Ilfracombe Promenade

Devon Coast to Coast, Day 1 of 3: From Ilfracombe to Okehampton


This is the 1st post of 3 about the Devon Coast to Coast bike ride that I did during Easter 2016 with two good friends: Fernando and Eduardo. For the most part I stayed on the National Cycle Route 27, but in these 3 days I can say I experienced what I can closely call, the best and the worst of British Weather. Although I would understand if people say that was nowhere near as bad as the weather can get here in the UK, the 2nd day of the ride was bad enough for me, but let me focus on the 1st day.

If you don’t like reading, please watch this bike Vlog where I give a good verbal account of these 3 days of bike riding:

On this day, Friday the 25th of March, I rode from Ilfracombe on the north coast of Devon to the town of Okehampton. According to the data collected by my Garmin 810, I rode 86.43 Km or just under 54 miles in 6 h and 16 min, but the total time elapsed from start to finish was 9 h and 22 min. We had to make long stops this day due to problems on Fernando’s bike.

Ilfracombe Harbour

We left the Royal Britannia hotel in Ilfracombe just after 7:00 am, had breakfast at a nice, family run, café near the hotel, the  Adeles café, and then went to get all the bikes out of the car, which we left parked at the Ilfracombe Harbour (at £10 per day).

With all the bikes out of the car, the next stop was the Ilfracombe Promenade where the video starts.

View from the Ilfracombe Promenade with the Landmark Seaview Theater to the left.

Now, before you go watch the video, let me make a few remarks, so you don’t get too disappointed at the start and give up on it:

  1. I usually use time-lapse photography to compress the time and the GoPro is usually mounted on the handlebar. This time, however, I had forgotten the camera handlebar mount at home and was forced to use the mount on my helmet, which for time-lapse is not ideal. There is a lot of head movement, especially in urban areas as I had to be aware of my surroundings. There is a limit for how much image stabilization can reduce the shakiness. It does get better on rural areas.
  2. In a few places the camera seemed to have moved out of position and recorded mostly the sky 🙁 Sorry for that!
  3. On the last 3 minutes of the video, as night fell (and added to the fact the time-lapse video was taken from my moving head) made the video unwatchable, but I decided to keep it anyway as a complete record of the day. Up to you if you have the eyes to watch it.

This video is a different approach from previous ones, not only because of the problems above, but because I decided not to worry about the length of the video (it’s 33 min long). I know most people watch only 3 to 5 min of video in YouTube and then give up, but I am assuming that if you are watching it is because you probably intend to ride this route also, so the more detail, the better.

Right at the start prepared to be challenged by some steep hills as you cross the town to get to the start of the route 27 cycle path. The path is very nice though, with some beautiful views of the valley below and the water reservoirs. You’ll cycle about 7 Km on cycle paths and then take right on Georgeham Road. From that point you’ll cycle on minor narrow roads (sometimes barely wide enough for a car) practically all the way to Braunton. Along the way, you’ll see some nice sea views on the distance.

Sheeps and Sea

We had to stop in Braunton because Fernando’s bike developed a rather serious disc brake issue, practically resulting in the loss of all brakes. Luckily the Southfork bike shop in Braunton was opened for business, despite being a bank holiday in the UK, and the entire hydraulic disc brake set was replaced.

View of Barnstaple from Long Bridge

It took about 1.5 h for them to complete the work which gave us enough time for some very tasty fish and chips at Squires, which I totally recommend. After the brake fault and the repair, we re-joined route 27 towards Barnstaple, one of the region’s biggest towns and the place we would come back to by train on Sunday. The ride alongside the river Taw is great and the path is smooth. Once you get to cross to the other side over the “Long Bridge”, you’ll continue to ride alongside the River Taw for several kilometres still.

Bideford Station, Tarka Trail.

The next town / village along the way is Instow, were you’ll pass by a 130 years old railway signal box on your way to Bideford. I found that after the old Bideford Station the Tarka Trail is really beautiful, with lots of old railway bridges over the river Torridge, such as the one where you can see the old Beam Aqueduct, which used to carry the Rolle Canal over the river Torrington, but is now a road bridge, and the Landcross tunnel,  which I think is the longest tunnel along route 27 (in the video above I recorded these in normal video, not as time-lapse).

Landcross Tunnel

You’ll then follow the cycle path to the old Victorian railway station of Torrington which has now become the Puffing Billy Trading Co. Restaurant, really worth a rest stop (even though I didn’t).

Puffing Billy Trading Co. Restaurant

The stretch that follows after Torrington is really beautiful and I would recommend that, even if you don’t want to watch the entire 33 minutes video above, jump to about 21 min into the video and take a look at the surroundings. The cycle path follows the curvy path of little rivers and creeks with some simple, but interesting surprises along the way. If it was nice during spring time, I suppose in summer must be even nicer.

She looks so sad… Watch the video to find out why.

After that comes a long stretch of unpaved, but nicely compacted, of the Tarka trail through patches of forest. The ascent is small (perhaps 5 to 8%), but is very long. At times it gives the impression you will never stop going uphill. If you are fit and not carrying a lot of load on your bike, it will not be a challenge at all, but after 60 Km and with some 15 Kg on the bike it may not be as easy as it sounds. Looking at my Garmin stats I still managed to maintain an average speed of about 15 Km/h, peaking 22-25 Km/h at times, so it wasn’t so bad. There are some interesting sculptures along the way, which appeared to may have been created by school kids.

After that portion of the Tarka Trail ends you are back on the road, the A386 and traffic can be intense. If you’re riding with children I would advise extreme caution or find alternative routes as in some patches of the A386 there is barely any space for a bike and no hard shoulders (in some places you have a stone wall right beside the road on an incline).

As I was using Google Maps to guide me and wanted to follow the path of route 27, just before Hatherleigh the app guided me away from the A386 through some back roads of Hatherleigh. I did ask for directions, but decided to stick to Google Maps instead (it is not always advantageous to do so, listen to my Bike Vlog).

Google Maps guided me through some minor single lane farm roads and that was likely the reason why I did 4 Km more than my riding partners that day, as they stuck to the A386. All the time Google Maps was telling me I was on route 27, though, and I saw the many sign posts confirming that, so I believe I kept true to route 27’s intended path.

If it was summer time I would have arrived in Okehampton still in daylight, but as it was early spring the sun went down at around 6:30 pm and it became quite a dark night that day as stormy weather was being predicted to the next day (the arrival of storm Katie over the next 2 days).

So for about 40 min I had to use my headlight and, as mentioned before, the video became just a mess of shaky moving lights.

Okehampton Youth Hostel

As you arrive in Okehampton, in case you decide to stay in the Youth Hostel as well and having done more than 80 Km, be prepared for a long ascent as the Youth Hostel is located in the old train station in the highest part of town. So you’ll have about 2 Km uphill to go, with inclines that can reach about 10% at places. Not ashamed to say I pushed my bike on the last Km or so and that is why the video was so long at that final part. I got the Youth Hostel at around 7:30 pm in the evening and after doing the check-in, safely storing my bike in their bike shed, having a little rest and a shower I had missed dinner time, but I wasn’t hungry anyway.

To finish the account of my 1st day I’d like to thank the staff at the Okehampton Youth Hostel who went out of their way to help us and stayed until late so that when my riding partners arrived just before 10:00 pm that evening they could store their bikes too.

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Thank you for your time!

Flickr Photo Album of that day.

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