Devon Coast to Coast
The C2C in Devon follows National Cycle Networks 27 and 3 from Ilfracombe on the north coast to Plymouth in the south. The route covers 99 miles and takes between 2 or 3 days to complete. For the most part, it follows disused railway lines and country lanes and is therefore relatively traffic-free. There is lovely countryside to enjoy, both through the rolling fields of north Devon between Ilfracombe and Barnstaple and as the route follows the edge of Dartmoor National Park toward Plymouth. The riding is varied and interesting, passing through tunnels, over viaducts and along rivers. There is also a good balance between flat and hilly, and going from coast to coast provides a palpable sense of achievement.
We tackled the C2C from south to north over two days. We caught a train from London to Plymouth on the Friday night after work and set off on the Saturday morning. We finished at Okehampton, where we stayed at the YHA in town (we had booked the YHA on the edge of the Moor but changed after discovering a large group of schoolchildren would be staying in the Moor hostel). On the Sunday we took on the rest of the C2C, reaching Ilfracombe by 6pm, where we stayed at the Ocean Backpackers Hostel (very friendly welcome, although a little grubby). The nearest station to Ilfracombe is Barnstaple, which we passed through on the Sunday). We decided to cycle back on the Monday morning to catch our return train but it is possible to take the bus.
Completing the route over two days is feasible for anyone who rides regularly or with a reasonable level of fitness. We cycled 44 miles on the first day and 55 on the second.
Day 1: Plymouth to Okehampton (44 miles)
Day 2: Okehampton to Ilfracombe (55 miles)
Day 3: Ilfracombe to Barnstaple (15 miles)
ile mark, we reached the village of Lydford, where we paused in the garden of the Castle pub for an afternoon pint. Further on you cross the Meldon Viaduct, which affords spectacular views into the valley below, before hitting the town of Okehampton at 44 miles.
The C2C starts from the harbour in Plymouth with stunning views of the Sound as it hugs the coastal road. You also pass a memorial to the Mayflower, which set off from Plymouth to the New Worls in 1620.
After leaving the city, you then follow the disused line of the South Devon & Tavistock Railway. At the Cann Viaduct there was a viewing platform with binaculars from where you could watch peregrine falcons nesting on the cliffs. We watched the falcons for a good half hour and were treated to an aerial display where the parents drop their catch mid-air for their young to catch (apparently part of the training in how to hunt).
Continuing along the disused line you pass through pleasant forest, over a number of bridges including Gem Bridge, and two dark tunnels - the very long Shaugh Tunnel and the cobbled Grenofan Tunnel.
After 20 miles we reached Tavistock, a very charming town whose market happened to be in full swing as we arrived - perfect for some light lunch. After leaving town, you hit a big hill. From here, you are on the edge of Dartmoor National Park and the scenery continues to improve, in partcular in a lovely section after the village of Mary Tavy. Be aware, however, that around 1 mile after the town as you head downhill steeply the route splits into two. The route straight ahead is the main route. We ended up going right, and then taking an off-road path which we mistakenly believed was part of the official C2C. Our road bikes were not suited to the terrain, and we were cursing our poor decision by the time we reached back with the road.
Shortly after our muddy meltdown, at the 32-mile mark, we reached the village of Lydford, where we paused in the garden of the Castle pub for an afternoon pint. Further on you cross the Meldon Viaduct, which affords spectacular views into the valley below, before hitting the town of Okehampton at 44 miles.
Soon after leaving Okehampton you hit the biggest hill so far and the morning then has plenty of ups and downs as the route winds through country lanes. The forecast was predicting rain in the afternoon so we were trying to cover as much ground as we could in the morning. After a few miles the route joins the Tarka Trail, a long walking path which follows a disused railway line. The terrain is flat, although gravelly in places.
At 22 miles we came to the village of East Yarde, where we stopped at an organic cafe just by the trail. The place has a hippy-vibe about it and serves some good food. As we felt the weather closing in slightly we headed on - from here the route is smooth, flat and very quick, and we were passing Bideford in no time. From there you follow the water's edge to Barnstaple at 40 miles - where we took a late and long lunch. There are also a few bike shops in town, which proved handy as one of my friends had a broken spoke.
After Barnstaple and then Braunton the route hits a very big hill. It's possible to turn off onto the NCN 278 which goes to the coast and past Woolacombe Beach, which has been voted the best beach in Europe by some poll. As the weather was turning now with some rain beginning to fall we pressed ahead on the shorter, more direct route. The roads here are hilly, and each time we thought we had completed the last hill for the day there was another one around the corner.
The rain really kicked in as we began the descent from the hill toward Ilfracombe - here is was very fast, basically free-wheeling all the way into town. We continued down to the harbour for a photo at the finish line (54 miles from Okehampton and 99 miles from Plymouth), under the shadow of the Verity statue - a striking monument created by Damien Hirst of a pregnant woman standing on a pile of law books, holding a long sword while carrying the scales of justice, and with her pregnant stomach cut open to reveal the foetus inside. And why not?
Ilfracombe is a very picturesque and English seaside town with a charming atmosphere. For dinner - fish and chips, of course.
Here is a link to the sustrans website which provides more information about the route: