Saturday, 13 February 2016


Lying on the west bank of the mouth of the River Torridge near where it converges with the River Taw, Appledore is a charmingly quaint little port with a big seafaring heritage stretching back more than 1,000 years.  The village existed as early as Saxon times and it had its moment of glory when Viking raiders were defeated there in the Battle of Bloody Corner in 878AD – a plaque marking the spot can be seen on the road between Appledore and Northam.  The port was made a free port by Queen Elizabeth I in recognition of the role played by the local sailors and ships in the fight against the Spanish Armada of 1588.  As a reminder of that time there are Tudor buildings built from ship’s timbers among the charming fishermen’s cottages.  Boat-building began here as early as the 15th century, and continues to this day, although in a greatly reduced form.  The North Devon Maritime Museum has its home in Appledore, and offers displays on the area’s seafaring history, including shipbuilding, wartime memories and the area’s smuggling past.

The waterfront and the narrow streets behind it offer an entrancing mix of cottages, many of them holiday rentals, shops, pubs, restaurants and art galleries.  There is a promenade lining the estuary, which is muddy with strong currents, making swimming unsafe.  However, those wanting to take to the water can go on a fishing or leisure boat trip from the harbour, or take the ferry across to Instow (April to October only).  Walkers can take a path from the old custom house and lifeboat station which leads to the Northam Burrows Country Park, a site of special scientific interest with sand dunes and other habitats teeming with wildlife.   

Map of the area. 

View from Appledore to Instow

One of the charming back streets

Friday, 5 February 2016


Called Puffin Island by the Norsemen who once landed there, Lundy Island is a green speck of land 3 ½ miles long and half a mile wide  in the Bristol Channel between Devon and South Wales, about 12 miles from the Devon coast, and around twice as far from the Welsh coast.  During the 19th century the island became known as the Kingdom of Heaven, since at that time it was ruled by the Heaven family, and it can certainly feel like heaven on a fine day, with fabulous views of the English and Welsh coasts, and out to the Atlantic.  The island has belonged to the National Trust since 1969, and it boasts one pub and three lighthouses, the Old Light built in 1819 and made of granite, and the white-painted North Lundy and South Lundy Lighthouses built in 1897.  There are a number of buildings on the island leased by the LandmarkTrust and rented out as holiday lets.

As well as the Norsemen, the island was once the haunt of pirates, a reminder of which is the small cove in the north-east corner of the island called Frenchman’s Landing.  There is a ruined castle in the south which was built by Henry III, sometimes referred to as the Marisco Castle (a name shared by the island’s pub, the Marisco Tavern) at a time when the island could properly be described as inhabited, and restoration work was carried out on it during the Civil War, when the inhabitants remained stubbornly faithful to Charles I while mainland Royalists were being defeated.  It was during the 20th century that the island began to depopulate, so that most of the people found there today are either visitors or volunteers coming to the island for conservation projects.

The island is a paradise for wildlife watchers and twitchers.  The puffins which gave rise to the island’s original name went into a seemingly terminal decline around 10 years ago, but the population has since made a recovery thanks to the extermination of the island’s rats. But there are far more birds to look out for than puffins, with over 400 species having been recorded.  Other creatures include grey seals, sika deer, wild goats and Soay sheep, while the waters surrounding the island are visited by sharks and dolphins – something to look out for from the MS Oldenburg, the passenger ferry bringing visitors across from Bideford and Ilfracombe.

Map of the island. 

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Coast of Lundy. Photo by Nick Stenning, via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 29 January 2016


Bideford claims to be the place where the last hangings for witchcraft took place in England.  Three women, Temperance Lloyd, Mary Trembles and Susannah Edwards were tried in 1682 based on evidence which was largely hearsay, but which did not stop the three of them from being hanged.  This event is one of many facets of Bideford’s past on display at the Burton Art Gallery andMuseum. Another exhibit charts the development of Bideford’s famous bridge over the River Torridge, known as the Long Bridge, which was begun in 1280 as a wooden structure graced with two chapels and a large cross in the centre.  The bridge was subsequently rebuilt in stone and widened, and now stands at 677 feet long with 24 arches.  

Bideford was once one of Britain’s busiest ports, and the 17th century quay is a reminder of that time.  Now the quay serves fishing boats and pleasure craft, as well as daytrips to Lundy Island from March to October.  Another reminder of the town’s past economy is the Pannier Market, which continues a tradition dating back to 1272, the year the first market charter was granted.  There is a lovely park called Victoria Park on the west bank of the river where eight cannons known as the Armada Guns are on display.  The guns were discovered in 1890 when the quay was being widened, and some of the old mooring posts were found to be cannons from a Spanish Armada shipwreck.  

Map of the area. 

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Bideford Long Bridge at low tide. Photo by Steve Daniels, via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 22 January 2016


Instow is a village set on the east bank of the River Torridge, just next to where it meets the River Taw, and opposite where the two rivers spill out into the Bristol Channel.  There is a firm, sandy beach with views across to Appledore on the opposite bank, and the North Devon Yacht Club has its headquarters in the village.  For walkers, the Tarka Trail passes through the village, heading towards Barnstaple in one direction and Bideford in the other.  Instow has long been popular with artists, due to the abundance of interesting subjects, such as boats at rest in the estuary.  Instow Quay was built in around 1620 by the then Lord of the Manor Sir John Speccot.  During the summer there is a ferry linking Instow and Appledore.  A short distance to the south of Instow is Tapeley Park and Gardens, particularly known for its Terraces full of semi-tropical plants and exotic flowers.

Railway buffs may be interested to know that, although Instow is no longer served by the railway, the line having closed in 1982, it has a historic signal box which survives to this day.  The signal box is over 130 years old and was the UK’s first grade 2 listed signal box.  When it was threatened with demolition, the villagers came to the rescue and mounted a restoration fund.  Today the signal box is looked after by the Bideford Railway Heritage Centre and opens to visitors on occasional Sunday afternoons in the high season.  

Map of the area. 

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Instow from Appledore Quay. Photo by Tim Leete, via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, 16 January 2016


Like its neighbour, Woolacombe, Croyde is a small resort with a big surfing reputation.  The village of Croyde itself has a different feel to it from Woolacombe, more quaint and ‘thatched cottagey’, yet still offering the usual facilities for the surfing fraternity in the form of surfing gear shops and a good selection of places to eat and drink.  The village is set a short distance back from the beach, while Croyde Bay is the part adjoining the beach.  The beach at Croyde Bay is relatively small compared with its neighbours, but just to the south are the sprawling Saunton Sands, a fabulous spot for surfing, bodyboarding etc., although judging by recent reviews there is an issue with the cost and standard of the parking facilities there.  As well as surfing there is horse riding from the Roylands Riding Stables, and of course walking.  There is a lovely walk from the village out to Baggy Point, the headland separating Woolacombe and Croyde beaches.  Alternatively for a shorter walk, there is a National Trust car park closer to the headland.  We did the walk one glorious sunny day on my birthday, stopping off for lunch at a tea room with a lovely lawned area with fabulous views along the coast – highly recommended.  The Croyde Ocean Triathlon takes place in July, back in 2016 for its second year.  The event is based on Putsborough Sands, back towards Woolacombe.

Map of the area.

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View of Croyde Bay from Downend.  Photo by Grant Sherman, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 7 January 2016


The small resort of Woolacombe, which lies on Morte Bay, nestled between Morte Point and Baggy Point, is reached via a road which winds its way down through steep, grassy meadows full of sheep.  The undoubted star of the resort is its two miles long golden sandy beach with powerful waves pounding the shore, voted the best in the UK by Tripadvisor earlier this year, and 13th in the world.  Woolacombe is the first in a series of surfer magnets along the stretch of coast from North Devon to Lands End, up there with the likes of its neighbour Croyde, and Cornish cousins Bude, Newquay and Sennen, to name but a few.  The beach is backed by high dunes, flanked by Woolacombe Down.  To the north is the much smaller Barricane Beach, which is known for its exotic shells carried across from the Caribbean by sea currents.  The resort itself has a good selection of pubs, restaurants, cafes and a few shops.  The place to head for if you want a front row seat for the resort’s fabulous sunsets is the Red Barn, with a terrace facing out to sea.  If you are a non-surfer suffering from surfer envy, you can learn how to do it with the Hunter Surf School on Woolacombe Beach.  Other activities include horse riding and hang gliding.

Map of the area. 

The fabulous beach

Sunset from The Red Barn