Tarka the Otter meets the South West Coast Path. Named after Henry Williamson's classic, 'Tarka the Otter', this 180 mile long trail is split into two loops centred at Barnstaple. Our tour takes you round the northern loop, through the Exmoor National Park and along the dramatic North Devon coast. Starting from the urban centre of Barnstaple, we venture to rolling grasslands and deep wooded valleys with remote villages. It continues up the hillside meadows of the Exmoor foothills, onto a heathery and boggy plateau, with isolated farms and tiny hamlets. Wild ponies and deer can be spotted here and there. After descending along the valley of the River Lyn to Lynmouth, it teams up with The South West Coast Path. From Lynmouth, the Trail takes you over high cliffs and around rugged headlands and beautiful little bays. Sandy beaches are also thrown into the mix, as well as a Nature Reserve at Braunton which has one of the largest sand dune systems in the UK. Both the Nature Reserve and the estuary which you follow back to Barnstaple are teeming with wildlife.
This ancient market town is an excellent start to your walking holiday. There is an good range of shops and small galleries on offer in Barnstaple. The star must be the Pannier Market though. An impressive Victorian building of high glass and timber roof on iron columns. The Trail leaves Barnstaple alongside the River Taw with views of hills and open fields. On the outskirt of the town, it deserts the river to climb out above the village ofBishop's Tawton. From here, the Trail descends gently across open fields to Landkey Brook and travels upstream along the valley. Nearing Landkey, it climbs a little to offer good views up both end of the valley before dropping down.
The village of Landkey is better known for saving from extinction the Mazzard cherry, which are unique to the west country. The Trail does not go through the village but it is the last chance to stock up supplies until you get to Challacombe. It circumvents the village by traversing across the side of a hill before dropping back down to the village on its eastern edge. From here, the Trail undulates and winds its way across the rolling countryside: across fields and wooded valleys, alongside streams and river beds and through dense woodlands and small villages. West Buckland (10.7 miles/17.1 km) and East Buckland (12.0 miles/19.2 km) are pretty little villages but there are neither pubs nor shops and very limited accommodation. The Trail enters Exmoor National Park at Holewater. Wooded valleys and dense woodlands give way to, well, bogs really, as the route climbs to join with the Macmillan Way West temporarily before leaving it at the wonderfully named, Mole's Chamber, to continues north towards Edgerley Stone.
The diversion to Challacombe (approx 1.5 miles off route) offers accommodation to Tarka Trail walkers, a shop for supplies and a pub (The Black Venus Inn) for refreshment. At the Bronze Age mount that is Wood Barrow, the Trail turns sharply east and crosses over a moorland ridge. Along the ridge is Pinkworthy Pond, a manmade creation from around the 1830s. Reaching Exe Head, you have arrived at the source of the River Exe. The Path joins the Two Moors Way to enjoy wide ranging views before dropping down into a river valley to come back up again along Cheriton Ridge. The Trail leaves the moors behind after the sleepy hamlet of Cheriton and descends into woodlands. It soon climbs out again to enjoy glorious views of the sea, as you approach Lynmouth. If you have time on your hand, take a little detour to Watersmeet and explore the many waterfalls in one of Britain's deepest river gorges. The trail emerges through woods into Lynmouth and teams up with the South West Coast Path.
From the harbour, enjoy impressive views of high cliffs. The Lynton & Lynmouth Cliff funicular Railway is a lovely alternative to climbing up the steps up to Lynton, Lynmouth's sister village, which sits at the top of the cliff. Take the opportunity to have a rest dayhere, whether to explore Watersmeet or the many attractions that these two villages have to offer. Beyond Lynton is Castle Rock and the Valley of Rocks, equally famous for the feral goats that roam the valley as well as the amazing rocky crags and pinnacles. The route continues on to passes Woody Bay, famous for its "hanging" oakwood and red deer. It also crosses a couple of deep valleys at Heddon's Mouth and Sherrycombe, before reaching Great Hangman, which, at 1,043 feet (318 m), is the highest point on the Coast Path before dropping down to Little Hangman and onto Combe Martin.
Combe Martin is a small pretty village tucked in a sheltered bay. From Combe Martin, a succession of coves and headlands follows, with tremendous views of Lundy Island.
Verity, a 65 foot bronze-clad sculpture by world famous artist Damien Hirst sits proudly at the harbour welcoming you to Ilfracombe. Being a popular holiday resort, Ilfracombe has a good range of shops, a theatre, a museum, a park and mini-golf course and an aquarium for a start. A number of hand carved tunnels take you to sheltered beaches. Boats leave from the harbour to nearby Lundy Island & Marine Nature Reserve as well as the surrounding coastline. The stunning coastline after Ilfracombe compensates for the undulating terrain. Lee sits in a pretty pebbly bay at the bottom of a wooded valley. A 19th century, red and white stripe lighthouse stands proudly on Bull Point - the area was notorious for sea wrecks! Looking back, the Lighthouse is visible all the way to Morte Point. It is worth a diversion here to Mortehoe, a quaint and attractive village with a calm, open feel to it before dropping down to Woolacombe.
The wide sandy beach has made Woolacombe a popular destination with surfers and paragliders. After passing over the large headland of Baggy Point, the Path drops gently to Croyde, another popular surfing destination attracted to its wide sandy beach. The Path then runs through Braunton National Nature Reserve, with one of the largest sand dune systems in the UK and ideal place for bird watching, before reaching the village of Braunton. From Braunton, the Path follows an old railway track with views across the estuary of the River Taw. All too soon you are back to Barnstaple and the end of this magical walk.
Barnstaple has a railway station and we will be please to assist with planning your journey by train.
The National Rail Map provides a map of the rail network for you to plan your journey.
The nearest National Express long distance coach stops are listed below.Ilfracombe, Braunton and Barnstaple
National Express has a route network with over 1,000 UK destinations. The best value tickets will be secured with advance booking.
Barnstaple is well located using local buses and there is generally a good bus network in both Somerset and Devon, however, Sunday and Public Holiday services are near non-existant in Somerset.
The Barnstaple Bus & Train guide can be accessed here.
Barnstaple is readily accessible by car voa the M5 motorway and A361.
We may be able to arrange car parking at your accommodation in Barnstaple for the duration of your walking holiday. This will be subject to availability and may incur a small extra charge. Alternatively there is a public car park in the town and there is also free street side parking available.
Basic navigational and map reading skills are recommended.
The route is Waymarked with the otter paw - although take extra care in bad weather or poor visibility over Exmoor.
It is possible to walk the Tarka Trail all year round, but accommodation options may be limited between November and February. Extra care is required over the moorland stretches in winter.
We specialise in providing walking holidays in Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Pembrokeshire and Somerset. We are enthusiastic about outdoor pursuits and have experienced climbing, canoeing, skiing, caving and potholing and windsurfing as well as walking throughout the UK, France, Spain, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand.
We use our experience to provide self-guided, pack-free walking holidays, tailored to the requirements and abilities of our clients.