Hawkerland to Southleigh, East Devon
We are now seriously riding from west to east. The whole difficulty of this ride has been getting across the rivers, all emptying into the Channel. We had to hack north to get across the River Exe and to negotiate Exeter, but years ago in the days of horse transport travellers would have slipped across on one of the many ferries. Most of the river crossings are such busy roads that we had to avoid them. It’s a natural problem with major rivers where bridging is so costly, all traffic is diverted to one crossing.
This area has a wonderful network of west-east unclassified roads, all named lanes, which all unfortunately stop short of a north-south bridleway in Otterton Hill Plantation. I studied and studied the area as to how to get eastwards and there was only one way, following the East Devon Way for walkers. There was no guarantee that we could get through but it was all we had. I have to say at the planning stage I was beginning to hate walkers who had a plethora of promoted routes as well as all the recorded footpaths and we have absolutely NOTHING, developed or not. I think the East Devon Way is wonderful and definitely promotable in the long term as a ride.
So we managed to ride across Aylesbeare Common Nature Reserve and saw some hoof prints. We meandered our way across and finally exited it via a hollow way, obviously more than a footpath historically: lanes do not usually become holloways from only foot use. Luckily there was a bridlegate at the far end. So now we need to get the authorities to sort out a dedicated route to enable horse tourists to know from the map that there is a way through. I never turn back!
The next few miles were all along unsurfaced unclassified roads, although we came across and rode a new bridleway at Venn Ottery Hill, thank you to whoever negotiated this one.
And thank you to the Trail Riders Fellowship for their repairs to some of the lanes and to Wiltshire TRF for their generous donation to the fund.
At Hollow Head Cross we met and chatted to a lady walking her dogs, who was also a rider, and she very wisely talked us out of using the A3052 near Sidmouth and we crossed via Sidbury and a network of quiet lanes instead, thank you. Local knowledge is invaluable and the most difficult to build into planning a long distance ride.