Retina UK Tandem Cycle Challenge – Devon Coast to Coast

9-11 October 2020


Friday 9 October 2020

Arrive at YHA Okehampton, meet your fellow participants and Retina UK staff and prepare for the days ahead.

Saturday 10 October 2020 – approx. 55 miles

After breakfast you and your bike will be transported to the North Devon coastal town of Ilfracombe to begin your ride.  The journey to the coast takes about an hour and a half, giving time for breakfast to go down before the pedalling begins. This is a last chance to make any last minute bike adjustments, and our CycleActive member of staff will be there with spares and tool kit to assist, if needed.

Leaving Ilfracombe along the magnificent craggy coastline of North Devon you tackle the first steep climb of the journey, and the only really steep section in the first third of the route. At the high point there are panoramic views of the coastline, and from here you can also choose a slightly extended option that takes you right along the stunning three mile beach at Woolacombe.

The countryside rolls gently until, at the town of Braunton, you join the traffic free Tarka Trail. This almost level section follows the serene tidal scenery of the Taw and Torridge estuaries as you pedal through the busy market town of Barnstable and on to Bideford, where the route heads inland.

This section of the journey is a winding traffic free trail that takes you deeper and deeper into the beautiful Torridge Valley. Riding alongside the river, crossing it often, and passing through open fields, old English woodlands and passing small homesteads, you are really starting to enter rural Devon.

Riding the route over two days you’ll get further into the heart of Devon before overnighting in Okehampton. This evening we will most likely go into Okehampton town (approx. 10 min walk) for dinner.

Sunday 11 October 2020 – approx. 47 miles

The next part of the journey takes you into the hills as you ride the backroads on the way to Dartmoor. You reach the edge of the National Park just beyond Okehampton and head for the high point of the journey just beyond the magnificent viaduct at Meldon (built in 1874).

The scenery now is quite breathtaking as the green fields roll away to your right, while the giant Tors of Dartmoor rise up immediately to your left. The route follows the park boundary for much of the way now as we pass several small villages.

After joining the river Tavy before the town of Tavistock the route gradually heads for more level ground, and you start to see lush common land being grazed by Dartmoor ponies. Continuing south you eventually join the river Plym and follow the riverside trail into Plymouth, and our finish at the imposing Citadel on the seafront.

At the finish you can enjoy a glass of champagne at the sea front bar while we load up the bikes for the transfer back to Okehampton.

Spotlight on our 2020 Cyclists

Isabel Stoney

Maddie and Isobel with a tandem bicycle

A farmer from rural Norfolk. I enjoy cycling but I had not cycled for many years when I read last winter in the Retina UK magazine of their Tandem Cycle Challenge. I realised it was something I could do and I knew Hadrian’s Wall area from childhood holidays. I signed up for the challenge and left all other considerations to sort themselves out in time. The local community, businesses and family were generous in their support. I found a gentleman in the village with a tandem and I got in some practice.

As my eyesight has deteriorated over the years, I have had to give things up. On my own on the farm, when dog and/or cane is not practicable, I reckon 75 per cent of navigation is through my feet; they become my eyes. On a bicycle, my feet off the ground took a little getting used to. I had to rediscover a oneness with the machine as I had as a student: to trust it as I trust what my guide dog tells me. Then the freedom and speed fulfilled a long held desire for transport other than shanks’ pony.

I have had RP all my life, though it was not diagnosed for many years. I have been a member of Retina UK since the 1990s. Having had friends and family in various research positions I am aware of the funding issues for research. It has been exciting to read over the years of the progress made in retinal disease research projects. Retina UK puts on many tempting challenges but for me they clashed with the farming year. I look forward to cycling across Devon and in the meantime use it as an incentive to lose weight and get on the exercise bike until the evenings are lighter and the days drier to exchange it for the real thing.