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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