Tarka Trail


Is the Tarka Trail a cycle path?

Signpost at Barnstaple

A question we often get asked is “is the Tarka Trail a cycle path?” There definitely seems to be some confusion over what the Tarka Trail is!

One section of the Tarka Trail is a shared-use path open to pedestrians and cyclists. It is not a dedicated cycle path, but is ideal for cycling as it is flat, off-road and tarmacked. Priority is given to pedestrians along this stretch, so cyclists are asked to slow down and give way to pedestrians.

However, the 32 mile shared-use path is just one section of the Tarka Trail which covers 180 miles around North Devon in total.

The map below illustrates the four, very different sections of the Tarka Trail:

  • The dark green paths are countryside walks using footpaths and bridleways.
  • The light blue path uses the South West Coast Path for a coastal walk.
  • The red path is the shared-use path between Braunton and Meeth
  • The yellow path is a train ride from Eggesford station, back into Barnstaple on the Tarka Line rail service.

Tarka Trail map showing the various sections

If you complete the entire 180 mile route, you will hopefully have experienced the best North Devon has to offer. You will encounter towns and villages, the moors and hills of Exmoor, the drama of the coastal path, the winding rivers and woods between Bideford and Torrington that is still home to otters and the relaxing, scenic Tarka Line train ride.

The history of the Tarka Trail

Understanding the history and the development of The Tarka Trail may help to explain why some people get confused.

The shared-use path between Braunton and Meeth makes use of old railway lines that once criss-crossed the whole region. Most of the railways carried raw materials and goods, though some also carried passengers too. The development of roads and motor vehicles started the decline of the railways which resulted in closure in the 1960’s and 70’s which in turn fell derelict.

In the 1980’s a section of the old railway near Bideford was purchased by Devon County Council and converted into ‘Tarka Country Park’ for public recreational use. Over time more sections of the old railway were acquired until the entire section between Braunton and Meeth was obtained.

By the late 1980’s the concept of The Tarka Trail was born. A sign-posted trail running throughout North Devon that would guide visitors around the region making use of existing public footpaths, The Two Moors Way through Exmoor, The South West Coast Path along the western coast of the region and of course, Tarka Country Park and the old railway path.

Plaque to commemorate the opening of the Tarka Trail in 1992

The Tarka Trail was officially opened by King Charles (Then Prince Charles) in 1992. By 1994 the name of Tarka Country Park had been dropped and the shared use path was simply referred to as The Tarka Trail.

This would go some way to explaining the confusion and why many people believe The Tarka Trail is no more than the 32 mile shared-use path, but it is actually a great deal more.

Can you cycle all of the Tarka Trail

This is another question we get asked regularly and the answer is simply no!

The 32 mile, shared-use path is perfect for family cycling, but the rest of the trail uses footpaths that are either not suitable for bikes or bikes are not permitted.

However, if you are a more experienced cyclist, using a combination of roads, country lanes, bridleways and National Cycle Network routes, it is possible to find similar routes around the region.

cycling in exmoor
Cyclist magazine : Big Ride : Exmoor

The Cyclist magazine has a really good article outlining a route through Exmoor. This is for road cycling, but can be connected to other roads to follow the route of The Tarka Trail from Lynton to Barnstaple.

Another example, if you prefer a bit of off-road cycling is the Devon Coast to Coast route which starts in Plymouth in the south of the county and makes its way north until it reaches Okehampton where it then joins The Tarka Trail. The rider will stay on the Tarka Trail until it ends in Braunton where the route then makes use of a combination of road, lanes and bridleways (some quite hilly) to reach Ilfracombe in the north.

Devon Coast to Coast cycle route

There is also a good article by Chris Bolton on a cycling route between Bideford and Lynton which makes use of a section of The Tarka Trail shared use path.

Bideford to Lynton cycle route

If you are looking for a safe and fairly easy bike ride then you can’t do better than the 32 mile, traffic-free, flat, shared-use path section of the Tarka Trail. It is in fact, the longest, traffic-free cycle path in the UK with beautiful scenery the whole way. You can come off the trail and visit some of the towns and villages along the way, or stop at some of the cafes on the trail that have made use of old railway stations.

If you would like to follow the Tarka Trail further than Meeth or Braunton, then you will either need to walk, or find somewhere to leave your bike at either end as The Tarka Trail becomes footpath.

Hopefully, this article has helped to clear up the question of “Is the Tarka Trail a cycle path?”. Part of it can be used by bikes, most of it can’t.

Is the Tarka Trail a cycle path?