Tarka Trail - Bideford to Instow

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Well, the summer holidays have come to an end and the weather has turned decidedly autumnal, so I thought I'd revisit one of the cycle rides we did when the sun was still shining.

Okay, here's the skinny on it... The Tarka Trail runs for 52km (32 miles) from Braunton to Meeth in North Devon. It follows the journey of Tarka the Otter in the classic story from Henry Williamson, passing through some beautiful wooded valleys and alongside estuaries. The whole route is traffic free and surfaced, so easily accessible for riders of all ages and abilities. The route can be broken down into easily managed sections, if you just feel like a leisurely tootle, with plenty of places providing refreshments so you can stop and enjoy something to eat and drink.

We decided to do a short ride from Bideford to Instow, which is just under 5km, so almost 10km for the round trip. Little Bear did really well, riding her balance bike on the first part of the ride. She was by far the youngest person we saw on a bike along the trail and lots of people smiled and said how well she was doing. On the way back from Instow she rode in our Adventure bike trailer, which we always take - just in case!

In the photo above you can see the view across to Appledore (on the left) and Instow (on the right). The ride follows alongside the estuary and the views are amazing. Instow is a really pretty little town that's popular with holidaymakers. Cycling there from Bideford makes a lot of sense as it's difficult to park, especially in the summer season. It's also famous as the place Sir Francis Chichester learned to sail (and, bit of trivia for you, I know the family that taught him).

If you're a bit of a train fan, you're never far from a reminder of the trail's railway history, there are signs and signals along the route and at Instow the station platform, restored signal box and a section of rails remain. At Bideford, the signal box is open (and free to go in). Little Bear had an enormous amount of fun pressing buttons (which made different ringing noises), using an old telephone and - best of all - pulling the big levers that used to work the points and signals (which Tom had to help her with as they're really heavy). Every time they'd moved a lever Little Bear was running outside to see if a train had arrived!

As well as the signal box at Bideford, there is a row of railway carriages on the platform that have been converted into a railway museum and a cafe. There are tables inside and out and we shared a slice of delicious homemade blueberry and vanilla cake.


On the day we did our ride, which was during the August Bank Holiday weekend, the old station at Bideford was heaving as there were special events going on. While we were there, a miniature traction engine arrived, which had come along the trail from Torrington. The station guards were all kitted out smartly and there was a little ceremony as this was the first steam engine along the railway since 1965. Can you see Little Bear covering her ears? The whistle on the engine was very loud! We didn't know any of these events were going on, so it was a nice bonus on our ride.


All in all, this is a pleasant, easy ride, perfect for families - as are most sections of the Tarka Trail. The section from Torrington to Meeth is a bit more challenging, it's the longest section (18km), slightly more hilly and the trail has a slightly rougher surface - but it should still be suitable for older children. I'll tell you all about the other sections in more detail next time we ride them... let's just hope we get some sunny weather soon!

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