January 12, 2024
Destination: Devon & Cornwall
In this article
Best Devon Cycling Routes
The county of Devon is a paradise for cyclists. With its picturesque, rolling hills, scenic coastline and miles upon miles of quiet country lanes, byways and car-free routes, Devon offers some of the best cycling in England.
For international visitors searching for an England biking tour, it’s certainly worth adding Devon to your shortlist. Away from the small, bustling cities of Exeter and Plymouth (which are worth a visit in their own right), cyclists can easily find themselves whiling away many happy hours in the saddle.
Devon ranks has the tenth lowest population density of England’s 48 counties, so it’s easy to find yourself off the beaten track, immersed in nature.
Away from the flatter, car-free routes, it should be said that Devon is hilly. Whether it’s diving down into coastal villages or spinning up gentler hills in Dartmoor, cyclists coming to Devon should be prepared for at least some hill climbing.
Devonians, with their striking ‘west country’ accent, are known for being friendly and welcoming. And so if your post bike ride needs include an authentic local pub or more luxurious lodgings Devon can cater to the tastes of all travellers. Speaking of which, no trip to Devon would be complete without a cream tea or a pasty!
Drawing upon our experience of organising and running some of the best trips in the region, we’ve created this guide to the best cycling routes in Devon.
Devon Coast to Coast
The Devon Coast to Coast cycle route is a 99-mile trail that takes you from the north coast of Devon to the south coast. The Devon Coast to Coast is sometimes referred to as National Cycle Route (NCN) 27.
The route isn’t for the faint-hearted, due to its elevation – around 6000ft in total over the whole distance. As such, the route is more suited to experienced riders, some of whom like to complete it in as little as a day. With those steep climbs, it’s the ideal riding country for an electric bike.
That said, the Devon Coast to Coast does sections or all of the Tarka Trail, the Granite Way and Drake’s Trail – other Devon cycling routes which we discuss in greater detail later in this article. These waymarked routes are flatter and devoid of road traffic, so they provide welcome respite for weary legs.
Starting from Ilfracombe on the north coast and ending at the seaside town of Plymouth on the south coast (or the reverse if you cycle from south to north), the Devon Coast to Coast cycling trail skirts Dartmoor National Park, where you can enjoy stunning views of the moors, forests, and rivers. Along the way, you can also visit some historic landmarks, such as the medieval town of Okehampton and Buckfast Abbey in Buckfastleigh.
The Devon coast to coast also makes up a leg of the Eurovelo 1 cycling route, a 7000-mile odyssey that starts in Portugal, and traverses France, England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland and Norway. Now there’s a ride of a lifetime.
Being an end-to-end route, it’s worth considering your onward travel requirements when taking on the Devon coast to coast. The train stations in Barnstaple (North) and Plymouth (South) are perhaps the best two options.
The Tarka Trail
The Tarka Trail is a 180-mile route that stretches across North Devon – but not all of it is navigable by bike. The part that can be cycled (roughly 30 miles), is a focal point for our 6-day Guided Devon and Cornwall cycling tour and is mostly traffic-free and flat. This makes it ideal for beginner riders or those returning to the bike after a spell on the sidelines.
The biking trail runs along some old railway tracks, following the natural curves of North Devon’s two main rivers – the River Taw and the River Torridge.
The Tarka Trail is named after the famous novel ‘Tarka the Otter’ by Henry Williamson and offers a fantastic opportunity to explore the stunning landscapes and wildlife of North Devon.
The cycling section of the Tarka Trail starts from Braunton and passes through the towns of Barnstaple, Bideford, and Great Torrington before ending at Meeth, near Okehampton. Passing through beautiful woodlands, fields, and river valleys, going by bike is arguably the best way to enjoy the stunning views of the North Devon countryside.
Along the way, you can also visit some charming villages and historic landmarks, such as the Tarka Pottery in Great Torrington and the Tarka Country Park in Barnstaple.
If you plan to ride The Tarka Trail from north to south, it’s possible to extend the route to the small train station at Eggesford. From here you can catch a train back north, to Barnstaple, to easily return to your start point. There’s a train every hour or so and the return journey takes around 45 minutes. Bikes are carried on Great Western trains on a first come, first served basis.
Exe Estuary Trail
If riding alongside a river is your cup of tea, then take a closer look at the Exe Estuary Trail. This 26-mile route, on the south coast of Devon, bimbles along both sides of the Exe Estuary delivering unrivalled views of the estuary, its wildlife and its ongoings.
The Exe Estuary Trail starts from the historic town of Exmouth and ends at the picturesque village of Dawlish Warren. The trail takes you through some charming villages and towns, such as Topsham where you can pause to enjoy some food and drink. Along the way, you can also visit some historic landmarks, such as Powderham Castle and as you touch the city of Exeter, it’s magnificent Cathedral.
There are several boat crossings on the estuary, should you wish to shorten your route. But do be aware many of the ferry operators won’t allow bikes on board.
Short, but sweet, the Granite Way is an 11-mile cycling route that takes you through the stunning Dartmoor National Park. This trail features on our off-road cycle tour of Devon.
The Granite Way starts from the town of Okehampton and ends near to the village Lydford. The trail takes you through some stunning landscapes, such as the Meldon Viaduct and the Lydford Gorge. If geology is your thing, then the name of the trail will give you a clue as to its selling point.
Drake’s Trail is a 21-mile cycling route that takes you from Plymouth to Tavistock. This trail offers some of the most stunning views of the Tamar Valley and the Dartmoor National Park. The trail is mostly traffic-free and flat, making it ideal for beginners and families.
Drake’s Trail starts from the historic town of Plymouth and passes through the beautiful countryside of Devon. The trail takes you through some charming villages and towns, such as Yelverton and Horrabridge, where you can enjoy some great food and drink. Along the way, you can also visit some historic landmarks, such as the Buckland Abbey and the Morwellham Quay.
The trail is named after Sir Francis Drake, the famous English seafarer and explorer. The route also includes the Gem Bridge, a bridge that spans the River Walkham and the Grenofen and Shaugh Tunnels where we’d encourage a ‘Hellooooooo’ or ‘Echooo’’ as you ride through!
The Shaugh tunnel has links to another famous Englishman, Isambard Kingdom Brunel the prolific civil engineer.
The Dartmoor Way
Last on our list of the best cycling routes in Devon is The Dartmoor Way, a complete circumnavigation of Dartmoor. Cyclists can choose to tackle it either clockwise or anticlockwise and of course being a circular route, you can choose where to start. Whichever way you go and wherever you start, this route is a doozy.
The Dartmoor Way takes cyclists through a varied landscape. From the classic Devon country lanes, where hedges tower over you to high, moorland roads with far-reaching views.
The trail takes you through some charming villages and towns, so there’s always somewhere to refill your bottles or fuel up for the next leg of the ride. Villages on the route like Chagford and Moretonhampstead are worth stopping at, only if it’s just to sit on a bench, much a sandwich and watch the world go by.
For cyclists with plenty of time to spare, Castle Drogo and the Finch Foundry on the route are well worth visiting. Castle Drogo is slightly off the exact waymarked route, but despite its somewhat ancient appearance, it’s actually the last castle built in England.
Other Cycling Routes in Devon
National Cycle Route 2
NCN Route 2, runs pretty much the full width of the English mainland, from St Austell in Cornwall over to Dover in Kent. The Devon leg of the route is a doozy and features the Exe Estuary, which we covered in detail above. There’s a section missing between Dawlish and Totnes, but it shouldn’t use too much imagination to find a route between the two.
Looking for mountain biking in Devon? The relatively new Tamar Trails offers around 20 miles of completely off-road cycling. Family rides are catered for with the Mineral Railways Trail, another old railway route whilst more adventurous riders can take on the Wheal Maria Trail.
That rounds out our list of the best Devon biking routes, Devon offers some of the best cycling routes in the UK, ranging from flat, easy riding to something that bit more challenging. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced cyclist, there is a route for everyone. So, grab your bike and explore the stunning landscapes and wildlife of Devon!