Journalist Liz King walks us through the attractions that make Barnstable and Ilfracombe well worth visiting when you are in North Devon.
Barnstable has a lovely traditional pannier market which is housed in a building that dates back to 1855, with local crafts, antiques and food producers all selling their wares, as well as the floral decorations the town is well known for.
The town centre street is pedestrianised and is wheelchair and buggy friendly too.
A must see are the quaint alleyways and courtyards, the speciality shops and the open fronted shops near the market. Despite the history and tradition, Barnstaple is not a quiet backwater; there is a modern shopping complex too, if that suits you. If you fancy a bit of culture, the Queen’s Theatre has a busy programme of concerts, plays and shows.
If you like walking or bird watching, then head off to the salt marsh estuary of the Taw and Torridge rivers, where at low tide the mud flats and sandbanks are an important food source and habitat for several species including lapwings, curlews, and other migratory wading birds. It’s not unknown for there to be over 20,000 waders at any one time.
The Tarka Trail runs by the estuary and at dusk you can often see bats flying. It’s well known for using part of the former railway tracks as a cycle way and is well used by walkers; it’s a scenic figure-of-eight180 mile walk if you feel energetic!
Did Tarka the otter in Henry Williamson’s classic novel written over 80 years ago really do all this wandering? If you walk from Barnstaple to Landkey, for example, you can catch a bus back to Barnstaple; don’t forget your bus pass.
The aquarium at Ilfracombe is an award winning attraction and although indoors and a great place to visit on a rainy day, perhaps when the weather is hot, it’s a place to go to keep out of the sun.
The Landmark Theatre, not perhaps the prettiest of buildings, has entertainment for adults and children and great sea views from the café. Watermouth Castle, just outside the town, on the no 30 bus route, is family orientated and could keep everyone amused for a whole day whatever the weather, with indoor and outdoor attractions.
But when it’s hot, if you want to go down to the beach, there are four tunnels leading to the impressive north Devon coast, with many hidden coves, and a Blue Flag beach. The tunnels were carved by hand in Victorian times, when bathing became popular, by Welsh miners employed specifically to dig six tunnels though the hillside so the hoi-polloi could don their hand-knitted cozzies and head to the beach.
Ilfracombe was at that time a small fishing village but soon became a popular and busy seaside town.
Today, the beaches are in a designated AONB, Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a marine conservation area with a tidal swimming pool. There are fabulous views over the channel to the coast of South Wales.
Where to stay
We really like Stowford Farm Meadows Caravan and Camping Park, at Coombe Martin. It is a family owned and run park set in 700 hundred acres of north Devon countryside, but not far from Barnstaple and Ilfracombe with a bus stop nearby.
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Note: All details correct at time of publication but may be subject to change.