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28 September 2016 No comments

A Family Affair

Correspondence Friends Bicycles Monthly highlights Travel & Adventure Cycling Stories
By Jack Thurston
A Family Affair

Joyful arrivals though they were, there is no escaping the fact that having kids has required a fundamental recalibration of my cycling life. First off, there’s just a lot less time to go out riding and I've had make the most of riding at night, once they’ve gone to sleep. But the holy grail has been finding ways to ride with kids on board, so that spending time on the bike can double as childcare.

They say nine months is the earliest you can put a baby on a bike and when the big day finally came, it was with a sense of trepidation as I strapped my son into the child seat mounted just behind my handlebars and rode forth. His chuckles and whoops of excitement suggested he was enjoying being on the bike every bit as much as I was (I was also chuckling and whooping, but on the inside). We soon discovered that zipping around by bike is much more fun than the comatose tedium of the pushchair, or the stressful confinement of the car.

Less happily, riding with kids has been something of a wake up call when it comes to the underlying level of road danger that cyclists in Britain put up with. With precious cargo on board, mixing with motor traffic suddenly felt a whole lot more uncomfortable. Riding on faster, busier roads now felt unjustifiably reckless. More than ever I find myself seeking out the quieter streets and roads, trying to work out traffic-free alternatives and making a beeline for any traffic free cycle paths.

To begin with, we made only the shortest of journeys around town: to the shops, to the park, to visit friends. Venturing further afield it became pretty clear that long rides were not an option. An hour at a stretch seemed to be the limit and plenty of stopping for drinks, snacks and ‘natural breaks’ not to mention getting off at every playground you pass, taking a closer look at farm animals, or interesting birds, flowers and mini-beasts in the hedgerows, and around this time of year, picking blackberries. Cycling is already slow travel, with children involved, it’s better just to count the smiles, and not the miles. Even so we made it for some decent half day rides and one overnight camping trip.

With our son aged three and our daughter nearly one the time felt right for a longer journey. Finding a long distance cycling route in the UK that’s suitable for riding with young kids isn’t easy but the Devon Coast to Coast fits the bill pretty well. The 102-mile route traverses England’s third largest county, passing through the wild uplands of Dartmoor National Park. The route makes use of a series of disused railway lines, which means the gradients are gentle and the route is 70 per cent traffic free. The route is a magnets for visitors, whether on foot or by bike, and there are plenty of places to eat, drink and stay overnight. With another family and their two-year-old daughter joining us we set out to ride the Coast to Coast over four days.

The route begins on Devon's north coast, following the River Taw and Torridge inland on the Tarka Trail:

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Quiet country lanes are a pleasure to ride:

The towering Meldon Viaduct is one of the route's most spectacular moments:

Touring with kids is all about the stops along the way:

Everything stops for naps:

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Yarde Orchard is a bike-friendly cafe right on the route:

And they've got a tiny camping field with a few yurts and bell tents for hire:

Travelling light(ish):

In mid-summer pink foxgloves are everywhere:

The route combines railway paths with quiet lanes and the occasional bit of rough stuff:

The Gem Bridge, opened in 2012, is another highlight, leaping across the Walken Valley:

Even though we suffered a mighty drenching on the last morning, the trip felt like a huge success and we're definitely up for more family cycle touring. What are your top tips for cycling with kids? And which long-distance cycle routes are best for families?