Cycling the Tarka Trail
A 35 miles, the Tarka Trail is an almost entirely traffic-free cycling route that is flat for the most part. Suitable for families.
The Tarka Trail is a long shared path in North Devon, England. It’s a great car-free way to explore the countryside and see some amazing scenery. This free guide will give you all the information you need to plan your trip. You can follow the whole route or just sections of it. From Braunton, Barnstaple or Bideford, it offers safe, family-friendly cycling right to a fantastic beach.
The Tarka Trail in North Devon follows a disused railway that once linked Barnstaple to Hatherleigh, and onwards. It’s a very well-known traffic-free route, set in a stunning natural environment. The trail is flat all the way from Braunton to Great Torrington, then a gradual uphill almost to the delightful Yarde Orchard. It also forms part of the Devon Coast To Coast route (NCN 27).
Thousands of cyclists cycle this route each year, and most of them never leave the trail itself. When you cycle the Tarka Trail, do get off the trail first at Instow, which has some nice shops and a stunning beach. It is a delightful route, full of hidden surprises and breath-taking views. Less well known than the Camel Trail in Cornwall, I believe the Tarka Trail to be far better, offering some of the best traffic-free cycling to be had in the UK.
Bike hire is available in Braunton, Barnstaple, Bideford and Great Torrington.
Please note that this guide excludes the section of the Tarka Trail between Ilfracombe and , as though traffic-free, that is currently free-standing and not directly connected to the rest of the Tarka Trail.
The surface from Braunton through to Great Torrington is tar, though the quality of tar does vary. In places it’s showing its age, and is bumpy.
Shortly after the Puffing Billy, Great Torrington, it becomes unsealed, but remains an easy surface to ride on all year round.
You can use any type of bike on the Tarka Trail, including trikes and cargo bikes.
There are toilets in Braunton, at Barnstaple station, at Fremington Quay, Instow (off the trail, at a pub), Bideford (pub on the trail, but down stairs), Great Torrington (Puffing Billy) and finally at Yarde Orchard.
There are refreshments available in Braunton, near Barnstaple station, at Fremington Quay, at Instow (off the trail), at some points along the trail between Instow and Bideford. With the exception of the coffee bike, those are all off the trail itself. There are also refreshments in Barnstaple (the old train carriage), and the Puffing Billy and directly opposite, at Torrington Cycle Hire, and also at Yarde Orchard.
Overall, I give the part of the Tarka Trail covered by this guide a child-friendly rating of 8/10. Most f the route is suitable for even young kids to cycle, but there are a number of places where they will require close supervision.
Points of Interest
The Taw and Torridge Estuary is stunning, and a rich have for wildlife.
Along most of the Tarka Trail there are distinctive posts, displaying a QR code. Scanning these will allow you to download an MP3 file, which tells you more about the immediate surrounding area.
Routes in Devon
- DayCycle – Drake’s Trail
- DayCycle – Tarka Trail
- DayCycle – A Redlake adventure
- DayCycle – Dawlish to Exeter St Davids, 14 miles, mainly flat
- DayCycle – Grand Western Canal – a stunning, flat & traffic-free 15 mile route
- DayCycle – Stover Trail & Wray Valley Trail
- Nun’s Cross Trail cycle route
- Princetown Railway traffic-free cycle route
- Saltram Loop traffic-free cycle route
- The Exe Estuary cycle route to Exmouth
- The Granite Way
There are chicane barriers at Fremington Quay, but they’re manageable in a wheelchair, a mobility scooter and many cargo bikes. It is possible to go around the barriers, by diverting along the path to the waterside, then cutting back across the grass. There are a double set of gates shortly before Instow – it isn’t possible to bypass those.
In Instow, there is a gate by the old signal tower, but you can usually bypass that by cycling through the car parking entrance, then veering left onto the trail, through the gates that are normally left open. After leaving Barnstaple, the track can get uncomfortably bumpy in places.
What it looks like
You can get to Barnstaple by train, along the Tarka branch line from Exter St David’s, so you can easily get to the Tarka Trail car-free, by taking your bike on the train. As ever, read my Bikes On Trains guide for useful and helpful tips for taking your bike on the train.
If you’re driving to the Tarka Trail, there is free parking by the Puffing Billy, just outside Great Torrington. There is a dedicated, pay and display car park by the train station in Barnstaple, and another such car park close to the trail, in Braunton.
DayCycle routes are routes can can easily be cycled by most people in a day, or part of a day. Do have a look at all the other DayCycle routes available on WillCycle. Many contain detailed route guides, as well as embedded maps (like the one below).