Devon Coast To Coast, aka NCN 27
This past weekend I cycled Devon Coast To Coast again, along with my friend Caspar (follow him on Twitter – he’s one of the good guys). I know the route very well – after all, I published what I genuinely believe to be the most detailed route guide available for it – but the route will never lose it’s appeal to me.
As per usual, I cycled in to Plymouth, to catch an early train to Exeter, where I met Caspar, and we took the Tarka Line to Barnstaple. That is such a scenic journey, and is worth it for that alone. Mine’s a full-sized bike, so I require a bike reservation between Plymouth and Exeter, but Caspar rides a Brompton, and is therefore free from such restrictions, as he can simply fold his bike and carry it on board as hand luggage.
No bike reservations are required, nor possible, on the Tarka Line, and instead bike spaces are assigned on a first-come-first-served basis. As is usually the case, we had no problems getting our bikes on the train and soon arrived in Barnstaple.
My fitness isn’t currently great, and I knew before starting the ride that I was going to suffer. After all, Devon is hilly, and with a laden touring bike, you feel those hills even more. What didn’t help is that Caspar had recently lost a fair bit of weight, while improving his fitness. He was faster, and lighter than me, and to rub some salt in the wound, was (as usual) riding his 3-speed Brompton.
We didn’t do a full Devon C2C, as that’d involve first cycling the 18 miles to Ilfracombe. Instead, we cycled only as far as Braunton (all part of my cunning plan, you see: with poor fitness, it meant I immediately avoided a fair amount of ascent).
We stopped in Braunton for breakfast, at a lovely little café that’s literally just off the route. I never even knew it existed, as I’ve always only ever cycled on through, but if you’re in Braunton, do yourself the favour of visiting the Wild Thyme café.
After breakfast, we set off, heading first back to Barnstaple, then onward. Cycle touring is a leisure activity (even when you have a racing whippet like Caspar along) and I was hoping to stop for coffee at Fremington Quay, but sadly they were only using single-use, disposable cups, so we cycled on.
Bideford came next – it’s a lovely little town, but there’s no incentive for cyclists to cross the river Torridge to get to the town centre, so like hundreds of thousands of other cyclists, we simply cycled on through without stopping. Well, except to snap a photo of some great street art!
The next planned stop is the Puffing Billy, which used to be the old train station for Great Torrington, but when we got there, we found it closed. Apparently, it’s due to re-open sometime in October, but obviously that didn’t help us much.
In rural Devon, food stops can be few and far between, and the next on on the route was Yarde Orchard, which didn’t disappoint when we stopped there for lunch. The food was great, and so was the coffee.
My original plan was to have supper in what I consider the best pub in England, the Back River Inn, in Black Torrington. The route there went through Sheepwash, where we stopped at the Halfmoon Inn, to wait out the rain. It’s a great, friendly and very welcoming pub, where we shared some laughs with the locals.
There are two, and only two reasons you’d ever end up in Black Torrington: either you deliberately planned on going there, or you got completely lost. It’s a lovely little village, but it isn’t on the way to anywhere. In our case, it was the destination for the day, or rather, the Black River Inn was. Sadly, many others also think it’s a fantastic pub, and as a result it was totally fully booked. After a pint of cider, we decided to set off for Okehampton.
The Devil died
Caspar grew up around the area, and has local knowledge, so he proposed we deviate from the normal route, to cycle through Northlew instead, a slightly shorter, slightly more direct route, but with a leg-burner of a climb. Of course, Northlew is the place where legend has it that the devil died from a cold, some say atop the church’s roof. With the devil having popped his clogs, it’s bad news for you, as now you no longer have the excuse that the devil led you into temptation, and you’ll have to take full responsibility for everything!
I was suffering at this stage, but Caspar was both patiently waiting for me to catch up, and ready to race up many more hills. Soon enough we hit a lovely descent into Okehampton, where our evening meal was in an Indian restaurant.
Our lodgings for the night was something special: the ruins of Okehampton castle, dating back to the Norman invasion. A note on this: after the trip, I learned that the site is managed by English Heritage (we arrived in darkness) and I’m pretty certain they don’t permit camping on their sites. I will point out that both Caspar and I are strong believers in the principle of “Take nothing but pictures, eave nothing but footprints” and we made no mess, damaged nothing, and kept to the established paths.
More importantly, trespass in the UK is (currently) not a crime, and even if we were discovered during the night, the worst that could have happened is that we would have been asked to move on. If you’re from English Heritage, and reading this, please keep your blood pressure down? Oh, and if you’re cycling Devon C2C, Okehampton isn’t the natural halfway point, but even if it was, please don’t camp on the castle grounds?
Okehampton castle is supposedly haunted. I love a good ghost story, but I don’t believe in ghosts at all. Given the 1000 year history of the site, surely they could have come up with a more plausible ghost story than that of a ghost being taken by carriage made from human bones – complete with headless carriage driver, of course – the 16 miles to the castle each night.
The second day’s riding started with breakfast at the White Hart hotel, followed by the climb up to the station. Soon enough we were breezing along the Granite Way, with a quick stop for coffee at Devon Cycle Hire’s café. Disappointingly, they (mainly) only offer single-use, disposable cups, but found a proper mug for Caspar, while I used my AeroPress Go! cup.
The final part
We didn’t stop in Lydford, but cracked on with the climb out of the gorge, and soon enough got to Brentor Church (or to give it it’s proper name, the Church of St Michael De Rupe). If ever you’re in the area, do make a point of going up to the church, as the views are spectacular. As for me, I’ve been up there often enough and was saving my legs!
Soon enough we had a lovely descent into Tavistock, where lunch was at Café Liaison – it’s a bit tucked away, and unless you know about it, you’re unlikely to know about it.
That just left Drake’s Trail – a 20-mile each way, gorgeous and mostly traffic-free route to get us to Plymouth, where the ride officially ended on the Barbican.
In reality, after our stop at the Barbican, I cycled with Caspar to the station, as he didn’t know Plymouth, then I had another 12 miles to cycle home. And with that, another Travelling Ouballies ride was over – probably the last “big” ride I’ll do this year, as winter will set in soon enough. I do have some winter adventures planned, so watch this space.