How does an easy, mostly flat and exceedingly pleasant bike ride along Dartmoor’s north western edge sound to you? Absolutely ideal? Yeah, I thought so. Welcome to the Granite Way.
Cycling the Granite Way is about as blissful as flat(ish) bike rides get in Devon. It’s an 11-mile (18 km) route, so double that for a there-and-back ride but it goes extremely quickly.
Largely following a disused railway, the route takes you high above the surrounding landscape, across viaducts and under bridges. It’s extremely green and, while it’s a shared path with pedestrians, it’s long enough for there not to be many away from the start and end points.
The Granite Way – cycling through Devon’s history
Starting in Okehampton and curving around Dartmoor’s border to Lydford, the Granite Way takes advantage of one of the UK’s myriad disused railway lines. Once extending from Okehampton (on the Exeter line) all the way to Plymouth, this section of the line closed in the 1960s, after the Beeching Report was published.
The line from Exeter to Okehampton survived, largely in part to the freight requirements, moving granite from Meldon Quarry. When the quarry section closed in 2011, the Okehampton line was already struggling. For a while, summer trains were run on an extremely limited timetable between Exeter and Okehampton. The government were considering reopening the line, including the section to Plymouth, partly as a back-up for Dawlish’s seasonal seawall catastrophes, but the railway is now for sale, as of early 2020.
Britain is full of overgrown railway lines , some long and some a mere few miles from quarry to town. Many have been transformed into cycle routes and the Granite Way itself now forms part of the National Cycle Route 27.
Hitting the trail
There’s plenty of parking available at Okehampton station and the Way begins immediately. For much of the path, the tarmac is smooth and you’ll find yourself spirited first under an unlit, rather dark railway tunnel.
Before you’ve gone very far at all, you’ll find yourself at Meldon quarry station and then, quite unexpectedly, you’ll be peddling high above the West Okement River as it runs down from Meldon Reservoir, over the Meldon Viaduct.
Who doesn’t love a viaduct?
Pausing on the viaduct and looking north, you can spy Yes Tor which, at 619 m, is just two metres shy of Dartmoor’s highest point, neighbouring High Willhays. If you want to hike them, by all means do both, but Yes Tor is the highlight of the two. The real treasure here is nearby Black-a-tor copse, an ancient high altitude oak woodland and exceptionally rare.
But that’s a post for another day.
Riding the Granite Way past Meldon, you’ll reach the edge of Sourton and the moor proper opens up to the east. The miles tick away without you really noticing and by the time you cross Station Road at Shortacombe and look up the tree-lined road, you’re already almost there.
Larking about in Lydford
When the Way spits you out onto School Road, turn right and pedal on into Lydford itself. Lydford Castle is an outstanding place to crack open the thermos and lunchbox, which I’m sure is exactly what its intended use was when it was rebuilt circa 1195.
Lydford is also home to Lydford Gorge, now owned by the National Trust. The deepest gorge in the South West, you’ll find a tremendous waterfall here and a lush, verdant cliff with whirlpools at the bottom.
If you do decide to ride the additional half mile or so to the gorge, definitely check before you freewheel down the immensely steep hill that you’ll actually be able to get in.
I say this because I cycled there during September 2020 when the NT were doing advance bookings only and I didn’t know. So I merrily freewheeled down said hill, discovered my error and then had a rather menacing hill climb to face. Still, it’s character building.
Cycling back to your car is the same route in reverse. It might be 11 miles, but it seems far shorter, particularly on the return journey.
I took my mountain bike on this jaunt – something told me my 1970s Stan Pike racing bike wouldn’t cut it. You could do this on touring tires but not comfortably on slicks. While much of the Way is relatively smooth, there are small stony and muddy sections.
Practicalities for cycling the Granite Way
The Granite Way is officially 11 miles one way, although my Komoot tour reckons it’s more like 9. Who knows. It’s there or thereabouts.
If you’re riding with small children or simply don’t fancy doing the whole whack, there are several parking spots along the Way, allowing you to only do a section. For the Meldon Reservoir section, for instance, you could park at either Okehampton or Sourton.
Lake viaduct is another beauty, and you’ll find it just north of Southerly. Cycling from Lydford to Lake and back would be a nice short ride that includes this vast, stone viaduct.
There are pubs off the route, at several places. Lydford itself has a lovely pub right next to the castle. Okehampton has supermarkets and a youth hostel. There are campsites dotted around the area too.
Want another Devon bike ride? Check out my post on cycling the Grand Western Canal!