Recently I cycled part of the famous Camel Trail, specifically the bit between Wadebridge and Padstow.
Now the Camel Trail is decribed by Cornwall County Council as
"arguably the most successful recreational multi use trail in the UK" and I would certainly describe the estuary part as surrounded by stunning scenery.
They go on to say this about the trail: "Managed by Cornwall Council and The Camel Trail Partnership, the Camel Trail is carefully maintained and promoted in order to accommodate the 400,000 users each year."
This Camel Trail Partnership is intriguing, as it suggests a joined-up thought and planning process. This becomes more apparent when we examine the membership: a partnership involving Cornwall Council,Town and Parish Councils through whose area the Trail passes. The Partnership also includes the Chambers of Commerce of Padstow, Wadebridge and Bodmin, the Padstow Harbour Commissioners, Natural England, the Environment Agency and the Forestry Commission.
Clearly the Camel Trail is an enormous economic success. Just in Wadebridge there appears to be at least four cycle hire shops, with at least one more five miles away in Padstow, and another in Bodmin. The trail is estimated to be worth between 3 to 9 million Pound in direct spend to the local economy.
Plans to extend the trail to Launceton was presented to to the Launceton Town Council as being able to revitalise the town's economy. This is expected to form part of an eventual link between the Camel Trail and the Tarka Trail, which if done correctly will most definitely boost Launceston's local economy. There is no getting away from the fact that cycling is good business, and the Camel Trail is run with that in mind!
And yet, let's compare apples with apples, with apples. Let's compare the Camel Trail with the Tarka Trail and with the joint Plym Valley and Drake's Trails.
As a kick-off, both the Tarka Trail and the Camel Trail are actively managed through a consortium of stakeholders, while Drake's Trail and the Plym Valley Trail aren't. This, I believe, is an absolutely crucial difference, and it shows in so many different ways!
Both the Camel Trail and the Tarka Trail are economic success stories, while the Plym Valley Trail and Drake's Trail simple don't make the grade in terms of economic value. Sadly especially Plymouth City Council has shown remarkable lack of vision through their inability to recognise the Plym Valley Trail for the potential it can offer. As a result, even maintenance is left to what Plymouth City Council describes as Sustrans' "army of volunteers".
Still, especially the Plym Valley Trail can in places rival the Camel Trail for beautiful views. Of course, the jewel n the Camel Trail's crown is the estuary part between Wadebridge and Padstow. Stunnng as it is, I believe it doesn't quite match what the Tarka Trail has to offer along the Taw and Torridge estuary.
The Tarka Trail has a good, tarred surface throughout the estuary route, and over most of its length, while the Camel Trail has a disappointing surface that mostly isn't tarred, and is slightly potholed in places. Even the Plym Valley Trail almost throughout has a far better surface, while perhaps half of Drake's Trail also offers a better surface.
The Camel Trail has the occasional bench, or bird hide, while the Tarka Trail has many benches in selected spots, in addition to some of the delightful and often stunning art to be found all over the trail. Of course, there is also an audio trail available, with regular marker posts indicating when you should listen to which MP3 file to learn more about the immediate area, including fauna and flora, and crucially the history.
I would love to cycle the whole of the Camel Trail, and I certainly don't profess to be an expert on it. Overall, I think it is a nice route, with some spectacularly stunning scenery.
However, at only 18 miles in length, it is roughly half the length of the Tarka Trail. That isn't an issue if you only wanted a hour or two's cycling, but if you plan to include a cycle trail as part of your holiday, then I suggest you avoid the Camel Trail and head to North Devon instead!
In addition to being longer, with more beautiful scenery, greater variety, and a far better surface, the Tarka Trail is less busy. Apparently the Camel Trail, especially during the summer holidays, can get extremely crowded, due to its popularity. The Tarka Trail has less than half the users over twice the distance, meaning it doesn't ever get as crowded as the Camel Trail.
Overall, I think you'll find the Tarka Trail, which is a figure of eight centred on Barnstaple, to offer so much more than the Camel Trail and I really do suggest you choose to go cycling there, instead of on the Camel Trail.
Perhaps in another ten years or so I might even suggest you come cycling along the Plym Valley Trail and Drake's Trail. Just give us a chance to catch up, first!