A complete guide to the Tarka Trail holiday cottages

A complete guide to the Tarka Trail

Ruth 24 June 2019

If you’re looking for a fun day out in Devon that all members of your family will enjoy, we’d recommend heading to the Tarka Trail.

The 180-mile trail forms a figure-eight around the North Devon coast and countryside, but we’re looking at the most popular section: the 32 miles of traffic-free, flat path between Braunton and Meeth.

Created from a disused railway line, this walking and cycling route is great for all ages and all abilities and as it’s tarmacked and relatively flat, wheelchairs, buggies and less confident cyclists will have no problem following the trail.

With the glistening river and estuary on one side, lush countryside and woodland on the other, and trails leading through nature reserves, the Tarka Trail allows you to enjoy the very best of the North Devon scenery and wildlife. There are lots of great places to eat and drink along the way, too.

Here’s our guide to the Tarka Trail, including the best places to eat and drink, where you can hire bikes, and most importantly – where to stay when you visit.

Looking for more places to stay in North Devon? Check out our full collection of self-catering holiday cottages.

Section 1: Braunton to Barnstaple

Tarka Trail between Braunton and Barnstaple


6 miles

Why we love it:

There’s loads to see and do in both Braunton and Barnstaple, and the slightly shorter distance of this section makes it a breeze to fit in spending time in both locations as well as squeezing in the return cycle!

With only a couple of places where you meet a road (and even then, there are designated crossing points across the quiet roads), this section is perfect for younger cyclists.

Where to hire bikes:

Otter Cycle Hire, Braunton

Where to eat and drink:

Make a mid-way pitstop at The Waterside, just past Chivenor. There’s ample cycle storage and lovely views over the river, plus the highly Instagrammable interior will please any teen cyclists in your peloton. The Italian-themed menu is a crowd-pleaser – we’d recommend the thick and gooey ‘cioccolata’.

When you arrive in Barnstaple, make tracks for the Station Masters Cafe next door to the railway station. Chill out in the suntrap garden with an all-day breakfast – what better way to refuel for the journey home?

Where to stay:

Southlands Retreat, Braunton

Southlands Retreat, Braunton

Sleeping five, this stylish and modern home is only half a mile’s walk to the cycle hire centre in Braunton.

There’s a surfboard rack if you fancy exploring up the coast with your boards, and two four-legged visitors are welcome, too.

Braunton Cobb Cottage, Braunton

This large family home sleeps six and has plenty of space for a group or family to have a comfortable break.  Popular shops and eateries are within walking distance and the beach is a short ten minute drive away.

The Tarka Trail runs close the house, so you couldn’t be closer to the action. When you’re worn out, relax in the enclosed garden with a BBQ or in the bubbling private hot tub.

Section 2: Barnstaple to Bideford

Tarka Trail between Barnstaple and Bideford


9 miles

Why we love it:

This section of the trail from Barnstaple to Bideford is great for a family day out as there are lots of places to stop for refreshments on the way. There’s also only one point where you may meet a car – at Fremington Quay – but even then, cyclists and cars have their own lanes so it’s a super-safe route for younger ones.

If little legs get tired more quickly than you thought, waypoints at Fremington and Instow make it easy to refuel and loop back if necessary.

Where to hire bikes?

Tarka Trail Bike Hire, Barnstaple

Where to eat and drink?

The most popular stop along this section of the trail is Fremington Quay Cafe. Serving everything from cold drinks and ice creams to quench summer thirsts, to restorative roasts in the winter, this cafe is popular with tourists and locals alike for its picturesque location overlooking the River Taw. There’s even a grassed area for kids complete with wooden pirate ship where they can let off steam!

Instow has a wide selection of pubs, many of which are dog friendly. Or visit Johns of Instow to sample the mouth-watering selection of freshly baked pasties, sausage rolls and cakes.

Once you get to Bideford, chain up the bikes and head up the high street to Cafe Collective. Many locals consider it the best cafe in town, and it serves up a wide range of light bites, lunches and legendary cakes.

Where to stay?

Enjoy stylish and comfortable accommodation in Magdala House, Devon

Magdala House, near Fremington
This is a charming holiday home with a rustic farmhouse feel which has been designed with family fun in mind. The large farmhouse table is perfect for big sociable mealtimes and the enclosed garden with patio is the perfect suntrap for those days you want to stay at home!

Guests are welcome to use the wetsuits, bodyboards, wellies and prawning sets which is all provided!

Instow - Tarka Sands

Instow – Tarka Sands

Situated a stone’s throw from the old signal box in Instow, this newly refurbished apartment has sliding doors opening out to a patio area, with the Tarka Trail just beyond.

It’s the perfect size for a small family and includes allocated parking – an absolute must in popular Instow.

Section 3: Bideford to Great Torrington

Tarka Trail between Bideford and Torrington


6 miles

Why we love it:

This section criss-crosses the River Torridge, combining lush greenery with river views. Take a breather at Beam Weir, made famous in ‘Tarka the Otter’, and see if you can spot otters along the riverbank!

With no road crossings, this part of the trail is suitable for kids but keep an eye on them in the long tunnel. Look out for information boards along the way, with interesting facts about the former Rolle Canal.

Where to hire bikes?

Bideford Cycle Hire, East-the-Water

Where to eat and drink?

Located in a former Victorian railway station, The Puffing Billy is right on the Tarka Trail, making it a perfect stop at either end of this section. Specialising in great food made with local ingredients, it's worth visiting for the roasts alone!

Where to stay?

Tarka View, Bideford

Tarka View, Bideford

Boasting its own hot tub where you can relax and enjoy stunning countryside views, this is the perfect place to return to after an active day on foot or bike.

Sleeping two, it’s an ideal romantic getaway and is half an hour’s walk from the Tarka Trail at the point where it crosses the River Torridge.

Section 4: Torrington to Meeth

Tarka Trail between Torrington and Meeth


11 miles

Why we love it:

This longer and hillier section of the Tarka Trail is slightly more challenging than the flatter parts before it, making it more suitable for older children. Horse riding is also permitted on this section.

It’s worth the effort, though – the countryside is wilder here, as you head through woodland and further into deepest, darkest Devon! At the highest points, you might spot Dartmoor on a clear day.

Where to hire bikes?

Torrington Cycle Hire

Where to eat and drink?

Break up the journey with a visit to Yarde Orchard Cafe at East Yarde. Made from an upcycled 1930s sailor's dormitory, this quirky cafe has an eco-friendly focus and champions local food. Keep an eye out for their pizza nights, too!

Where to stay?

Annas Cottage, Great Torrington

Annas Cottage, Great Torrington

Adjacent to the Tarka Trail, this character cottage for two is nestled in a picturesque wooded valley just outside Torrington.

Relax in the garden after a busy day’s adventures, or if the weather turns bad, light the wood burner and choose something good to watch on the Sky TV.

Feeling inspired to get out and explore? Why not check out our guide to the best beaches in North Devon or our local’s guide to North Devon’s best walks?

Of course, you’ll need somewhere just right to come back to after a busy day out. Here’s our full collection of self-catering cottages in North Devon – we’re sure you’ll find the perfect place to rest your head.

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.

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