Moor to see by bike
PUBLISHED: 09:00 24 March 2014
Dartmoor's newest long-distance cycle route offers sweeping moorland scenery, gruelling climbs and giddy descents, as Wendy Johnson discovers
Swooping effortlessly down a quiet country lane there’s no doubt the heart-burstingly steep ride that went before has been worth it. Seconds later the fleeting joy is over and my bike and I are alongside the River Dart again, beginning another slow grind upwards. Such is the tricky landscape of Dartmoor National Park, one of most challenging and enjoyable places I’ve explored on two wheels.
I’m following The Dartmoor Way, a new 95-mile circular cycle route created by Sustrans, Devon County Council and Dartmoor National Park Authority. It opened in October 2013, fully sign-posted and ready to ride; impeccable timing as England’s first-class cycle routes and National Parks are about to be in the global spotlight (the Tour de France hits the Yorkshire Dales this summer) inspiring riders from across the world to bring their bikes into the English countryside along routes like this one.
I only hope they bring their stamina too. The first hill looms at Bittaford, just two miles in, but is mercifully brief and with fresh legs I make short work of it. Undulating country lanes through petite Devon hamlets make for pleasant but tiring riding, so it’s a relief to hit the three-mile descent to Buckfastleigh and rest in the grounds of the magnificent medieval Buckfast Abbey.
I long to linger here, but nothing fuels an appetite like hilly cycling and I’ve been told Ashburton is a foodie paradise so I push on. The delicatessen and Agaric restaurant both come highly recommended but I head for Ella, an artisan bakery so popular that it can sell out by noon.
Pretty thatched villages punctuate the route post-lunch. Lustleigh, renowned for its ‘chocolate box’ perfection is nearby, whilst the equally charming Ilsington, with a beautiful church at its heart, is right on route and close to Haytor - worth the short diversion for some of the finest views in Dartmoor.
From Brimley to Bovey Tracey I enjoy one of the most satisfying descents so far and plunge straight into Parke, a National Trust estate where I get my first taste of off-road riding along beautiful wooded trails, before rejoining the road - upwards naturally - to the northern tip of the moor and a weary end to day one.
It’s a pleasant change of gear on day two; literally as the first ten miles from Okehampton along the western side of the moor are entirely flat. Such effortless pedalling is heaven after the exertions of yesterday and great for admiring the exceptional views.
Meldon Viaduct sets a high standard with a tumbling mix of brittle moorland, lush pastures and silhouettes of morning hikers creeping up the hillside. Coasting along the quiet country lanes is heavenly and I quickly reach Lydford, a village that oozes Devon charm, especially on a crisp morning like this with church bells clattering out for Sunday service, smoke spewing from The Castle Inn and the unassuming castle perched between the two.
A guide to the ride
It’s a circular route but Ivybridge is a good start point as it is the only spot along the route directly on the main railway line. Tackle it anti-clockwise and you’ll get the best views, easier climbs and less challenging road junctions. Maps can be downloaded at dartmoorway.co.uk
Stay: To enjoy the area and make plenty of tea and cake stops plan to complete the ride in three or four days. Find cycle-friendly places to stay at bedsforcyclists.co.uk or book a cycling package with Mitchelcroft B&B at Scorriton. They offer luxury accommodation, hearty meals at the house or The Tradesman’s Arms pub, drop-off and pick-up on each day of cycling and secure bike storage overnight from £399 per person for a four-day trip; mitchelcroft.co.uk
Eat and drink: There are many fine eateries and pubs along the way but among the best are Michelin-starred chef Michael Caines’ restaurant at Gidleigh Park near Chagford, Primrose Tea Rooms at Lustleigh and the Elephant’s Nest Inn, Mary Tavy.
Pit stops: For repairs, spares or cycle hire along the route try Adventure Okehampton, Devon Cycle Hire at Sourton or Tavistock Cycles, or visit cycledevon.info
It’s a long and leafy climb past Lydford Gorge, a National Trust gem of oak woodland and 30m high waterfall, but here the scenery really belongs to The Church of St Michael de Rupe, balanced atop Brent Tor and dominating the skyline. For miles to come I’m under the silent, watchful gaze of this dark and moody church.
Bridge-top vistas are in abundance on the western half of the route, but the new Gem Bridge near Tavistock is the most extraordinary. It’s a striking design, like a spider’s web spun across the treetops, and gives lovely views up and down the valley.
However, for sweeping scenery the freewheeling section into Cadover Bridge and climb beyond is unbeatable. Tipping over the hill, my heart hammering with the effort, epic views open up across Plymouth Sound and the unique appeal of this new route is captured in one moment; wildly diverse landscape, jaw-dropping scenery and the immeasurable satisfaction of conquering Dartmoor by bike.
Why not try...?
High Moorland Link is a brand new 27-mile trail stretching across Dartmoor from Buckfastleigh to Tavistock. It can be tackled on its own for a taste of rugged moorland cycling or as part of The Dartmoor Way, turning the route into a more challenging figure of eight instead of a loop.
This article was first published in the March issue of Devon Life. To get the magazine delivered every month to your home, subscribe at www.subscriptionsave.co.uk/dev or call 08448484217