Newest Review: ... for my Chirstmas shopping, but this year did it all in Barnstaple. There are two main parks in Barnstaple for children to play in, Pilton... more
Don't pass us by
Barnstaple in General
Member Name: Stripery77
Barnstaple in General
Advantages: Great friendly place
Disadvantages: Stuck at the end of the A361 - far from anywhere
I want to tell you about Barnstaple in North Devon and some of the lovely surrounding areas. I shall include some good things to see and do, where I think it is good to stay and why I love living here. I am a thirty something married Mum of two who grew up here and has thoroughly explored the area through several different periods of time in her life.
So where is it and what's it like?
Often known as the cul-de-sac of the South West, travelling to Barnstaple is most usually by the M5 to Jct 27 and the along A361 for most people heading to the south west. It is a cul-de-sac because for miles around there is nothing in the way of big business, big cities, or crowded conditions with over population and indeed it has been argued - prospects to reside in the area for our younger generations. You drive in and out again - or maybe never escape.
Currently Barnstaple is a developing market town nestled on the North Devon Peninsular. The river Taw flows through the town and it is spanned by the imaginatively named Old and New bridges. The population is approx 150,000 people and the neighbouring towns of Bideford, Torrington, Ilfracombe and Braunton and South Molton are all within easy access. The nearest big City is Exeter - just over an hour away either by train or car. Bristol is roughly 1.5 hours drive and London is 2.5-3 hours away. You can get the train into Barnstaple you'll find the only connection is from Exeter St Davids and the 35mile trip will take just under an hour!
The town itself has grown considerably in the past 25 years - almost trebling in size and diversifying in ethnicity. We also now have the new bridge which has helped considerably to ease the infamous traffic problems we used to have. The bridge now bypasses the town centre and allows you to travel in a ring road thus avoiding traffic snarl ups. It does still get busy, but nothing like the hour long traffic jams we used to see where you'd add a couple of hours onto your commute. It is a great help in the school holidays when the tourist traffic (grockles) noticeably builds. Though it is always busy getting to and from the beaches on a hot day especially if you're not an early bird.
We do have visible level of extremes of wealth and poverty in this area certain areas of Barnstaple, Bideford and Ilfracombe in particular do struggle. According to Demographic reports education levels are on average are fairly low and up until recently if you wanted to go to University you would have to move away - subsequently many graduates don't return. Many workers hear are on low-paid, minimum wage, working in factory jobs or seasonal employment. Adding to this problem we find that house prices are very high in the South West it is really hard - especially in the current economic climate to get a foot on the property ladder as a first-time buyer. Having said that there are some incredibly wealthy people living here. Numerous famous names do reside here. Many people choose this as an area to retire and many many others live here very successfully.
The cost of living down here can be pretty high. It is well publicised that our Water Rates are the highest in the country and our council taxes are high too and most of us need a car. Everything else is as it is elsewhere. Devon is switching to Digital TV on 1st July and there is pretty good coverage. Mobile Phone coverage can be really patchy in many areas of the county especially on the moors and in some dips and valleys and more rural areas. But as I've said before this area is changing and advancing at a rapid rate.
I personally have lived in and around Barnstaple for over 25 years moving to here from Croydon outside London. To me it seemed very rural - and it pretty much is. I went from a primary school of 1500 students to a village primary school of 65 students. The shock was quite significant and I found that I had to fit in to survive, I was further on in my studies than the class I was put into and this made me an outsider from the start. It's fair to say that I learnt how to toughen up in Devon.
Having grown up and schooled here and throughout secondary school and my teens I remember feeling pretty happy but then I was easily pleased. We currently have our fair share of disgruntled yoof and I do remember a time when I was younger wishing that there were more resources for the young/teens and twenty-somethings in Barnstaple itself however I believe this now to be a national issue. There is very little within the town centre to amuse the younge generation. Yes we have a Blockbuster Video, a multiscreen cinema and now a newly built Skate Park - all of which are very popular - but it just isn't enough.
To me Barnstaple does feel like a safe town. There are times when this is not the case and we do have our fair share of trouble and street crime. I guess like everyone you learn which places are good and which places are not. Barnstaple High Street for me on a Saturday night feels intimidating, however I never used to feel that way in my late teens and early twenties and whilst there was sometimes trouble I was always safe.
Barnstaple is now the area that I am chosing to raise my children. Whenever we go away, be it back to Croydon to visit friends or up country travelling, it is always lovely to come home to such a beautiful area. I know I often find myself taking it for granted and sometimes becoming complacent, but it really is a great place to be.
Barnstaple is served by North Devon District Hospital which I have found to be a simply excellent facility. I had both of my children and have received excellent care when other medical issues have arisen. There are two main secondary schools in Barnstaple and one in each of the major towns nearby. These all ultimately feed into North devon College which is rated in the top 10 FE colleges in the country and has now finally partnered with Plymouth University to be able to offer a range of Foundation Degrees and to move North Devon into the Higher Education capability. There are plans to build a fantastic new college along the river front. These are currently on hold due to LSC funding issues but the whole of the college is greatly hoping as this will be a huge educational boost for our area.
Barnstaple could do with a few more shops, maybe an ice skating rink and a few more clubs and pubs. Hopefully with the ability to offer degrees, more and more of our younger population will choose to stay in this area. It would be lovely to think that.
I think it is fair to say that you have to travel out of Barnstaple to find entertainment - for me it was always the beaches
Saunton - 8 miles
Croyde - 10 miles
Woolacombe - 15 miles
Westward Ho! - 10 miles.
And my personal favourite
Putsborough - 14 miles
There are others but those are the main beaches, they are all accesible by bus or car (or hitching if you're desperate - though I would never advise this). You can now view all of these beaches through webcam and they are updated minute by minute so you can check out the surf reports and tides.
What's in the Town Centre? - Barnstaple
The town centre is well kept and has won Britain in Bloom a number of times I think It has improved considerably since the traffic issues have eased, there are some lovely pedestrain areas and the high street is closed to traffic during the day making it safer and more pedestrian/cyclist friendly. Although some have argued that this has helped to ease trade in certain areas too - which may well be true.
We have the normal assortment of high street shops - an M&S, WHSmiths, Boots, Argos, Costa Coffee, Topshop, BHS, Accessorize & Monsoon, Burtons, and we used to have a large Woolworths but alas no more. Plenty of Surf Shops, New Look, la Senza, a large assortment of mobile phone sellers a waterstones and all the main banks and building societies.
We also have some great independents such as Banburys a family run department store, The Blue Gallery a fantastic Artshop, Roly's Fudge Pantry selling lovely home-made sweets that you can watch being made. We also have the old undercover Pannier Market dating from 1855 which runs daily and has a variety of different products on different days from arts and crafts to antiques andd collectables to farmers markets. There's also Butchers row built at the ame time as the market an boasts a collection of very small shops some of which are still independent Butchers but now there are delicatessens, a bakery and fishmongers and greengrocers to add.
There's a fairly small shopping centre called Greenlanes which has some nice local cafes and houses many clothes shops and jewellers, travel agents etc.
If you are looking for Hardcore Shopping then this is not the place for you. A big day oout for someone from Barnstaple is to go to Exeter where the range of shops seems astonishing and the occasional mind blowing treat is to travel to Cribbs Causeway in Bristol. If even Cribbs is too small for you, then Barnstaple WILL make you cry.
Where can I get food and eat? Do you know a good pub?
We have a number of supermarkets in the area for day to day shopping- there's a very large Sainsburys, a Somerfield and a Tesco on the outskirts of Barnstaple. In Bideford there's and Asda and a Morrisons. There are also two smaller Tesco's in Ilfracombe and Braunton and large Somerfields in South Molton and Torrington.
There are a number of great places to eat and drink in both Barnstaple and the surrounding villages and country side.
Apart from a couple of McDonalds, a KFC, and a Pizza Hut - none of which can be found in the town centre but on the outskirts. There are several good pubs and restaurants in the town. There is a fantastic Italian restaurant called Giovannis which is always packed to bursting - booking advisable. There's a lovely restaurant called The Bank found at the bottom of the highstreet. Zena's does a fantastic range of fresh local food with a caribbean twist. The Old Custom House on the Strand has a very nice full menu and the Jalepeno Peppers offers great Mexican Fayre.
In the nearby villages these are some very good recommended local pubs - all tried and tested
The Williams Arms - Braunton - fantastic all day menu and truly great Sunday Lunch - good for families
The Chichester Arms - Bishops Taunton - lovely classic pub menu
Ring O Bells - Prixford - great local sourced food
The Hoops - Parkham - on the A39 beyond Bideford -Bude stunning pub food
The Fox & Hounds - Eggesford - great Sunday lunch - good price - nice Hotel too.
The Ebrington Arms - Knowle past Braunton - nice menu
The Old Station Inn - Blackmoor Gate towards Lynton & Combe Martin - fantastic all day menu - brilliant for families
Westleigh Inn - Westleigh near Instow - nice menu - good play area for kids
The Mill - Ossaborough Woolacombe - lovely but pricey
The Rock Inn - Georgeham - really nice local menu - good for couples
The Pig on the Hill - Tricky to find - Pusehill near Westward Ho! - Great Menu - good for kids - nice Sunday Lunch
The Boathouse Instow - amazing fish menu
The Red Barn - surfers haven - you have to be cool to eat here - great food
Squires Fish & Chips - braunton - V Famous - won best F&C shop of the year - really good chips -really awful cues - booking advisable
The Han Court - Fremington - Fantastic Chinese
The Fullam - Barnstaple Town Centre - great Chinese run by the same family as above
The Moghul Brasserie - Decent Indian
The above list are some of our favourite places to eat and I have no hesitation in recommending them all. There are literally hundreds of other places to try and I could go on but I think there's enough to be going on with and to indicate that there are some great eateries in the area.
The local paper - The North Devon Journal - (which is also available on line at www.thisisnorthdevon.com) lists great places to eat and is an all-round essential guide to the area if you're visiting.
Where should I stay?
These hotels, campsites and B&B's are ones I have had personal experience of and have found to be very pleasant indeed. All have very good standards and most are average to fairly high prices. This isn't even 5% of what is available in the area - but these are all good places to start.
The Sandy Cove - Berrynabour - Combe Martin 3* - great setting and good location for Weddings
The Watersmeet Hotel - Woolacombe3*- my personal favourite for it's spectacular setting and decent menu - again a favourite for Weddings
The Woolacombe Bay 4* - pricey but utterly divine
The Saunton Sands 4* - Saunton - overlooking the beach in a very prominent setting this is a Brends hotel and the family have a number of others in barnstaple including
-The Barnstaple Hotel 3* - like and American Motel
-The Imperial Hotel 3* - On the Square in Barnstaple
-The Park Hotel 3* Newport Road - near the main public park and the riverfront in Barnstaple
-The Royal Hotel 3* In Barnstaple Town centre - great restaurant attached
If you need it there's a Travelodge and a Premier Inn on the outskirts of Barnstaple
The Only B&B in the list
Beara farm Buckland Brewer - this is a lovely, very rural cottage complex set deep in farming land. Only accesible by a long winding non-tarmac drive - this is a true experience - Richard and Ann Dorsett have created a simply stunning home and their attention to detail is perfect. My Uncle always stays here and they are always busy - the quality of their accomodation and their food is first class
Where can I camp?
Lobb Fields - Braunton - Saunton road
Ruda Holiday Park - Croyde - Pricey, busy and well maintained
Cherry Tree Farm - Croyde, cheap and cheerful, minimal facilities
Putsborough Sands - expensive, fantastic views, need to book well in advance as this is a very small site
Little Roadway Farm - top of Woolacombe Hill - good all round site - not too pricey
North Morte - nice location Mortehoe near woolacombe - pricey but good facilites
Hidden Valley - keeps winning awards. - On the Braunton to Ilfracombe road
There are hundreds more sites and theres plenty of informatin of the tourist information website for Barnstaple under Where should I stay
Other Things to do in and Around Barnstaple
I think it is fair to say that for the most part you have to travel out of Barnstaple to find entertainment - for me it was always the beaches
Saunton - 8 miles
Croyde - 10 miles
Woolacombe - 15 miles
Westward Ho! - 10 miles.
And my personal favourite
Putsborough - 14 miles
There are others but those are the main beaches, they are all accesible by bus or car (or hitching if you're desperate - though I would never advise this). You can now view all of these beaches through webcam and they are updated minute by minute so you can check out the surf reports and tides. The Car Parking Charges are pretty dear now - it's pretty much £5 for a day's parking - this is probably cheap to a visitor but to a frequnting lcal it can add up (although there are passes)
I have been to every single one of the following places and at each one I have found something out, enjoyed myself, had a good time with my kids, parted with some fair amounts of cash and recommend them....
Arlington Court - National Trust run property - Arlington
RHS Rosemoor - Royal Horticultural Gardens in Torrington
Hartland Abbey - Ancient Abbey and Gardens - great Cream teas and walks
Marwood Gardens - fantastc gardens of the late Dr.Smart who travelled all over the world collecting rare plants and this garden hosts the National Collection of Hostas, Camelias and Astilbiles - Marwood - Barnstaple Outskirts
Dartington Crystal - Watch Glass being blown - it's fascinating ! - have glass moulds made of your childrens handprint's (I did and it's one of my treasures) and there's a great factory shop too.
Big Sheep - great for kids and sheep lovers alike - enjoy ewetopia - an indoor kids play area - and many other attractions - best and busiest in high season so you can watch the duck races - pricey tho! Great for 0-10's - Abbotsham Bideford
Milky Way - pretty much same as above but with a few more rides and catering to slightly older children too - again quite pricey - on the A39 to clovelly
Quince Honey Farm - South Molton. Watch Bees and buy honey - the story of the honey bee and now the warning that these are dying out.
Key pitts - all terrain quad bike centre & horseriding - near Ifracombe - physical, hands on, good prices.
Barnstaple Leisure centre - nothing fancy just a few pools - no slides - good little ones pool
Central Cinema - Five screens in Barnstaple town centre showing whatevers current
Rock park - Skate Park now opened - this is the main public park in Barnstaple with a good childrens play area and plenty of free parking.
Exmoor - Wow - you can explore all over Exmoor - get a good map - do some of the walks - Lorna Doone is a good one, Tarr Steps and Withypool are lovely, Dunkery Beacon is a good trek. Lots to see including Exmoor Ponies
Lundy - sail from Ilfracombe or Bideford - check the tides and aim for a day when you can spend the most time on this remote little island. It's pretty bleak and there's a steep old climb to get onto the island - but it's definitely an experience
Car Boot Sales - there are always carboot sales and openair markets- thoughout the summer - the details are in the North devon Journal - the local paper which is an essential purchase
Surf Schools - there are schools at all the main beaches with qualified instructors who are there to teach safety as well as surfing. All the equipment is provided all you have to do is turn up and have fun - all ages from 6+ are catered for
Braunton Burrows - is the third largest Burrows system in the UK and is home to many wild species of plants and flowers. It is a protected nature reserve but you can merrily wander in it. It's about 7 miles long and 2 miles wide and runs along the backbone of Saunton Sands . There are some lovely walks to be had here and it's open to dogs - which is a bonus because many places have restrictions - especially the beaches.
Cycle Track - Networks of Devon - you can safely cycle all over North devon there are cycle tracks from Barnstaple to Braunton and Beyond and from Barnstaple to Bideford and Torrington and all the way to Okehampton if you are feeling really keen. There are places to hire bikes in the key towns and there are some good pub stops along the way. For the most part the tracks are pretty flat.
South West Coastline Walks - you can walk all along the coastline of North Devon. It is beautiful. There are many short walks to be taken and the going is pretty hilly to be fair - but the scenery is sensational - if you can go in a group and park a car at one end and one at the other it does help.
Lynton & Lynmouth Cliff Railway - is a must do experience. Powered by water this tramway carves it's lines up and down the side of a cliff. It's a dramatic trip and well worth the price. You can walk down to Lynmouth the path zigzags down the hill and crosses a number of bridges over the railway. We have always found it's a good idea to park in Lynton at the top - walk down to Lynmouth, mooch around the shops, get and ice cream etc and then get the railway back up. This is easily a days excursion from Barnstaple as it is 25+ miles and a 50+ mile round trip - but it is unmissable
The Queens Theatre Barnstaple & Landmark Theatre Ilfracombe have year round events and occasionally a great name will venture to this neck of the woods. - Again we could do with bigger and better theatres - there's certainly the call for them here as when a big name comes -tickets sell out fast. However, we get a good selection of things showing at these two theatres.
The Plough in Torrington - Public run independat theatre which has some truly great night out to offer and also has art shows and a great restaurant
Clovelly - hike down the cobbled hill and have a pint and a cream tea at the bottom
Riverton lakes & Fisheries
Blackwell Fisheries - Trout fishing (uuuggghh - my husband likes this) - Muddiford near Barnstaple
The Mill adventure centre - Indoor Climbing centre South molton
Broomhill Art Hotel - great Sculpture garden & restaurant - good hotel too by all accounts
Having read the other reviews here on Doo Yoo about Barnstaple and finding them a little repleat I felt moved to add my views. I like living here. It's beautiful. The people are friendly and welcoming, the family/beach life is great. I am very happy with the schools my children are at and indeed with the prospects for a better FE/HE college in the area. There is plenty to see and do and it doesn't have to cost the earth. Walking and Cycling are free! We could always do with more of this and better that, it is the same every where. I think Barnstaple is a great place and I'd recommend a visit to anyone.
Thankyou for reading
Summary: A nice market town with great outskirt attractions