As World Otter Day falls on the 30th May of this year, what better time is there to celebrate North Devon’s most famous otter, Tarka.
Tarka the Otter is the main character in Tarka the Otter: His Joyful Waterlife and Death in the Country of the Two Rivers by Henry Williamson and has made a lasting legacy on the region, with the Tarka Trail being named after him and a statue in his honour in Bideford.
Henry Williamson was said to have been inspired by an actual otter that he had found and rehabilitated as a child and took much of Tarka’s adventures in the book from real places in and around the North Devon area. The book itself is one of his most successful and has never been out of print since publication in 1927.
The book is presented in two parts, beginning with the birth of Tarka on the River Torridge, he is then separated from his mother and wanders around North Devon alone. The book then takes a darker turn detailing Tarka’s life on the run from the local otter hunt. You can relive many of his adventures by following the Tarka Trail, which covers many of the locations featured in the book including Braunton Burrows, Barnstaple, Ilfracombe and many more.
The popularity of the book has led to many adaptations, some of which were written by Williamson himself. Apparently, Disney were interested and tried to get the go ahead for a film twice, but Williamson turned them down. He eventually agreed to make a film with an English Wildlife Documentary maker, as though mostly being a work of fiction, Tarka the Otter does include a lot of natural history, which is why it took so long to write and why it is over 400 pages long!
For fans of the book, there are plenty of opportunities to celebrate it if you’re in the region this World Otter Day. Not only do you have the Tarka Trail to explore and the statue to find, but the cottage that Williamson lived in during his time in Georgeham is still in existence and can even be rented out! You can even spot the region’s resident otters if you’re very quiet and observant while walking alongside the River Torridge!