pub fare, while a third option is the Devon Tors, just across the road.
To follow Drake’s Trail from Yelverton to Tavistock, you need to cross the rather busy A386. Starting from Viera’s in Yelverton, head back towards Clearbrook (the parking area is a one-way in the opposite direction, so don’t simply cycle out, but rather walk your bike the very short distance). As soon as you’re past the last shops, you can start cycling again as you’ll find yourself on a two-way road. Head towards the busy road, and when you get to it, turn right as if you’ll be going around the roundabout.

Instead of actually entering the roundabout, turn left onto what may seem like a pedestrian walkway, immediately before the roundabout. You can see the path on this Google Streetview image:

This is a shared path, and is the official Drake’s Trail and NCN27 route. As you go along you’ll see a children’s playpark on your left, and soon after you will be at the edge of a car park.

Should you need mechanical assistance, Rockin Bikes is located just off from the far end of the car park.

At the car park the path splits, and you should take the left-turn and follow the path around the car park. After a short bit you will cross a road, and some 50 metres further you will pass through a set of wooden gates. As ever, do ensure the gates are properly closed behind you, as I’m sure you wouldn’t want to be responsible for a sheep or a pony wandering into a nearby fast and busy road.
Once through the gates you simply follow the path as it winds along. Before long it will turn into a downhill that will continue for a fair distance.
Do take care here – the path surface is sealed, but very gravelly in places and therefore not very accommodating should you need to brake quickly.
Before long, you will need to cross a road. Fortunately there are signs warning you in advance, and it isn’t a busy road at all. Once you’ve crossed the road, you will find yourself cycling on a road called The Old Station, in the village of Horrabridge. There isn’t any sign left of the original station, of course, but there are a number of houses. Amusingly, the last house is named Last Stop.
Take care along this stretch and ensure you don’t follow the dirt track leading off to the left. Instead, follow The Old Station to its very end, then pass through a wooden gate that is normally secured in a half-open position.
From here the track surface has been newly sealed, but for some bizarre reason they covered it with fine gravel after having sealed it. The gravel does NOT make for a very efficient surface to brake on, so bear that in mind.
A bicycle on Magpie viaduct, outside Horrabridge, on NCN 27 (Devon Coast to Coast route)
Magpie Viaduct
See also  Taunton & Bridgwater Canal traffic-free cycle route

As you probably guessed from the name of The Old Station, Drake’s Trail here follows the course of the old railway track that linked Yelverton with Tavistock. As is typically the case with old railway routes, there are very few steep inclines. You will pass over Magpie viaduct, which offers rather nice views.

Before long you will be crossing Gem Bridge, a viaduct that spans the Walkham valley. The bridge has quite a noticeable slope to it – it is downhill towards Tavistock. Do have a look over the side – on the southern side you will see a zig-zag path winding down to the valley floor. That used to be the official route, except it wasn’t half as nice as it is now!

Once across the bridge it slopes uphill, and soon you will come to a picnic area made out of granite slabs that once were part of Brunel’s original viaduct. The path continues to the left of the picnic area, and soon heads uphill again. At the top of the hill the path will curve to the right before turning left and joining the old track bed once again.

In no time at all you’d be riding through Grenofen tunnel, so called as it passes right underneath the hamlet of Grenofen, and in the process saving you from having to ride up a long and painful uphill.

Just be aware that it always rains inside the tunnel! Of course it isn’t real rain, but rather water that filtered through the ground above, but in practical terms that makes no difference at all, as you’d still get wet.

Soon after having left the tunnel, you’ll cross another little bridge, called Ashmill Bridge. This is a rather important bridge, as it came dangerously close to preventing the route from going through here. First of all, when they were still exploring route options, it appeared that there may have been a badger sett here, which’d have stopped the route from being developed and secondly, its listed status means that building a new bridge deck was going to be problematic.

The path continues in a straight line for a while, before curving downhill to the left. Very soon after it curves right again, and pretty much follows the course of Tiddy Brook, which indeed it crosses quite soon via another bridge. A few twists and turns later and you will meet a road. This is Anderton Lane, and it means you have now reached Tavistock.

Cross Anderton Lane into the residential road in front of you, called Buzzard Road, and turn right almost immediately after into Woodpecker Way. Follow Woodpecker Way until you get to a short traffic-free link with Old Oak Road. This is signed NCN27. A short ride on Old Oak Road (literally a football pitch length) brings you to a short traffic-free section that links with Hazel Road, and you must turn left here to take it. Again, it is signed NCN27, though not very clearly.

At the end of Hazel Road, turn left onto Hawthorn Road, then almost immediately turn right onto the traffic-free section that takes you all the way to Plymouth Road. Plymouth Road is the A386 and is busy, but the traffic-free section takes you to a toucan crossing where you can safely cross to ride past Lidl on the shared path on the other side of the road. Should you prefer to ride on the road, you can of course simply turn right on Plymouth Road and follow it the short distance to the roundabout.

The roundabout is normally busy, as it is the main entrance to the local Morrisons. The cycle path crosses the entrance to and exit from Morrisons, then skirts the very edge of the car park, before leading you via a connecting path to the car park of West Devon Business Park.

Continue straight ahead with the road to the T-junction, where you must turn right, but keep your speed down as the cycle path turning is very close. You will notice the road narrows a bit, and there is a “Cycle Track” sign. Turn left immediately after the sign, and cross the bridge. From here on you will be cycling on a shared use path, so do watch out for pedestrians.

The path will take you past some sports fields, after which you must cross a road, before continuing along the shared use path. This path is lit at night, but you will see signs stating the lights are turned off at midnight – energy saving in action!
The path curves around the back of the local secondary school. Just as it starts running quite close to some school buildings, the path splits.

One option is to proceed straight on, with the other allowing you to turn off to the left. Go straight, unless you aim to cycle through Tavistock and on to Lydford, or further.

Cycling straight on is the route that takes you into Tavistock’s town centre, and is my preferred option even when I intend to ride on past Tavistock. You’ll pass underneath a busy road, using the wide and open underpass, before finding yourself in a beautiful park. Simply cycle straight ahead, as the path follows the course of the river Tavy.

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