If you are making trips from west to east, it seems only right that you should start one of these coast to coast journeys at Westward Ho! It’s all in the name. For starters, what other place can boast an exclamation mark in its correct spelling? So, having transported myself in the morning from Exeter, I arrived in bright sunshine about noon in this coastal extremity on map 180, named for a cardinal point. I then spent the rest of the day trying to be as far from it in an easterly direction as I could. Which, in the event, turned out to be 56 miles to the lovely small Somerset town of Wiveliscombe. I got there just after 6pm and for once avoided cycling in fading or altogether faded light. And what a day it was!
Westward Ho! was quite a busy place today. The tide was out and there were lots of folk on the beach. For the next hour, I rode along the old railway cycle path to Barnstaple, which I picked up in The old river port of Bideford, just inland. This is an early section of the Tarka Trail, which continues south all the way to Plymouth. Today, however, I just did the coastal estuary section that provides splendid views across the rivers Torridge and Taw to places like Appledore on the opposite bank from the pretty sands at Instow, where the old station platform and signal box are preserved. family cycling was a popular choice today in the half-term sunshine, and quite right, too.
Barnstaple station cafe provided me with a hearty lunch before I ventured out across the hills of North Devon. My only other stop, South Molton, was about the only other hospitality option on today’s route hereafter. Never pass an open cafe continues to be a worthy mantra for the trip. With the regional hub of Barnstaple behind me and empty upland spaces opening up, it was time to follow the old main road, now a B road, out of town. It was a good route, quiet and direct to South Molton, where a bakery-cum-tea shop was on hand to provide a timely energy boost after another hour of hilly cycling. Along the way I saw the magnificent Castle Hill House and surrounding 5,000 acre estate, a stately Palladian affair that dominates the view of the area as you reach the village of Filleigh. It has been home, since 1684, to the Fortescue family and is surrounded by a series of follies, mature gardens and parkland. All quite striking and quite a place to call your home at any stage in history.
After South Molton – a small and largely unchanged country town, it seemed – I passed through nowhere very much, except for the small and pleasant town of Bampton, tucked away in steep sided, wooded valley. The landscape was green and rolling and the road almost completely empty. And so it stayed all the way into pretty Wiveliscombe, and the delightful White Hart Inn, run by very friendly people whose daughter created exceptional pub food. It was the perfect place to stop over.
This whole day was one of excellent cycling through fantastic scenery that somehow offered mostly level or easy gradients, despite the overall hilly nature of the landscape. I had a couple of climbs; but mostly just had huge views and a lasting sense of being ”up” for many miles, and I would happily do it all again.