Drake's Trail, Tavistock, Dartmoor National Park

Drake's Trail, Tavistock, Dartmoor National Park


Tavistock is a Dartmoor gateway town on the western border of the National Park. Plymouth is a city with an internationally important maritime history in a stunning location to the south west of the high moors. Sir Francis Drake was born, and lived, in this area and is most famous for his circumnavigation of the world. Combining the above, Drake's Trail is a multi-use trail used by cyclists, walkers, runners and horse riders that runs, roughly speaking, between these two places.

Drake's Trail is mainly off-road. As such, it's great for kids and an ideal family activity if you're on holiday in Dartmoor. The route description below runs north to south from Tavistock to Plymouth. It's 21 miles or 34 kilometres in length. There are two huge statues of Sir Francis Drake on Plymouth Hoe and at the end of Tavistock's Plymouth Road. Once you've seen both, we'd suggest, you've finished the trail.

For convenience's sake, start at the large car parking area at The Wharf in Tavistock. Push your bike along Tavistock Canal by The Meadows until you come to an underpass that takes you safely below a busy road. On the other side, to your right, you'll see the statue of Sir Francis Drake. Regrettably, it's in the middle of a busy roundabout so it's difficult to see it up close. The statue was cast by Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm in 1883 and you can see a studio model in the National Trust's Buckland Abbey (National Trust). From the underpass, follow the trail past Tavistock College and cross the river. There's a short section of road cycling and then you hit countryside and enter Grenofen Tunnel. The tunnel is dark and can get wet after rain so be prepared for water dropping down on you from the tunnel's ceiling.

After Grenofen Tunnel, you'll cross the impressive Gem Bridge. The views from this bridge are exceptional. Take time to read the information board. If time permits, it's also fun on foot to follow one of the paths that drops down into the valley below. From there, you get a sense of the scale of Gem Bridge.

Further south east, you come to Magpie Viaduct. You're riding on the old South Devon and Tavistock Railway (Disused) and it's easy to imagine trains powering across the viaduct on their way past Horrabridge to Yelverton. Drake's Trail runs across Roborough Down and comes to another stretch of road cycling that takes you to Clearbrook.

Clearbrook village is strung out along a moorland road. At the eastern end of the village, by a cluster of waymarkers for the Drake's trail, is a village hall and parking area. Follow the trail in the direction of Plym Bridge which is about five miles south. The trail follows the old trackbed of the railway. The Dewerstone is visible to the south east. You pass through the long Shaugh Tunnel and then under bridges and over viaducts to the north border of the National Trust's Plymbridge Woods. The track is good and flat. On weekends, or during holiday periods, it's busy with cyclists, runners, walkers and the occasional horse rider.

At Plymbridge Woods, Drake's Trail becomes particularly beautiful. The River Plym flows through the valley way below to your left. A new mountain bike trail called the Plym Ridge Trail rises to the west. Soon, you come to Cann Viaduct. You'll see ruined buildings and information boards in the woods describing its past. In late March 2014, there was a National Trust viewing platform for peregrine falcons. The Plym River arcs under the viaduct and flows to the pretty Plym Bridge. You can follow the river or remain on the flat surface of the railway trackbed.

By Plym Bridge is the end of a railway line, a large car parking area, information boards and a delightful sculpture of a peregrine falcon. Paths lead into Cann Woods.

The trail continues south, and mostly off-road, to Saltram House. It then runs along a bank of the River Plym in Saltram Park. It crosses into Plymouth and follows the edge of Cattewater to the National Marine Aquarium. Push your bike across the footbridge to the Barbican. You pass the Mayflower Steps. You continue up past the Royal Citadel to Plymouth Hoe. The distinctive lighthouse and Sir Francis Drake statue are in front of you.


Bike Hire

1. Dartmoor Cycles in Tavistock at the beginning, or end, of Drake's Trail.
2. Tavistock Cycles in Tavistock at the beginning, or end, of Drake's Trail.
3. Leg O'Mutton Cycle Hire at Cornershop at Yelverton on Drake's Trail.
4. Plymouth Bike Hire at Coypool Park and Ride on the edge of Plymouth on Drake's Trail near Saltram House.
5. Plymouth Bike Hire at Plymouth Barbican/Plymouth Hoe at the beginning, or end, of Drake's Trail.


Additional trails leading off the main Drake's Trail

Whilst the route described above between Tavistock and Plymouth forms the main section of the trail, in its middle around Yelverton are a number of smaller trails that branch east and west. These enable you to explore places such as the National Trust's Buckland Abbey which was once home to Sir Francis Drake and Lopwell Dam on the River Tavy, Burrator Reservoir and Drake's Leat. At the beginning of Drake's Trail, in Tavistock, you can also branch off to see his birthplace at Crowndale. There's a nice walk there along the canal to the Tavistock Canal Northern Portal. You pass under the superb Shillamill Viaduct on this route.