A pleasant ride along the line of the old Plym Valley railway, with an optional extension to the National Trust's magnificent house and parkland at Saltram.
Minimum time 3h00
Distance 13.5 miles (21.7km)
Suggested map OS Explorer OL20 South Devon
Start/finish Clearbook parking area above village, grid ref SX 518650
Trails/tracks mix of bumpy and well-surfaced track
Landscape wooded valley, townscape, estuary and parkland on extension
Public toilets Coypool (Point 5)
Tourist information Plymouth, tel 01752 304849
Bike hire Tavistock Cycles, Tavistock, tel 01822 617630
Recommended pub The Skylark Inn, Clearbrook
Notes First 0.75 mile (1.2km) rough and bumpy (alternative lane access given), steep hills at Bickleigh and busy roads on extension
© Automobile Association 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153
Clearbrook lies on Dartmoor's western edge, clearly signposted off the A386 Tavistock to Plymouth road, 2.5 miles (4km) south of Yelverton. Follow the lane across the down and park at the furthest parking area on the right where the road forks.
1 Return to the lane, turn right and descend into Clearbrook and continue past The Skylark Inn for about 500yds (457m). Turn right opposite the village hall on a track. After 100yds (91m) turn right up a steep, narrow path; at the top by the pylon bear left downhill (cyclists should dismount). This turns sharp left, then right through a gate onto the rough, gritty, old railway line. Follow this for about 0.5 mile (0.8km) to Goodameavy, where tarmac takes over. (Note: to avoid this initial rough section turn left at the fork by the parking area, signed 'Goodameavy', and cycle steeply downhill to join the railway.)
2 Soon after Goodameavy the track passes through Shaugh Tunnel (note: there are lights, but these are turned off between dusk and dawn - there's a colony of roosting bats in the tunnel), and then under an aqueduct. Pass Shaugh Bridge Halt and cross Ham Green viaduct; look back left and you'll catch sight of the Dewerstone Rock above the wooded Plym Valley just above its junction with the River Meavy.
3 At Ham Bridge the route meets a lane; turn right uphill towards Bickleigh. At the T-junction turn left and proceed very steeply downhill (young children should dismount). Turn right on a narrow wooded path back onto the railway line and continue through deciduous woodland. Pass over Bickleigh viaduct and into the National Trust's Plym Bridge Woods. Continue over Cann viaduct - look over the left side to see the remains of Rumple wheelpit by the river below, and the face of Cann Quarry beyond.
4 At Plym Bridge follow signs sharp left to leave the track. For a picnic by the river, turn left under the railway towards the 18th-century bridge; the meadow is on the right (leave your bikes on the lane). For Saltram House - created in the 18th century with 500 acres (202ha) of parkland - cross the car park entrance and turn right on a level woodland track. Cycle towards Plymouth (note that Plymouth is one end of the Devon Coast to Coast route, which runs for 102 miles/163km to Ilfracombe - watch out for serious and speedy cyclists!) to emerge by Coypool Park-and-Ride on the right.
5 Cross the road at the T-junction and follow the narrow path ahead (barrier); cross the next road and take the rough track opposite. Just past the playing field gates (right) bear right on a narrow path to emerge under the A38. Bear diagonally right to find a railed tarmac path uphill left. Follow that up and down, then along the edge of the Plym Estuary to reach the National Trust's Saltram Estate.
6 At the edge of parkland keep right, and follow the estuary to Point Cottage. Turn left inland on an estate lane to cross the parking area, with the house and shop left. At the signpost bear left, signed 'Riverside walk and bird hide' and cycle carefully downhill, avoiding pedestrians, keeping straight on where the tarmac way bears left towards offices. Re-enter the parkland and keep ahead to rejoin the outward route.
This railway line opened in 1859 under the South Devon and Tavistock Railway, and ran for 16 miles (25.7km) from Plymouth to Tavistock. The cycle route through Plym Bridge Woods is one of the best bits. The woods became popular with daytrippers who alighted at Plym Bridge Halt, built in 1906 (on the site of the car park mentioned in Point 5). You'll also see evidence of industrial activity: there were several quarries here, workers' cottages, a small lead/silver mine, a canal and three railway lines. The remains of 18th-century Rumple Quarry - from which slate was extracted - and engine house are passed on the right, soon after entering the woods. Plym Bridge Woods are particularly lovely in spring, thick with wood anenomes, primroses, bluebells and ransoms.
Once in the Saltram estate you soon pass Blaxton Meadow on your right, an area of managed saltmarsh on the Plym Estuary. It was enclosed in 1886 and developed as agricultural land, and around the time of World War Two supported a cricket ground! Plans to regenerate the saltmarsh started in 1995, and today it provides suitable habitats for a wide range of flora and fauna, with large numbers of migrant waders; look out for flocks of curlews in winter, and deep red samphire beds in autumn.
This ride - particularly if the extension to Saltram House is included - covers an impressive range of landscapes: moorland, woodland, river estuary and parkland. The views at both the northern (Dartmoor) and southern (Plym Estuary) ends are impressive, and the outskirts of Plymouth, for Saltram House, passed quickly.