Taking the chance to go cycling in Devon is like discovering a little slice of Heaven. Devon really is the county with a little bit of everything – beautiful coastal paths, romantic woods, idyllic countryside and traditional villages. All of this, combined with the warmer, pleasant weather that Devon tends to enjoy for longer than other areas of Britain, makes it the perfect place for a beautiful bike ride.
If you’re holidaying in the area and didn’t bring your own bicycles there are plenty of places that you can buy or hire them, and you can also enjoy the current vogue for electric bikes in Exeter and the surrounding landscape. Accessories such as child trailers, tag along bikes, safety helmets and panier bags or baskets can generally be hired, too. Don’t forget to take advantage of the wonderful food in the area – alternatively, you can pack a picnic to take with you, or find somewhere to stop for a proper cream tea along the way.
Here are a few suggestions for lovely routes in Devon, from charming trails that the whole family can enjoy to longer routes for those who are keen to explore by bike.
This route, which is 26 miles long, runs right around the entire Exe Estuary. As it’s along the river it’s mostly flat, and on cycle routes and paths. It’s mostly away from the roads, and offers beautiful views along the River Exe, which gives the city of Exeter its name. The route is part of the National Cycle Network 2, which links Exmouth and Dawlish Warren, taking in Topsham and Exeter along the way. The Exe Estuary Trail is particularly good for birdwatching as the Exe Estuary is not only a Site of Special Scientific Interest but also a Special Protection Area, where the birds are protected. You’ll also see a lot of other wildlife in these areas, and take in some very pretty riverside villages and towns, which gives you ample opportunity to stop for refreshment while taking in the scenery.
Who could fail to be enchanted just by the name of the Tarka Trail? The route runs through the area described by Henry Williamson in his much-loved novel Tarka the Otter, written in 1927. Little has changed in the landscape almost a century later, with beautiful quaint towns and villages for you to explore, both inland and on the coast.
In total the trail runs to 180 miles, so it is one to dip in and out of as you wish, or to do over a period of time, breaking it up with nights in hotels along the way – or even more than one trip to Devon! The Tarka trail takes you through many well known Devon towns and villages, including Barnstaple, Okehampton and Ilfracombe. Various parts of the trail join up with the Dartmoor Way, and you can also join the Two Moors Way and the South West Coast Path. It’s a particularly picturesque route, and offers diverse landscapes as you will cycle through worked farmland, moorland, ancient woodlands, over cliff-tops and by pretty streams, as well having the chance to look for Tarka along the way!
Drake’s Trail is a family favourite, as it take in the popular Plym Valley trail, which is part of a network of safe, quiet paths for walking and cycling. Named for the explorer Sir Francis Drake, the whole route itself is 21 miles long, and stretches between Tavistock and Plymouth, taking you through plenty of areas popular with wildlife, and also lots of sites of historical interest, including Drake’s birthplace near Tavistock and his later residence near Yelverton at Buckland Abbey. As well as being on quiet paths there are plenty of coffee shops and pubs along this route to keep everyone’s energy levels up.
No discussion of the beauty of Devon could be complete without reference to the stunning coastline, and this seafront route takes in just that. You need to factor in how far you want to go, as obviously it is a there and back route rather than circular, but there is no problem refuelling with coffee, milkshakes and ice creams to give you the energy for the return leg! You start from Sutton Harbour, and enjoy the flat, easy path on to Plymouth Hoe, taking in Millbay and Stonehouse before you get to the fascinating Royal William Yard. You’ll get some breathtaking views from the waterfront, across Plymouth Sound and into Cornwall with Drake’s Island, and see some lovely sights, including the vintage Tinside Lido.