Devon CtC bike ride, (NCT Route 27) Ilfracombe to Plymouth

Present: Claire (organiser), Alan, Keyna, James, Paula, Mark, Marion, Dan, Andy Moss, Andy C

Day 1: Barnstaple to Ilfracombe (warm up ride to start). 12 miles
We all met in Barnstaple mid-afternoon for a very hilly ride to Ilfracombe, avoiding the showers. A very steep descent into Ilfracombe, but on arrival at the Ocean Backpackers close to the harbour, there was no sign of Keyna and James. They turned up about ½ hour later very wet, but no, they hadn’t got caught out in a shower, but had cycled back up the hill out of Ilfracombe looking for the rest of us, having gone an alternative route! The evening was spent in a pub by the harbour (which shall remain nameless) looking out at the rain. The beer was good, but the food left a lot to be desired. The sensible members of the group went to the fish and chip shop.

Day 2: Ilfracombe to East Yarde. 41 miles
A 9am start after a hearty cooked breakfast in a very good cafe and the first and only puncture repair for the whole trip. We didn’t struggle up the hill out of Ilfracombe as imagined, and were soon on a very good disused railway track. At the top we opted for the longer scenic route down to Woolacombe and the lovely off road 3 mile stretch along the back of the beach with fantastic views – the sun came out for this short stretch. It didn’t seem long before we had finished the hilly part of the day and were on the Tarka Trail along the Taw Estuary, back into Barnstaple and to a pub for lunch. The afternoon should have been a doddle along the flat Tarka Trail, but a strong headwind saw to that. After following the Torridge Estuary to Bideford, the route turned inland and slightly up hill until just before East Yarde, where our yurt for the night awaited us.

A night to remember commenced in the very hospitable East Yarde Cafe. There were delicious homemade cakes, hot chocolate and cider to nicely finish off the day’s ride, and once the rain commenced we ensconced ourselves inside the cafe for the night. Excellent food, plenty of alcohol, and a new house band to entertain us, we didn’t move far (Dan didn’t even make it back to the yurt and stayed in the cafe all night). Andy C, our newest member, pleasantly surprised us all with his musical talent on the piano, nicely accompanied by the house band on flute and sax, and a tap dancer appeared (direct from the West End stage), but not so nice was Alan and James singing. You just had to be there.

Day 3: East Yarde to Mary Tavy. 41 miles
After another fabulous breakfast, we were on the trail by 9.30am, some nursing hangovers. Soon leaving the Tarka Trail, it was quite a hilly morning on quiet Devon roads and through pretty villages, with beautiful scenery and Dartmoor brooding in the distance. Okehampton was just over half way for the day, and we stopped at a very nice pub for lunch. After a steep uphill out of Okehampton we joined the Granite Trail for a lovely off road stretch around the edge of Dartmoor. Then it was past the impressive Lydford Gorge, before arriving at Mary Tavy where most of us were staying at the Inn. After a few drinks, Mark and Marion continued on to Tavistock to their B&B. We enjoyed hot showers in our luxurious rooms, before a more sedate evening in the bar than previous, though the piano did get played.

Day 4: Mary Tavy to Plymouth. 28 miles
It rained all night and there was not the hoped for reprieve in the morning. We reluctantly set off at 9.30am after another big breakfast, and by the time we met Mark and Marion in Tavistock we were soaked through. After the climb out of Tavistock we joined Drakes Trail and cycled across the impressive newly opened Gem Bridge over the Walkham valley. Beyond Yelverton we got to the start of the Plym Valley Trail, which is virtually all downhill into Plymouth, and was a good boost to the morale, us being cold and very wet on this fine July day. Not so for Keyna and James though, who at the start of this trail took the alternative off-road track back up towards where we had just come from – luckily Dan had opted for this route down and met them coming up as he was coming down. Not only did they end up cold and wet, but they were now also very muddy! At the end of the Plym Valley Trail it was just 5 miles into Plymouth, weaving around the estuary and sea front until arriving at the Hoe at lunchtime. Some rushed off keen to get dry and on a train back home. Six of us persevered to find the official end of the route and took a soggy photo at the Brittany Ferry terminal.

Yet again the British weather let us down at the end, and for the fourth year running we have finished our annual Summer bike ride in dire conditions and keen to just get home and be warm and dry! But overall, it was an excellent weekend, the route is superb with fairly easy riding well signposted, great varied scenery, lots of villages and pubs along the way, and the weather did hold out on the other 3 days. This route will be hard to beat.

Claire White (Words and pics)

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