Former railway lines make for excellent cycle paths. The Camel Trail in Cornwall has been one of my favourites since I was little, and if you like cider, try the Strawberry line in Somerset – you literally cycle through Thatchers cider and you can stop off for a sample.
I’ve long wanted to cycle the Tarka Trail, but for some reason it never got crossed off the list. This changed recently as James was training for a 100 mile bike ride and we needed a weekend route – ideally off road – that was a little bit longer than the trails around us. The Tarka trail is one of the longest off road routes in the country, so it we could easily do a 20 mile return route to clock up 40 miles (I say easily – I have not been training for a cycle ride so it was a little tougher on my legs!).
We cycled from Great Torrington to Braunton and back. This route is entirely off road and pretty much all flat (apart from the bridge at Barnstaple that you’ll have seen cyclists puffing over if you’ve ever been across). Because of this, it’s accessible to anyone – you don’t need to be a serious cyclist. There’s also plenty of access points so you can just do a short route.
The scenery is great all along, but my favourite part was around Instow, the most beachy part of the route.
Before we started I found finding information on the Tarka Trail surprisingly difficult without buying the guide, so here’s what you need to know.
Where to park
Despite the lack of concise info on the internet, there’s actually loads of places you can join the trail, including…
- Great Torrington – we parked at the Puffing Billy. It’s free.
- Instow – there’s a big carpark right next to the trail.
- Braunton – park in the main Braunton carpark (not free but very cheap) and cycle out of the back of the car park where there’s signs to the start of the trail.
Where to stop
There’s plenty of places to stop and eat or drink along the way, particularly in Instow and Bideford.
Just before Braunton there’s also the Waterside Cafe which looked nice but they weren’t taking card payments when we cycled past. Once you get into Braunton there’s the Wild Thyme cafe, which does lots of tasty cycling fuel including smoothies and pancakes.
If you’ve brought food with you then there’s lots of spots with good views and benches along the trail.