The Tarka Trail, Devon

Off Road Rail to Trail

This rail-to-trail path, has been called the most beautiful Active England trail – for both cyclists and walkers! So it is here that we often begin our Devon and Cornwall tours.

Running 33 miles through North Devon this trail is completely car free, encompassing footpaths, bridleways and cycle ways as it winds its way through beautiful countryside. This area of Britain remains relatively unfrequented, and therefore is a real hidden gem that we are privileged to be able to show off to our guests.

North Devon tarka trail

UNESCO Area of North Devon

In fact this area of North Devon is considered so special that UNESCO designated the region as a World Biosphere Reserve; for its landscapes and wildlife, its cultural heritage and its communities’ sustainable living. It is also (quite rightly!) designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and every time we venture out on a walk or on our bikes we can see why. From the rugged cliffs that line its coast, to its ancient burial mounds nestled in its highlands; from its sheltered harbours, beautiful estuaries and its oak woodlands, there is a huge diversity of landscapes to explore.

Tarka the Otter

The Tarka Trail takes us right into the heart of North Devon and takes its name from a particularly famous otter, immortalized in Henry Williamson’s novel, Tarka the Otter. We follow Tarka’s journey from birthplace to coast and back, through dunes and woodland, passing towns and tracing the rivers to the sea. Published 91 years ago this book catapulted Henry into the limelight as well as the plight of the otter species, nearly hunted to extinction in Southern England within 30 years of its publication.

With many guests travelling direct from London, this first day of our tour aims to give guests a real taste of the countryside. Williamson himself has said, ‘there are few wildernesses left in England, but this is a glimpse of a place untouched’. Off the beaten track, ‘it is all here in Devon, if you just happen to see and hear or smell it’.


Williamson loved the wild nature of the landscapes of North Devon and the solitude it offered. There is a sense of isolation from the world here, whether wandering through woodland, along cliff top or into or a land that seems more like a moonscape than anything of this earth. One particularly striking feature of North Devon is Braunton Burrows, the the Uk’s largest dune system and home to nearly 500 species of wildflower, plus 33 species of butterfly. With this as his ‘backyard’ it is easy to see why he felt so at home in Devon and why his writings meant were so heartfelt. It is thought that he rewrote the manuscript 17 times before he was satisfied, saying “each word was chipped from the breastbone”.