My first bikepacking trip with a toddler
After nights spent in tents big and small, hours cycling around Torbay and an overnight backpacking campout with my friend Laura, I felt that our daughter was ready for her first bikepacking trip. She is crazy about camping – always asking to go – and much as she likes riding her own bikes, she is always keen for a ride on ours. So earlier this year, a dream came true when loaded up our bikes and headed for the wild camping paradise of Dartmoor.
Our original plan was to drive to Meath, ditch the car and ride the Tarka Trail towards the coast overnighting in a campsite in Braunton and spending some time exploring the dunes and nature reserve nearby. But as is often the way with bikepacking trips, we had to think on our feet after we realised it was August Bank Holiday (being freelance, I don’t notice things like that!) and that every single campsite in the area was already booked.
As we were already en-route and near Exeter when we realised this (Dave being on the phone calling campsites), I quickly hung a left and took the road up to Oakhampton instead. The small town on the northern edge of Dartmoor is a fantastic place to start a family ride having shops for supplies, cycle hire at the disused but very pretty station (complete with station cat and nice cafe), free parking, a Youth Hostel with adjoining campsite and more.
We decided to ride the Granite Way, a traffic-free route that runs from Oakhampton to Lydford on an old railway line. I’d ridden it before with our daughter in a trailer (hired from Granite Way Cycles) and knew we’d enjoy 11 miles of flat riding before we headed into the hills to picnic, play and camp.
Taking plenty of food is very important when touring with a toddler, less to ward off hunger than for entertainment purposes – all children love the ritual of campfire cooking or heating water for hot chocolate whilst outdoors so our packs were loaded with our daughters favourites, namely cup noodles, Babybels, tangerines, marshmallows and porridge. We had a lot of stuff; two tents as we don’t own anything big enough for three and three full-size sleeping bags as our daughter just uses one of ours with a knot in the bottom. We chucked a couple of beers in for ourselves figuring it wouldn’t make much difference.
After the obligatory faffing we were off, the little one on bike mountain bike riding the Mac Ride seat as she enjoys seeing what’s going on. A quick note on that: the Mac Ride is a great seat for shortish rides however were we to do anything longer I’d take something else as well, possibly a trailer because it’s imperative the child stays awake whilst using a Mac Ride.
The Granite Way is really lovely, not least as its flat in an area that’s notorious for its hills. There are great views of farmland and Dartmoor, particularly from Meldon Viaduct and with the weather being so glorious, we felt extra appreciative of our local riding. After the trail ended at Lydford we took to the road and cruised along to Mary Tavy and Peter Tavy enjoying a few hills on the way to Harford Bridge Holiday Park where we stopped to eat ice cream and admire the birds. I decided there and then that it was a place I’d like to return to – great facilities and a nice atmosphere.
But our plan was to wild camp and we wanted to stick to it (plus they were fully booked!) so we remounted and began climbing the steep lanes surrounding the National Park. Some of the roads must have been in excess of 15% and with so much luggage we were moving incredibly slowly, something I expected.
Once we made it onto Dartmoor proper, a headwind added to our efforts and whilst I was plodding cheerfully it began to really get to Dave, whose sense of humour about the whole thing started to evaporate. ‘This is meant to be fun,’ he kept saying. I actually thought it was but wanted to ensure everyone was happy and it appeared that continuing uphill into a headwind and going deeper into the moors was not going to achieve that goal.
We made the decision to turn around and ride back to the gentle Granite Way where we could stop and make coffee – away from the wind – and enjoy a bit more easy-pedalling. Dave liked the idea of picking up the car, reloading and driving somewhere to camp, so that’s what we did. Crazy, huh, but it pays to keep the whole family in good spirits on these trips!
In the end, we didn’t exactly go bikepacking in the strictest sense, we just went for a long ride with incredible heavy bags for little or no reason. But it was one of the best days of the summer. When we found a nice spot to pitch up, I couldn’t have been happier, no matter how we ended up getting there and our daughter was so incredibly excited.
One thing (amongst many) that I’ll never forget is how wild she went once we got into our tent (she and I were sharing a two-person). She had my torch in her sleeping bag (she is crazy about torches and head torches) and was leaping around, wiggling, jumping and giggling so much I felt like I had an insane glow-worm next to me. Dave was cracking up as he sat outside drinking his beer as our tent was flashing and bouncing so much.
Since we got back, our daughter has been endlessly asking to go ‘bike camping’ again and I’m super excited about all the adventures we are going to have together. That she shares this love of mine is such a dream come true – just thinking about it makes me smile!