The Tarka trail in its full form is some 180 miles long, this is in a figure of eight centred around the market town of Barnstaple. The trail is divided into two types of path, one is the normal footpaths found around the coastal areas and Mid Devon areas, the other is the most used routes which are old railway track beds.
The connection to the main railway came about in 1853, and was laid in broad gauge thus 7 ft between rails and not the now standard 6 ft 6. A year later the line saw its first trains running from Barnstaple to Exeter, during the construction of the line, which is now known as the Tarka Line deals were made with various “lords of the Manor” who gave permission for the railway to be built on their land as long as a station was built for them. This is in part why the Tarka Line has many of its smaller country stations, although by today’s standards many of them have poor access and car parking.
The line was then extended to Bideford and in 1862 Bideford to Exeter was absorbed into the London and South Western Railway, which converted the track to mixed gauge and then changed it over completely to standard gauge this was completed in 1877. This allowed services to run direct from London Waterloo to Barnstaple and Bideford amongst other North Devon Destinations.
This Waterloo to North Devon service became increasingly popular, and the Southern Railway ran a competition to name this service for marketing purposes. The winning suggestion came from Mr F. Rowland a guard from Great Torrington whose entry was “Atlantic Coast Express” or “ACE” the ACE was so popular that on summer Saturdays 3 fully laden trains would depart Waterloo between 1040 and 1100 alone. Sadly in 1964 the ACE stopped coming to North Devon, this was the beginning of the end for Stations such as Torrington, Bideford and Ilfracombe. Such summer holiday traffic were the life line to these resorts and Market Towns, Over 40 years on some of the locations still haven’t really recovered from the railway leaving, bringing much economic and social hardship.
Of course the National rail network still survives to Barnstaple Station to the present day, how ever very much a shadow of its former self from the heydays of it being Barnstaple Junction with huge goods yards, 3 long platforms, turntables, and its own engine shed. Happily in recent years the station has seen considerable investment for its size, and has gone from embarrassing dereliction and a jungle of weeds, to an up and coming star of the railway. The decision to Market the line as the “Tarka Line” was a natural one thanks to a book first published in 1927 written by Henry Williamson, it’s title is the very famous and well loved “Tarka the Otter”. The Tarka Line is now one of the fastest growing branch lines in the South West, and has grown over 50% since 2001. Now 14 trains a day Mon – Sat and 7 on Sundays shuttle hundreds of thousands of people back and forth each year, along one of the most beautiful railway lines in the country. So if you have some time to spare, go for a train ride! The wonderful countryside views are justification enough to take a relaxing train journey along the line. Further information on rail services can be found at www.firstgreatwestern.co.uk who are the train operating company, www.tarkarail.org the voluntary group who represent the users of and help promote the Tarka Line and www.carfreedaysout.com who amongst other things market the line.
HOW TO GET THERE
The Tarka trail is one of the country’s most beautiful walking and cycling routes, the main access point for this route is via Barnstaple Railway station.
Accessibility - By Train:
Enjoy the amazing countryside and come by sustainable public transport, Barnstaple is served by 14 services a day in either direction providing for the most part an hourly service. Change at Exeter St. Davids for connections to the rest of the UK. Currently a group save ticket will allow 4 people to travel for the price of two, meaning Exeter to Barnstaple is £15 return for 4, or Plymouth £19 for 4. (T&C’s Apply) see www.firstgreatwestern.co.uk it is strongly recommended if bring a bike to pre book your cycle onto the train, as during busy periods it may be difficult to accommodate all bikes. There is no charge for this service, or ideally hire a bike at very reasonable rates from Tarka Cycle hire based at the Station www.tarkabikes.co.uk. Those who arrive by train to hire a bike even get a discount!
Barnstaple station has 145 space car park which has very reasonable daily fees, and is suitable for camper vans as it has no height restriction barriers. It’s location is made easily accessible by the A39 or A361 which links into the M5. Following EX31 2AU for SAT NAV.
Stagecoach offer a comprehensive and frequent service to and from Barnstaple railway station, bus shelters are located directly outside the station offering direct and indirect services to a considerable number of destinations within Northern Devon. www.stagecoachbus.com/southwest/
By Foot / Cycle:
Barnstaple station is located 5 minutes from Barnstaple town centre, and is easily accessible over the Taw Bridge and into the Barnstaple business retail park. The station is well sign posted from the town.
Or plan your visit by using: www.travelline.org.uk
SOUTH WEST COASTAL PATH
The South West Coastal Path (SWCP) runs along a section of the Tarka Trail from Braunton to Bideford, before returning along the coastal footpaths. The SWCP is Britain’s longest National trail, starting on the North Coast At Minehead in Somerset, down to Lands end and then back east to South Haven point near Poole in Dorset. This is some 630 miles in length along some of the country’s if world’s most dramatic coastline. The Tarka Trail is probably one of the more leisurely parts of the SWCP, due to its consistent surface and level gradient. If you enjoyed walking the Tarka Trail and would like more information on the full coastal path the best point of reference is the South West Coastal Path Association at www.swcpa.org.uk, their web site contains a whole host of useful information, and long with the chance to join their membership or purchase some souvenirs which helps with their fund raising. So what are you waiting for, go and see some of the most spectacular coastal view anywhere in the world!
Useful Links - click below for further information:
Tarka the Otter's Devon
You can still spot an Otter on Tarka's Trail
Cycle Route: Braunton to Barnstaple
The Tarka Trail - Great Torrington to Bideford
ADVISORY CODE OF CONDUCT FOR TARKA TRAIL USERS
The Tarka Trail is enjoyed by many different types of user: Walkers, cyclists, wheelchair users, dog walkers and horse riders.
• Be sensitive to the needs of others and follow this simple code.
• Give Way! Cyclists always give way to walkers, people in wheelchairs and prams. Pass them slowly. If you cannot get past safely, stop and dismount.
• Ring! Ring! Fit a bell on your bike. Special Tarka Trail bells are available from the Railway Carriage Visitor Centre at Bideford Station. Make sure other Tarka Trail users are aware of your presence. Ring your bell or call out a warning.
• Relax! Take it easy! Keep your speed down; the Tarka Trail is not a racing track. Slow down and enjoy the scenery.
• Watch out! The Tarka Trail is used by many more cyclists than walkers. Take care and be aware.
• Two’s Company! When the Tarka Trail is busy, especially in the summer months, keep to just two abreast so as not to hinder other users.
• Take the lead! Please keep your dogs under control at all times. The Tarka Trail is a haven for wildlife, which is vulnerable to disturbance. Cyclists in particular do not like being chased by dogs. If necessary, put your dog on a lead.
• Mucky pups! Dog mess is unpleasant for everyone. Take a plastic bag and clean up after your dog.
• There are red dog bins along the Tarka Trail where it can be deposited.
• Hoofing it! The Tarka Trail is used by horses between Servis and Petrockstowe. Approach considerately at all times. See Separate guidance for Horse Riders.
• Please be considerate to other users.
• Follow the Country Code and close all gates after you pass through.