Category Archives: Places to Visit

Bideford

The town of Bideford, sits on the banks of the river Torridge, its name is said to derive from ‘by-the-ford. Most people will know the iconic bridge that crosses from Bideford to East-the-Water, first built in 1286 as a pack horse bridge, it was later rebuilt in 1535. The 24 arch bridge as we see it today was built in a variety of sizes, it is rumoured that this was the case because each of the arches was paid for by local businessmen, the larger arches reflecting those with more wealth. Historically the town was referred to as the ‘Little White Town’ before the Doomsday book recorded the ‘manor’ in 1086. According to the Doomsday book there were 30 villagers and 8 smallholders. Bideford is also very well known for a slightly unusual reason, it would be the home of the last woman to be convicted of witchcraft in England. The story of how Temperance Lloyd, Mary Trembles and Susanna Edwards came to the gallows is a tragic one that serves as a dark reminder of England’s superstitious past. The book of Bideford, written by John Watkins, a local historian in 1792 tells the story of their misfortune: On a July Saturday in 1682, a local shopkeeper reported to the town constables that he suspected that Temperance Lloyd had been using witchcraft to cause illness to a local woman by the name of Grace Thomas. Following this, Temperance was arrested and further charged of using magical acts upon Grace Thomas, and having communicated with the Devil. Following this, others came forward to accuse Temperance of further acts of witchcraft, including the sightings of a cat, which was believed to be a manifestation of the Devil. Lloyd denied the use of magic. Two more Bideford women, Mary Trembles and Susanna Edwards, were denounced by their neighbours, having been noticed in the company of Lloyd when all three were begging for food in Bideford.

They were arrested and incarcerated with Lloyd, and crowds gathered to stare at the three suspects as they languished in the town lock-up. The three women were sent to Exeter on the 8th July 1862 were they awaited trial for over a month. The trial eventually took place on the 19th August, The presiding judge, Sir Thomas Raymond, allowed his will to be swayed by the emotional atmosphere in the court and raised no objection to the jury finding the suspects guilty of all charges. Once sentence of death had been passed, the women were sent back to Exeter gaol to await execution. Their deaths took place on 25 August 1682 at Heavitree just outside Exeter. A plaque commemorating the tragic deaths of the Bideford witches can be viewed today on the wall of Rougemont Castle in Exeter. By the 16th Century, Bideford was the countries third largest port, it was even rumoured that Sir Walter Raleigh landed his first shipment of tobacco here, although this is believed to be a myth. In 1699 more ships are reported to have left Bideford than anywhere else in England, apart from London and Topsham. The area of Bideford is probably best known by the works of Charles Kingsley who came to Bideford in 1854, hiring a house, where he wrote his best seller, Westward Ho! And consequently the area saw a boom in tourism from people coming to the see the stories setting. In 1886 The ‘Thorough Guides of North Devon & Cornwall’ promoted Bideford: “Every visitor to these parts is or ought to be familiar with Kingsley’s “Westward Ho!” and so we need not quote his description of this old fashioned town and port. It stands on the margin and steep western bank of the Torridge, and is fully seen as we approach by rail and alight at the station, which is on the opposite side of the river.

The town is of considerable antiquity, and was formerly of relatively greater importance than at present. It’s principal streets are wide, and the atmosphere and general appearance of the places throughout suggestive of quiet and healthy ways, not unaccompanied with fair prosperity. The bridge has been more than once widened, and affords a delightful promenade when the tide is up and the softly beautiful Torridge valley is bright with the windings of its then broad stream. There are no particular points of interest in this town by a pleasant place for a day or two whilst exploring the neighbourhood. Today Bideford is still a working port seeing many ships transporting aggregates and clay extracts, there is still a small but flourishing local fishing trade as well as local connections to Lundy Island. The town houses its own Pannier Market, and traffic free streets makes this the perfect place to have a walk around and enjoy the many shops and cafes that the town has to offer. You could take a walk along the quay and admire the expansive waterfront, or perhaps visit the fortnightly farmers’ market. For cyclists and walkers, there is the Tarka Trail that is the perfect way to explore the area.

Combe Martin

Combe Martin is located on the edge of the Exmoor National Park only 12 miles from Woolacombe, set in a wooded valley, and with a lovely cove it is a popular place to visit. It’s name derives from the word ‘Combe’ meaning a wooded valley, and ‘Martin’ from the Norman family who are believed to have inherited the manor from William the Conquerors supporters. In 1870-72, John Marius Wilson’s Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales described Combe Martin as: “a small town, a parish, and a sub-district in the Barnstaple district, Devon. The town sits in a deep romantic glen, opening into a small cove on the Bristol channel, 4 miles east of Ilfracombe, and 10 North East of Barnstaple railway. station; extends irregularly to a length of about 1½ mile; was made a market-town about the year 1264, but has long lost its market; is a seat of petty sessions; and has a post office under Ilfra-Combe, an inn, a parish church, three dissenting chapels, and an endowed school.” Today, the seaside town which sits in a valley, has something on offer for everyone. Enjoy a day by the sea, rockpooling, kayaking, fishing or walking along one of the stunning coastal paths, for the more adventurous why not try coasteering, rock climbing or horse riding.

One of Combe Martin claims to fame is it is reported to have the longest main street in any village in the Country, which is over two miles long. As the village grew it was easier to continue building along the narrow valley rather than along the slopes, hence this unusually long main street. Some say that those who live at one end of the street believe they live in the countryside and not by the sea. The environment around Combe Martin, in particular its limestone outcrops meant that the area has a number of lime-kilns which date back to around the 17th Century. The lime was then used to improve the fertility of the soil. Combe Martin’s main economy used to be in the growing and processing of hemp and flax used to make rope and sails. It was also known for silver mining, and the village built a reputation for silverware. One of the earliest records of Combe Martin Silver mines was found in 1294, when it was recorded that 337 men were brought from the Peak, Derbyshire to work the mines. In the Elizabethan period the Combe Martin mines took on a new lease of life and they made a considerable revenue. You can still see some of the old remains of the mines that were crucial in the lime and silver trade. For those visiting today, an interesting Grade II listed building to look out for is the ‘Pack o Cards Inn’, built in 1626 by George Ley it is said to be built following a large win at card playing. The Inn has 52 windows, believed to represent the number of cards in a pack and has four floors (representing the number of suits in a pack), with 13 doors on every floor (number of cards in a suit) .

Combe Martin holds a number of events each year, one that is very unique to the area is the: Hunting of the Earl of Rone The Hunting of the Earl of Rone is one of over 500 unique customs that take place at various times of year throughout England. Banned in 1837, for licentiousness and drunken behaviour, the Hunting of the Earl of Rone was revived in 1974. Over the four days of the Spring Bank Holiday weekend, the Grenadiers, Hobby Horse, Fool and villagers hunt through the village for the ‘Earl of Rone’, finally finding him on the Monday night. He is mounted back-to-front on a donkey and paraded through the village to the sea. He is frequently shot by the grenadiers and falls from the donkey only to be revived by the Hobby-horse and Fool, re-mounted on the donkey, and carried onwards to his fate. At the final shooting on the beach, he is not revived, but thrown into the sea. Local legend says that he was Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, who was forced to flee from Ireland in 1607 and was shipwrecked in the local bay known as Raparee Cove. There is no historical evidence that Hugh O’Neill ever landed in North Devon and history tells us that he actually reached Spain and lived out his life there, so why he should become the focus of the custom is a mystery – although there are plenty of theories! Perhaps the locals were celebrating the defeat of a famous contemporary outlaw by a local landowner, a Chichester, who was the sovereign’s Lord Deputy in Ireland at the time. Perhaps the Irish population in the village, who worked the mines, were in sympathy with O’Neill and his attempts to have Ireland ruled by the Irish. Some people think the custom is the last remnant of mediæval May Games, others like to think that it is a pre-Christian, pagan, green man custom that has survived with the O’Neill legend attached to it. The Earl of Rone is seen as a scapegoat by others. People believe what they want to believe whether there is evidence or not – even those who take part have different ideas. Whatever the history, none of it actually determines what happens these days. What The Hunting of the Earl of Rone definitely is, is Combe Martin celebrating itself! The custom is run by a council of villagers, but any local from Combe Martin, or the surrounding parishes of Berrynarbor, Trentishoe and Kentisbury, is welcome to dress up and join in. Visitors are also welcome to come to watch and enjoy the festivities but, as tradition demands, collections are made throughout the weekend and once costs have been covered, surplus money is donated to good causes in the village. For more information about Combe Martin visit: http://www.visitcombemartin.com

Mortehoe Museum

Mortehoe Museum is located in the heart of the village, in a grade II listed barn leased to the charity by the National Trust. Mortehoe is steeped in history and Mortehoe Museum is the best place to find out more about this beautiful area. The museum was established as the Mortehoe Heritage Trust with its main objective “To advance the education of the public in the history of Mortehoe and surrounding district, in particular by the management of The Mortehoe Heritage Centre.” Mortehoe Museum is run by local people in Mortehoe and through it’s exhibits it provides information on the life, heritage, culture and maritime history of the village and surrounding area. The upstairs of the museum not only has a stunning view across towards the Church, but also has a large collection of local history displays, artefacts and photographs. Visitors can learn more about local shipwrecks, farming and the growth of the tourism industry locally. On the ground floor, the museum has it’s own shop selling local interest books, locally made crafts and artwork. In the summer, visitors can enjoy the sunshine sitting outside the museum, with its childrens play area and picnic tables.

Lundy Island

North Devon is a spectacular county, boasting an array of amazing places to visit including the island of Lundy. Positioned in the Bristol Channel, 11 miles off the North Devon coast, this little granite outcrop has a lot to offer. The Landmark Trust rescue historic buildings at risk and, once restored, offer them as inspiring places to stay. In 1971, the trust took over the lease of the island (owned by the National Trust) and has restored many unique and memorable places to stay on Lundy from a castle keep to a 19th Century Georgian mansion. The range of properties available on the island gives the opportunity for everyone of any budget to stay. Every visit to the island, even if for just a day, is an amazing unique adventure. Even the journey here is a new experience for many. From April to October the island can be reached on our supply ship MS Oldenburg (who has a story of her very own,) from Ilfracombe or Bideford, and from November to March, staying visitors arrive by helicopter from Hartland Point. Built in 1958, MS Oldenburg operated as a ferry operating from the German mainland to the Friesian islands until 1982 when she was bought by the Warrings family who ran the ‘Butter-Cruises’. These duty-free cruises ran until 1985 when the loop-hole, which permitted their operation, was closed and the opportunity to buy MS Oldenburg for Lundy was taken by the Landmark Trust. MS Oldenburg has been our supply vessel ever since and can hold up to 267 passengers who make use of the buffet, shop and bar whilst sitting on deck or within the foredeck saloon with its large windows creating a panoramic view. Lundy is renowned for its wealth of marine and terrestrial wildlife, particularly as it is home to the largest seabird colony in the southwest and has its own species, the Lundy Cabbage. During the summer breeding season kittiwakes, fulmars, guillemots, razorbills and puffins can be found across the west and north coast of the island. At night, Manx shearwaters return to the island and many visitors enjoying listening to their melodic calls as they return to their burrows.

Storm petrels have recently begun to breed on the island, a sign that the island’s Seabird Recovery Project has been a great success. The project began with the eradication of the island’ s rat population for 2002-2004 allowing the island to be designated as ‘rat-free’ in 2006. The island’s rich flora creates carpets of yellow, purple and pink during the summer season as the endemic Lundy Cabbage, Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Sheep’s Bit Scabious and sea Thrift come into bloom. One species, the Heath Spotted Orchid, can be found in the marshy areas of the plateau. Here you will often come across some of our larger animals, particularly the Lundy Ponies, Soay sheep, Highland steers and Sika deer. These animals roam north of Quarter Wall to assist with our conservation grazing scheme which is in place to enhance the island’s Site of Special Scientific Interest. The waters around the island are also protected through a Special Area of Conservation, Marine Conservation Zone and No Take Zone. Together these designations conserve and enhance the spectacular marine life that is found in such a unique location and includes species such as pink sea fans, cup corals, cuckoo wrasse and our mischievous grey seals. The wealth of habitats, wildlife and wrecks attract hundreds of divers every year and many visitors join in our Snorkel Safaris to get a taster of the rich life that can be found under the waves. Humans have lived on Lundy since Neolithic times and have left behind many historical structures that provide us with clues as to who lived here and when. Many of these have been designated as Scheduled Monuments to protect and conserve them, and the whole of Lundy is a Heritage Coast. The most notable of these include the Old Light, Marisco Castle, Fog Battery and Brazen Ward. Each historical structure has its own story to tell and, as with Landmarks across the UK, all of the letting properties have significant stories of their own. To find out more visit http://www.lundyisland.co.uk or see our Facebook pages: The Landmark Trust – Lundy and Lundy Conservation Team. Guided walks and illustrated talks are available throughout the year whilst Rockpool Rambles and Snorkel Safaris take place during the summer.

Bull Point Lighthouse

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Bull Point lighthouse is situated in Mortehoe. It was originally constructed in 1879, to guide vessels navigating the North Devon Coast. The plans for the lighthouse started in 1876, when two engineers from the Board of Trade visited the coastline around Morte with the view of ascertaining the most serviceable spot for the erection of a lighthouse. They favoured Bull Point, and a roadway was planned from Morte to the Point. The estimated cost to build the lighthouse, the road and cottages for the keepers was £10,000. However the decision to build the lighthouse at Bull Point, rather than at Morte Point was a controversial one, that many local mariners disagreed with. Morte Stone was considered a danager to vessels in the area, with many people being killed here, when upto fifty vessels could be passing the stone, bound from the Channel. The mariners believed that many “could always weather Bull Point” but talked of Morte Stone “as the dreaded spot, which is difficult on a dark night”. The decision, however, fell in favour of Bull Point, and this is where the lighthouse was eventually built. Mr George Knott would become the first principal lighthouse keeper based here. The Knott family, had manned lighthouses for generations, and are believed to hold the record for longest continued service of manned lighthouses from one family. George was the fourth generation to man a lighthouse, he started his career at South Foreland. George was well known for his wooden carved models of the lighthouses he worked in, the model of Bull Point Lighthouse is believed to be in Plymouth Museum.

The opening of Bull Point Lighthouse was reported in the London Gazette on the 10th June 1879

Further notice is given, that on 30th June the lighthouse on Bull Point will turn on the light. The light will be a flashing white light (triple half minute), showing 3 successive flashes of about two seconds duration each divided by intervals of about three seconds of darkness. A fixed red light will also be shown from the lighthouse, 18 feet below the flashing light to mark Morte Stone. A powerful fog hord signal will also be established giving three blasts during heavy fog.

 

The lighthouse was finally opened in June 1879, there was no formal proceedings to the opening. The final building of the lighthouse was done by Mr R. T. Hookway of Bideford and came in just under budget at just over £7000. The buidling consisted of a block of dwellings for three keepers and their families, a fog signal horn, tower, oil store, general store, piggeries and office. The fog signal was worked by a pair of caloric engines manufactured by Brown & Co of New York and the lantern and light were manufactured by Chance Brothers of Birmingham. Like all buildings slight modifications and updates were made over the years, with a foghorn added in 1919 and then electrified in 1960. The lighthouse continued to operate without any major incidents, until 1972.

It was the 18th September 1972 when the keeper of the lighthouse reported ground movement, particulary in the engine room. He observed that 2 fissures were opening, which caused him some concern. In the early house of Sunday 24th September, 15metres of the cliff face crashed into the sea, with a further 15 metres subsiding steeply causing deep fissures to open along the boundary wall. Walls cracked and the engine/fog signal station partly collapsed, leaving it in a dangerous condition and putting the fog signal out of action. A temporary tower, which had been in use at Braunton Sands and had been given to the Nature Conservancy, was borrowed back and the optic installed on top of it. This tower was used at the Bull Point Lighthouse for nearly two years, until Trinty House erected a new tower further inland. The lighthouse was designed and built so that all the equipment from the old lighthouse was utilised and after some modification made, this was completed in 1974 at a cost of £71,000 and is currently in use. It was fully automated from completion. The diaphone foghorn was switched off in 1988 and the lighthouse was automated in 1995. The site can be visited by an adjacent public footpath. The old lighthouse keepers’ cottages are now being let out to tourists as self catering holiday establishments.

 

George Knott

(above): George Knott and his carved wood lighthouse models.

Woolacombe Down Walk by Mark Johnson & Poppy the Dog

Woolacombe is most famous for its world class beach. One of the best ways to enjoy it and to fully appreciate its beauty is to look at it from above. Unless you are one of the paraglider’s who frequently fly around here, the best way to do this is to make the amazing walk over Woolacombe Down. I did this walk along with my dog Poppy and have written about my experience.

This walk is around 5 miles and took us about 2 hours and 15 minutes, including drink stops.

Please download and print by clicking Poppy Walk

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1 We started off at the Puffin Café, where dogs are welcome. This is where we fuelled up for the climb to the top of the Down. I had a half English breakfast and Poppy had a sneaky bit of bacon. Leaving the café and winding through the village following the road along to the Marine Drive car park, you first come to the National Trust sign marking the area of dunes known as Woolacombe Warren.

View to Woolacombe Warren

2 Carrying on up the path, you will meet the gate to Potters Hill which is next to the car park cabin for Marine Drive. Go through the gate and follow the path, this is where the climb to the top of Woolacombe Downs starts.

Potters hill plus sign

3 Continue up past Potters Hill which is where you begin to get nice views of the beach and surrounding area. If you are feeling energetic, you can take the short steep walk left at the signpost to the top of Potters Hill before continuing towards the Down.

Poppy walking up Potters hill

4 At the gate you can take some time for a rest, look back and enjoy the view. The area after the gate is home to a number of beautiful Exmoor ponies which you are very likely to see.

Woolacombe from gate

5 The climb continues, but persevere and you will be rewarded at the top. This is reached after about a mile into the walk. At this point, Poppy decided to sit down for a moment to enjoy the scenery.

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6 Continue along the largely flat walk, hugging the path overlooking the bay, eventually you will reach a bench which is probably one of the best locations for a sit down you will find anywhere. It would be a great idea to take a flask to enjoy tea or coffee here.

Woolacombe Down Bench

7 After the bench continue downhill (quite steeply at some points), through a gate and eventually over a style. Immediately after the style, you will turn left joining the Marine Drive footpath. Continue to follow this path and after about half a mile you will reach the road entrance to Putsborough Sands.

Putsborough Sands Sign

8 Here you can get a refreshment at the Putsborough Sands Beach Café and enjoy a fantastic views of the whole beach (there is also a brand new toilet complex if needed!). We had a slice of cake and some hot drinks. This was our view from the beach front seating. After you have enjoyed your cuppa and well earned rest, the 2 mile stroll back along Woolacombe’s world class beach is straightforward and thoroughly enjoyable. Remember to take some time to look up to the Down where you have just walked and admire your good work. If you look closely, you should be able to make out your new favourite bench at the top.

Verity – Damien Hirsts Statue

Ilfracombe’s much talked about statue Verity stands at 20.25 metres tall, and weighs 25 tonnes. She is on long-term loan to North Devon Council as a gift from Damien Hirst. Made from stainless steel and bronze she stands on the pier at the entrance to the harbour in Ilfracombe, looking out over the Bristol Channel towards South Wales

Damien Hirst is best known for his controversial art, and when he decided to ‘loan’ Verity to his home town of Ilfracombe, it certainly got people talking. The BBC summed it up “She has been called outrageous, immoral, bizarre, obscene, offensive, disgusting, grotesque, a monstrosity, of no artistic merit and demeaning to women. Others see her as beautiful and unique, with the power to transform a town’s tired image and boost its economy.”

Verity represents truth and justice, and controversially she is displayed as a cross section showing her torso, skull and a developing foetus inside her womb. She stands on a base of scattered legal books and holds the traditional symbols of Justice – a sword and scales. Representing truth, her scales are hidden and off-balance behind her back, whilst her sword is held confidently in her upstretched arm.

After two years of planning and production, Verity arrived in Ilfracombe in three parts in October 2012. After a week’s assembly on site, the sculpture was hoisted into final position using a 250 tonne crane.

The statue has received many comments and provoked many responses, some people love it and are pleased to have this attraction in Ilfracombe, and others have branded it as an eyesore. Whatever your thoughts, it has certainly become a local talking point, even on April Fool’s day in 2014 gaining a striking pair of legwarmers.

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