The Tarka Trail is an enchanting hike that winds through the ever-contrasting and wildly-beautiful landscape of North Devon.
Inspired by Henry Williamson’s novel ‘Tarka the Otter’, the 180-mile (290-kilometer) route follows Tarka’s adventure through an area of spectacular countryside and coastline that has been designated as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO.
Passing through Exmoor National Park, and skirting along the northern edge of Dartmoor National Park, the figure-of-eight loop takes you through glorious patchwork farmland, into empty moorland, along stunning coastline, through ancient woodland, along wildlife-rich rivers, and passes some delightful villages and medieval towns.
The terrain along the Tarka Trail is very varied; from challenging coastal cliff hiking to flat tarmac trails, isolated moorland to gentle pastures, it is very diverse. The entire trail is clearly waymarked, though, making navigation easy.
The northern loop takes you east from Barnstaple, over Exmoor to the rugged coastline, and then follows a breathtakingly-beautiful section of the South West Coast Path back to the start.
The southern section continues alongside the saltmarsh and mudflats of the Taw/Torridge Estuary from Barnstaple to Bideford, and along a shared-use section that covers 31 miles (50 kilometers) of former railway line between Braunton and Meeth.
The trail then travels inland to arrive at the edge of the high moor. As the River Taw rises on Dartmoor, the trail returns with it; passing through otter country to the Tarka Railway Line at Eggesford. The railway line is the final leg of the south loop.
In this Collection we split the entire trail into 10 stages. Of course, you can split up each stage into as many days as you are comfortable with. You can also walk any single stage, or a couple of stages, in isolation.
If you are planning to arrive by public transport, you can catch a train to Barnstaple, which offers connecting services around the country.
If you are planning to arrive by car, your best bet is to negotiate with a hotel or B&B a rate to stay for a night either side of your hike in Barnstaple and leave your car for the duration. Alternatively, there are long-stay car parks in and close to the town.
For more information about the Tarka Trail, visit: tarkatrail.org.uk.
For train timetables and tickets, visit: thetrainline.com.
The first stage of the Tarka Trail has plenty to challenge your fitness and affords lots of lovely countryside.
From Barnstaple, you follow the River Taw past the Grade I-listed Long Bridge, one of the largest medieval bridges in Britain, out of town and into a delightful patchwork of fields, woodlands, and meadows.
A short while before Brayford, it is worth paying a visit to St John the Baptist Church, in Charles. Dating from the 15th century, the remote and rural church has a wonderfully calm atmosphere.
This stage finishes near the village of Brayford. There are a few accommodation options and places to eat and drink nearby.
Winding through farmland, woodland, moorland, and finishing on beautiful coastline, this ever-contrasting hike has plenty to pique your interest.
From Brayford, you hike straight into the breathtakingly beautiful Exmoor National Park.
You climb steadily for around two-and-a-half miles (four kilometers) to Setta Barrow and then maintain the height through wild and empty moorland.
The trail undulates past Pinkery Pond and over Hoaroak Hill before making a long and gradual descent to the twin villages of Lynton and Lynmouth.
Situated on the Exmoor coastline, the area is renowned for its exceptional natural beauty.
Lynton has a good range of accommodation, places to eat and drink, as well as shops and other attractions.
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This highlight-filled hike explores a majestic stretch of Exmoor coastline.
From Lynton, the trail follows the South West Coast Path for the entirety of the hike and takes you past some wonderful sights.
Along the coastline, you will see Valley of Rocks, a dramatic dry valley known for stunning views and feral goats; Woody Bay Beach, a hidden gem situated beyond rugged cliffs and woodland; and Heddon's Mouth, a rocky cove with a long smuggling heritage.
You can make a brief detour from the Coast Path to climb Holdstone Hill, which affords superb views and has a long association with UFOs, and join it again to climb Great Hangman, which, at 1,043 feet (318 meters), is one of the highest points on the Devon coastline.
This stage finishes in Combe Martin, which has a good range of accommodation, places to eat and drink, as well as shops and other attractions.
This stage has many ascents and descents that will challenge your fitness and technical ability.
From Combe Martin, you rejoin the South West Coast Path with a sharp climb and follow as it climbs high onto cliff tops and drops deep into hidden coves.
Along the way, you pass Combe Martin Beach, a picturesque bay surrounded by some of the highest sea cliffs in England; Hillsborough Viewpoint, a nature reserve that affords breathtaking views; and Rapparee Cove, a beach synonymous with shipwrecks.
This stage finishes in Croyde, which has a good range of accommodation, places to eat and drink, as well as shops and other attractions.
This stunning stage brings the northern loop of the Tarka Trail to its epic conclusion.
Whilst the landscape on this hike might be flat in comparison to recent stages, there is some hefty distance to contend with, which is sure to test your stamina.
From Croyde, the trail rejoins the Coast Path and follows all it the way to the finish in Barnstaple.
Along the way, you pass Baggy Point, an impressive headland which is renowned for crashing waves and dramatic cliffs; and Middleborough Hill, which affords a fantastic view over Croyde Bay and out to the coast beyond as far as Hartland Point.
Barnstaple has a good range of accommodation, places to eat and drink, as well as shops and other attractions.
This leisurely hike marks the first stage of the Tarka Trail’s southern loop.
Taking you along the wildlife-rich Taw Estuary and continuing beside the River Torridge, this stage has plenty to keep you entertained.
This area of saltmarsh and intertidal mudflats has become an important haven for birds such as teal, curlew, greenshank, dunlin, and spoonbills. Managed by the RSPB, the area is full of life at any time of year.
As you pass through Bideford, it is worth making a small detour to see Chudleigh Fort, a Civil War fortification built in 1642.
This stage finishes in Great Torrington, which has a fair range of accommodation and places to eat and drink.
This stage affords a sumptuous sense of solitude as the trail explores remote Devon countryside.
Before you leave Great Torrington, it is worth exploring the small market town, especially its church, St Michael’s; a Grade II-listed building with a fascinating history dating back to 1259.
From Great Torrington, the trail winds through woodland for the first few miles and then emerges into a rich tapestry of fields and woodlands. The distance is manageable and the terrain is leisurely for the majority of the hike.
Right before you reach Dolton, it is worth making a short detour to see Halsdon Nature Reserve; a picturesque medley of woodland, meadow, and riverside that is home to lots of wildlife and plantlife, including otters and kingfishers.
This stage finishes in the small village of Dolton, which has a few options for accommodation and places to eat and drink.
The atmosphere is peaceful and the terrain is undulating on this delightful stage.
From Dolton, the trail winds through farmland pastures and passes the odd hamlet until you reach the Medieval market town of Hatherleigh, which is an interesting place to explore and a perfect place to stop for lunch.
The trail continues through picturesque countryside until you reach the historic town of Okehampton, on the edge of Dartmoor National Park.
There is lots to see in Okehampton but if you see one thing only, make sure you pay a visit to the impressive ruins of Okehampton Castle.
Okehampton has a good range of accommodation, places to eat and drink, as well as shops and other attractions.
With beautiful scenery, abundant history, and a dash of folklore, you may find yourself spellbound on this stage.
From Okehampton, the trail skirts into Dartmoor National Park and ascends East Hill, where it is worth taking some time to admire the view, explore the Roman fort, and find the spot where a couple were saved from a pixie spell.
As the trail winds around the edge of Dartmoor, a short time later you pass Nine Maidens, a Bronze Age stone circle in a tranquil location with an enchanting atmosphere.
At South Tawton, you divert away from the national park and follow the trail north to the aptly named village of North Tawton.
There are some accommodation options and places to eat and drink in and around North Tawton but it is in quite a remote area.
A hike and a train ride through picturesque countryside brings the Tarka Trail to a delightful conclusion.
From North Tawton, you follow the River Taw for almost the entirety of the hike, albeit with a few diversions, passing through a wonderful patchwork of countryside.
A few miles before Eggesford, it is worth making a small detour to see Eggesford Forest, a serene woodland with an abundance of wildlife, wildflowers, and interesting fungi.
A short time later, you pass All Saints Church, a remote church with a peaceful atmosphere that is steeped in history and worth looking around.
When you reach the Tarka Railway Line at Eggesford, it is time to relax—the final leg of this stage is undertaken via train all the way back to Barnstaple. As the train criss-crosses the river, you can simply admire the view from the comfort of the carriage.
For information about the Tarka Railway Line. timetables, prices, and more, visit: greatscenicrailways.co.uk/lines/tarka-line.