The cold wind whips around my ears and violently shakes the branches overhead. I’m sure whether the bead plummeting down my cheek is sweat or rain.
As my feet weigh down on the pedals and my legs start to burn, I activate Turbo Mode and battery power aids my climb to the hill top. I’m on an e-bike and that bead slipping down my cheek is most certainly rain – even on the steepest of South Devon hills, I’ve barely broken a sweat.
It’s my second morning in the South Hams region of Devon, located between Torbay and Plymouth and bordering the Dartmoor National Park to the north.
It’s an area with a strong rural and maritime heritage, where sandy beaches rub up against rich coastal grasslands.
Naturally beautiful it may be, but exploring on two wheels has largely lacked appeal due to the relentless and often steep hills. Thankfully, e-Xplore Devon has made cycling more accessible (and a great choice during the summer, when car parks are full and the roads are gridlocked).
Its collection of battery-powered e-bikes (from all-terrain to e-tandems) will have you speeding along with minimal effort – although if you’re feeling energetic, you can drop to a lower setting or turn off the battery completely.
The 21-mile Beach Circuit is a delicious amble along coastal roads and through quaint villages. I dismount in the tiny hamlet of Thurlestone and admire its 17th Century thatched roofs and its glorious bay (featuring Thurlestone Rock), before continuing to Bolberry Down, a long stretch of rugged coastline.
The route continues east and I refuel at The Winking Prawn, a seafood restaurant on Salcombe North Sands beach. The rainy weather and long cycle have me craving some home comforts, so I head back to my rustic but extremely cosy accommodation. Salcombe Shepherds Huts are an excellent choice for a slightly more luxurious camping experience. The four huts are handcrafted with wood, and each includes a log burner and a fully-equipped kitchen.
I’m in the Foxes Den which has an en-suite toilet, a comfy double bed (though it’s up a ladder), and small leather couch. I enjoy my coffee at the picnic table with its views of the Kingsbridge Estuary and flocks of sheep merrily grazing in surrounding fields.
The next morning I’m zipping along country roads to Bigbury-on-Sea, where I’m booked in for a surfing lesson with Discovery Surf School. I’m thankful for a super-thick wetsuit, as the temperature is barely hitting double digits. Encouraged by Matt, our instructor, we start to stand, slowly but surely, unsteady but feeling accomplished.
Catching tiny waves makes me hungry and I drive the 30 minutes to Hope Cove, an old fishing village with two sheltered beaches. I settle in at the Lobster Pod Bistro which you’ll find perched on the hillside above Harbour Beach. I gorge on the seafood platter, which includes today’s catch (gurnard and mackerel), alongside potted crab, prawns and a selection of salads.
The small town of Salcombe is one of South Devon’s most popular, and its independent shops, award-winning restaurants and waterside cafes make it worth a day or two of exploring.
Parking can be hectic, so leave the car at your Shepherd Hut and jump on the bus. Or you can take the scenic but extremely hilly, 40-minute walk into town via the village of Batson.
Gin drinkers should visit Salcombe Distilling Co. Every bottle is distilled on site using a single copper still. Tasting sessions include a tour and lots of samples. The distillery also runs a gin school which allows visitors to create their own recipe. You’ll take charge of a miniature copper still under the watchful eye of an expert distiller, who will guide you through the process of choosing botanicals and naming your unique creation.
Along the street from the distillery you’ll find Salcombe Dairy which has been churning ice cream for more than 40 years. Must-try flavours include honeycomb and rum and raisin.
The rain arrives but I’ve learned to embrace it by now because it’s not a British trip to the seaside without a healthy serving of wind, rain and well, soggy chips.
Did you know Cornish pasties may have originated in Devon, rather than Cornwall? The earliest known recipe was discovered in Devon in 2006 and, according to historians, dates back 500 years.
Salcombe Shepherd Huts (salcombeshepherdhuts.co.uk) available from £200 for Monday-Friday stays and weekend visits, and from £325 for a week. For details of local attractions, visit salcombeinformation.co.uk.
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