20 miles there and back, mostly gravel
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This route incorporates a significant amount of gravel riding. Not quite extreme off-road, but certainly not easy riding all the way. Gravel riding, especially when carrying luggage on the bike, is considerably slower than riding on tar, and although the Redlake route isn’t particularly long, it’s equally suited as a ride that can be done in a day, or better yet, for the basis for an overnight camping adventure.
Redlake is on Dartmoor, in an area that’s seen human activity for at least the past 5 000 years. Just over a century ago, they started mining china clay from the Redlake area.
This involved digging a pit, with a growing spoil heap alongside it, and building an 8 mile railway to remove the clay to just outside the village of Bittaford.
The mine stopped trading ages ago, and the old railway has been stripped away, but the track bed is still there. The pit has filled with water ages ago, and it’s a nice spot for swimming.
It’s quite a popular walking route, though very few people venture as far as Redlake itself – well, it’s a 16 mile walk, there and back, which is far more than most people would do.
If history if your thing, the route includes a lot of that! Chances are you’ve never heard of a settlement
called Erme Pound, and that’d be understandable – it hasn’t been lived in for a few thousand years, but instead is a Bronze Age settlement, along the banks of the Erme. river. This route passes within spitting distance of Erme Pound, and several other Bronze Age settlements, as well as several cairns.
You will also be passing near the Upper Erme Row, which is the longest ancient stone row in Britain, and quite possibly, the longest in the world. The really surprising thing is that most locals don’t even know any of this exists, and most people simply remain on the track.
In places the track is in good condition, but in other places it is in dreadful shape, as you’ll discover when cycling the route.
The Start – Ivybridge station
This route guide starts at Ivybridge railway station, and I suggest you travel to the start by train. It’s easier than you think, as my guide explains. When leaving the station (it only has a single platform, so no matter where your train came from, you’ll leave the station in the same manner) simply head downhill, to the car park, then follow the lane down the hill. At the very bottom, at the T-junction, you must turn left, then just follow the road for the next mile.
The road has a painted, on-carriageway cycle lane, and it isn’t unpleasant to cycle along there. After a while, you’ll see an old, round, stone chimney to the left – that used to be the clay drying works for Redlake. As you cycle past the buildings the chimney is attached to, prepare to turn left at the very next turning.
Once you turned left, you have a bit of a steep hill ahead of you. It starts off not overly steep, but becomes steeper near the top, and it isn’t uncommon to see people walking their bikes up there. Simply follow the tarred lane all the way up the hill, until you get to a gate. Pass through the gate, but double-check you shut it behind you. After all, you wouldn’t want to be responsible for a sheep or pony wandering onto the road at the bottom, would you?
Once through the gate, the tar is behind you. Follow the dirt track straight up the hill (called Western Beacon, in case you wondered) until you reach the old track bed, where you must turn left. It will be very obvious when you’ve reached the old track bed.
Now all you have to do is follow the track. Remember, it’s an old railway route, so while it’s a continuous climb up to Redlake, the gradient is so mild that you’ll probably not notice you’re gaining altitude all the time.
It really isn’t possible to get lost along this route – just keep following the old railway. The surface will
vary greatly – in places it will be easy to cruise at 15mph, and in other places you’ll be slowly bumping along over sizeable loose stones.
Eventually, you will see a large mound ahead, and might feel you’ve reached your destination. That first mound is the spoil heap at Leftlake, where they also mined china clay, and you must continue along the track. You’ll know when you’ve arrived at Redlake, as the track will peter out, and disappear, but before you get there, you’ll need to navigate a stretch that’s usually extremely muddy and more often than not flooded. I tend to walk my bike there, along a narrow, and very uneven little path to the left of the track.
Once at Redlake, do yourself the favour of climbing to the top of the spoil heap, as the views are really good from up there – you can even see Avon dam in the distance. Just please don’t ride your mountain bike up there? I don’t care what great technical skills you have – riding up there simply causes erosion, which will make it harder for others to go up to the top.
Redlake’s a great spot for a picnic, and an even better spot to set up camp, and staying overnight. Just remember the golden rule of camping: Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints. My cycle camping guide has more detail.
As usual, here’s the interactive map: