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Ultimate Trip Runner-up: Ilfracombe to Plymouth

The mountains of Italy, the cycle paths of the Netherlands, the blue skies of Spain and the iconic routes in France are enough to tempt us all over to the Continent for a two-wheeled adventure...but there’s plenty on offer on this side of the Channel too.

This week we’re staying on our own fair isle for Robin BB’s entry to our Ultimate Trip 2018 competition.

Starting in Ilfracombe and crossing Devon to reach Plymouth, Robin and Chloe’s ride caught our eye for the beauty of the landscapes that they crossed, and for their choice of bike. It takes two to tandem!

 

Quick facts

Highlights

Cycling coast to coast and watching the landscape change between them

Length

160km

Terrain

Tarmac and off-road

Difficulty

★★★

When to go

Spring-Autumn

Why is it Europe's best?

The spectacular scenery

 

 

Overview

 

ultimate trip Ilfracombe to Plymouth cycling route map

 

Just as autumn was beginning to settle in last year, Robin and Chloe headed down to the west of England to sneak in one last adventure before the clocks changed and the country was plunged into darkness for the winter. They were after a coast-to-coast ride and, after some digging on Sustrans, picked a route that would take them from from the Bristol Channel to the English Channel via the wild open moorlands of Dartmoor National Park.

 

Having rented a tandem for a fun afternoon of exploring in the Lake District a few years previously, Robin and Chloe took the plunge and rented a two-seater for their trip. Was it any harder than cycling a a standard bike? Getting started was! The pair counted down to starting pedalling to avert any tumbles but, apart from that, found that the tandem was actually easier: they had twice the leg-power up the hills and they were close enough to have a conversation.

 

ultimate trip Ilfracombe to Plymouth robin and chloe facing the sea

 

In terms of difficulty, Robin gave this a 3.5 (of 5) stars for the hills but says that the 160km can be broken up into very manageable segments. He and Chloe cycled 35-50km a day, giving themselves most of the afternoon for two-legged exploring at each of their stops. Of course, with plenty of small towns along the way, the route could be chopped up into even smaller bites or...of course...tackled in one go for a long single-day challenge. Quite a big chunk of this ride follows off-road and muddy tracks and Robin would recommend good tyres to anyone taking it on. Aside from that, all you need is some determination to get up the hills and a mac in a sac - you never can trust the English weather.

 

The Ride

 

Waving goodbye to the north coast, Robin and Chloe set off southwards from Ilfracombe to Bideford via Barnstaple. By October it was a bit chilly for a dip in the sea but Bideford is striking distance from a couple of nice long beaches, including Saunton Sands, which also host surfing lessons for anyone who fancies riding waves for a few hours in the summer. After a night in Bideford, the pair jumped back on their bike and pedalled through rolling farmland to reach Okehampton. Robin and Chloe were staying in AirBnBs along the way and their arrival at their Okehampton bed was definitely the most random of the trip. They were picked up in up the town by a pick-up truck, had their bike put in a trailer, and after a bumpy ride over rough terrain, arrived at a house that was completely off-the-grid and home to several sheep!

 

ultimate trip Ilfracombe to Plymouth robin and chloe on top of a hill

 

Sitting on the edge of the Dartmoor National Park, Okehampton was the perfect place to rest for a night before a challenging day crossing the moors. Robin and Chloe had their next night booked on the westerly edge of the park which gave them the whole day to explore one of the UK’s ‘last great wildernesses’. This area of untamed countryside has 350km of bridleways and byways that allow you to fully explore its ancient woodlands, climb its tors, and encounter a few of its famous ponies. Pack your panniers with plenty of energy snacks to get yourself up Dartmoor’s steep hill climbs. Dartmoor is no Mont Ventoux but it still has a place in cycling’s history books having played host to the Tour de Britain.

 

ultimate trip Ilfracombe to Plymouth bridge over the river

 

After a day of stunning natural beauty, Robin and Chloe stopped off in Tavistock for the night before their final leg to Plymouth. While the countryside on the approach was as beautiful as any in Devon their arrival in Plymouth provided both the highlight and the lowlight of the trip. The lowlight? Arriving in the city after a few days of rural ruggedness and having to negotiate all the traffic and industrialisation that a metropolis brings with it. And the highlight? Making it through the metropolitan maze and catching that first glimpse of the English Channel as they arrived at a beautiful cove to mark the end of their journey.

 

ultimate trip Ilfracombe to Plymouth view of the sea

 

With lovely small villages, stunning hills and cracking coastlines, this ride takes in much of the best of the UK’s southwest. The hills provide a good challenge for the experienced rider but are by no means insurmountable for anyone with fewer miles under their belt. The route can easily be adjusted and cycled faster or slower, and the weather is generally...not too bad.

All that only a few hours and as little £19 by train from London. Go on then!



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