Cycle Touring Adventure in Dartmoor
I think of myself as rather fortunate to live in the South West of England. Perfect for cycle touring, especially 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. 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, 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 as 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 manoeuvred my bicycle off the train and then had the pleasure of up and down two flights of stairs. Thank you, Network Rail! The 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 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 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. The 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. 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 manoeuvring left to right whilst going downhill. And my Brooks saddle is well and truly moulded to my backside these days, making the long days on the bike a real pleasure, even with my legs 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. They are by no means luxurious and don't come with room service, but you can often camp, stay in a dorm, or hire out a private room of 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 out adventuring in the UK.
I got checked in and swiftly setup my tent and unpacked all the essentials. I'm getting pretty handy at getting myself set up these days. Next pitch along was 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 a high amount of calories to replace the reserves after so many hills. With my food hanging from the handlears, I cycled back to the campsite in record time. The smell of hot food was driving my legs up the hill to the YHA entrance. 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 reading a book.
I woke early the following morning to a reasonably clear day. Certainly, no rain, which is always a plus point for us cyclists. Today I would head back in direction of home. I was under no pressure to be anywhere. I felt a little sleepy, had stiff legs, and was 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 began 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 fire up my stove for cups of tea. Life at a slower pace is what I enjoy.
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 is called 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. I love to find canal paths to cycle along. Diverting to take this route avoided busy roads and allowed me to take in its beauty, plodding along daydreaming.
Returning home, I was pleased with my mini cycle tour of Dartmoor. I had achieved what I wanted and was keen to head back soon and explore new areas of this beautiful national park.
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