Meals and Wheels: Cycling North Devon

Perhaps the best measure of a successful cycling trip is not how far you cycled, but how much weight you gained. By this account, my recent 3-day cycle across North and Mid Devon was a delightful success indeed.

The cycling was very nice – flat trails through dense forest and coastal estuaries giving way to rolling green hills and lovely rural vistas – but it was the Yarde Orchard Bunkhouse and Cafe which made this trip memorable. Situated right on the Tarka Trail (National Cycling Route 3), the orchard is home to 3 yurts, an energy-efficient and low-impact bunkhouse, and a delightful cafe. Fresh, local, seasonal ingredients made the simple, hearty meals (home-made pizza, fresh samosas, fennel risotto) feel as well as taste good, especially after a long day of cycling/drinking.

What truly makes the Yarde Orchard special though, are the folks running it. David and Charlie were among the most welcoming and sincere hosts I’ve ever had, treating us like old friends from the moment I straggled in from the woods at 10:30 pm on Friday night after a 20-mile ride through utter darkness. These are folks who get genuine satisfaction from treating their guests well and it showed in everything they did, from fixing special vegetarian dishes to letting my companions open the cafe themselves to catch an early-morning rugby match. Their fine selection of local ales and ciders only made the decision to stay there all weekend that much easier (we had originally planned to camp on top of Exmoor one night – but no beer and no warm food does not a happy cyclist make).

Though it was difficult to leave the cafe after a massive and delicious breakfast each morning, we did manage to do some cycling in the end. As it turns out, cycling is a great way to get from pub to pub. Passing through the towns of Barnstaple and Braunton on Devon’s north coast, we enjoyed a relatively easy – though wet – day on Saturday. Sunday was more varied, both topographically and visually, as we took to the back roads between East Yarde and Tiverton in Mid Devon. A few serious hills helped burn off Charlie’s culinary doings and the ensuing downhills were spectacularly breathtaking. Riding along a rural ridgeline gave us sweeping views over the surrounding English countryside, as roving bands of rain swept across the fertile green landscape.

We finished our adventure at the train station in Tiverton Parkway a bit damp and winded after a final 8-mile dash, arriving with 9 minutes before the train home for half our pack. Phew…just enough time to eat the last of our leftovers from the Yarde Orchard Cafe.

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