The Tarka Trail

One of the most popular trails in Wessex.

The Tarka Trail is a 180 miles in a figure of eight walking and cycling route. Named for “Tarka the Otter”, Henry Williamson's poignant 1927 novel and the 1979 film of the book narrated by Peter Ustinov. Both the book and the video of the film are still available.

Henry Williamson set his novel on actual places that can be found along the 180 miles of this trail. These places are mainly the same as they were over 80 years ago. Wonderful unspoilt countryside with wooded river valleys, dramatic coasts and rugged moorland. It takes in the western edge of Exmoor and runs into Dartmoor.

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Barnstaple is the centre of the figure of eight. This delightful town can be reached by both rail, Great Western Railway, and National Express coaches.

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The Tarka Line

For a real holiday, a weekend or day out the most pertinent and scenic route is the Tarka Line, a railway that runs from Exeter to Barnstaple.

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The Tarka Trail

Northern Section

The Tarka Trail leaving Ilfacombe

The Tarka Trail leaving Ilfracombe
Photograph © Lewis Clarke

The northern section of 84 miles follows the River Taw to the estuary of the Taw and the Torridge. It then turns north through Woolcombe and along the Bristol channel coast to Ilfracombe and Combe Martin. It continues North to Lynton and then south along the west of Exmoor back to Barnstaple crossing the Tarka Line Railway.

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Southern Section

The southern section again leaves Barnstaple this time for 68 miles walk first to the Taw and Torridge Estuary then south to Bideford along the River Torridge to Pedtrockstowe. North again and then south to Hatherleigh and Okehampton . From there it follows a short southern route into Dartmoor before turning north to North Tawton and Eggesford.

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The Trail

The Tarka Trail near Bideford

The Tarka Trail near Bideford
Photograph © Philip Halling

Although the Trail is described as a figure of eight, it is slightly misleading. In this section there is a gap between Eggesford back to Barnstaple that can only be completed by the Tarka Railway. Fun anyway.

A two week walk, weekend or day trips, waymarked with Tarka Trail Posts and otter paw prints. The Tarka Trail is one of the musts for ramblers or cyclists it would seem from its considerable popularity.

Devon County Council have published a Guide which can be purchased online.

The 30 miles between Braunton and Meeth is the very popular section for cyclists. It starts as a flat off road route along the banks of the River Taw, on through Chivenor and crosses the River Yeo on the new swing bridge. From then on it goes to Great Torrington and finishes at Meeth.

Cycles can be hired next to Barnstaple Railway Station and at Ilfracombe, Braunton, Torrington and Bideford.

For cyclists information, this route is part of Devon's Coast to Coast route, and from Barnstaple to Petrockstowe is part of the West Country Way Cycle Route between Bristol and Padstow.

For part of its route the Tarka Trail follows the same course as the South West Coast Path and Two Moors Way, then also Dartmoor Way.

The trail also connects with the West Devon Way, Two Castles Trail , and the Little Dart Ridge and Valley Walk.

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Other pages that may be of interest


Walking Trails

Walking Trails in Devon

Walking Trails that cross more than one county


Dartmoor Trails

Devon Heartland Way

East Devon Way

Templer Way

Two Castles Way





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Train on the Tarka Line

Train on the Tarka Line
Photograph © David Smith

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Useful Information

Tarka Trail book cover Tarka the Otter

The very popular book, "Tarka the Otter" by Henry Williamson can still be found. Try your local secondhand bookshop or maybe Abe Books or perhaps Amazon. There are several editions.

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The Tarka Trail has many opportunities for cycling, walking and running. Very enjoyable short breaks can be made, days out and even a ride on the Tarka Line.

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Things change. Always check out the external links for the latest information.

These are just helpful suggestions only.

There is only one affiliate link, SBI.

Travel Wessex is a Guide.

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This is a developing map. Some areas have better coverage.

To find the nearest Electric Vehicle Charging Point please click here.

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Public Transport

National Express

If you do decide the leave the car at home and help the environment too, why not go National Express. They run coaches all over the country. Some pretty good fares too.

Just imagine - sit back and relax, no hassling with the traffic!!!

Do you know that you can book on your mobile phone and they will send the ticket as a text!!!!

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National Rail Journey Planner.

For train journeys all over the United Kingdom connecting the places you want to go efficiently and quickly.

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Traveline is a very useful resource for public transport throughout Wessex, even local buses. In fact all over the United Kingdom.

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