Cycling via Exmoor and Devon: From Taunton to Plymouth
What is it like to cycle from Taunton to Plymouth via Exmoor National Park and the county of Devon in three days? In this blog we look at this beautiful route of 239 kilometers (about 148 miles) and give you a good idea of what you may encounter along the way.
Previously we wrote about our route from London via Bath and Bristol to Taunton. Whereas the route to Taunton was mostly flat, it is all hilly country into Exmoor and Devon. There is especially hefty climbing ahead on Exmoor, with some climbs on 10% plus gradients up to a mile. In Devon you will mostly cycle on cycle paths on former railway lines.
Just beyond Taunton, the climbing starts gradually, but you will notice the climbs get steeper and longer the further you go. On these narrow winding lanes, it goes up and down, which makes overall progress slow. This stretch to Dulverton of about 38 miles is very rural, with only some small villages on the way. You are lucky if you find a pub or shop open!
From Dulverton you cycle into Exmoor National Park and you have the choice between two routes. Most spectacular is the route via Tarr Steps. This ancient monument with stepping stones crossing the River Barle in a deep wooded valley is only accessible via two extreme climbs of about a mile, both with gradients up to 14%. The other route runs via the vast heath of Molland Common and features one climb of about a mile with gradients up to 14%.
Its remoteness is the best quality of Exmoor. Both routes have merged near the lonely pub Sportsman Inn. You can spend the night here in the nearby bunkhouse. Take a moment to wake up in the night, as Exmoor is a ‘Dark Sky Reserve’. The views on a clear night will take your breath away! The next day, the route takes you to the highest point of our route. The locality “Two Burrows” lies on 580 meters above sea level.
Looking down on the ‘lower hills’ of Devon county (still 300 meters high!) your descent will gradually start. The descent towards Bratton Fleming village will also bring some more though climbing, as there are a few moments you descend too much and you will be faced with another hill, albeit lower than the hill you came down on. Eventually you will be back on sea level in Barnstaple. Your arrival in this large town will feel like returning to civilisation. If you didn’t catch a night of sleep on Exmoor, Barnstaple is the place to do so.
At Barnstaple you will join the Tarka Trail, England’s longest cycle path on a former railway line. You cycle here along the estuary of the River Taw towards the beautiful beach of Instow. Then you follow the estuary of the River Torridge to the pleasant town of Bideford. From here, you can do our optional route to the Westward Ho! surfing beach on the Atlantic Ocean.
From Bideford, the railway path of the Tarka Trail heads further inland. Through the scenic valley of the Torridge River you gradually climb to higher grounds. The cycle path crosses the river several times and you will also cycle through a former railway tunnel. The cosy cyclist’s cafe Yarde Orchard is one of the few places where you can get a drink and some food. It is also possible to camp here or to spend the night in its bunkhouse.
Just before the small town of Hatherleigh the Tarka Trail peters out. Some narrow country lanes with some short steep climbs take you to the village of Sheepwash, where you can opt for our route into Cornwall. In this blog we continue to go south towards Plymouth. The lively town of Okehampton is located on the edge of Dartmoor National Park. It is a steep climb to the ruins of the castle and the YHA Activity Centre, offering all kinds of organised activities on Dartmoor. If you have not had a second night of sleep since Taunton yet, then this is the place.
On your third day of cycling the journey will continue on the next former railway line, the Granite Way. Here you cycle over the impressive high railway viaducts Meldon Viaduct and Lake Viaduct, with which you cross deep valleys without any climbing work. You will also have unspoiled views of the rugged heaths of Dartmoor National Park and the reservoir of Meldon.
Further on, you will cycle past Lydford Castle and Lyford Gorge, the deepest canyon in England with beautiful hiking trails. Also beautiful is Brent Tor, a weathered volcano with a church on its summit. Tavistock is a busy tourist place with beautiful monumental buildings. Then follows the Drake’s trail with the recently built Gem Bridge as true highlight. Here you will cycle on the same level as the surrounding tree tops.
The Plym Valley Trail is the last cycle path of this route. Once again, you will cycle over high railway viaducts in a beautiful wooded valley. It takes you to the city of Plymouth on the English south coast. Plymouth Hoe is its pretty seaside district. From here you can take the ferry to France or continue cycling to Plymouth’s station to end your journey there. Another time you can read about our continued route into Cornwall.
The described route part starts in Taunton and is a continuation of our route from London, Bath and Bristol. You can also switch from the train to our route in Taunton and Barnstaple.
The described route ends in Plymouth. From the village of Sheepwash, on the route for Plymouth, you can choose to cycle further west into Cornwall. In Plymouth you can travel with Brittany Ferries to Roscoff in France and Santander in Spain. You can also take your bike back on the train in Plymouth towards London or Harwich/Dover. In England, bicycles can be taken on the train for free, but not during peak times and depending on the capacity of the train. On some routes, such as Plymouth-London, you need to make a reservation for bicycles.
We do not recommend the use of any bicycle trailers, cargo bikes, bike trailers, etc. This is due to various barriers on cycle paths with tight corners and narrow gaps. You may also encounter difficulties on narrow towpaths, steep slopes and when taking your equipment on the train. Note e-bikes can only be charged at booked accommodation on the way; public charging points are rare.
The route in this blog is largely signposted as ‘Route 3’ and ‘Route 27’. Extra route options, such as the routes via Tarr Steps and Westward Ho! beach on the Atlantic Ocean, are not on the signposted routes. Furthermore, there are several times where we shortly deviate from the signposted routes for practical reasons, such as in Barnstaple. There is also no signposted route in the city of Plymouth to the station. To cycle the route comfortably, we recommend using our ‘London-Land’s End Cycle Route’ guidebook. This guidebook contains route directions, maps, cycling-focused tourist information and facility listings with campsites, youth hostels, B&Bs, hotels and bicycle repair shops along the way. Order your copy now and you will receive the guide in your mailbox within a week! GPS tracks of the route will be sent to you by email.
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