The Tarka trail from Braunton to Instow and back is about a 20 mile round trip, or just 10 miles if you just go to Barnstaple and back.
You can extend this trail with options at both ends, but I’ve focused this blog on the sections most accessible from here at The Gallery Lodges.
What a treat this trail is and this has been made all the better with a plethora of tempting food options along the way. You follow the estuary for nearly all of the trip and catch stunning views and spot all the estuary bird life. Our only word of warning for this route is check the wind – it can be quite exposed and a lively westerly will make this otherwise flat route become unexpectedly demanding – especially on the way home.
It is worth bringing your bikes to this area as this area has some excellent rides. However, bike hire is just 20 min walk away if you need it. Otter Cycle Hire phone number 01271 813339 near the start of the Tarka trail in Braunton village: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Otter-Cycle-Hire/1155731267799980
This route for the Tarka trail is from staying at The Gallery Lodges Braunton https://thegallerylodges.petecaswell.co.uk/
Starting at The Gallery Lodges head to the start of the Tarka Trail along Saunton Road into the village, about 1/2 mile. You will pick up signs by the village car park to get onto the trail itself, which starts close to the Tesco supermarket at Vellator Quay. There is a new cafe her now, for those who feel just getting the lycra on deserved a coffee stop! Otherwise you really should crack on…
We can also recommend an alternative start (or finish) to this ride via the ‘back lane’ and Braunton Marshes to Vellator Quay, with a good chance of seeing swans, swallows and warblers this is a lovely 1 1/2 mile addition.
Along the first section of the trail about 2 miles you leave the new developments of Braunton on your left and the Chivenor RAF base on your right. Soon you will come to the open estuary and, just off to your right so keep an eye for the sign, Waterside Cafe with great views up the Taw estuary towards Barnstaple.
Then just metres on from there there is Heaton Court which you should bear in mind for the way back for a celebratory beer and wine with a stunning panoramic view over the estuary (Or Thursday and Fridays at the Waterside cafe).
The next stretch of the Trail is open and affords good bird watching views: oyster catchers, egrets, curlew, gulls and many seasonal visitors.
Please remember to use your bicycle bell or politely alert walkers of your presence as you cycle along.
Three or so more miles and you reach Barnstaple where you can head over the new bridge or detour into town. Tea by the Taw is just alongside the river there, as its name suggests… https://www.facebook.com/teabythetaw/
There are bike stands near the cafe and also further along the waterfront by the Museum and Square.
Over the bridge the railway station cafe is another handy stop with the bikes, but a more famous railway cafe the Fremington Quay Cafe is just a few miles further along the South side of the estuary on the way to Instow. https://www.facebook.com/fremington.quay/
Arriving into Instow you will pass nearby one of the most scenic cricket grounds in the UK (with think). Open to the elements and coastal erosion, this must be one of the finest places to have game of cricket, but potetntially also one of the windiest!
Soon after the cricket ground you will cycle past The Oyster Shack serving up some Caribbean vibes and seafood.
Instow is a bit of a jewel in the Tarka trail and has a good number of pubs and restaurants, such as The Boat House https://www.theboathouseinstow.co.uk/
With great estuary views from the beach front this is a great place to take a break. Here also the Torridge River meets The Taw and this wide, tidal mouth is the home of Instow yacht club.
Johns Deli and cafe is a real treat with all sorts of fresh baked goodies, bread, local produce and some rather special boutique gins. Ideal for picking up a picnic lunch, but don’t forget to save the gin for when you have got back to Braunton!
For those of you with steam left there is an optional extension onto Bideford and Appledore by trail and road. And tide and weather dependent is a rather amazing ferry from Appledore to Instow. http://www.appledoreinstowferry.com/
Check out our Appledore blog.
The way home is the reverse trip of the way out. Happy cycling!
For a much longer day out or another ride entirely the Tarka Trail carries on up the trail to Torrington and Meeth. This is an inland river route of a different character.