The route spans 93 miles from Ivybridge on the southern edge of the Dartmoor National Park to Lynmouth on the North Devon Coast in the Exmoor National Park. The route snakes through some of the remotest and wildest areas of the moors, visiting picturesque moorland villages, high Tors and centuries-old woodland.
With the prospect of a long winter ahead, without any adventures scheduled I set about planning the trip. You may think winter isn’t the best time to ride 93 miles across, potentially boggy, open wild moorland, and you might be right. But, I had the urge, and I didn’t want to wait, and I prefer the moors in the winter, they feel wilder.
Searching my favourite route planning site, Ride with GPS I found a good GPX file. Scheduling a couple of potential dates, I started telling friends and family of my plans and posting my intentions on social media. To my utter surprise, my mate Simon replied, stating he would be keen to join me. Shortly after, to my utter, utter surprise, Bud a mate of Simon’s, someone I didn’t know, stated he was keen.
We would travel light, spending one night in Lynmouth. The following morning, ride to Barnstable, where we could catch a train back to Ivybridge, where my van was parked. It couldn’t be simpler.
After a few discussion and plenty of bag faffing (I am a packing nerd), I had my kit shorted, but not particularly light, a daypack and 10-litre seat pack. Discussions continued for several weeks, which bike? Which tires? What gearing? What spares? And it went on.
D-Day arrived, with a 0545 alarm call, as I left the house the streets were peaceful as everyone slept. The morning was mild and the sky clear. As the sun rose, I could see it was going to be a beautiful day, as predicted. Over previous days, I had been keeping a close eye on the forecast using the Epic Ride Weather App. Link the App with your favourite route planning platform, choose your route, and the App forecast’s the weather for the whole route, nifty.
The drive ‘Upcountry’ collecting Bud and Simon was uneventful. As we arrived in Ivybridge, the moors loomed, high over the town, swathed in autumn colours and bathed in a wash of sunlight.
Despite the cold moorland air encouraging us back into the warm van, our excitement lifted, and before we knew it the bikes were unloaded and ready to ride.
Bud had brought his weekly shopping with him…
As we donned our kit, I noticed the boys carrying out a touch of “bike checking”. I was also doing my own and found the boys had brought out the “big guns”. Simon’s rear cassette was the size of a dinner plate compared to my “under geared” 34 tooth cassette and Buds was even larger. As the inspections continued, with some friendly banter chucked in the mix, it turned out my bike was a lot lighter, levelling the playing field on the climbs.
Our route took us straight uphill on to the locally known “Puffing Billy Trail”. The climb onto the moors wasn’t pleasant, but worth it, allowing us views to Plymouth and The Sound.
The “Puffing Billy” continued for a good six miles and was easy going, particularly with a strong tailwind, giving us an opportunity to discuss the day ahead. “Billy” gave us quick access to the moors “proper” and before long we were in the heart of the remote wilderness I love so much.
My Garmin soon led us away from “Billy” and onto the smaller indistinct paths that Dartmoor is known for. The going became slower with a river crossing and some”Hike-a-bike”, and our average speed decreased.
As the morning continued, our surroundings and terrain changed. From the vast open moorland, we transitioned through a patchwork of fields and into steep-sided gorges, with fast, loose, sketchy descents. The “fun factored” and our average speed increased into double digits. But, it wasn’t long until our first issue of the day raised its small but ugly head. An easy fix puncture, at least affording us time to eat and take a couple of photos.
The varying terrain continued, from fun “single track” to sheltered woodlands and granite strewn disused tramways. Always interesting and fun, but sometimes tricker than necessary to negotiate. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long until another little nasty blighted our progress, I had a near catastrophic shoe malfunction. The outer shell of the toe box had come away from the sole, how the hell?? Never in a million years would I have predicted it. After some persuasion and a lot of swearing the outer was reunited with the sole and held in place with a cable tie.
Time was ticking on, what with a slightly later, than expected start, a slow section of “Push and go”, and now a couple of issues and our progress was slower than we had planned. But, we were still having a grand day out, and it’s all in the spirit of adventure.
After a couple more rad descents, we arrived at Ponsworthy. Consulting Garmins and watches the harsh reality started to sink in, it was 1pm, and we hadn’t even ridden 20 miles. Given we had more than 70 ahead of us and we wanted to be fed, watered and tucked up before midnight we discussed our options.
- Option A, Carry on regardless
- Option B, Cafe stop for lunch then retrace our tracks
- Option C, Carry on, cut the route short and catch a train to somewhere
Option B won, and we took the most direct route to Widecombe-in-the-Moor, where I knew a good cafe that would definitely be open this time of year. Hungry and little cold we hit the outskirts of the village, only to be faced with a traffic control system. The guy in charge, and preventing us from filling our faces was pleasant enough. However, when he informed us our wait was indefinite and that the traffic had already been stopped for 45 minutes, we quickly went off him. The hold up was due to filming in the village. Gold Digger, a drama set to be shown in 2019, apparently, didn’t require mountain bikers as extras. Fortunately, we only had a 5-minute wait, and we were freed to feed.
During lunch, surrounded by coach loads of OAP’s out for the day from Plymouth, we discussed the plan. We deiced it would be wise to scrap our original, over-ambitious plan of riding the whole route. However, we were up for making the most of the day. Despite everything, we were having a ball, and it was just one big adventure. Our new plan was to head to Hammeldown, on to Grimspound and to the Warren House Inn, a route I knew very well. So, without further ado, we left the now stifling hot cafe and saddled up.
Fully bellies and steep hills don’t mix. But, with the plateau in our sights, we soldiered on. Until… Simon was off and pushing, he thought he had an issue. On inspection, we realised he was right. The rear hub of his new rear wheel had cracked, causing the freehub to malfunction. This was a serious, an unrepairable catastrophic, ride ending malfunction.
However, Simon’s tenacity didn’t falter “Its okay, I can ride on” he proclaimed. Bud and I fell around laughing, as mates do when mates are down on their luck. I knew what lay ahead, a lot more steep climbs and a very remote part of the moors. Then, as we discussed our options a loose spoke started to affect the integrity of the tubeless tyre sealant, and air poured out everywhere, could the situation get any worse…
It was decided to cut our losses and ride the most direct route, on-road back to the van. With a couple of cable ties secured around the hub and a new tube installed, we rolled back into Widecombe.
The strange sounds being emitted from Simon’s wheel as he rode uphill was worrying. As Bud and myself rode the infamous Widecombe climb, at around 20% Simon pushed. Passing a couple of workmen and the traffic controller we met before lunch, each sharing their unique style of humour with Simon, his seemed to be fading.
After a slow ride off the moor following main roads, we were soon back into civilisation. With Simon’s bike become worse we decided that Bud and myself would push on, get the van and return to pick up Simon. The ride back was uneventful, and before long we were reunited with our riding buddy. With the bikes and kit loaded up, it was time to head home for tea and medals.
The journey home flew by as we chatted about our day, shorter than planned, with a few unexpected mishaps but a cracking day out and real adventure.
Thanks for the company guys, that’s what riding bikes is all about – Mates, laughs and adventures.