Russ and I have been planning to ride a Devon coast to coast route since 2018, apathy stopped us doing it that year and in 2019. A global pandemic stopped us doing it since, so while out on a ride I messaged Russ and asked if he had any annual leave left to take off from work. He said he’d booked a few days what was my plan? I said lets do the Devon C2C now before we make an excuse not to do it again.
However, this wasn’t Spring or Summer, this was the end of February and on a Monday after a weekend of property damaging winds. The start would find us enduring a new storm named (who approves these names?) Franklin! Franklin was forecast to bring winds gusting up to 70mph all day. It was going to be character building at the very least. The route would take us from Ilfracombe on in the North to Plymouth in the South.
We drove down to Ilfracombe on the North Devon coast early on the Monday morning. February might have been a drawback weather wise but parking fees were ridiculously cheap. £3.70 for 2 days parking! times that by 10 if we’d done this ride in April. We pedaled down to the beach but there was no way I was getting near that sea! foam was blowing off it and if you watch the video you’ll hear, or rather you won’t hear me because the wind was so strong!
After a steep pull up out of Ilfracombe we got to the estuary and things got a lot easier. A tail wind pushed us down to Barnstaple on the River Taw where things suddenly got serious. We crossed the estuary bridge and went head on into near constant 60mph winds. Although we were riding side by side just a few centimeters apart the wind noise was so loud we couldn’t hear each other speak. Not that we were able to anyway, open your mouth and your breath was taken away immediately. That estuary cycle path seemed like a 100 miles long. We were almost in our bottom gear and near a standstill putting in as much effort as a Tour de France sprinter just to stop from being blown backwards! we’d only done around 15 miles of today’s planned 61 mile route and I began to think if it was like this the whole way there was no way I was going to have the energy to do it!
we carried on and thankfully managed to reach the lunch stop without being blown out of the saddle! The Voyager cafe was a little haven out of the wind. The outside benches had the added bonus of being in a little sun trap. we hoovered down our food and updated social media, as you do 🙂
calories topped up we turned back into the wind with some trepidation but apart from having to negotiate more fallen trees we started to move more inland towards Dartmoor on more sheltered paths. Repurposed railway cuttings are great for getting out of the wind. We just now had to be aware of breaks in the fence line or gate openings where the sudden onslaught of air would catch you out and blow you across the trail. especially good was that the route profile didn’t take into account the fact that the route had a lot of rail tunnels on it so the hefty climbs we were expecting actually were hundreds of feet above us as we pedaled straight through the hill on the flat.
The route that Russ had put together was great, linking parts of the Tarka trail and sustrans routes there was minimal busy road riding and mostly old rail line paths and cycle routes. The gravel bikes were perfect as there were a few muddy sections and lots of wind blown debris to negotiate. Thankfully we completed the whole route without a puncture. Both of us run tubeless and it wouldn’t be until the day after I got back home when cleaning the bike I’d notice 5 thorns in the rear tyre that the sealant had sealed around. thank you tubeless!
the sun shone all day but it only felt warm when sheltered from the wind. So after battling wind, lifting bikes through and over trees we finally made it to Okehampton and our stop for the night at Betty Cottles Inn. A quirky little place that had run out of gas and so had no hot water in the main building where Russ was sleeping but had heating in the annexe where I was. But they did have dartmoor ale and Scampi!
After a restless nights sleep, ironically I was too hot, we had a good breakfast and set off on day two. We didn’t have so far to go today but we did have a deadline to make. We had pre booked train tickets and needed to be in Plymouth by 3pm to be able to get back to the van. Today the weather was less violent but we did encounter a few rain showers and had to be careful crossing the many viaducts that passed along the edge of Dartmoor National Park. The views were spectacular though with rolling moors and the occasional Tor in the distance.
There was a little more off road on this section made more challenging with the drizzle we were experiencing. One section of fast disused rail line path was broken by a completely unpaved section of muddy singletrack accessed by a gate lasting only a few yards before going back via another gate onto the paved section again. Clearly whoever owned that land didn’t want to join in with the others and allow the cycle path to continue unrestricted.
There seemed to be more gradient on this second day and although it was rolling we both started to feel the efforts of the previous day of battling the high winds so we decided to stop for a restorative snack
Faces stuffed with pastry we carried on through very pretty countryside, over more fallen trees, dodged council workers with tractors either trimming blackthorn hedges or cleaning up debris (still no punctures)
Over some moorland following a very steep long climb we began to encounter signs of “civilisation” in the form of a golf course. Clearly they didn’t want a cycle path through their patch and so there was a lot of pointless gates and signs warning us not to stray onto the artificial countryside they had groomed, no danger of that from us! Then things got more and more urban as we reached Plymouth and the coast. Cycle paths next to dual carriageways are never fun but given that the alternative would be to be riding on the dual carriageways with the cars and lorries it was much preferable. then at last we made it to the sea!
Now all we had to do was make it across the city in school pick up traffic, find the rail station, find the correct bike storage carriage and start the journey back to Ilfracombe. It was touch and go but we just made it with about 2 minutes to spare. The two train journey was not uneventful though. The second train stopped half way back and became a bus replacement service, not good for bikes! we had the choice of waiting an hour in the hope that the next replacement was a coach and that the driver would let us put the bikes in cargo or get an expensive taxi instead. Being February at already 4pm and 54 miles of busy road away from the van which neither of us fancied the long ride in the dark so we resorted to four wheels.
After an “entertaining” taxi journey listening to the drivers tales of cyclists who had needed his services over the years (thank goodness Russ was up front so had to make conversation while I dosed in the back) we finally made it back to Ilfracombe at around 6pm. A quick stash of the bikes in the van and we headed down to the seafront for a chippy tea, Fish and chips never tasted so good!
Massive thanks to Russ for the route, i think out of the 94 miles only around 6 miles were actually on a busy road, the rest was cycle path or off road. We only had limited time and riding back to the car with another overnight stop would be a good alternative to using the train. Riding during a weather event made it harder than it would normally be as the route actually has easy climbs and long flat sections. It would be achievable in one day but you’d not have time to stop and admire the scenery and really take your time to soak it all in.
Now to plan another long route, Scottish C2C anyone?
here is the video I made of the route, it premieres at 1800 on 27/3/22 and it’ll give you a good overview of what to expect.