This is a bit different: Bikepacking in Devon

I’m not planning on posting much in the way of non-Latin American content during this hiatus at home. But there’s no denying the riding in the UK can be lovely too, and even if time is short, there are still many inspiring adventures are to be had. So with this in mind, here’s just a few pictures from last weekend’s journey, a lightweight tour of the Devon Coast to Coast, via public bridleways and quiet backroads. You can see a full set of photos on my flickr page, taken with a Panasonic GH2 Micro 4/3 camera, in keeping with the lightweight nature of the ride.

This 175km ride, with 4500m of climbing, links the two Devon coasts, broken up with two nights tarping/bivying in the remote and rugged Dartmoor and Exmoor National Parks. It was put together based on the Rough Ride Guide, mingled with Chris’s knowledge of Dartmoor and Howard’s insights into Exmoor.

Jargon

Although nothing new as a concept, the term ‘bikepacking’ seems to have been coined relatively recently for lightweight, multi-day mountain bike trips. Minimal. Uncomplicated. Carrying only enough kit as you need. Travelling light enough to ride all but the most challenging trails.

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Rare blue skies and nary a hint of mist on Dartmoor. This swathe of moorland and tors -exposed granite hilltops - is situated in South West England, and famous for its navigational challenges.

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A long way to go if you run out of tea...

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The UK is blessed with public access trails that streak across the lands like a network of veins. Our pace was dictated by the gates to be opened and shut as we worked our way through the park. Each had its own character, some borrowing great lumps of Bronze Age granite to prop them up.

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Our first night under the stars was spent just out of the settlement of Princetown, home to Her Majesty's infamously bleak Dartmoor Prison, a foreboding granite fortress built to hold prisoners during the Napoleonic War.

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My companion for the ride, Chris, strategically bivying by a cow pat, while I kipped out in a Black Diamond tarp.

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7.30am. Sweet singletrack down mist-shrouded Cobweb Alley. These precious moments encapsulate the essence of bikepacking.

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According to Chris, dry conditions demoted this stepping stone crossing to a mere 'Level 1'. Wet moss and cycling cleats elevate it to a whole different ball game.

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The Troll in bikepacking mode. Nothing more than a tarp, sleep mat, sleeping bag, potset, food, snacks and tools... Life simplified. Over the last couple of years, I've come to realise that this is the kind of touring I enjoy the most: the liberation that comes from roaming on a bicycle that's light enough to be hiked when it can't be ridden. With all my possessions, it's rare that I can travel this light - sometimes even four panniers feels like too much clutter. Click on the pic for pop-up annotations of my framebag setup. Of course, you could just stuff everything into a rucksack, but I prefer not to carry too much on my bike. Likewise, panniers are an option, but less fun when mountain biking.

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Lots of local produce on offer to tempt us away from the trail. A change from the papayas and mangos of the Equator...

Some trail maintenance needed...

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I'd lucked out my first time mountain biking in Dartmoor - conditions were perfect. Come rain, and these grassy chutes are real energy sappers.

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Not quite the work of Incas, but impressive walls none the less.

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These traditional dry stone boundaries snake their way across the park, keeping livestock where they should be, and are an integral part of the area's cultural heritage.

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A beautiful mossy, stony chute in Exmoor National Park. As the least visited national park in the UK, we had most trails to ourselves.

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Tarr Steps, a 55ft medieval stone clapper bridge over the River Barle.

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Working our way up to Dunkery Beacon, perched at a distinctly un-Andean 414m in altitude. Our route took us through Exford, where we stopped for (fresh) scrambled eggs and (fresh) bacon chez Howard, Nick and their mini farm.

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Howard deals in recycled timber. This is his Unimog. A Surly Pugsley would doubtlessly look good leaning up beside it.

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The Yellow Box, programmed expertly by Chris, had done a good job of telling us exactly where to go, backed up with old fashioned Ordnance Survey maps. I really need to hone my GPS skills, as there's no doubt that for a ride like this, they really help to keep the flow going.

Almost there... One last climb and a ridge ride lay ahead, before an epic whirligig descent down to the waters of Minehead.

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The End, fittingly within eyesight of the fabled Butlins eyesore, one of a chain of British holiday camps founded by a certain Billy Butlin in 1936.

Captain Slow. From here, we rested sore limbs on the steam train back to Taunton, before heading home...

Kit List:

Black Diamond Megalite Tarp (Chris used his Alpkit Hunka bivy bag)

OMM Minimus sleeping bag

Piece of Tyvek for a groundsheet

3/4 length Thermarest

Headtorch

Riding kit

Change of clothes – cotton T shirt/lighweight shorts/socks

Waterproofs

Ground Effect Robin Hood long sleeve merino top

MSR Pocket Rocket

Alpkit Mytimug

A couple of days of breakfast

Spoon (bought for 35p as I forgot mine)

Trail mix, some dehydrated food and various snacks

Multitool, piece of chain, puncture repair kit, inner tube, pump, shock pump

Ipod

Micro 4/3rds camera, 16GB card, a couple of lenses and a spare battery

Everything fitted on the bike, but I brought a small Camelbak too in case I needed extra water or food. We mainly survived on pasties, flapjacks and bowls of £2 chips.

Logistics:

We drove to Taunton and caught an afternoon train to Plymouth – book the bikes as it’s only two per train. We were on the road by 4pm, putting in 40kms or so the first day, to camp just beyond Princetown in Dartmoor National Park. Day two began with offroad riding, then a long and sometimes hilly road link – some 50kms in length – to Exmoor. We clocked up about 100km that day, camping in Exmoor National Park. This gave us plenty of time the last day to meander our way to Minehead (via great trails and indulgent tea houses), picking up the last steam train (5.55pm) to Bishops Lydeard, a short bike ride away from Taunton, where we’d left the car. Having more of the day to ride on Friday would have meant a shorter second day.

There are plenty of spots to resupply on the way, and no shortage of pubs. Chagwell probably has the best on offer.

Wild camping in the parks is easy. Alternatively, there’s a bunk house in Princetown, or if you could push on a bit to the youth hostel in the beautiful forest glade of Bellever, which would set you up well for the one in Exford the next day.

10 thoughts on “This is a bit different: Bikepacking in Devon

  1. matt

    I have really enjoyed following your blog for the pictures and stories. Thanks for helpful route commentary as well. I wish you the best back in the UK.
    Still trucking panam southbound, so maybe I’ll see you on the road some day.

    Matt in nicaragua

    Reply
  2. soul

    could you tell me how to find this route as it looks great , i am planning my first bikepacking trip over the summer

    cheers

    Reply
    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      hi Soul, I’m afraid I don’t have a gpx file of this route to hand, as I’m not in the UK. Dig around online though, and I reckon you should find something similar for a GPS.

      Reply

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