Tarka Trail

Exploring

Cycling

Cycling on the Tarka Trail

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Details

From – to: Braunton to Meeth via Barnstaple
Distance: Just over 30 miles
Terrain: Disused railway path. Tarmac and finely packed stone surface
Access: Barnstaple railway station
National Cycle Network: National Routes 3 and 27

Summary

The Tarka Trail incorporates one of the country’s longest, continuous traffic-free shared use paths, ideal for cycling, which forms part of the Devon Coast to Coast Cycle Route. It is mostly flat and easy to cycle for people of all ages and abilities. Get on your bike to enjoy some of the most enjoyable cycling and most stunning scenery ion the country.

Code of conduct

The section of Tarka Trail between Braunton and Meeth is a shared use path for both pedestrians and cyclists, but pedestrians take priority. Cyclists are asked to slow down and ride in single file around pedestrians and to use a bell or alternative to give clear warning when approaching from behind, in particular to dog walkers who will require time to get their dog under control.

The only safe way to ensure the safety of both the pedestrian and the cyclist is if the cyclist makes the pedestrian aware of their approach.

Please note that motor vehicles are prohibited from The Tarka Trail.

Code of conduct

gate access to Tarka Trail cycle path

Access

There are several places you can join the Tarka Trail shared use path. There are car parks at both ends, at Braunton (Caen Car Park) and Meeth (Meeth Halt).

In between those two points, there is parking and access from Barnstaple, Fremington Quay, Instow, Bideford and Torrington.
Please visit the parking and access page for more information.

Most access points are restricted by gates or posts. These are usually just over a metre wide allowing enough room for child carriers or trikes.

Cyclist on Tarka Trail in Barnstaple

Cycle Hire

All along the shared use path are cycle hire shops. Whether you are starting your journey in Braunton, Barnstaple, Fremington, Bideford or Torrington, there are cycle hire shops offering a range of bike types for adults and children, plus some offer a range of electric bikes too.

Cycle hire

If you are bringing your own bikes, then the larger towns and villages such as Braunton, Barnstaple and Bideford have a selection of bike shops if you need any additional items or repairs to your own bikes.

Bike shops

The Route

The original railway line the route makes use of followed the contours of the two main rivers in the region. The River Taw, which flows through Barnstaple, then Braunton into the Crow Point estuary and the River Torridge which twists and turns through Torrington, then Bideford, then out into the estuary.

You will experience wonderful, close-up views of both rivers as you cycle.

Travelling the route you will experience many wildlife habitats including estuary mud flats and salt marshes, oak woodland, hazel coppice, hedges, ponds, streams, ditches and meadows.

You will cross under old stone bridges and cross iron bridges from the original railway.

All along the trail are sculptures and works of art created by local artists.

Beginning in the pretty village of Braunton, the route is incredibly easy to follow. It’s also flat and traffic-free, making it very suitable for families.

Iron bridge at Fremington Quay on the Tarka Trail in North devon

Your journey will continue along the banks of the River Taw, passing through Chivenor and crossing the tributary river Yeo on the new swing bridge at Barnstaple. A detour into Barnstaple town centre is a worthwhile visit, taking in the Pannier Market and the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon.

The route then takes you up the Torridge Estuary, passing through Instow and Bideford. These are great places to stop off for refreshments with lots of cafes and restaurants.

At Torrington, do not miss the Puffing Billy, a relaxed pub at the former Torrington railway station. It is right on the Tarka Trail and the restored waiting room serves as the restaurant. There is also a goods brake van, coal truck and buffet carriage on a restored stretch of track.

You can either leave the Traka Trail on the line of the old tramway route and finish in the beautiful town of Great Torrington or continue on the route across the river on the railway to where the path currently ends at Meeth.

Here is a useful PDF guide you can download, produced by The Tarka Trail Guide

Tarka Trail cycle guide download

There are several cafes and pubs along the route for refreshments.

The Tarka Trail is one of Sustrans Art Trails. Along it you will beautifully designed benches and shelters by Katy Hallett, Ben May, John Butler, Geoff Stainthorp and Paul Anderson.

The National Cycle Network

The National Cycle Network is series of cycle routes that span the whole country. Sections of the Tarka Trail makes use of Routes 3 and 27. It is possible to extend your cycle ride further than the Tarka Trail shared use path, for example to cycle from Braunton north to Woolacombe and Ilfracombe, but you will encounter bridelpaths, hilly terrain and some road cycling which may be challenging to some riders.

The National Cycle Network

For those who like a more challenging off-road experience, there are several routes around Braunton, Barnstaple and Torrington that are accessible from The Tarka Trail that will take you along bridlepaths, through woods and up and down hills.

Mountain biking routes in North Devon

Ilfracombe to Woolacombe via Slade Reservoir

The Tarka Trail shared use path is based on old railways lines that once ran through the area. One track ran from Barnstaple through to Ilfracombe, parts of which are still visible around the village of Braunton, where both the path and the original track now ends.

However, the track does re-appear further north at Woolacombe, where a flat, tarmacked path runs through the picturesque Slade valley, next to the Slade Reservoir, north into Ilfracombe. This is not actually part of The Tarka Trail, but does often get refereed to as such. Plans are underway to connect the tarmacked paths at Woolacombe with Braunton, but this will require a great deal of work and negotiating with private land owners so could be quite some time off, if it happens at all.

Cyclists climbing steep section of the Tarka Trail near Ilfracombe
Cycle path at Ilfracombe

You can read more about the extension here: https://tarkatrail.org.uk/news/exciting-plan-to-extend-tarka-trail-cycle-route/

For the time being, the only way to access the cycle path between Woolacombe and Ilfracombe is via road. There are several car parks in Ilfracombe if you start your journey there, but there is a car park at Lee Bridge with access directly onto the path.