I recently cycled the Tarka Trail for the first time, after years of saying I would eventually get round to it. Neil and I packed some snacks and water into a backpack one Saturday morning in August, and took that old, rickety train up to Barnstaple. Conveniently, you can hire bikes from Barnstaple Train Station and begin almost immediately on the cycle route. You get a helmet and backpack (which contains a chain and repair kit) for free with the hire, and it is as cheap as £12 each for the entire day.
Our grand plan was to cycle from Barnstaple, through Fremington, Instow, Bideford, all the way down to Great Torrington, which would be not too far off a 30 mile round trip. The weather was on our side, and so we set off along the busy path, energised by the thought of the adventures that lay ahead.
The views were incredible – I’ve lived in Devon my whole life, but I am constantly in awe of how beautiful the landscape is. The trail takes you alongside the water, through trees, over bridges, under tunnels. It felt like a very varied route, and there was constantly something new to look at.
Along the way, we made a water stop, where we discovered a Poetry Box. I’d never seen anything like this before – a sort of geo-caching poetry project for the community, which encouraged people to add poems en route, and also to use their phones to track other people’s poetry. It was a really nice surprise to stumble upon, and I even added a line or two of my own to the little book inside.
At Bideford we popped into Tea on the Train, the station cafe, for a cheeky slice of chocolate cake. There was a really nice buzz on the platform of other cyclists stopping for a break, and volunteers bursting with information about the railway’s history.
We hopped back on our bikes, our bodies beginning to ache, and made our way towards Torrington. We almost made it. But we were well into the afternoon now, and we knew we had 15 miles to get back to our starting point, so we made the decision to turn around. End on a high, we thought, while our spirit was still intact!
It was an amazing experience, even when we got back to realise the only train for the next hour and a half had been cancelled (ahh, public transport). We were both enthusing about the ride all evening, and agreed that we would come back to do a larger portion of the trail, or even a different route entirely, sometime in the future.
If you want to cycle a part of the Tarka Trail (which I highly recommend!), check out the Tarka Trail Cycle Hire company, who were really excellent (and even managed to find us two bikes even though we forgot to book until that morning). You can visit their website here: https://www.tarkabikes.co.uk/