Coast to coast

On his latest adventure, Philip Moon journeys by boot, bike and boat from Lynmouth on Devon’s north coast to Dartmouth, near the English Channel

Having previously traced the River Thames and the River Wye from source to sea by boot, bike and boat in 2021 and 2022 respectively, it was time for this septuagenarian to stir himself into action once more. I had long considered a similar ‘triathlon’ between Devon’s north and south coasts, but the logistics were complicated. I needed a caravan and a caravan-competent friend. Luckily, I had both: my slightly battered and nearly vintage 2006 Bailey Pageant; and my very battered and definitely vintage mate, Johnny.

Our base for the first night is Minehead Club Campsite in Somerset. It’s a lovely, quiet site surrounded by trees. For me, Minehead has two great attractions: the West Somerset Railway (I love steam trains) and close-by Dunster Castle and its medieval village. But, more importantly for this adventure, it’s also on the fringes of Exmoor.

Day 1: Lynmouth to Simonsbath (walking)

Lynmouth – Philip’s starting point

We drive over the county border to Lynmouth, where I can tip my toe into the sea and pick up the start of the Two Moors Way. According to my map-reading, the path passes through the cliff-top town of Lynton, so I decide to take the cliff railway up from Lynmouth. Offering wonderful views, it’s a clever piece of Victorian engineering that combines water power and gravity for propulsion. Perhaps taking the train is cheating. If it is, I get my comeuppance, as it turns out the Two Moors Way doesn’t pass through Lynton. I eventually manage to pick up the correct route – frustrating, but the sky and the sea are blue, the hills are green and the scenery is fantastic.

After several miles I reach Cheriton Ridge and descend a stony path to where it fords a stream. Another navigational mishap, but I’m not keen to retrace my steps.

I can see the occasional car traversing the top of the opposite ridge, so decide the best plan is to head for the road. The path I set off on becomes increasingly ill-defined and I begin to fear that it has been trodden only by sheep, which is fine if you’re looking for fresh grass to chew, but not if you’re looking for civilisation or what passes for it on Exmoor.

Nonetheless, I eventually emerge onto the road and a two-mile yomp takes me on to Simonsbath, where Johnny is looking to rendezvous with me at the delightful Exmoor Forest Inn.

Day 2: Simonsbath to Withypool (walking)


We start the day by moving the ’van to Exmoor House Club Campsite in Dulverton and then Johnny drops me back at Simonsbath. The weather is not as good as yesterday – indeed, the skies are leaden and there are frequent showers – but even these conditions add a sort of bleak beauty to the moors, and the wind is, thankfully, mostly behind me.

I’d intended to get as far as Hawkridge, today, but by the time I make it to Withypool it’s already past five. I ask a local how long it’d take me to get to Hawkridge. He replies, “It’d take me two-to-three hours,” looking me up and down, before adding, “and I’m fit’.

“I wouldn’t do it tonight,” he continues. Sense prevails and I decide to call it a day. I need to phone Johnny with a revised meeting point. Alas, no phone signal. Another local, however, tells me to try The Royal Oak pub, where I can use the Wi-Fi to contact him. Johnny duly informed, I settle down to enjoy the wait with a well-earned pint. 

Day 3: Withypool to Crediton (walking and cycling)

I’ve got a bit of distance to make up today. 

We drop my bike at Hawkridge before Johnny transports me back to Withypool. I follow the picturesque River Barle to Tarr Steps, the Grade I-listed clapper bridge. Thereafter it’s a steep incline up to Hawkridge. As I climb, the path becomes increasingly uncertain and I can no longer see any signs. Eventually, I cut my losses and turn back to the farm track I’d left some 20 minutes previously. And this time I see the sign – a fence post with two splashes of yellow paint which are largely obscured by rampant vegetation.

Once I get to Hawkridge it’s time to begin the cycling phase of my triathlon. The going is tough – downhills seem to be followed by even steeper uphills – and I’m resigned to pushing my bike up the steepest bits.

Meanwhile, Johnny has been moving the van on to our base for the next two nights. This is the Normansland Certificated Location just outside Crediton. It’s delightful – lovely flat grass pitches separated by hedges, each with its own electric and water supply. Sheep graze in the adjacent field.

Day 4: Crediton to Totnes (cycling)

A change of plan. I had originally considered cycling from Crediton to the edge of Dartmoor and then walking another section of the Two Moors Way. The logistics are complicated, and I decide instead that today I’ll cycle on to Totnes. This will mean I will have tomorrow off and I can help Johnny move the ’van.

My chosen route takes me first to Mortonhampstead. It’s direct, but alas flying crows take no account of contours, and the hills are horrendous. Then it’s main road to Bovey Tracey, where I pick up National Cycle Route 272, which means more hills – perhaps not quite as prolonged or as perpendicular as the Mortonhampstead stretch, but my legs are already weary. Both my body and my bike are protesting. The chain keeps slipping and the brakes, which have been moderating my descents, are now beginning to rub. 

Day 5: Totnes (rest)

A recovery day. We move the ’van to Ramslade Club Campsite, about halfway between Totnes and Paignton. It’s a great site with all the usual facilities, plus a large dog-walking field. Ramslade is about a mile from the village of Stoke Gabriel on the banks of the River Dart. Here you will find a choice of pubs, a very good café and other amenities.

Day 6: Totnes to the sea (canoeing)

Philip experienced strong crosswinds on the Dart

High tide is at about 8am and I’m keen to make the most of the ebb to help me on my way. Launching from Totnes is easy as there’s a slipway next to Longmarsh car park, close to Steamer Quay Club Campsite.

The river is quiet. There are egrets and cormorants for company and a few early-morning scullers. The breeze is stiff and, because of the twists and turns in the river, it is sometimes into me, sometimes across me and sometimes behind me. For the most part I’m protected by the lee of the hills, but when there’s a gap in the landscape, the lateral blast is quite destabilising.

I pass the pretty village of Dittisham and, on the other side of the river, Greenway, once the holiday home of Agatha Christie and now a National Trust property. Farther on I hear the toot of a whistle and the chug-chug of a steam engine. The Dartmouth Steam Railway, which links Torbay and Kingswear, runs alongside the Dart.

Surprisingly soon, Dartmouth hoves into view, boats of all shapes and sizes moored in the estuary. I press on past Dartmouth Castle to reach the open sea. My adventure over, I’m already thinking “Where next?”. Perhaps I’ll put on my straw trilby and act my age…