Caught by the River

The Dartmoor Way in two days

10th August 2014

Harford Church

A tale of middle aged folly, told in two parts.
Day 2. Okehampton back to Ivybridge
Words and pictures by West Country correspondent Alex Smith

Sleeping the previous night in the bunkhouse wasn’t too much of a problem and neither was the bulk breakfast that started the next day. We joined the bridleway opposite the inn and were onto the Granite Way at Meldon by nine and fairly shifting on this flat section of the old Southern Region railway line. We saw Lydford Gorge within the hour. There was a push up the hill from Devil’s Cauldron to Waterfalls and soon we had views of the high St Michael’s Church as we headed towards the village of Brentor. Not formed from granite, as traditional Dartmoor tors are, Brentor is actually a pillow of basalt lava. And on its top is the ancient Church, site of many a gothic band’s album cover photo shoot, visible from many points on Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor and with views out that are well worth the climb if you have the time and the will. But this time we had to head off and in very short order we were crossing the old railway line and passing the former railway station before pushing up the hill towards Mary Tavy in the company of a fit German family whose company we would keep, sporadically, until they peeled off to lunch at a footbridge on the Tavy just past the power station. More pushing up a track and then we crossed the Tavy once again at Harford Bridge and followed a tortuous route into Tavistock that avoided the main road mainly by dancing all around it, finally finishing on a wooded hill above it courtesy of another old railway line. We entered Tavistock from the back and pinched a table in the sun outside a favourite coffee place down by the church as we contemplated the completion of our route.

I think a short description here wouldn’t go amiss. My mate and I are both in our fifties, he on a newer model ally mountain bike and myself on a heavy old chromolly hybrid, our gear cobbled together mostly from our walking clothing and our lightweight backpackers kit. Neither of us is any longer blessed with Lycra-worthy buttocks, nor the stamp of legs that could stand on pedals on those long uphill beats. We mostly make good use of our well padded seats and are quite prepared to get off and push should we feel we’ve been going uphill a bit too long. And sometimes we get off and push just because it would make a change. We’ve been doing it long enough to have calf muscles like hams still in their tins and our regular weekly outings have given us the stamina to cover many miles in any given day, but we’re not the sorts who bomb through the middle of you, who bring you up with a start at the realisation that the high saddled bum receding into the distance missed your shoulder by silent, wafting, inches as it passed a little too close and more than a little too quietly. We tend to announce ourselves well in advance with our laboured breathing and the snick of our poorly set derailleurs.

The Tavy at Tavistock

We stop and chat, thankful of the rest and the chance to take a proper swig without having to keep a weather-eye out on the track ahead. We knew the section from Tavvy to Yelverton by heart: along the river, through the park, past the school, through the trading estate and across the road, through the houses to the dismantled rail track, through the Grenofen Tunnel and over the newly-made Gem Bridge and the odd push up to Yelverton. Ordinarily, we would head back to Plymouth along the disused rail line of the Plym Trail from here, perhaps stopping by Bidders before leaving to get some moorland meat for our teas, but this time, heading for Ivybridge, we bore east at Clearbrook and pushed on to Cadover Bridge and an ice cream from the van in the wind-blown car park. We met a harsher easterly on the top which made heavy going of the open area around the china clay works, the wind making the flats seem like uphills and the downhills seem like flats that needed some help. The final stretches saw us at Cornwood and Torr, with its Vicarage Bridge, then on a big push up to Harford with its 15th century church and rugged churchyard cross, before a final postcard lane, with ups and downs, to Ivybridge and the car by six o’clock.

We gave this one a big old handshake at the end before we loaded the bikes on the rack. I think we both agreed that, if we were to do it again, we probably wouldn’t do it this way. I think three days is probably optimal, and if constrained to two days we would make a good argument for having the break at Chagford or Throwleigh. Or do it in a clockwise direction so that the fearsome uphills between Bovey and Okehampton would become brake-smoking downhills instead. But we’re more likely to do something else for our next big one. The canal towpaths after they leave our last end-point at Reading, perhaps. Or walk the Pembrokeshire coast if my old feet will let us. Something like that. But we will hit some part of the Way, soon. It really can’t be helped if you get out around here.

Read Day One here
More from Alex Smith here