The Granite Way
The Granite Way is a cycle track built on the dismantled London and Southwestern Railway line – later used by the Great Western Railway, and still later by BR Southwestern Region – between Lydford and Okehampton, Devon. It is maintained by a partnership of Sustrans and Devon County Council. It forms part of Route 27.
I’m not a great fan of cycle tracks, I make no bones about it. Bicycles are vehicles, and as such should be on the roads, and I use roads. Roads are faster, easier, smoother and simpler than cycle tracks, though I see that folk would be attracted to them. The Granite Way is a fine cycle track and is ideally suited to leisure riders and families fancying a day out on their bikes. The route is simple to follow and although there are steep bits and gates to negotiate, it’s easy to ride along – and it is fun! Pedalling along, it feels like you are a train driver chuff chuffing along under bridges and over viaducts – and it gives you a smile!
I’ve ridden the GW quite a few times – mainly to make a change – but until yesterday I hadn’t been on it for twelve months or more. For the most part, it’s quiet – in fact deserted. During the summer and better weather, Saturdays and Sundays will see families cycling along – little kids on trikes, older children on MTBs and mums and dads sheepherding them along. You see dog walkers too, and horses (though I’m not convinced of the legality of horses), but generally it is deserted.
What the Granite Way is not suitable for, is for touring cyclists on their way though Cornwall and Devon, although some have done it and enjoyed it. The track doesn’t actually connect two places that can be connected to a long ride very well. It can be done of course, it’s just that I feel there are better routes to follow. Also, as I shall describe later, there are many gates and pinch points that are problematical to bikes carrying luggage, especially if you are a lone rider and have to operate the gates yourself. Tandems and bikes with trailers would have great difficulty. The surface – though smooth enough – is littered with twigs and dead leaves throughout much of it’s route – mostly it’s Tarmac, but in places just fine gravel.
The reason I decided to do the GW yesterday was because of a long involved thread on the CTC forum. By doing the ride, I could take photographs and memorise the route to create this account and perhaps answer questions. I left early as I had to be home about midday. By 9am I was up in Lydford just as the primary school was opening up.
Lydford is a lovely little village. Odd really. There’re no street lights, no white lines, no yellow line parking restrictions, not even a zig-zag outside the school. It’s a 30mph limit, so there are repeater signs through the village and apart from a few telegraph poles, they are the only street furniture. There’s a pub – The Castle Inn – and Lydford Castle itself, an imposing Norman stone tower next to St Petrock’s Church. Wiki has quite a good article on Lydford.
The entrance to the old rail bed is just north of the village up the hill past the school. You enter through a gate and follow the ramp down to the track itself. This part of the GW is a short hop as, sadly, the GW is in two sections. This first section is the best part of the GW in my opinion, the surface is smoother and the track wider and cleaner. You can whiz along it quite well and even in the height of the summer, this bit is very quiet indeed. In fact I’ve very rarely seen anyone use it.
I'll apologise for the quality of most of the photographs here and now. The weather was damp and dreary with bad light. I tried wearing my reading glasses to see what I was doing, but they kept steaming up! Consequently, some are a bit shaky and blurred so I've uploaded them as small files.
A short mile-and-a-quarter later, you pop out onto Station Road – the road between the A386 at Shortacombe and Bridestowe named after Bridestowe Station about 100yds from the exit gate.
Sustrans Route 27 now turns left towards Bridestowe down the hill into the village. From there, it turns back on itself, climbs the long hill and comes out on the A386 opposite the Bearslake Inn. Crossing the main road is hazardous to say the least! It’s a fast stretch of the road just near the bottom of a hill and the junction is almost invisible to the traffic flying past. Crossing the road then gets you onto a rocky little path that weaves through the trees and crosses a little wooden bridge over a stream before climbing a 14% gradient to the top of Lake Viaduct where you rejoin the cycle track.
However, there is a better way! Sustrans – in their wisdom(?) do not publicise it on their maps. Why? I don’t know.
When you pop out onto Station Road, instead of turning left, turn right up the hill to the A386 and you come out opposite the Fox and Hounds Inn, turn left on the main road.
Before anyone screams at me for suggesting a main road, it’s ok – honestly, it’s ok. The road is slightly downhill and although the road bends slightly, it’s free of pinch points and any cyclist would be clearly visible to passing and following traffic. Go half a mile, and you’ll see a layby on the right just before the road goes over the old railway. The bridge is a bit of a chicane for traffic, so take care as you cross. You can stop easily on your left to cross straight to the layby on foot if you want.
Just by the bridge, there’s a gate and a little narrow pathway – a bit muddy for me yesterday, though in the summer months it’s fine. This path runs a couple of hundred yards and drops gently onto the cycle track. Simple!
Actually, where you are is the dead end of the GW. Up on Lake Viaduct – if you were coming the other way – there is a sign to send you down off the track and under the viaduct down to the Bearslake Inn on the route described earlier. The straight-on bit is described as Picnic Area Only. They lie just a little bit.
Anyway, back to the route. At the end of the little path, there is the picnic area – just a collection of granite slabs arranged in rows on top of a bank. Go past this then shortly onto Lake Viaduct. This viaduct is build of granite blocks and is of a classic viaduct design. The views from it a good, but yesterday I could see nothing! The mist that had met me as I left Lydford became thicker and thicker. I was damp and sweaty, the weather was mild – but very very damp.
This is the path near the picnic area looking in the direction of Lake Viaduct.
I nipped down the slope to take a look at the viaduct from below, then back up and carried on my merry way along the deserted track – I say “deserted” but there was a sheep wandering aimlessly having lost the rest of her mates! After Lake Viaduct, the track rises almost imperceptibly. It feels flat, but you are aware of the “pull” of the hill and before you reach the summit, you’re at nearly 1,000ft.
This is the profile of the GW. The Lydford entrance is on the left. You can see the gentle inclines of the track. The raised bit is the hill up to The Fox and Hounds, and the drop down the A386, then gentle incline again. The sudden dip is me going down under Lake Viaduct and coming back up. The other wiggles are the nuances of the track.
Soon, you reach a sign on the left warning you about a farm track ahead. Each and every time I’ve used the GW the gates have been closed. You open one gate, go through and shut it behind you, cross the cow poo and sheep poo then open the other gate, go through, and close it behind you. Today, both gates were open and the concrete farm track was cleanish! So off I went.
Next, you reach another gate. This one is clearly signed that it’s private land. Again, open gate, go through, close gate. This part of the GW is very different. It used to be a muddy pathway weaving in and out of the trees, but now it’s had a surface treatment of fine dusty gravel and stones, but it still weaves in and out of the trees – and it is also narrow. In the past, I’ve met cyclists coming the other way and there are no adequate passing places. One of you has to either stop and move over, or you have to wobble past each other. Today, it was deserted.
300yds later, you come to another gate. Open it, go through, close it behind you. Now you have left the private land and you are back on the GW proper. However, as you reach Sourton the track bends to the right and drops to main road level to cross the access road to Meldon Reservoir. As you cross, you go through gates on either side of the road, then climb up the other side as you negotiate huge boulders. There’s enough room for normal bikes, but it would be tight for tandems and bikes with luggage.
Next milestone is Meldon Viaduct.
This viaduct is constructed from steel girders. It is high – very high – and is best seen from a few miles away across the valley.
Again, this picture wasn't taken on my ride yesterday!
When you’re on it – in clear weather – you can see for miles to the west and see parts of Dartmoor to the east. At the far end of the viaduct you approach Meldon Quarry Station. Just off the viaduct there is an old BR buffet coach permanently parked and open for teas and snacks – trouble is, it’s only open at weekends in the summer. Today, it was quiet and locked up.
Crossing the viaduct I saw people! Wow! First ones I’d seen since leaving Lydford. There were two of them – man and wife? – walking towards Okehampton. We exchanged greetings as I passed them and the lady said she’s seen me in Lydford. Other than the sheep, they were the only sign of mammalian life I was to see on the whole of the GW. At Meldon, there’s a graveyard of derelict trains and coaches. There are some quarry trains and wagons, but it’s mainly derelicts.
Meldon Quarry Station is now the terminus for the Okehampton to Exeter railway line – the Dartmoor Heritage Railway which runs during summer weekends. The line is used for quarry wagons most of the year. The GW now follows alongside the line – and there’s the constant roar form the A30 trunk road ever-present. This part of the GW isn’t the most interesting at all – it feels just like any other cycle track, also gates, sudden bends, and obstructions come thick and fast.
At one point, the GW passes under the A30. You arrive at gate rather steeply set on a downward sloping concrete area. Open gate, go through, close gate. Then turn sharp left, go through the not-very-nice tunnel, turn sharply right, open a gate, go through, close the gate and climb a rather steep slope back up again going over wooden decking with galvanised wire treads. I can see why the tunnel and the slopes have to be there, but it’s done awfully and very unsympathetically.
Eventually, you pop out at the end. It ends “just like that” but why oh why does the tight zig-zag have to be there? It would be almost impossible with tandem, and with a trailer or even heavy panniers would find it difficult. Good job there are brick wall either side so you can support yourself. When I was last there, there were other cyclists coming in. It was quite a squeeze. It would be better with a nice wide entrance advertising the GW, as it is it’s almost hidden and unwelcoming.
The GW ends very close to Okehampton Station above the town, so it’s a short hop down the hill. Obviously, coming the other way, it’s quite a climb.
From there, I dropped down into Okehampton, waited at the traffic lights, turned left and headed for home on the real roads on a thoroughly manky and muddy bike. These cycle tracks are not the places to go if you like a clean bike!
I’d had a wonderful and super ride. I was damp and sweaty and my bike was filthy, but hey! I’d had a great time and a good leg-stretch with 44miles done and I felt fit and strong.
Here’s my ride on the GW, just short of 9miles:
Funny, I can't get the link to work!
The Granite Way is thoroughly recommended if you’re in the area, though be aware it’s littered with gates and obstructions and not ideally suited for loaded touring cyclists – though it is ok if you fancy it.
As soon as I got home, all my gear went in the wash, and I climbed in the shower! Great!
But I’ve yet to wash my bike ..........
Regards to all, and happy cycling!