Family Touring day 2 – Tarka, trains and tumble

So let’s just get this out of the way first. We hit the tarmac. I’d like to say it wasn’t my fault, but I’d be lying. We were cycling along quite merrily, Emmy was chatting away on the back of my bike, Matty was in the bike seat on David’s. We passed a turning off the main trail and immediately began to doubt if we’d gone the right way. I braked without warning, thinking that David was also stopping, and he went straight into the back of me. Glancing the handlebars off Emmy’s head, David’s bike went over with Matty on board – thank goodness for helmets and a protective bike seat. Emmy barely noticed she’d been hit, Matty’s head didn’t touch the floor. Everyone was fine but it reminded us just how quickly things can change in a split second. And the importance of communication! When we lived in Copenhagen they held up their hand to signal that they were slowing down. We have whole heartedly adopted this approach now!

Prior to that incident we’d had a lovely morning, rising early and packing up the tent, we armed the kids with a few fistfuls of dry cheerios each and headed off for Fremington Quay, a half hour ride away. Set on the disused railway line of the Tarka trail, opposite the River Taw, there is a fabulous family run cafe which serves up equally fabulous breakfasts. Sausage, bacon, beans, eggs – we all tucked in! They also have a great heritage centre exhibiting the industrial history of Fremington Quay’s past. The kids loved pulling the signal box levers, hearing the train noises and it was a great way of bringing it all to life for them.

The Tarka trail is a stunning ride. It is one of the country’s longest continuous traffic-free walking and cycling paths and takes it name from the fictional Tarka the otter. We followed the Taw and Torridge rivers, pedalling alongside estuary mudflats, salt marshes and oak woodland. The ground is a combination of tarmac alongside the estuaries and smooth trail in the woodland.


The disused railway path is lovely to ride on and we enjoyed seeing the old platforms as we pedalled along and tried to explain to Emmy that this was once a railway line.


At a similar time we began telling stories. Emmy loves stories and as the weight allowance didn’t permit a book, we took to making them up ourselves. In fact, we got a bit carried away and ended up with a trilogy based around Rosie the Robin and Nasty Witch Freeze-a-lot. We’re unlikely to rival JK Rowling any time soon but it was a fun way to keep Emmy entertained as we bashed through the miles.

Mid morning we mistimed one of Matty’s naps and he woke up hungry on the trail. Normally we would have just pulled to one side but the route had narrowed and we didn’t fancy trying to contain our one year old amongst stinging nettles and foxgloves. We decided to hang on for the signposted Puffing Billy Cafe, which promised hot coffee and an area to play. It didn’t disappoint. After the twentieth rendition of “Wheels on the Bus” and every animal on earth featuring in “Old MacDonald”, we managed to string Matty out to reach our destination and were so glad we had. It’s a fabulous cafe at the former Torrington railway station. The restored waiting room serves as a restaurant with toys for the kids, plus lots of picnic tables outside. Great coffee and they didn’t mind us eating our own food.

We knew that our campsite for the evening had a swimming pool and were therefore keen to arrive while it was still relatively warm. Fuelled by lunch, Emmy decided it was time to prove to us how fast she could run. She set off along the raised footpath of the viaduct yelling at Daddy to pedal faster to catch her! It was just so lovely to have a completely traffic free route.


We very quickly reached the turning for our campsite and set off down through the forested area towards our pitch. It was at that point we repeated our error from night one… to think we were home and dry! Quite the opposite. No hills this time but instead a ridiculously narrow bridge. Frustrating doesn’t come close! Emmy thought this was the perfect opportunity for Pooh sticks.  We set about detaching the trailer. By removing a wheel we managed to rather precariously edge our way across the bridge with Matty staying asleep inside. Parent skills!

We had a fabulous afternoon at the campsite. Pitching our tent right next to the pool in a sheltered garden, it didn’t take long for Emmy to pull on her wetsuit and jump in. She quickly made a friend and the two of them had lots of fun splashing around and sending David to retrieve the ball from the deep end. Having braved the perishing temperature (minus a wetsuit!) for over an hour, David eventually managed to coax Emmy out before they were both hypothermic! There was also a lovely adventure playground which kept both kids amused and had a nice balance of equipment to challenge both young and older children.

Unfortunately what we hadn’t quite realised was the complete lack of food options nearby. The reception only opened for half an hour in the afternoon, and when it did we were given a takeaway phone number which had sadly finishing serving takeaway two years ago. Cue David setting off on a fish and chip bike mission and me trying to shower and put the kids to bed solo. We have debated for a while how we could have avoided this. I suppose the easiest option would have been to get a hot meal at the lunch stop, but you don’t really feel like this when you know you’ve got more riding to do. The other option is to take a small stove and backup meal but obviously it’s more weight to carry. We’re undecided. What we did discover is that a dinner of weetabix and cheerios did the kids no harm and they still slept soundly all night.

The next morning the food situation perked up for the kids, as Daddy’s late night raid had brought back croissants for breakfast! Roll on day 3, which promises the biggest hills of the entire route…


For those who’d like to see the route overview and elevation profile see map below. I’d love to hear from anyone who has tried touring in the past to know how you do mealtimes? Perhaps we need to carry more ourselves. As always, any thoughts, comments, suggestions very welcome – we’d love to hear what you think!



Family Touring day 1 – pancakes, puncture and puff!

First day of our Devon coast to coast, the rain is drizzling but it won’t dampen our spirits, we can do this! Pull on the waterproof trousers, jumpers, jackets. Raring to go. Wave goodbye to the pretty seaside town of Ilfracombe and come face to face with the mother of all hills. Seriously. Who put bricks in the panniers?

Emmy finds it hilarious. “Pedal faster mummy! Daddy is beating us, come on!” I push as hard as I can, stopping 100m from the top, and promptly take off the afore mentioned jumper and waterproof. Who am I kidding, surely it’s better to get wet than pass out from heat exhaustion.

More than one flicker of doubt crosses my mind. What the hell are we doing? I am so unfit. I’d have struggled to get up this hill before having two kids let alone now…and then Emmy pipes up, “We’re going on an adventure aren’t we Mummy, this is incredible!” Incredible is a word she repeats a lot over the next few days, I start to wonder if she’s just trying to convince herself of this fact, but one glance at her expectant face and it’s enough to push on and claim those glorious views from the top. Matty, tucked up in the trailer, oblivious to the first hurdle having occurred less than 10mins into day one, is already fast asleep.

The ride from Ilfracome to Woolacombe is beautiful. Coastal paths, fields for miles and although descending in a rain storm to Woolacombe beach was more than a little hair-raising, we took it gently and arrived to find the rain stopping and an amazing feast of pancakes in the little beach side cafe. Really relieved we’d brought the kids all in ones we headed to the beach, flying the kite and running along the wet sand. Children make it fun. They have this innate ability to live in the moment. There’s me thinking, wouldn’t it be nice if it was sunny, while Emmy and Matty are busy tearing around the wet sand, chasing the kite, loving life. Time to take a leaf out of their book.

At this point it becomes quite clear to us that nothing is going to get Emmy off her bike. Not wind, not rain and certainly not tiredness! Like many toddlers she sees a daytime nap as the ultimate defeat. She’s back on board and we are just pulling off when David shouts for our attention. The trailer has a puncture. Ah.

Everyone off the bikes again. A bonus of the trailer is that the wheels can be easily removed, so we were able to retreat with the wheel to the warmth of the pancake cafe. David set about mending the puncture and quickly discovered that a massive thorn had lodged itself into the tyre. A tip for all of you thinking of cycle touring with or without kids – bring a pair of tweezers. Thankfully our medical kit contained just that, and after bribing the kids with gingerbread biscuits so that we could dedicate two adult pairs of hands to the repair, we were able to pull out the thorn and David performed a textbook patch to get us back on the road.

Our first play park stop of the trip was in the lovely town of Braunton. For those who are looking to do a similar route I thoroughly recommend Wild Thyme cafe – absolutely delicious lunch stop!


Finally it’s time to be tough with Emmy. She really must have a rest. She’s already ridden 15km, up some epic hills, and the weather has been pretty rough. With a lot of persuasion she eventually agrees to sitting on the bike seat and we’re barely out of Braunton before they’ve both fallen asleep…

Our other tip for anyone cycle touring is look out for library stops. It may sound bizarre, but when the weather is dodgy and you’re going through small towns, a library is actually a fantastic place to take a break. Cosy, warm and child friendly. We enjoyed a lovely hour in Barnstaple library children’s area, reading books and colouring pictures to give them a break from the weather.

With an M&S picnic dinner purchased, we head for the campsite only 5 miles away. Just when we were sure that day one was in the bag, we round the corner to a 12% incline. If we thought the morning’s gradient was the mother of all hills, this was the grandfather. David bravely powered on, hauling the trailer and all it’s contents up, with Matty cheerfully riding in the bike seat. I had to admit defeat. For the first time Emmy and I climbed off the bike and started to push. I looked back at my little three year old daughter, pushing her bike up the hill, determined to do her bit, determined to be “just like you mummy” and I felt absolute wonder. Maybe it was the fresh air. Maybe it was us treating her like an adult. Maybe it was the sheer exhaustion that was making me totally emotional. But Emmy had undoubtedly loved today and that made it all worth it.

While we pitched our tent and got the picnic stuff out, Emmy and Matty made friends with some fellow campers. Kicking a football, balancing on logs, playing with the resident dog and excitedly trading stories about the day. We’d ridden 36.5km and made it up 487m elevation. We all bundled into the tent, it certainly was a ‘squash and a squeeze’, but we were that tired that it didn’t matter.

“What are we doing tomorrow Mummy?” “Another adventure Emmy, just wait and see…”


I hope that the above made for an interesting read, do let me know if we should cover more or less detail? Has anyone got their own tips to share? If you have questions about the specifics of the route and where we stopped for food, just send me a message, very happy to help. We’ve included the route overview and elevation profile below…