Now that we’re a bit fitter (but also feeling a bit older…) we thought we’d update our pages on cycling to Barnstaple along Devon’s Tarka Trail. It’s about a 40 mile round ride, and includes a train journey part of the way back to Wheatland Farm.
We’ve done this ride several times before. Initially our WWOOF volunteer Veronica tried it out. Then we did it as an adventure with the boys, which took planning and all day effort, with their shorter legs.
Now we wanted to try it adults only, and see if it was a ‘doable ride’ – and it was! If you come for a bike holiday here, we have route notes for this one. Also note that you can do part of this ride by hiring bikes or taking some of the Wheatland Farm bikes with you – here are some links to shorter sections:
Basically, this ride starts with quiet back labes taking you from Wheatland Farm to Petrockstow. That takes about an hour, with time to ‘stop and stare’: at Newbridge we watched grey wagtails catching mid air insects over the river, spotted a buzzard perched near us in a tree, and a wren thinking about nesting in the winter debris piled up against the bridge footings.
When you get to Petrockstow, you can pause at the old railway platform, or head straight off along the trail (the old railway route). Along the next stretch, the primroses were so abundnant their scent filled the air.
This is the stretch of trail with most of the big mosaic statues, drawing inspiration from the book, Tarka the Otter.
If the cafe is open at East Yarde, it’s a lovely place to stop. But it has recently changed hands and looked rather closed – so we headed on, past the last mosaic bench at the top of the hill.
The woodland edges of the trail are still adorned with spring flowers, and there were chiff chaffs singing – the first of the year! From the high point just outside East Yarde it’s down hill to Torrington, where we refueled with excellent coffee and cake at the Puffing Billy and bought a spare part at the bike hire shop. But before you get there, make sure you take in the ‘family’ sculpture benches. Bear in mind though that you’ll see them the wrong way round coming from this direction, arriving first at the bereavement bench, then the family (thankfully someone has put that child’s head back on) and finally the courtship bench.
The next part of the trail is the bit we usually recommend for families with younger children, as the trail crosses the river on bridges 3 times, and even goes through a tunnel! Here are some images from other days, and one from this trip of Ian at the Iron Bridge:
After the tunnel, it’s a short ride to Bideford Station, where the cafe in the old carriage is often open.
By now, you’ll notice a shift in landscape. You’ve come quite a way from Wheatland Farm’s agricultural surroundings, having reached the Torridge Estuary. The smell changes from primroses to the tang of seaweed and mudflats, as you cycle along the estuary towards the pretty town of Instow.
Either cross the road at the old railway gates and continue on the Tarka Trail, or go along Instow main road for shops and more cafes. We stopped for a pasty at John’s, the bustling deli, and ate it on the old quay. You can pick up the trail again by the Golf Club at the far end of Instow beach.
By now it’s effectively the last leg – or legs. The trail takes you on to Fremington (cafe being rennovated for 2019) where there’s also a heritage centre, telling you more about this once busy quay.
Then it’s a final estuary side ride to Barnstaple. At the railway station (this one still has trains!) there’s the Station Master’s Cafe where you can relax and wait for a train back to Eggesford. Most of the trains have room for 4 bikes, but you could be unlucky if it’s busy or if the train needs extra space for wheelchair users.
Get off at Eggesford, with legs refreshed for the last couple of hills back to Wheatland Farm! If you’re interested in seeing a bit of this ride on video, it’s the first part of our Big Bike Out to Ilfracombe.