Bideford; The Little White Town That Could
Roughly six hours away from London is the Little White Town of Bideford in North Devon, famous for (you guessed it), the little white buildings that make up the town, along with an extensive maritime history and oddly enough…witches.
The long Easter weekend provided another opportunity for us to get out on the bike and see a bit more of the English countryside. After managing to pack three days worth of supplies into two tiny panniers we left London behind and made our way to Devonshire. About 2 hours into the journey we stopped for lunch and a leg stretch and a strangely familiar sight appeared on the horizon – Stonehenge! Unfortunately the closer we got the less impressed I became… I’m not really sure what I expected of a collection of prehistoric stones but obviously my hopes were too high. Call me cheap, but the £7.80 entrance fee didn’t seem worthwhile for a structure surrounded by two fences and bus loads of people.
Two hours later (four hours in) put us just outside of Devonshire and it was starting to dawn on me just how big England is. In four hours you can travel half the length of the North Island. A mission to the snow in winter usually only takes three hours and we’ve done a run to Wellington in seven hours (if the traffic goes your way). England really is enormous in comparison. Just as I was starting to notice the cramps in my knees and loose some of the feeling in my backside a cheery little sign stated our arrival in Bideford – the Little White Town.
“All who have traveled through the delicious scenery of North Devon must needs know the little white town of Bideford, which slopes upwards from its broad tide-river paved with yellow sands, and many-arched old bridge where salmon wait for Autumn floods, toward the pleasant upland on the west. Above the town the hills close in, cushioned with deep oak woods, through which juts here and there a crag of fern-fringed slate; below they lower, and open more and more in softly-rounded knolls, and fertile squares of red and green, till they sink into the wide expanse of hazy flats, rich salt marshes, and rolling sand hills, where Torridge joins her sister Taw, and both together flow quietly toward the broad surges of the bar, and the everlasting thunder of the long Atlantic swell. Pleasantly the old town stands there, beneath its soft Italian sky, fanned day and night by the fresh ocean breeze, which forbids alike the keen winter frosts, and the fierce thunder heats of the midland.”
Charles Kingsley from ‘Westward Ho!’ 1855
What We Saw
The town of Bideford dates back to Roman times and during the 16th century it was Britain’s third largest port where all manner of goods changed hands, including tobacco, pottery and cotton. These days a number of fishing vessels and cargo boats still call at the Quay including the daily ferry service to Lundy Island (where the Puffins live!). The town still has a very villagey feel to it with shops and two local markets (Pannier Market – Market Place Bideford and Quay market) selling all manner of goods – arts and crafts, produce, plants and my personal favourite – clotted cream fudge.
A few steps from the quay is the Bideford Bridge. The bridge spans the River Torridge and connects the main town centre with the township labeled East-the-Water. Built in c1280, it was originally constructed of oak and featured a chapel at either end. The bridge is one of finest and longest spanning arch bridges in England (677 feet, with 24 arches). Bideford Bridge is also the halfway point for the popular Tarka Trail that follows the old railway tracks between Torrington and Barnstaple.
Aside from Romans and Vikings, Bideford was once home to witches. The 1682 Bideford witch trail involved three women; Temperance Lloyd, Mary Trembles and Susannah Edwards who were arrested ‘upon suspicion of having used some magical art, sorcery or witchcraft”. Their deaths in August of that year put them amongst the last people to be executed in England as witches.
What We Ate
Traditional English food is everywhere in North Devon – big breakfasts, pork pies, fish n chips, sausages and mash, steak and chips and loads of real ales (if you like your beer warm). After filling up on eggs and beans it was on to the obligatory Devonshire cream tea with scones and clotted cream. Delicious!
There are loads of lovely old pubs in Bideford and the surrounding area. We recommend the Instow Arms and the Kings Arms (in Bideford). Over the course of the weekend we enjoyed several pints of Korev (the Cornish word for beer), a relatively new Cornish lager from St. Austell Brewery.
On the Saturday night we took a trip out to into the countryside (Frithelstock, awesome name) to the Clinton Arms for their annual ale festival. It was a real treat to hear our friends band in the cosy company of such a cute venue. I’m still not sure about this warm beer concept but Neil might have made the switch!
Wanna visit Bideford?
Both buses and trains leave for North Devon and the Bideford area daily. If your’e driving or riding it can take upwards of 5 hours via Brixton or Exeter. Our route is below.
Total miles: 424