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Lush coastlines, endless heathered moorlands, dizzying cliffs – Cornwall and Devon have it all. It’s these very features with over hundreds of miles to explore which make the possibility of two-wheeled pursuits so exciting. There are countless cycling trails traversing the west coast such as over hill and dales (via pub) for off-roaders, Mamils or pootlers. Here’s some of the very best pathways to suit cyclists of all abilities.
Part of National Route 27, also known as the Devon Coast to Coast (a mere 99 miles, which encompasses other favourites like the Tarka Trail), The Granite Way is a scenic, largely traffic-free 11-mile jaunt south from Okehampton to Lydford. Carved from the granite massif that forms part of Dartmoor, it’s a relatively stress-free way to take in the sculpted and mineral rich landscape over the Meldon Viaduct and Dam. Mostly comprised of old railway line, it’s a gentle cycle that’s good for beginners and families. Once in the Saxon village of Lydford, check out the 13th century prison, somewhat dubiously titled ‘Lydford Castle’.
It’s not certain whether a mountain biking trip through Cornwall’s Cardinham Woods on the Bodmin Beast will give you a glimpse of the trail’s namesake – a gigantic, bloodthirsty wild cat – but it’s worth a shot. The blue trail is 12 miles of moderate, but technical riding. For an extra adventure for the very best riders, loop off onto the red section, which climbs the pain-making Hell’s Teeth and flows through the super-quick Dialled-In Dave.
This circular path, which links up with the Devon Coast to Coast, offers the full array of Devon’s charms; quaint villages, spectacular and spacious moorlands and wending lanes. It’s a relatively new trail that caters to the climbers and endurance riders, but it’s a satisfying mix of wild lands and ancient settlements to break up the journey. A stop in Buckfastleigh should be on the cards, for a tour round the Gothic Benedictine monastery, Buckfast Abbey. Just a sip of their infamous tonic wine, Buckfast, will be enough to power through the final miles.
The West Country Way, which meanders from Padstow all the way up to Bristol, features some of the most diverse vistas in the country. A section of this 240-mile journey on National Route 3 is a 40-mile looped climb through the back country lanes of Exmoor, a grind well worth the stellar views atop the ridge road. This route, back and out through Barnstaple isn’t for the faint-hearted, as only serious cyclists should attempt the distance and the ascent. For mountain bikers, Exmoor is a great place to learn and fine-tune, as it’s home to the infamous Beast of Exmoor race. Try the Porlock Weir or Lynton & the Valley of the Rocks for moderate routes with technical and sea view descents.
History and the future collide in the sprawling arms of the Clay Trails in the heart of Cornwall. The towering reminders of the prolific China clay mining industry are visible on several stretches of the trail, most notably between the Eden Project and Wheal Martyn. It’s worth taking the route that comes within sight of the glowing white orbs of the Eden Project, an indoor rain forest, carved out and cultivated from the clay pits the region thrived on in the industrial age.
Most segments in the Clay Trails are easy-to-follow, suitable for all ages, but for a challenge there’s the Carclaze loop and the St Austell circular – ‘hilly’ being an understatement. But from the top of the world is the chance to see it all, from the shining ripples in the St Austell Bay to the clay towers themselves – the ‘Cornish Alps’. On the descent, stop in at St Austell Brewery, one of the oldest in Cornwall to recoup some energy.
Easy, accessible and largely traffic-free, the Camel is an ideal family day out through a beautiful conservation area. Adjacent to the northern part of the Clay Trail, this level 18-mile trip is pastoral nirvana and it’s common to see some of the diverse wildlife species that populate the countryside, from otters and dormice in the Camel Estuary to kingfishers nearer the coast. There’s access to harder routes, like the North Cornwall Trail near Bodmin, capping the southern end, or head northwards and stop at the trail head to explore the sweet fishing village of Padstow.