Author: Steve Toze
Bike: Jones SpaceFrame, full Shimano XTR 1x11, Velocity Rims, Continental Speed King Tyres and an SDG saddle.
The Devon Coast to Coast has been on my list of challenges for years, given that I was born in Devon and have lived in Devon for the past 22 years you'd think I'd have got around to it sooner but the problem is there's always been some other challenge closer to the horizon. Opportunity brought me and my bike to Ilfracombe, the most northerley outcrop of Devon, one Easter weekend and with circumstance conspiring against me I decided to just man up and get on with it.
Whilst I was staying only a couple of miles away from Ilfracombe I felt the need to pedal all of the way down to the harbour to check out Damien Hirst's Verity statue. If you've never been to Ilfracombe and you're not riding the Coast to Coast then it's fairly unremarkable aside from the statue, especially out of tourist season. There's nicer places in North Devon and the first one of those was my first destination...Woolacombe.
The ride out of Ilfracombe is honking, it's a massive hill but you're rewarded from that point onwards with the Route 27 Cycle route, it's more affectionaly known in these parts as the Tarka Trail and it's a flat route that takes you out of the very north of North Devon and gently past Woolacombe, a great surf and camping place with an epic beach, and onwards towards Braunton which is really the nicest small town in the area. If you are struggling with your bike at this point then check out SouthFork, they have a great shop and Nick and the team are great guys. Fortunately for me the bike was a dream so I pushed on with more Tarka trail all of the way down the edge of the River Taw, en route to Barnstaple, then crossing the river and cycling all the way back up the other side, gradually easing onto the banks of the river Torridge which becomes your primary route for the foreseeable future. After about three hours I hit Torrington, there's a converted station on the cycle route that made a killer breakfast and I finished it up with a chunk of coffee cake. This wasn't a day for counting the calories as the rain started to come down I knew the next three or four hours were going to be tough.
From Torrington the route climbs, it climbs gradually in most places and less so in others but all of the time you get some pretty nice views and on a sunny day I imagine this part of the route would be stunning. Unfortunately for me it was wet, I had an insufferable head wind and a stomach ache that had already taken me into the hedge for an unplanned weight loss session. Morale was low and as I entered Hatherleigh my front tyre blew and the rain turned the dial up to 11. At the point where I was furthest from the start and furthest from home I began to laugh at my predicament, I dug a fresh tube from my bag, patched up the tyre and got it fixed, spending the next 5 miles riding harder than I had ridden all day just to warm back up.
Okehampton brought respite, Okehampton Cycles is on the route and saved the day when I threw my pink Rapha socks in their bin and traded them for some unstylish Seal Skinz that immediately brought warmth and a renewed sense of well being to my frozen feet. The bike was still fine but they let me top up my tyres with air and we had a bit of a laugh about my stupidity. I knew Okehampton would be the point where things got easier. Heading out of town I picked up the Granite Way, a trail that follows a railway line right around the edge of Dartmoor. It's stunning, the views are great and there's lots happening along the way with some massive viaducts and cavernous quarries. The rain also began to back off and as I left the Granite Way and pedaled into Lydford things started to feel a lot more like my neck of the woods. The road section around Brentor and onto Mary Tavy are great, the sun came out briefly and lit up Brentor Church, my ride into Tavistock was later than planned but the chip shop was open and they let me sit inside, I was soaked, cold and muddy but I knew I would now finish.
The last stretch takes you onto the Drake's Trail, through the Grenofen tunnel and over the epic Gem Bridge before pushing you up to Yelverton. If listen carefully from here you can hear the rush of the River Plym and it stays by your side as you plummet for home. Plymouth is ten miles away but it's all downhill. En route I bump into a friend that has pedalled out to meet me and spirits lift further, it's getting dark and we share his light as we head through Saltram Park and onto the last section around Cattedown, crossing the bridge at Sutton Harbour and on to a well earned beer at Rockets & Rascals.
The Coast to Coast is an undertaking, probably best ridden over two days but it can be done in one. It's a fairly flat ride, around 1500m of climbing which for Devon isn't too bad,
This isn't a route for a road bike, a cross bike would be ok or a converted mountain bike, some sections are still rough gravel and stone.
This also isn't a direct route, that's not the point of this. It is however a very quiet route, I hardly saw any cars on most of it. 70% is not even on the road.