A Superb Mountain Bike Ride On Dartmoor
I’ve now been living in Devon for somewhere in the region of six years and I’m only just beginning to discover the full extent of all the county has to offer. I often get so excited about travelling and seeing new places that I forget to appreciate all that I have on my doorstep. Actually, it’s not that I don’t appreciate it; I’m always singing the praises of Devon, it’s more that I get stuck in a rut and end up doing the same old stuff all the time. It’s an enjoyable rut – I like the routes I ride and the places I go, but it’s really nice to see your home with fresh eyes.
I always enjoy showing visitors around as it makes me think creatively and actually go to places I’ve been meaning to visit. Equally, it’s fun if people are up for taking me somewhere.
My friend Laura often rides with Yogi Cycling who run regular cross-country mountain bike rides on Dartmoor that take in some of the best routes out from Yelverton. As I live near Newton Abbot, my own mountain bike rides have tended to be more on my side of the National Park, up around Lustleigh and Hound Tor for instance, so I was keen to explore ‘her side’ of Dartmoor. I had no idea what to expect, other than the fact it would probably be pretty hard going if my past experiences of riding on Dartmoor were anything to go by… I’m thinking of one ride in particular that was so arduous and slow that it actually put me off mountain biking up there!
We arranged to meet at Avon Dam and as I drove up from South Brent, I was already excited by what I was seeing. The lane cut through woods and villages, occasionally opening out to offer far-reaching views that were very different to ‘my side’ of Dartmoor. It seemed somehow wilder and more remote, with vast expanses of golden grasses as well as the huge chunks of sparkling granite that are a signature of the National Park.
Up at the dam we saddled up and began by following a ridiculously pretty river with smooth, flat stones and shallow areas that look like they’d be great for paddling. Higher up, a short, deep, narrow section could have been the ideal spot for some wild swimming were it not February. After the tarmac section we headed off up a steep gravel path for our first glimpse of the reservoir.
Once at the dam we hiked up a little, looking for a track. Following a route on Dartmoor is never simple. Bridleways on maps are in reality frequently little more than vague paths so it can be pretty hard to navigate or know if you’re on the right track. Laura and I had a paper map and a digital OS map too, but still ended up meandering around occasionally or cutting through thick grassland, unsure exactly where we were meant to be riding. As this area is pretty wide and open, it wasn’t a problem as we knew where we wanted to go and could just follow our noses, keeping the water to our left. It just made us a little slow sometimes.
Once back on a proper track we wove our way through granite boulders, even the flatter sections frequently testing our technique. We forded a river and continued up to the ‘clapper bridge,’ only seeing the Neolithic stone circles and old settlements on the hillside once they were in the distance behind us.
The climb after the clapper bridge had an unrideable gradient so we hiked up quickly before joining a defined track heading towards Red Lake, eventually meeting the Two Moors Way and turning left at the marker stone. There were plenty of boggy sections that made even the flat sections very slow going but neither of us cared as were surrounded by such beauty. That we should have free access to such a huge expanse of beautiful wilderness had us both grinning from ear to ear and I wondered time and time again why it had taken me so long to make the journey to this area above Ivybridge.
The last section back to the dam was downhill and over too quickly, though not without both of us falling off several times – Laura sideways after her wheels were sucked down by mud, myself over the bars (twice!) after ploughing headfirst into bogs that stopped my bike from going anywhere, leaving me to sail through the air.
I’ve posted the route here in case you’d like to follow it. Please note that our initial scramble up the hill (away from the reservoir) is probably not the fastest way to get going so you might want to stay on the track that hugs the water. Having ridden the route, I’d definitely say it’s better done anti-clockwise like we did as the climbs are easier and descents more fun. The route can also be made longer by a visit to Red Lake. Whichever way you go, enjoy this lovely ride!