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As a family we are pretty keen on easy bike rides together. There are enough other things in life where we disagree, but a bike ride is quite a leveller. We don’t like traffic or hills very much so when we had an autumn break in North Devon, we thought the Tarka Trail looked ideal. It’s a former railway line and is part of national cycle route 3.
Barnstaple to Instow
We didn’t do all of the Tarka Trail, but started in Barnstaple where we parked at the leisure centre. Heading south, we wound our way through the town on the marked route with just one rather hairy road-crossing. Once on the path proper, it wasn’t long before we had some lovely views of the estuary. Fremlington Quay has a charming cafe in the old railway station which was jam packed. It took an incredibly long time for us to get to the front of the queue. We rather wished we had taken a packed lunch, but we did enjoy our food. After such a long break early on, we gave up trying to rush and took our time to stop and admire the views.
The views on this path are really good. So often with cycle paths on old railway lines the views are obscured by cuttings and overgrown hedgerows. There are some sections like this on the Tarka Trail but they are quite brief. We saw sandbanks teeming with seabirds, boats, bridges, pretty villages and even two starling murmerations. We had frequent views of the rivers Taw and then the Torridge but on the first day we stopped a way south of Instow and turned around.
Instow to Bideford
At Instow we found a hip beach café with deck chairs just behind the sand dunes. It’s worth walking up over the dune for a super view of Appledore across the river. On the second day we parked just near this café and carried on our way south.
The scenery changed a little coming into Bideford and there’s a long rise up to the old railway station which is right in the town amongst terraced houses. Old carriages give the impression that the station has only just been abandoned.
Bideford to Great Torrington
Leaving Bideford it gets a bit harder to see the river for a while as it’s more overgrown. Then the trail crosses the river Torridge on an impressive iron bridge. Back amongst dense trees for a while the trail then passes under a few tunnels.
Before long the trail crosses and then re-crosses the river Torridge near Beam house. Here, catch a view of the aqueduct with five arches, which used to carry the Rolle canal. This is where Tarka the otter was born, and that’s how the trail got its name.
Nearby is an information board about the Rolle canal which we found quite fascinating. Apparently the canal had a steep incline which caught our attention because how can boats go uphill? Using a water wheel, the boats were cranked up a slope. It was quite the local spectacle and drew crowds to watch, but was destroyed with the coming of the railway.
Just north of Great Torrington is Puffing Billy café where we finally stopped and turned around. It’s another charming converted railway station, this time with a carriage outside.
Plan your Tarka Trail Bike Ride
Devon council has a pdf map of the Tarka Trail available for download – a link to a pdf is on this page. Print it off before you go then you don’t have to worry about phone signal while you’re cycling. An ariel view map with wildlife information can be found here.
Investing in a bike carrier for our car was one of our best family decisions and we always have something to do together on holiday. Tilting towball bike carriers like this one http://amzn.to/2A3OqeU are really convenient as you don’t have to lift the bikes up high. You can also shop my other top picks on this page.
We took our bikes on holiday to Anglesey and found some great routes there too – read more in this blog about our favourite beach.