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Tarka Trail

tarka trail bike and dog

A Guide to Exploring the Tarka Trail in North Devon

Passing through rich farmland, deep woodlands, undulating moorland, and riverside villages across Northern Devon, the captivating Tarka Trail allows walkers and cyclists to experience some of the county’s most breathtaking landscapes. Sections of the trail closely follow the adventures of Tarka the Otter in Henry Williamson’s classic novel.

The 29 mile route from Braunton to Okehampton via Barnstaple makes an achievable goal for avid hikers or bikers over 2-3 days. But scenic half day stretches offer rewarding adventures with charming pubs and tea rooms beckoning along the way. Here’s everything you need to explore the Tarka Trail.

tarka trail bridge

About the Trail

Following the old railway lines of North Devon, the Tarka Trail stretches continuous traffic-free trails and quiet country lanes linking the Exe Estuary to the high woodlands and moors inland. Passing through the regions Tarka visited, highlights include:

  • Coastal wetlands – A birdwatcher’s paradise with curlews, sandpipers and herons.
  • Deep woodlands – Follow rivers through oak and ash groves.
  • Farmland – Cycle beside hay meadows and grazing livestock.
  • Moorland – Patches of heather moor along the climbs inland.
  • Market towns – Discover historic Barnstaple and Bideford.

With its easy gradients, clear signposting and mileage markers, it suits most ages and abilities for an active yet achievable challenge.

tarka trail map

Starting Out

The official Tarka Trail spans 29 miles. While advanced cyclists will complete it in a day, walkers should allow 2-3 days to fully embrace the atmosphere.

If time is limited or you have young children, half day tasters of 6-8 miles between pick up points accessible by rail allow you to experience its essence:

  • Barnstaple to Braunton – Rivers, wetlands and sandy beaches.
  • Barnstaple to Instow – Following the Taw Estuary by the long-distance footbridge.
  • Instow to Fremington – Pretty riverside villages.
  • Fremington to Bideford – Garlanded with wildflowers during summer.

Connect by train via the Tarka Line or use the 39 bus serving towns along the trail.

tarka trail lane

Walking the Trail

Bring your hiking boots to discover the landscape on foot. Well waymarked with yellow signs, the paths are a comfortable blend of surfaces:

  • Firm stone paths along old railway viaducts – Flat and easy to cover distance.
  • Woodland dirt tracks – Wind through shady forests and valleys beside rivers.
  • Country lanes – Quiet tarmac with some gentle climbs across rolling fields.
  • Urban riverbanks – Paved shared routes through Barnstaple and Bideford.

With views over rivers, lagoons and woodlands, it showcases Nature’s beauty.

small photo of tarka trail

Cycling the Trail

Built on old railway beds, most gradients are family-friendly for cycling. Options include:

  • Bike Hire – Available in Braunton, Barnstaple and Instow if you don’t fancy bringing your own. Tag-a-Longs and trailers cater for little legs.
  • E-Bike Hire – Electric bicycles take the strain from hills and provide electric assistance. Ideal for beginners.
  • Your own bike – Pack panniers and equipment if camping en-route.
  • Tackle sections – Try shorter stretches close to villages and públicos transport in case little ones tire.

With nature and heritage discoveries awaiting, it’s a varied journey across classic Devon landscapes.


Top Stops and Sights

Don’t rush – part of the Tarka Trail’s joy comes from unwinding and connecting with the nature and history:

  • Waters Meet – Look out for kingfishers where the rivers Torridge and Taw converge. A peaceful spot for a picnic.
  • Fremington Quay – Once vital for transporting lime and fertiliser inland from coastal ships.
  • Barnstaple – Discover the bohemian town Pannier Market and 900 year old transporter bridge crossing the Taw.
  • Landcross – Pretty village near marshy creeks frequented by waders and herons.
  • Instow – Enjoy a break at one of this picturesque village’s cafes near the mouth of the estuary beside the Art Deco sands.
  • Weare Giffard – Sample ciders at the Old Cider Works.
tarka trail bike

Stay Overnight

You don’t have to rush the trail by squeezing it into a day. Staying overnight allows you to fully relax and recharge for the next stage:

  • B&Bs or hotels – Unpack once at base in towns like Barnstaple.
  • Camp sites – Pitch a tent under the stars in villages along the route.
  • Bunkhouses – Some basic barns provide budget multi-share accommodation along the trail.
  • Bikepacking – Adventure seekers can trek from camping spot to camping spot each day.

Having time to dawdle lets you soak up wildlife, scenery and tempting pub food after a long day’s walk or ride.

With its accessibility, charming villages and abundance of natural beauty, the Tarka Trail promises an enticing escape in “Tarka Country”. Its easy gradients make it achievable for most ages to immerse themselves in this scenic pocket of Devon.

The Tarka Trail Guide Book

The Tarka Trail Guide is a helpful resource for nature enthusiasts and outdoor adventurers. Covering over 29 miles of car-free former railway line, this book offers a comprehensive and detailed overview of the Tarka Trail. It provides clear directions, historical insights, and highlights the diverse flora and fauna along the trail. Whether you’re a hiker, cyclist, or simply looking for a leisurely stroll through beautiful countryside, this guide ensures you make the most of your journey.

tarka trail guide
Buy The Tarka Trail Guide

Frequently Asked Questions

Where does the Tarka Trail begin and end? – It begins in Braunton and ends in Okehampton.

Is there a charge for walking or cycling the Tarka Trail? – No charge at all. It is a free route, although you will appropriate equipment.

How long is the Tarka Trail? – 29 miles altogether

Nearby Attractions

There are lots of great places to go near the Tarka Trail, including:

  • Okehampton Castle – Imposing medieval ruin with interactive exhibits bringing the history to life. Great for kids.
  • Tiverton Castle – Well-preserved Norman motte-and-bailey castle, now a historic house museum with expansive gardens and park to explore.
  • Milky Way Adventure Park – Top family theme park with over 100 rides and indoor/outdoor attractions from rollercoasters to farm animals.
  • RHS Garden Rosemoor – Stunning 105 acre gardens with formal/informal planting, specialist collections and peaceful woodland walks.
  • Big Sheep – Family attraction with shows, exhibits and sheep races. Opportunity to walk with alpacas and feed lambs.
  • Arlington Court – Elegant Regency house once home to the Chichester family, set in acres of parkland.
  • Hartland Abbey – Historic stately home with ornamental gardens, woodland walks, and medieval monastery ruins in a scenic coastal setting.
  • Clovelly – Picturesque ancient fishing village with cobbled streets and whitewashed cottages cascading down a steep hillside to the harbour.
  • Rock Park Gardens – Subtropical gardens in Barnstaple housing exotic plants. Stone sculptures dotted throughout the lush grounds.
  • Surfing at Saunton Sands – Take lessons or just enjoy the waves at this vast sandy beach backed by dunes. Great for watersports.
  • North Devon Wake Park – Enjoy thrills and spills on the water as you learn how to wakeboard

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