Tarka the Otter

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This article is about the novel. For the person, see Tarka Saarmas.

Tarka the Otter: His Joyful Water-Life and Death in the Country of the Two Rivers (better known as simply Tarka the Otter) is a novel written by Henry Williamson, first published in 1927.


The novel follows the life of a young otter named Tarka, who lives in the rural countryside of Devonshire in England. As a cub, Tarka learns how to swim, catch fish and clean himself.

However, when the den his mother and siblings live in is attacked by hunters, Tarka and his family must move on in order to escape harm. The family meets another group of otters, and they continue to travel together across the countryside, seeking shelter.

During the journey, Tarka is separated from his family, and his mother forgets that she ever had a cub named Tarka. Tarka, now alone, must fend for himself against the hunters pursuing him. When chased by a pack of hounds, Tarka ends his life in a death-match with a vicious dog named Deadlock, who dies along with Tarka.


Tarka the Otter was adapted into a live-action film in 1979, including narration from British actor Peter Ustinov.

The Tarka Trail[edit]

The novel inspired the Tarka Trail, a series of footpaths and cyclepaths across Devon passing areas mentioned in the novel and following the route taken by Tarka. The trail covers an area of 180 miles, and is comprehensively waymarked for those wishing to use the trail.

The Tarka Line[edit]

A local railway route, the Tarka Line, also takes its name from the novel. The line was originally opened in 1851 as part of the North Devon Railway, running for 39 miles between Exeter and Barnstaple.

The station at Barnstaple also marks the beginning of the Tarka Trail mentioned above, and cycles can be hired from a shop within the station complex.

'Tarka and me' by Pete Talbot[edit]

Peter Talbot trained at the Otter Trust under Philip Wayre. In 1976 he was invited by film producers David Cobham and Bill Travers to hand rear a baby otter called Spade for a leading roll in Tarka the Otter. As his otter grew, Peter took him to live in a magical old water mill in Hampshire - the home of wildlife film makers Ron and Rose Eastman. In time, including Spade, they gathered a menagerie of five otters, a tame barn owl, a goose and a German shepherd dog. With others, they became a family traversing Southern England, from Norfolk to The West Country, with their exotic pets. Over two years living and swimming side by side with his otter, Peter encountered a diverse mix of other animals and their keepers. The principal animal handler on Tarka the Otter, his wonderful real-life experiences and gradual awakening to the magic of Henry Williamson's classic story are uniquely traced in this humorous and compelling adventure. In his book Peter Talbot also expands on the vision of The First World War underlying Williamson's classic, which has since been a source for other writers on the subject.

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