October 31, 2023

Destination: Devon & Cornwall


A Guide to Cycling the Tarka Trail

If you like cycling on traffic-free roads with only beautiful views ahead of you, then the Tarka Trail in Devon is for you.

The 180-mile (289.5 km) figure-of-eight loop winds through the North Devon countryside, along footpaths, bridleways, across patchwork fields, and even alongside the edge of the Bristol Channel.

It follows the route taken by the fictional Tarka the Otter in the book of the same name (Wikipedia.org). It’s split into walking and cycling sections, as well as one section where you’ll need to take a train or drive.

The Tarka Trail, is arguably the best cycling route in Devon.

Statue of Tarka the Otter in Bideford

Which part of the Tarka Trail can I cycle?

The Tarka Trail is home to one of the UK’s longest, continuous, traffic-free cycling paths. It’s 30 miles (48 km) long, and runs from Braunton to Meeth, via Barnstaple, following the original railway line along the contours of the two main rivers in the region: the River Taw, and the River Torridge. For international visitors, The Tarka Trail offers an excellent taste of cycling in England.

Bridges over the River Torridge on the Tarka Trail, Devon

How do I get to the start of the Tarka Trail cycling route?

You can do the route in any direction, but there’s a train station in Barnstaple so we recommend starting from here if you’re relying on public transport. There are regular trains between Exeter and Barnstaple.

There are also car parks at both ends of the route: Caen Car Park in Braunton; and Meeth Halt in Meeth. You can also join the Tarka cycling trail at four other points: Fremington Quay, Instow, Bideford, and Torrington.

More information on parking: Tarkatrail.org.uk.

How flat is the Tarka Trail cycling route?

The Tarka Trail is mostly flat and accessible for walkers of all ages.

Forest on The Tarka Trail in Devon

How busy is the Tarka Trail cycling route?

The Tarka Trail cycling section is also shared with pedestrians, so expect to cycle at a leisurely pace and give pedestrians priority.

It’s recommended to have a bell on your bike, so you can give people a clear warning.

Is there anywhere on the Tarka Trail to hire a bike?

There is a cycle hire shop in Braunton (Watersidebikehire.co.uk), as well as a cycle shop for anyone who needs repairs, called Southfork (Southforkracing.co.uk).

In Bideford, Cycles Scuderia (Cyclesscuderia.co.uk) carries a small fleet of bikes for hire, and The Bike Shed (Bikesheduk.com), in Barnstaple has a lovely cafe as well as a bike service shop.

Is the Tarka Trail cycling path easy to follow?

The Tarka Trail is very easy to follow. It’s flat and traffic-free, so it’s perfect for families.

What should I look out for along the Tarka Trail cycling path?

James Johnstone - Woody Bay - Devon

Along the route, you should see plenty of wildlife, as well as a few iron bridges from the original railway. There are also sculptures and works of art created by local artists.

The route from Braunton and Meeth takes in many villages and scenic points of interest such as Barnstaple, Fremington, and Instow. At Fremington Quay (once a busy port) you’ll be treated to panoramic views of the river Taw. Once you’ve passed through Instow you’ll follow the river Torridge through Bideford and Torrington.

It’s worth taking a bit of time in Braunton. This village has a museum (Brauntonmuseum.co.uk) offering an insight into village life with a working model railway.

Braunton Burrows is a biosphere and the largest sand dune system in England. Slightly off the route but worth the diversion is Crow Point, a sweeping beach where the rivers Taw and Torridge meet at the southern end of Braunton Burrows.

Further along the route, another photo opportunity is the restored railway station of Woody Bay between Lynton and Barnstaple.

Where can I get refreshments along the Tarka Trail?

The Bull and Dragon, Meeth; Bullanddragon.

Puffing Billy Cafe, in Torrington; Puffingbilly.co.uk.

Bideford Railway Heritage Centre, Bideford (not only can you have tea on the railway, there’s also a museum); Bidefordrailway.co.uk.

John’s of Appledore and Instow, Instow; Johnsofinstow.co.uk.

Fremington Quay Cafe, Fremington.

Boston Tea Party, Barnstaple; Bostonteaparty.co.uk.

The Quay Cafe, Braunton – Thequaycafe.com.

Planning a cycling holiday in the southwest of England? Have a look at our guided cycling tours of Devon & Cornwall.

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