Ten of the best cycling climbs in Devon and Cornwall - Road Cycling UK

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Ten of the best cycling climbs in Devon and Cornwall

England's deep south west boasts some of the toughest climbing in the country

If you live in the far south west of the UK, you’re spilt for choice of challenging climbs to take on.

Thanks to the Tour of Britain’s recent visits to Devon especially, climbs such as Haytor have become household names in the UK, while it has also been host to multiple National Hill Climb Championships over the years.

If you’re in Devon and Cornwall, you’re never too far from the sea, meaning you benefit from the geography of many rugged coastal roads, while there’s also the moors at Exmoor, Dartmoor and Bodmin that can provide spectacularly challenging climbs to take on.

Haytor has become a regular feature of the Tour of Britain (Pic: Paul Hayes-Watkins)

In fact, we can’t possibly cover all the climbs worth discovering in this remarkable region of the UK, but we’ve done our best to pick ten of the best that should be on your must-ride list.

Ten of the best climbs in…

  1. Kent
  2. Surrey
  3. Somerset & Dorset
  4. Sussex
  5. Yorkshire
  6. Peak District
  7. The Chilterns
  8. Mallorca
  9. Lake District
  10. North Pennines
  11. Devon & Cornwall

Salcombe Hill

Slightly confusingly, this Salcombe Hill isn’t in the famous town of Salcombe itself, but climbs out of the seaside town of Sidmouth instead towards Salcombe Regis. Although, it’s less of a climb and more a wall in our opinion.

The start of the climb belies the coming difficulty, registering as a false flat for the first 200m. That’s the case, even though the total climb length is only 1.2km and it averages a leg-burning 13 per cent.

As you rise up the road that curves left to follow the southerly coastline, the gradient only gets tougher, gradually getting steeper to the tune of 20 per cent. It’s a power climb, this one, and only eases slightly as you near the summit – but it’s not enough to take any respite, so it’s full gas to the top.

Vital statistics

Distance: 1.2km
Average gradient: 13 per cent
Steepest gradient: 20 per cent

Haytor

Perhaps the most famous of the climbs we’re going to cover, thanks to its reputation as a recognised summit finish in the Tour if Britain, the climb of Haytor Vale is a 5.3km-long ascent that rolls its way from Bovey Tracey up to just aside the summit of Haytor hill.

Team Sky’s Wout Poels won on Haytor when the climb featured in the 2016 Tour of Britain (Pic: Sweetspot)

It’s rolling in profile, averaging an Alp-imitating six per cent with sections that peak at 12 per cent along the B3387. You’ll start with a gradually increasing grade up to ten per cent for the first 1.5km, before a gentle easing.

It doesn’t last for long though as you round the ridge at 2.5km, hitting its 12 per cent peak, before returning to ten per cent ahead of a final flat section and a final rise up to 14 per cent for the last 500m blast.

Vital statistics

Distance: 5.3km
Average gradient: 6 per cent
Steepest gradient: 14 per cent

Challacombe

Challacombe was home to the 1985 National Hill Climb Championships, and so with a pedigree like that it had to make the list. It’s another ascent of 1.2km, but like many other hill climb challenges around the country, it’s particularly steep, peaking at 20 per cent.

It starts from the popular surfing spot of Woolacombe, and proceeds almost directly up the hill that gives the climb its name. The first 400m are relatively easy at around eight per cent, before the tough section begins.

If you’ve gone off too hard, you’ll know about it shortly, as the hill then pitches to a constant 20 per cent for the next 600m, only easing in the last 200m as you approach the junction with Georgeham Road at the top.  The end of the Strava segment comes just a few metres after the crest, so you’ll need to drive through the line for a quick time.

Vital statistics

Distance: 1.2 km
Average gradient: 12 per cent
Steepest gradient: 22 per cent

Widecombe

Another historical National Hill Climb hill, this one won in 1990 by none other than Chris Boardman, Widecombe is situated in the heart of Dartmoor National Park, starting from the suitably-named Widecombe in the Moor.

Widecombe provides typically beautiful Darmoor scenery (Pic: cloud2013 / Creative Commons)

Like Challacombe before it, it’s another unrelentingly steep climb that reaches a 20 per cent gradient in certain spots, so to do well here you need to throw caution to the wind and attack from the bottom.

You’re enticed to do that too thanks to the relatively steady eight per cent grades in the first 450m, before it rears its head and punishes riders with those 20 per cent pitches.

There’s really nowhere to hide on this one, with no real bends in the road aside from gentle meanders to give you a longer, shallower line. The only way is up, then.

Vital statistics

Distance: 1.3 km
Average gradient: 12 per cent
Steepest gradient: 20 per cent

Countisbury Hill

Starting from Lynmouth on the north coast of Exmoor National Park, Countisbury Hill is a drag along the A39 that lasts for 3.2km. It features an average gradient of nine per cent, with an initial pitch of 15 per cent before it eases off slightly.

Countisbury Hill averages nine per cent for 3.2km (Pic: Shrink’n’Violet / Creative Commons)

The challenge here is building and maintaining your momentum, and not going too hard at the bottom, because the slope barely ceases until the 2km mark, maintaining a steady 9-10 per cent the whole way.

You’re then rewarded with a 300m stretch of 3-4 per cent as the road stops hugging the cliffside, before a final rise towards the summit, sapping your legs of anything you might have just recouped.

Vital statistics

Distance: 3.2km
Average gradient: nine per cent
Steepest gradient: 15 per cent

Rundelstone

Not all climbs in Devon and Cornwall lend themselves to short and sharp power efforts. Rundelstone is an 8.7km ascent that climbs out of Tavistock on the B3357 at an average of four per cent, with a Strava KOM time of 18:27, and a QOM of 24:21.

That sounds like a long old drag, but the truth is the climb features a plateau and a small dip in the profile. But first, you rise up out of Tavistock at an initial 12 per cent, before a flat section until the 2.5km mark. The profile then rises again to an average of 12 per cent until you get to 4km.

This is then followed by another flat section of around 1.5km, before a small 500m drop at six per cent around the locale of Merrivale that’ll allow you to pick up some speed. From the base of the mini-descent, you’ll then attack the final 2.5km at around eight per cent until you meet the B3357 split in the road.

Vital statistics

Distance: 8.7km
Average gradient: 4 per cent
Steepest gradient: 13 per cent

Dartmeet

It’s easy to know where the start of the Dartmeet climb because it combe just before you cross over the East Dart River and the cattle grid.

From there, the climb rises consistently for its 1km duration at 13-14 per cent. There’s no respite from the gradient, even if it is constant, so you’ll need to find a rhythm and time your effort perfectly to get the most out of yourself.

The climb is characterised by a gentle sweeping meander up the hill, so you can split it into sections and target each of the five turns on the way up. Will you attack from the bottom and hold on, or gradually increase your effort with each section?

Vital statistics

Distance: 1.1km
Average gradient: 11 per cent
Steepest gradient: 14 per cent

Millook

Millook is a coastal climb in northern Cornwall, starting near the mouth of a tributary into the sea. It gains its name from the small enclave here, with the segment starting from the bridge.

The coastal climb of Millook climb starts steep and stays steep as the road swings from left to right (Pic: Reading Tom / Creative Commons)

The road then sweeps left and then sharply right, pitching up horribly, before meandering along the coastal road for the first 400m at an average of 12 per cent, with an initial pitch of 16 per cent.

Once you’ve completed the five corners in that compressed first 400m, you’ll then proceed directly upwards to the top of the hill, with small rollers punctuating the effort, with views of the sea dominating the experience beyond the hedgerow. You’ll be grateful for that shelter if the winds blowing in off the sea, though.

Vital statistics

Distance: 0.9km
Average gradient: nine per cent
Steepest gradient: 16 per cent

Talland Hill

Talland Hill is on the southern coast of Cornwall, and it’s a real short sharp stinger. Staring from the coastal fishing village of Polperro, Talland Hill road heads straight up the hillside, rather than following any river.

Talland Hill starts from the picturesque Cornish fishing village of Polperro (Pic: Reading Tom / Creative Commons)

This means it reaches leg-sapping grades of 20 per cent in places over its 950m length, while there’s little in the way of meaningful corners to help smooth the experience. As a result, you’re going to want to carry as much speed as you can off the junction at the bottom and try to keep your momentum for a fast time.

As you reach the 700m mark, the road begins to ease, but by that time your legs should feel like lactic-acid-filled jelly after your out-of-the-saddle maximal effort. You’ve just got to hang on in there until you feel the road flatten, squeezing out every last watt. Good luck.

Vital statistics

Distance: 0.9km
Average gradient: ten per cent
Steepest gradient: 20 per cent

Exmoor Forest

This is the longest climb featured in this top ten list at 11.1km, and leaves from the centre of Lynmouth, just like Countisbury Hill. However, where Countisbury takes the A39 drag eastwards, Exmoor Forest takes the more southerly-facing direction instead.

Initially, it follows the East Lyn River for the first 3km, averaging four per cent, before peeling off southwards. Once you make the junction and turn off onto the B3223, the gradient steepens up to its 14 per cent peak until you reach the two switchbacks on the way up Scobhill Road.

From there, the road flattens gradually from that 5km mark for the following 6km. If you’ve burned your matches at the bottom, you’ll need to recover on the go, while those with big cardiovascular engines and high power outputs will enjoy the second half of the climb, and make up time against the lightweight climbing specialists.

Vital statistics

Distance: 11.1km
Average gradient: four per cent
Steepest gradient: 14 per cent

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