I’ve decided to take each of our tours in turn and share a few reasons why I think they’re special. I’ve started with Devon, and here are three reasons why I think Devon is a wonderful place for a bike tour.
You can click on any of the images to enlarge them, or you can view the whole gallery on Flickr.
1. The Scenery Between Dartmouth And Plymouth
The south coast of Devon offers cliffs, estuaries, and sandy beaches. We start our tour in a tiny little place called Bow Creek, just at the tidal limit of a tiny creek that flows into the Dart estuary. It’s a beautiful estuary, and a very scenic introduction to Devon. But once we get to Dartmouth and turn right, the really spectacular stuff begins.
About 5 miles down the coast from Dartmouth we find ourselves above an extraordinary fresh-water lake, a thin ribbon of water about 2 miles long, separated from the English Channel by a slender sand bar. I’m sure it’s full of interesting flora and fauna; I just think it’s beautiful.
At the far end of Slapton Ley we climb up a steep hill and make our way just 6 miles to East Portlemouth where we take a small ferry across the Kingsbridge estuary to Salcombe. This has become a very popular sailing centre, and if anything the estuary is even lovelier than the views across Slapton.
Our day ends at Hope Cove with views across Bigbury Bay to Burgh Island. Stunning.
I know I can’t keep writing that each view is better than the last, but perhaps the most spectacular view of all is reserved for the following day as we descend to Mountbatten to take a ferry to the Barbican in Plymouth, from where the Pilgrim Fathers left in 1620. Plymouth lies close to the mouth of the River Tamar. It’s been a major naval port for hundreds of years, and some of the architecture associated with Plymouth’s naval heritage makes this probably my favourite view of our whole week in Devon.
The Chain Gang cycles through some of the most notably beautiful regions of Europe, including Provence and Tuscany. This stretch of the south coast of Devon, from Dartmouth to Plymouth, can hold its own in any beauty contest.
In the centre of Devon is an area of moorland called Dartmoor, 368 square miles of granite upland designated as a National Park. Not exactly mountainous, the highest point is just over 2,000 feet, but the most distinctive characteristics are the rocky outcrops, or ‘Tors’, on the top of each hill, testament to Dartmoor’s volcanic origins.
The lovely thing about cycling on Dartmoor is that several times during our week we’re cycling across open moorland. There are ancient tin and copper mines, leats for the transportation of water, but overwhelmingly this is a rugged, wild environment and it’s a pleasure to cycle within it.
The highlights for me are the ancient iron-age village of Grimspound, and the wild ponies that roam around. They let you get quite close, and can even be stroked if you’re patient enough, even with foals around. But although Grimspound and the wild ponies are special, I just love the feeling that we’re cycling across open moorland.
3. Our Pubs
Everyone knows about Britain’s pubs. I’ve never really understood why they haven’t taken off all over the world; they’re such wonderful places. Well, the best ones are, and in Devon we have some of the best ones. We even stay in two pubs.
The Waterman’s Arms in Bow Creek might just be the most picturesque setting for any pub in the whole country. Key to whether a pub is ‘good’ or not is whether they offer a selection of ‘Real Ales’. But for us we need them to serve excellent food and to look after us as a hotel would, too. Rob and Jane run the Waterman’s, and Rob’s a keen promoter of local food. It’s excellent, and some of the meats and cheeses have travelled literally yards rather than miles.
Near the end of our week we’re in Chagford, an ancient Stannary town (three towns in Devon that were granted the monopoly on the mining and essaying of tin dating back to 1305). Chagford lies just within the Dartmoor National Park and has become very fashionable in recent years. The Globe is a lovely pub that also offers a good restaurant and doubles a hotel. Pubs like this are the Holy Grail for us, a nice hotel, and full of character, beautifully kept, that serves very, very local food … and has a pub in it serving great beer.
We can’t stay at most pubs – most pubs don’t have any rooms, let alone nice rooms. But The Waterman’s Arms and The Globe Inn are two wonderful examples of a great British institution, and I think they’re reason enough on their own to visit Devon.