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On the Tarka Trail without a Mountain Bike in Sight!

From the old market town of Hatherleigh to the idyllic village of Iddesleigh.

Distance 7 miles (11.3km)

Minimum time 3hrs

Ascent/gradient 245ft (75m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Fields and country lanes

Landscape Rolling farmland and wooded valleys

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 113 Okehampton

Start/finish SS 541044

Dog friendliness Dogs should be kept under control at all times, livestock in some fields

Parking Main car park in Hatherleigh

Public toilets In the square, Market Street, Hatherleigh

1 Leave the car park (look out for the wonderful 'Sheep' sculpture) and turn left up Bridge Street and then Market Street, walking past the square and the parish church (St John the Baptist - now beautifully restored after the mid-15th century 54ft (16.5m) spire plunged through the roof of the nave in the storms of January 1990).

2 At the top of the hill follow the road left, then turn right up Sanctuary Lane (signed 'to public footpath'). The lane climbs steeply; ignore all footpath signs until you pass Wingate at the hilltop; the lane bends sharp left. Go straight ahead through a gate into a field, signed 'Tarka Trail'. Walk straight across the field, through two gates, then across the next, keeping left of four big oak trees.

3 Leave the boggy field through a gate and pass through a coniferous plantation, over a footbridge and kissing gate and into a field. Walk straight over that field, over a stile and through the grounds of Groves Fishleigh. Go down the drive and through the gateposts to a T-junction. Turn right towards Arnold's Fishleigh. At the edge of the farm buildings turn sharp right (footpath sign) through a gate/stile into a small orchard. Turn left, then out over a stile and plank bridge under big oaks. Turn left and at the end of the field cross the stile, then keep right down the next field. Turn right through a gate/stile, then left through the next gateway, and follow the track downhill to cross the Okement River via a cantilevered gate/wooden bridge.

4 Turn left and walk along the riverbank, then right at the hedge. Go through the next gate, across the corner of the field and through a gate onto a green lane, running uphill. Follow footpath signs right through a gate, and cross the field to Nethercott Barton. Go through the gate, turn left and follow the track uphill (note Nethercott House on the left). When the track meets a lane, turn left.

5 At Parsonage Gate, turn right down the drive to Rectory Farm, then right at the gates before the farmhouse. Pass through a metal gate to cross the farmyard, then through a gate (marked by an otter paw) and straight ahead. Take the right-hand gate at the end of that field (views left to Iddesleigh), and follow the muddy track downhill. Leave the field through a gate onto a green lane. Turn left at the tarmac lane and uphill. Turn right opposite the 15th-century St James' Church, then left to the pub.
Note: For a different route home, retrace your steps down the lane from the church, and keep going until Vellaford Cross. Turn right along the lane on Hatherleigh Moor - the views south to Dartmoor should not be missed. Pass the 1860 Hatherleigh Monument, commemorating the distinguished actions of Lt Col William Morris at the Charge of the Light Brigade. Past the Hatherleigh sign, turn right down Park Road to reach the top of Market Street.

The Tarka Trail, attributed to North Devon author Henry Williamson's classic book Tarka the Otter, runs for 180 miles (290km) through peaceful countryside, signed, most appropriately, with an otter paw. The trail covers a huge area, from Okehampton on the edge of Dartmoor, across the course of the Taw and Torridge rivers, to Ilfracombe on the coast, and east to Lynton and Exmoor. It forms a large figure-of-eight, following the old Barnstaple-to-Bideford railway line, various rights of way and permissive paths, and provides excellent opportunities for quiet exploration.

This route follows a part of the trail that is only open to walkers, and starts in the market town of Hatherleigh, an important centre for North and West Devon. Originally a Saxon settlement, the town developed as a staging post on the main route from Bideford to Exeter, and to Plymouth. A great fire in 1840 destroyed much of the early fabric of the town.

What to look for

Although sightings are still rare, there's no doubt that otter numbers in Devon are on the increase - and any walk along the Tarka Trail instantly brings this charismatic creature to mind. The otter was widespread as recently as the 1950s but, following a sharp decline in numbers, conservation schemes have had to be introduced to sustain viable populations. One of Britain's few native carnivores, the otter is characterised by its powerful body (36in/90cm) and strong tail (16in/40cm), and much of its appeal lies in its apparent ability to have fun.

Where to eat and drink

The Tally Ho on Market Street is both inn and brewery, and visitors can be shown around the brewery on request. Brews such as Tarka's Tipple, Midnight Madness and Nutters may well tempt you in. There's a good range of food, and a beer garden, but children under 14 and dogs are not allowed in the bar. The 15th-century Duke of York at Iddesleigh is a classic, unspoilt country pub, with a reputation for excellent food and a homely atmosphere.


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