You don’t have to be a Bradley Wiggins or a Lizzie Armitstead to enjoy a cycling holiday in Devon.
Despite being one of England’s hilliest counties, its new multi-million pound cycleways are paved, largely off-road and safe for all levels of cyclists, including families, e-cyclists and mobility scooters.
And, for enthusiastic bikers and spectators, there’s an opportunity to watch the cream of elite cyclists compete in the final leg of Tour of Britain which finishes at Haytor on Dartmoor on 9 September 2016.
If clotted cream and scones are more your cup of Earl Grey tea, there are plenty of those on offer, too. New cafes, farm shops and pubs have sprung up along the cycleways since they opened last year.
I hired my bicycle from Saddles and Paddles at Exeter Quay, on the 16-mile Exe Trail, the newest of South Devon’s cycleways. The efficient staff kitted me out with the correct size bike for my height, helmet, toolkit and map which are included in price (£15 a day). The shop also hires eco-friendly electric bikes that provide a helpful push if you ever run out of puff (£30 a day) – even tandems – and there are concessions for over 65s.
The Exe Trail, which cost £20 million to build, glues itself to the banks of the beautiful River Exe estuary, connecting Exeter to the coastal towns of Dawlish and Exmouth. It is on Route 2 of the National Cycle Network
I joined the trail at Powderham and kept my eyes peeled for birds and wintering water fowl, which inhabit this Site of Special Scientific Interest. Tall yellow grasses lining the pathway are used for thatch, I was reliably informed.
I couldn’t resist a nose around the quirky Turf Inn, with its timber clad walls and floors. Only accessible by bike, boat or on foot, the views across the estuary were stunning plus there were tools and a handy pump for cyclists. I was tempted to check into one of its two rooms, or possibly the yurt, but I had a ferry to catch.
The lovely part of cycling is the characters one meets along way. And ferryman, Mike Stevens, kept me entertained during the short crossing to Topsham with stories of the Guinness World Record for Underwater Endurance he holds – an incredible nine days.
Tudor cottages and Dutch gables greet us at Topsham, a former cotton port which used to have links with Holland. Pop into Route 2 Cafe, named one of the UK’s top cycling cafes by Cycling Weekly, for home-made burgers, cakes or a Topsham Mud ice-cream – its most popular flavour. If you are starting the trail here, you can also hire cycles and e-bikes as well.
I press on to Darts Farm, voted UK’s Best Farm Shop in the 2015FARMA Awards. It’s an Aladdin’s cave of West Country food and drink. There’s a farm shop, food hall, deli, cider works, fish shed and restaurant, so allow plenty of time to tuck in.
Back in the saddle, there’s just time for a beer at the Swan Inn, Lympstone, before I head towards Exmouth, where the wide estuary opens its beautiful jaws before me.
The following day, I head over to the 6.5 mile Stover Trail, which connects Newton Abbot to Bovey Tracey and will later be extended to Moretonhampstead.
The tree-lined paved pathway, which cost £7 million to build, skirts the historic Stover Canal and Granite Railway, both now disused. In its heyday, 1,000 boatloads of clay a year were transported on the canal from the Bovey Basin to Teignmouth docks; trains ferried granite from Haytor on Dartmoor to Ventiford.
We leave the canal and meander through the Stover Country Park to Bovey Tracey, where you can browse interesting craft shops and the Devon Guild of Craftsmen.
After lunch, I switch gear and enjoy a leisurely, but windy, guided walk around Dartmoor’s Bronze Age villages with knowledgeable guide, Inga Page. Without a guide, they would be so easy to miss. Here you will find Warren House Inn, the highest pub in southern England, where the peat fire has been burning since 1845.
The following day I join the 21-mile Drake’s Trail, which runs from Tavistock to Plymouth, at Drake’s Cafe, which owner Abbie Golightly opened a year ago.
Devon County Council had to buy three pieces of land just to gain access to the trail here but it’s nearby Gem Bridge that steals the show. Costing £2.1 million, the 200 metre-long bridge extends across Waltham Valley, opening up an area that had been inaccessible for 50 years. The trail, which is part of Cycle West’s Velodyssee cross-Channel link, will eventually stretch from Ilfracombe in Devon to Redon in southern Brittany.
Thankfully, I saved the best of my trails to last. A short climb to the 11-mile Granite Way at Lake is rewarded by spectacular views – rolling hills, pretty villages, and ornate stone churches. Time to get on your bike.
South West Trains offers fares from London to Exeter St Davids from £28 single (£46.40 first class).
The Lamb Inn, Sandford, offers rooms from £69 a night including breakfast.
Moorland Garden Hotel, Yelverton, offers rooms from £69 a night including breakfast.