“ I have never before, in my long and eclectic career, been gifted with such an abundance of natural beauty as I experienced filming War Horse on Dartmoor.” Steven Spielberg.

Cycling The Dartmoor Way

Dartmoor’s air is clean and fresh while birdsong is a welcome distraction. Many associate the landscape with granite tors and wide-open moorland but few realize the fringes are a naturalist’s paradise and much less visited. The Dartmoor Way follows the fringes with a journey that has much to discover.

I have cycled the Dartmoor Way twice, once on my own taking two days and the other was with some friends over three days.  It is a circular route 95 miles long and has a reputation for being challenging.  It’s worth mentioning that many sections are traffic free trails suitable for families. Living close to Ivybridge, I often cycle my local patch for day rides. 

Starting from Ivybridge I prefer to go anti-clockwise as it’s easier on the return journey when the legs have used lots of energy.  On my first tour, I stayed overnight in Chagford and this split the journey very well.  When friends joined me, our stops were at Bovey Tracey and Okehampton. 

Of all the images of cycling the Dartmoor Way, I like this photo because it radiates joy.

A car is not my first choice of transport.  I find car journeys are often tedious. My preferred travel choices are bikes for short journeys and trains for longer ones. Dartmoor is not so big that you cannot travel by bike and there are main line train stations at Ivybridge and Okehampton so is accessible from elsewhere. (The new Dartmoor Line from Exeter to Okehampton commences services on 20th November and will open Dartmoor up for car-free travel. Arrive at Okehampton, hire a bike, and off you go! More info HERE)

Bike touring requires a different mindset to other types of cycling.  For a start, bikes should be sturdy, and we cycle at an easy pace so as to be able to see everything. Coffee breaks and cameras are essential.

Every journey on the Way includes seeing ancient woodlands, crossing rivers tumbling off its slopes, cycling up many hills and living in a wild landscape.  The light changes throughout the day and with the seasons. Autumn is a great time as the colours are beautiful. The weather sometimes adds to the wildness so experiencing a hailstorm and enjoying sunshine on the same day is not uncommon

Starting in Ivybridge, there is a short stretch of main road to Bittaford where we turn left under one of Brunel’s bridges built for his broad-gauge line in 1849 for the Great Western Railway.  While railway goes above us, the Ludbrook tumbles underneath as it’s the first river we meet falling off Dartmoor.  The route meanders along minor lanes to Shipley Bridge, Buckfastleigh, Ashburton, Ilsington and Bovey Tracey.  There is plenty of time to take in the views of Dartmoor to the north and South Hams to the south.  Bovey Tracey might have a genuine claim to be the most popular town in Devon for cyclists because we see a mixture of those seeking a challenge riding to Haytor, families coming from Newton Abbott on the Stover Trail and those just going on practical journeys. 

The Way turns northwest to Moretonhampstead and there is a choice of two routes.  The recently opened family friendly Wray Valley Trail gives the legs a well-earned easy ride while the Way follows a longer and impressively hilly route via Tottiford Reservoir to provide a test of endurance.  Both give excellent views of wild places.

The route continues along quiet rural lanes to Chagford, Throwleigh, Belstone and Okehampton. It’s now 40 miles back to Ivybridge and much of this is easier on the legs.  It is 9 miles to Lydford along the Granite Way traffic free path.  After crossing Meldon Viaduct, it is gently downhill, but it is worth stopping at Lake Viaduct, going down the path beside it and take a short walk into the field to the east where the view of this viaduct is magnificent. 

After Lydford, there is an option to cross open moorland.  I always follow this and watch Highland cattle that often frequent this section.  Approaching Peter Tavy there is a beautiful footbridge with seat beside it, ideal for a snack and watching for a kingfisher.  Tavistock is a great place to pick up a pasty.  If pasties gave enough energy to tin miners of old, they must be good enough for cyclists for the final stretch of our journey back to Ivybridge.  The route is slightly busier now as we are on the traffic free Drakes Trail travelling towards Plymouth.  We leave the Trail at Clearbrook where we find another beautiful river valley and cross some open moorland and our final three rivers, the Plym, Yealm and Erme back to Ivybridge.

By Graham Wilson – A volunteer with Sustrans and joint group coordinator for South Devon group which includes from Ivybridge to Moretonhampstead on Dartmoor as well as down to Kingsbridge and Salcombe.  https://www.sustrans.org.uk/

Chair of PL:21 Transition Town Initiative in and around Ivybridge and lead its active travel campaign: https://pl21.weebly.com/

 (Both charities encourage volunteering.)