On our family trip to Devon this May we spent the loveliest of sunny days in the little town of Bideford on the north coast. After days of rain and clouds, the blue skies and sunshine were such a treat, and we thoroughly enjoyed exploring the quiet streets.
Getting to Bideford
When visiting for the day there are a few options for parking, but the best is probably the Riverbank long stay car park by Victoria Park. It lets you stay the longest and has nice toilets, plus you can walk right onto the boardwalk alongside the River Torridge – which is technically part of the South West Coast Path!
We started off with coffees all round from Tiffany’s on the High Street. The cakes smelled amazing, definitely fresh from the oven, but we managed to resist the fluffy lemon drizzle and the crispy croissants.
Pannier covered market
After exploring the cobbled streets leading off the high street (and pulling Matt away from the antique model shops), we found the Bideford Pannier Market. Open on this site since 1884, this indoor market is made up of a large market hall which, as well as markets, hosts boxing matches and other events; and Butchers Row which is now made up of small shops, galleries, and butchers’ stalls.
The covered Pannier Market Hall with its Artisan Studios is open on Tuesdays and Saturdays, 9am to 4pm. The Hall is used on the other days for specialist markets. The independent Butcher’s Row and the Market Place Shops are open Monday to Saturday.
The Arts and Crafts people housed Butcher’s Row were so popular that the market opened more huts within the hall. Here you can watch the artists inside at work and walk away with anything from hand-sewn pillows to homegrown palm trees.
Everything on sale here was locally grown or made, sometimes even inside the market itself – pottery, wood carving, stained glass, toys, books, painting, jewellery… this is a really eclectic overview of the community.
Next up we headed to Josie’s Interiors, a hidden treasure of a shop with winding corridors revealing room after room bursting with trendy furniture and home decor. I could live in this shop, quite frankly. The only negative point would be that there is just too much to choose from.
Lunch at Secret Garden Cafe
Another hidden gem, the Secret Garden Cafe on Mill Street was the perfect lunch spot on a sunny spring day. As promised by the name, through the back you’ll find a long garden stretching out, dotted with tables, chairs and parasols. We established ourselves on a picnic table at the back, in a cute patio surrounded by climbing plants. The sandwiches were extremely generous, and the icy cokes in the warm sunshine were just what we needed.
Our next stop on our exploration was Chudleigh Fort on the other side of the water. On our way we passed the town hall, a gorgeous old medeival building. After some research, it turned out to be the venue for the “court of inquisition” in 1682 into the activities of the last three women to be executed for witchcraft in England.
If you’re here with kids, a more child-friendly stop would be the Tarka Otter Statue, the main character of Henry Williamson’s book of the same name.
Cross the Old Bideford Bridge
Since Bideford is cut through the middle by the River Torridge, one simply cannot avoid crossing the Old Bideford Bridge if you really want to explore.
On the other side of the water you’ll find East-the-Water, a suburb of Bideford home to the Seven Oaks Local Nature Reserve, the Royal Hotel, the Railway Heritage Centre, and our destination, Chudleigh Fort.
Platform 10 at the Bideford Railway Heritage Centre
The Bideford Railway Heritage Centre is a museum devoted to local railway history, with exhibits and tea in old rail cars standing at Platform 10. It sits on the former railway line from Barnstaple to Bideford which now makes up part of the Tarka Trail, a section of the South West Coast Path. Of course, this means there are frequent walkers and cyclists racing through, so watch your back!
Chudleigh Fort is a Grade II listed building standing on the site of a 17th-century earthwork gun platform built during the English Civil War. The original military fort on this spot was built for George and James Chudleigh, a local father and son who sided with the Parliamentarian forces based at the garrison in Barnstaple.
James Chudleigh built a pair of 8-gun earthwork artillery gun platforms on both sides of the river to guard the town against attacks by Royalist ships. The site on the other side of the river is long gone, but this one still remains, with spectacular views over the town around it.
After our adventure we definitely deserved a reward of some Hockings Ice Cream, sold from an ice cream van in the car park. This is no normal 99 Flake affair – this is proper ice cream made with local clotted cream!
I’ve been to Bideford before, but we discovered so much more this time! It was a shame COVID restrictions made the town so quiet – I would love to come back when the market was bustling and the museums were open to the public. And who could resist a cup of tea on an out-of-service railway carriage?
To read more from our Devon trip check out my latest post on Croyde Bay!