I think of myself as rather fortunate to live in the South West of England. Perfect for cycle touring with being nicely placed in between two awesome National Parks; Dartmoor and Exmoor. With the bits in between filled with endless country roads and superb views from all directions. I have the luxury of heading in any direction for a cracking local ride, and if I want to go further, I hop on the train. And on this occasion, my target was Dartmoor for a couple of days chilled out riding.
Hopping out of bed early, I had that feeling of not being entirely prepared for this trip, which is completely out of character for me. After a busy week at work, I needed to get away for a couple of days, and instead of preparing the night before I did my best to finish my work to clear my mind before heading out on my bike. A mind free to enjoy the surroundings is always preferable. In a blind panic, I swiftly ate, packed, checked my touring bike over and said goodbye to my family and started peddling to Taunton train station. I had booked myself a short ride to a town called Newton Abbott on the edge of Dartmoor. No real plans, apart from a night camping at a Youth Hostel (YHA) in a town called Okehampton on the other side. All that was left was to pick a few points on the map to gently find my way across and explore the beauty of Dartmoor.
I enjoy catching trains. Not so much for work, but when on 'my own time' I especially enjoy daydreaming; watching the landscape whiz by me, I go into my own little world. Marveling at the beauty of Devon, I began to think about my mini cycle tour. Digging out my good old paper map, I started to explore on paper. Choosing to ignore the tight contours on the map, I started to think about my first destination. Dartmeet seemed a good a place as any I thought. With the River Dart Country park along the way, it seemed like a good place to start my cycling adventure.
Arriving in Newton Abbott, I maneuvered my bicycle off the train and then had the pleasure of up and down two flights of stairs. Thank you Network Rail! First task was to get out of this busy town and head for the hills. I had a rough idea of the direction of Dartmeet and after a brief moment of being totally lost, I found an unexpected cycle path by Jetty Marsh that weaved me around this local beauty spot and river. I was soon cycling along quiet country lanes and found a great spot to fuel me for the afternoon of riding ahead.
Did I mention the tight contours on the map? Funny how I always tell myself that it cannot be that steep a hill when sitting down planning. Wow! Dartmoor has some serious hills. From short and sharp to the those winding, never ending walls of pain! I found myself on a couple of serious climbs in Newbridge and by the River Dart that nearly brought me to a standstill on more than one occasion. I guess the 25% warnings were there for a reason! But were they worth it? Oh yes. The views across Dartmoor after each climb were amazing. Untouched landscape for miles and miles, with villages dotted here and there.
I never did quite make it to Dartmeet - I often find myself everywhere else apart from where I intended! All these hills were slowing me down and the realisation I needed to at least head in the general direction of my pre-arranged bed for the night. I could have wild camped, however I had booked a camping pitch for the night and wanted to make it before darkness set in. With my direction changed, I started heading north towards Changford. And it was much of the same. Hill after hill, followed by some awesome downhill sections. Speeding down 20%+ gradients was fantastic. And with all the camping gear on the back of the bicycle, I was maxing out at well over 35mph on occasions! I love my converted MTB touring bike for terrain like this. The position on the bicycle is perfect for me, making it really stable ride when maneuvering left to right whilst going downhill. And my Brooks saddle is well and truly molded to my backside these days, making the long days on the bike a real pleasure, even with my legs are burning from all these hills.
Mile after glorious mile, taking in all the picturesque villages along the way, and occasional stopping to make a cup of tea and biscuits with my trusty stove, I was almost at the YHA Okehampton, my final destination for the day. I'm a big fan of the YHA (Youth Hostels for those who don't know). They provide a great service to the U.K. with a good choice of accommodation. Don't get me wrong, they are by no means luxurious, and don't come with room service. But you can camp, stay in a dorm, or hire out a private room or varying sizes. You can even hire the whole hostel! For a £7.00 camping pitch I got access to the campsite, kitchen, lounge, games rooms, hot showers, toilets and for an extra few pounds they even cooked me up a breakfast! That is what I really like them - when camping you get access to the whole building and facilities. If you have never tried them, please do check them out next time you are our adventuring.
I got checked in and swiftly setup my tent and unpacked all the essentials. I'm getting pretty handy at getting myself setup these days - really is second nature to me. Next pitch along were a French couple who had made a similar journey to myself. Having caught the ferry to Plymouth, they had cycled their way across the South West and found themselves in Dartmoor on a little adventure. With my French being worse the useless and their English not that much better we said our goodbyes and I headed off into town. Hungry as ever, I went on the hunt for high amount of calories to replace the reserves after so many hills. The smell of meat cooking over hot charcoal soon had me won over! Not something I often see in the UK, especially as Kebab shops don't always have good reputations! Please to say this little restaurant were doing it a little differently, and if wasn't looking so grey, cold and miserable outside, I would have thought I was on my holidays somewhere exotic! I cycled back to the campsite in record time. The smell of what was dangling from my handlebars was driving my legs up the hill to the YHA entrance. Grabbing a plate from the kitchen, I swiftly devoured my food, trying not to look like I have never eaten before. But those hills had really gone to work on me and my appetite had taken over! Taking advantage of the facilities, I sat in the lounge and enjoyed chilling out on a comfy sofa for an hour, letting my dinner work it's magic.
I woke early the following morning to a reasonably clear day. Certainly no rain, which is always a plus point to us cyclists. Today was a head back in direction of home and take all day about it kind of day. I was under no pressure to be anywhere. I felt a little sleepy, stiff legs and strangely hungry after the day before, so I headed over to the YHA canteen to order my full English breakfast, before packing up and heading off.
Heading in the rough direction of Tiverton, initially I found the terrain pretty similar to the day before, but moving further away from Dartmoor it chilled out and the roads begun to level off a little. The clouds began to clear as I meandered through the quiet Devon country lanes. It was certainly a warmer day and I was in good spirits as my body enjoyed plodding along without a care in the world. Stopping every now and then to have a little food and firing up my stove for cups of tea. I was enjoying taking in the world at a slower pace.
My only real plan of the day was to head in the direction of Tiverton. There is a fantastic cycle path along the canal that leads all the way back to near my home in Wellington. This cycle path runs all the way from Tiverton to Taunton and was man made back in 1810. It was named the 'Grand Western Canal'. It is simply a joy to cycle along - mile after mile of flat, well maintained cycle paths for everyone to enjoy. It is an addiction of mine to get onto this canal path every time I'm anywhere near. Diverting to take this route avoids busy roads and allows you to take in it's beauty, plodding along daydreaming. Do check pay it a visit if you are ever in the area.
Returning home, I was pleased with my mini cycle tour of Dartmoor. I had achieved what I wanted to and was excited to head back soon to Dartmoor and explore new areas. I know I missed so much during such a short ride. But I'm fortunate to live so close and will be back very soon. Watch this space for future rides and hopefully some of you can join me!