A Redlake Ride

I’ve posted about Redlake before – it’s out on Dartmoor, and there’s a disused china clay mine, which left behind three things of note: a large spoil heap, a pit that’s long-since filled with water, forming a pond, and the remains on what used to be an old railway track.

The name predates the mine, though most people now seem to think the pond is the “lake”. It isn’t, and the “lake” part of the name refers to the rather boggy landscape. There are a number of rivers that start in the general vicinity, including the Yealm, Erme, the Avon and the Plym (which gave its name to the city of Plymouth).

Redlake is old, and very close to it is the longest row of ancient standing stones that we know about. There’s evidence of human settlement here dating back over 5 000 years, and it’s a wonderful place to make you realise just how insignificant we all are, in the greater scheme of things.

Starting in the late spring, I will again be offering some guided wild-camping trips out to Redlake, and I wanted to explore an alternative route onto the old railway, which incidentally is locally known as the Puffing Billy track.

I knew the alternative route existed, but wasn’t sure what it would be like to cycle. Remember, I was scouting for an adventure trip, meaning I’d prefer interesting over practical. The first part of the route out of Ivybridge goes past the college, and is a bit of a leg-burner, but at least it’s on tar.

You gain height rapidly, and your legs will certainly tell you about it. Soon enough, I left the tar behind, to follow a rough bridleway. It starts off with a gentle slope, then turns a corner, before getting steep quite rapidly. No, not Cambridge-steep – Devon-steep!

I cycled up the first steep segment, but had much wheelspin, and had to very carefully pick my way through. I ride with Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres, which are as close to bullet-proof as bicycle tyres get, but off-road they don’t have the same grip as you’d get from gravel or MTB tyres.
Though I managed to ride up that segment, holding the front wheel down in parts was difficult, and if I had panniers and tent on my bike, I wouldn’t have made it.

The track levels off for a short stint, then veers steeply uphill again, over stones the size of your head. I had to admit defeat, got off and walked my bike up there.

By the time I finally made it onto open moorland, I could feel it in my legs. The surface between that point and the Puffing Billy track became grassy (which is hard work) and of course was heading uphill even more, though thankfully at an easier gradient. Strava rates the segment from down in Ivybridge up to the track as a Cat 2 climb.

I was glad when I made it onto the track. It’s had some maintenance since the last time I rode it, and someone spent considerable amounts of time, money and effort filling many previously exceedingly poor sections with gravel.

In places the track is good enough to do 15+mph, but I wasn’t there to race. The views from up there are stunning, and only improve as you go along. On a clear day, you can see deep into Cornwall, as well as out to sea in one direction, while in the other you see deep into Devon.

It’s quite normal to encounter sheep, Dartmoor ponies, as well as cattle along the track, and I encountered all 3. Cattle kill more people per year in the UK than what dogs do, so you have to be careful, and not spook them. When there’s an entire herd straddling the track, you literally have to weave your way through. That should be OK, provided you do so slowly, and if there are are calves, you ensure you don’t go between a  cow and her calve.

To increase profitability of the mine, they opened a second pit, and that’s formed a beautiful pond, too. Some people think they’ve reached Redlake when they get to that point, but actually it’s called Left Lake, and the pond (in the photo) is called Mires Pool. Redlake at that point is not in view yet.

The track was well-engineered, and is a steady, gentle gradient, varying between 2% to 4%. Despite being a gentle gradient, you’re gaining height all the time. When the track rounds a hill, the Redlake main spoil heap will suddenly come into view. The depression you can see between that point and the spoil heap is the bog that gave the mine its name. It doesn’t look anything like a lake, but if you tried walking across it, in a straight line to the spoil heap, you’ll soon discover how wet it is!

Suddenly, the path will simply peter out by the rubble of some demolished buildings. When you get there, you’ve reached your destination. There are actually 3 ponds at Redlake, but from the point where the path ends, you will only see the big one.

It remains a gorgeous ride. If ever you’re in the area, do yourself a favour and ride out to Redlake. It is absolutely worth it!


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