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Walking and cycling on the Tarka Trail

It's popular with walkers, joggers, cyclists and horse riders. Everyone has heard of the Tarka Trail, but what exactly is it and where does it go?
The Tarka Trail is a recreational traffic-free route of footpaths, cycleways and bridle paths covering 180 miles (290km) around North Devon. It actually follows the route taken by Tarka the Otter in the well-known novel by Henry Williamson. The charming story of Tarka the Otter and his antics as a cub learning to fend for himself was later made into a movie with a screenplay written by naturalist, Gerald Durrell.

Otters were once close to extinction due to river pollution in the UK, and an Otter Conservation Officer was consulted during the creation of the Tarka Trail to ensure minimal disruption to the resident otters that you may see diving and playing in the area today.

The Tarka Trail runs around the Barnstaple area of North Devon roughly in a figure of eight. It covers the very best of North Devon’s variety of landscapes, at times running through wooded river valleys or moorland before heading out beside sandy bays and coastal clifftops.

Cycling the Tarka Trail

Such is its popularity there are several places to hire bicycles, which is a great way to cover more ground and offers a very different experience to walking sections of the trail. The Tarka Trail is now part of the National Cycle Network (route 27) and is part of the Devon Coast to Coast Cycle Ride. Much of the Tarka Trail is along the former railway line between Barnstaple and Bideford.

Rail-trails are perfect for cycling, as they are broad routes with gradual inclines and good footings for drainage. Left wild, the Tarka Trail is lined with seasonal wildflowers, hedgerows and grasses, which are the perfect habitat for a range of wildlife. The former railway bridges that were built to span rivers and valleys give splendid elevated views of the surrounding area.

Establishing the Tarka Trail

The initial Tarka Trail was opened in 1991, linking Barnstaple to Bideford and is a combined footpath and cycleway. In 1992 the railway line from Bideford to Meeth was converted and became known as the Tarka Country Park. Once bridges across the River Torridge had been adapted and repaired, this further extended the trail to a total 180 miles (290km) so you probably will not cover it all in one trip! The trail was renamed the Tarka Trail in 1994. Initially the southern section was only for walkers but it was later converted into a cycle and walkway with stretches suitable for horse riders.

Tarka Trail Route

Those staying in a holiday cottage near any of these towns and villages will find the Tarka Trail is right outside their door! It runs southwest through Barnstaple, Fremington, Yelland, Instow and Bideford then inland to Torrington, Watergate, Petrockstowe and Meeth. In the opposite direction, it runs in a loop northeast from Barnstaple to Lynmouth then westwards along the coast to Ilfracambe, Lee Bay, Mortehoe, Woolacombe and inland towards Barnstaple via Braunton.

If you want to further extend the route, it also intersects with the South West Coast Path, The Two Moors Way over Exmoor, the Macmillan Way West from Barnstaple to Exmoor, the Dartmoor Way, West Devon Way, Two Castles Trail and the Little Dart Ridge and Valley Walk.

With so many beautiful walks and trails, you have to ask yourself whether one week in a Devon holiday cottage will really be enough!

Bicycles can be hired from Tarka Bikes based at the old railway station in Barnstaple, or from Torrington Cycle Hire or Otter Cycle Hire in Braunton.

About Gillian Birch

Born in Cheshire, Gillian Birch moved to Cornwall at her earliest opportunity and never looked back. After 20 years, her ongoing discovery of popular attractions, quiet footpaths and local eateries has made her a fount of knowledge as she entertains readers with her informative articles on the hidden gems of Devon & Cornwall from a local point-of-view.

Find Gillian on Google+, and Twitter.

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