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Monday, 21 March 2016

Walk 173 Bideford to Barnstaple (Devon)

Walk 173 Bideford to Barnstaple (Devon)

(Third leg of English coastal walk – Lands End to Bristol)

Map: L/R 180
Distance: 12 miles or 20 km approx
Difficulty: quite easy
Terrain: mainly coastal and riverside path
Access: Parking at both ends.
Public transport: Frequent buses between Bideford and Barnstaple

Cross the River Torridge in Bideford using the old bridge which dates back to the 16th century. Evidently, not one of the 24 arches is the same size! On the other side is the aptly named East the Water where the path crosses the road but soon returns to the riverside. On the walk up the Torridge there is at least one rusty, abandoned hulk. Dominating the view is the A39 bridge which is rather pretentiously called The Atlantic Highway. A rather odd, small MOD property appears to contain a number of stuffed toys clinging to the inside of the wire fence.

Soon, the rather attractive front at Instow appears in view. For railway buffs this is a place to savour some old signals, signal box, platform and crossing gates. The meadow here is especially planted to provide interesting plants all year round. Continue the walk out of Instow alongside the north beach. There is a great little shop in Instow which provides interesting food and local produce.

After a few further miles you arrive at Lower Yelland and Home Marsh Farm. This section of the path is part of the Tarka Trail – a 150 mile figure of eight walking route. It is named after Henry Williamson's book Tarka the Otter which is set in the surrounding countryside. In the 1940s the area around Home Farm Marsh was one of the many wetlands drained to make the land more viable for agriculture. However, this was at the price of plant species and visiting birds whose numbers were greatly reduced. It was acquired by the Gaia Trust in 2002 who returned it to its original state. If you have time you can wander around the area and reflect the trust's motto which is “People and nature together since 1988”.

Across the River Taw is Horsey Island. Along the stretch between Lower Yelland and Fremington Quay the path follows what was once a railway line. Steam trains from Barnstaple ran along here for many years, to allow coal and lime to be imported from Wales and local pottery to be exported. The line was finally closed in 1982. For more information about the area, and the railway, Fremington Quay Heritage Centre is situated next to a cafe whose premises are in the old station.

Continue the walk around to the bridge which takes you into the main part of Barnstaple. Over the bridge is the clock tower and Barnstaple Museum which is well worth a visit.

The town, one of the oldest in Britain, has been a royal borough since 930 and is one of only 4 Devon boroughs in the Domesday Book. Its importance as a port diminished when the River Taw silted up but it is still a major regional centre.

A few of the landmarks I enjoyed looking at here are: Barnstaple Parish Church of St Peter and St Mary – in 1864 Gilbert Scott was asked to straighten the crooked spire but refused as he said it was distinctive – look for the info boards which tell the story of two interesting vicars; Church Lane and its surroundings where almhouses were provided for the poor by prosperous 17th century merchants were built (together with the Alice Howard School for young maids); The Royal and Fortescue Hotel with its impressive frontage, formerly a coaching inn, it got its 'Royal' name from after the former Prince of Wales enjoyed apple pie and ice cream here in 1856.

Photos show: the old railway signals, box, gates etc. at Instow; Fremington Quay; Royal and Fortescue Hotel in Barnstaple. 

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