The Tarka Trail

Strawberry Line Bike

Floral Bike, Strawberry Line

I seem to have got my days and photos in a bit of a muddle. The second floral bike I referred to in last week’s post I actually saw on our second day on the Strawberry line so here belatedly is the photo.

After a day at Blue Anchor where we meet up with relatives we moved on again to a very nice campsite near Little Torrington in Devon, giving me a good chance to rest my battered body. Smytham Manor Holiday Park is situated right next to the Tarka Trail, our next planned ride, and is again roughly a third of the way along the route which runs from Meeth to Braunton, passing through Bideford and Barnstable.

At 30 miles, the Tarka Trail is one of the longest railway paths on the National Cycle Network following alongside the river Torridge and the Taw-Torridge estuary. It takes its name from the story of ‘Tarka the Otter’ by Henry Williamson which is set in this beautiful countryside. By the next day, when we set of to ride the trail I was walking slightly more freely although still with much discomfort. There is a half-mile track directly from the campsite onto the trail but this was very rough and slippery with loose gravel and was a steep downhill into the valley and up the other side, much of which we had to walk which was not ideal for me.

As we were starting part-way along we again decided to do it over two days, our need to go ‘there and back’ doubling the distance. So the first day we did the shorter section from Smytham to Meeth. We waited until the afternoon as there were frequent heavy showers in the morning. The track was a mixture of tarmac and compact gravel with some stony sections (the vibrations through the handlebars shaking my grazed arm quite painfully!), gates and road crossings but is relatively easy riding with gentle undulations. Towards Meeth it passes through the Devon Wildlife Trust’s Meeth Quarry with its clay workings before twisting through the oaks of the Trust’s Ash Moor nature reserve where we stopped for a bite to eat and a drink from our water bottles. We continued to the end of the trail where we came to a road section to take us down into Meeth village, which we decided not to do, so we turned back towards the campsite. There are various interesting sculptures along the route, many depicting Tarka himself. The weather was kind to us, though cool.  There were only a few gentle showers but we were able to shelter under the trees from the worst of this. In all this day’s ride was about 17.5 miles.

Tarka Trail seat

Tarka Trail seat

The following day my walking was still improving as we set off to ride the second section of the trail. Once again the track from the campsite to the trail was the worst part to negotiate. We had decided that we would only go as far as Bideford; there and back would be enough – being a somewhat similar distance to our ride the day before. The terrain was similar to the previous day, again stony sections causing me some pain, but the weather was much improved, warmer and drier. The scenery was beautiful. Here and there were rustic seats with statues sitting on them in various poses. The couple here seem to have lost the head of the baby sitting on their laps!  Most of these seats were placed facing some wonderful views and this one was no exception. as you can see from the photo below.

View from seat

View from Tarka Trail seat

Railway Carriage Tea-Room

Railway Carriage Tea-Room

As we rode in to Bideford we came across a railway carriage café and decided to stop there for a cup of tea and a bite to eat. We then rode in to Bideford where we cycled off to find a supermarket for a bit of shopping. Before returning to the trail back to the campsite we detoured to have a look at the famous indoor Pannier Market (so-called because of the ‘pannier’ baskets that the women-folk used to take their wares to market) which the Tour of Britain cycle race had ridden through a few days before we saw them in Cheddar. We returned to the campsite once more via the steep, rough track that I was beginning to hate – in all we cycled just over 21 miles this day.

We were moving on again the next day, down to Cornwall and more trails, so we still have about a third of the Tarka Trail to ride, from Bideford to Braunton; maybe we will finish it next time we come down this way.

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Tissington Trail

The Tissington Trail is a former railway line running from Ashbourne in Derbyshire to the village of Parsley Hay in the Peak District National Park, not far from Arbor Low stone circle. It covers a distance of approximately 13.5 miles a goes steadily uphill all the way. Just before it reaches Parsley Hay it is joined by the High Peak Trail which continues on from there up to Buxton. The trail is a walking and cycling route and part of the Sustrans National Cycle Network. Sustrans is a charity dedicated to creating and expanding a network of safe cycling routes, largely traffic free, around the UK down quiet country lanes and along off-road trails and paths beside rivers or canals and through scenic countryside.

We cycled part of the Tissington Trail many moons ago with our three then very young children. Our eldest son on his own bike, our daughter on a seat on the crossbar of my husband’s bike and our youngest son in a kiddie seat on the back of my bike. We had not been there since until we cycled part of both it and the High Peak Trail on our recent Eroica Britannia ride so, with our ‘new’ Mixte bikes, which we had specifically bought to do this kind of trail riding, we decided it was high time we rode the whole trail.

Site of former Tissington Station

Former Tissington Station site

Last Wednesday we packed up the bikes and took ourselves up to Ashbourne, the nearest end of the trail to our home since we had to do the ‘there and back again’ route and return to the car. It was a lovely warm day but as much of the trail is through woodland it was nice and shady. From time to time you come out from the trees to spectacular views over the surrounding Derbyshire hills and vales. If needed there are places to hire bikes at both ends of the trail where you can also get refreshments and there are several other places along the route for café stops as well – even more in the school summer holidays.  Our first brief refreshment stop was at the site of the former Tissington Station.

Parsley Hay Bike Hire and Cafe

Parsley Hay bike hire and cafe

Further up the trail Hartington Signal box is one of the picnic places where you can buy refreshments in the summer holidays but it was not open when we were there. Never-the-less we stopped for a drink and a muesli bar that we carried with us. Then it was on to Parsley Hay where we stopped for lunch.

Just by way of variation, rather than simply turn round and return the way we came we decided to turn off along the High Peak Trail where it joins the Tissington Trail just below Parsley Hay. This trail is not quite such a good surface as the Tissington Trail, being not as smooth with rather more rough gravel, though still a safe enough ride. To continue along the High Peak Trail would have taken us too far away from where we had left the car in Ashbourne so after only a short distance we left the trail to cycle up a short but very rough track in order to reach the road (I walked!) and then a couple of miles by road until we could once more join the Tissington trail at Hartington Signal Box. From there is was gently downhill all the way back to Ashbourne, with another brief stop at Tissington on the way.

Hartington Signal Box

Hartington Signal Box

Despite not yet being the school holidays we met quite a number of dog-walkers, hikers, other cyclist and horse-riders along the way so you do have to take a bit of care – in places it is quite narrow and passing can be a little difficult. I expect during the holidays there are even more people making use of this wonderful off-road facility.

All in all we did about 28 miles, half of which was the gentle uphill climb to Parsley Hay, followed by an easy roll back down again! It was a wonderful day out and with the warm weather and the climb we were pleasantly warn out by the time we got home. Perhaps another time we will do the High Peak Trail from start to finish. The first part up to Parsley Hay is only about 11.5 miles but if we want to go on to Buxton that will make it significantly longer and we may need to do it in two halves, especially as we will need to go there and back.

Site content copyright of Elizabeth Leaper (Libby).

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