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12 brilliant things to do in Bideford

Planning a day trip to this historic riverside town in North Devon? Here's where to shop, eat, play and get your cocktail and culture fix.

1/ Get a selfie with Tarka the Otter

Pic credit: Visit Devon

Bideford spans the River Torridge, a wide tidal estuary, perfect for blowing away the cobwebs, especially if you take a stomp across the town’s ancient appropriately-named Long Bridge, at over 670ft one of the longest mediaeval bridges in England, held aloft with 24 arches. Grab a selfie with a bronze sculpture of Tarka the Otter, the main character of Henry Williamson’s novel, nearby.

Like a bit of history? Continue on the Heritage Trail, where you can discover the town’s significance as a historic port, its connection with the tobacco trade, and Elizabethan sailors like Grenville and Raleigh, its 17th century potteries and covered Pannier Market, open Tues – Saturday.

2/See a Picasso

On the river, you’ll also find the wonderful Burton at Bideford, the town’s art gallery and museum where they host regular exhibitions, currently Living with art: Picasso to Celmins, A British Museum Touring Exhibition, including an early Picasso and a Hockney (until April 2022). Upstairs is an impressive collection of North Devon paintings and ceramics, including examples of its distinctive yellow pottery and a display about the town’s 17th century witch trial. Plus, artist-in-residence Michelle Shields’ fascinating re-imagining of some of their 17th century ceramics collection in modern 3-D printing.

3/ Eat like a Parisienne

After a mooch in Burton at Bideford’s excellent little shop, full of local jewellery and art you’ll want to buy, nab a table in chef Joe Monterieux’s Cafe du Parc, their equally excellent on site bistro. It’s all French classics, including omelette au herbes, Croque Messieur/Madam, and crepes smothered in your choice of lemon and sugar, Nutella, La Biscotti or poached pears and Chantilly cream. Just there for coffee? Make room for a slice of their amazingly dense and creamy cheesecake. It’s delish.

Hit the shops

Fan of Nkuku? Then you’ll be head over heels with the colourful Sunshine & Snow on Mill Street (also Muddy award-winning) where you can grab a coffee and watch the world go by on a window-seat, then shop fair-trade boho clothes and homeware on three ever-more tempting floors.

Over at Shore Drift, you can pick up locally curated gifts and homewares, along with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint and do a craft course in their upstairs workshop, everything from paint techniques to linocut and loom-weaving (very on trend, doncha know.)

If it’s contemporary Devon art you’re after, hop over to Mill Street Gallery (you can’t miss it, the exterior is a beautiful shade of shrimp) for Alice Bulmer’s curation of her own and local North Devon female artists. Bold and colourful, if you don’t leave with an artwork, you’ll definitely come away uplifted.

For jewellery and craft, the studios on Butcher’s Row (above) next to the Pannier Market are really charming, and you can find Devon’s Best Jeweller, according to Muddy readers, Imogen Rose in her new studio here too.

5/Knock back a cocktail

When owner/chef Louise opened Mill Street Brasserie last summer it was met by huge applause from the locals thanks to its easy-going menu, and insta-friendly decor.

A real boost to Bideford’s nighttime offering, it’s one of those useful places where you can pop in for lunch (we shared the BEST salad and beetroot vegan burger ever) or chill out by night with a cocktail. Wish we lived closer. Go!

6/Find your wellness, ethically

The White Room on Mill Street, started out as holistic massage treatment and yoga rooms at the Pannier Market, with a few scented candles, jewellery and clothes, but the extras proved so popular that in 2021, owner Sophie took over what was the Chocolate Boutique and opened a lifestyle store. A great go-to for ethical gifts and slouchy organic clobber and Danish brands, with Wanderlust necklaces and an exclusive range of Cressida Lowery jewellery (she’s a former Vivienne Westward designer). And you can still get an Indian head massage, reflexology and massage in the original treatment rooms.

7/P-p-p-p-pick up a puffin

Pic credit: The Landmark Trust

Hop over on the MS Oldenburg to see the the wildlife on Lundy Island, aka Britain’s little Galapagos, a granite outcrop 22 miles away in the Bristol Channel, owned by the Landmark Trust and teeming with seabird colonies of puffins and Manx shearwater, migrating birds and wildflowers. For £20, you can take a dip in the crystal clear waters to see the marine life underwater, in a one-hour Snorkel Safari, including your kit, a total bargain.

8/Enjoy a good yarn

Mill Street’s newest opening is Maggie & Hook, a haberdashery and craft shop combo of what was a few weeks ago crochet guru Tamsin’s Lefthookery and Megan’s The Magpie’s Nest.

Channeling a modern make-do-and-mend ethos, here you can top up on supplies and join one of their thrice-weekly workshops in felting, embroidery, appliqué, Sashiko (Japanese invisible mending) using 100% recycled cloth and stuff made from waste.

9/ Take these broken strings…

Just when you thought Mansons in Exeter was Devon’s only guitar shop (Muse-approved, you know), enter James Millman of Millman’s Guitars who hand-crafts bespoke handmade guitars, mandolins and ukeleles. A pioneer of using British native trees, every instrument is lovingly made to a custom spec. And no need to er, fret, if your guitar needs fixing, he can do everything from a broken headstock to complete re-fretting.

10/Romantic dinner for two?

Pic credit: Number Eight

Get your glad rags on and head off the main drag to Allhalland Street for bijou bistro, Number Eight, a small family-owned fine dining restaurant, serving up modern British cuisine. With owners Joshua chef-fing and partner Chloe front of house, it’s one of those in-the-know, loved-by-locals spots, rated for its local, seasonal menu and friendly attention to detail. It has been know to get booked up three months in advance, so get booking! Seven courses £75pp, wine flight £45.

11/ Fancy making a stay of it? Oh go on then…

If you fancy a sleepover, we rate the Art Deco beauty, Saunton Sands Hotel, 13 miles up the road and perched above three miles of golden sands. It has an award-winning three-storey spa, with the focus on wellness, and it’s super kid-friendly, with free childcare on offer.

12/ Ride on Devon’s largest rollercoaster

sheep racing with teddies

Head to The Big Sheep, a farm and theme park where you can ride on Devon’s biggest rollercoaster, meet the animals and enjoy fun animal-themed shows, and regular events, including spring lambing, summer music festivals, fireworks and more.

FUN FURTHER AFIELD

Pic credit: Stay in Devon

3 miles awayAppledore, a historic fishing village, with art gallery-filled back streets and the insta-friendly Irsha Street, lined with a crazy array of brightly painted cottages.

9 milesNorth Devon Wake Park – Surf not up? Head here for Ringo rides, wakeboarding and inflatable fun on the aqua park. Half day session costs £35pp.

11 milesClovelly (above) a perfectly preserved pay-to-enter fishing village, gardens and harbour. Charm itself but on a steep hill, so be prepared for the walk back up or hail down the Landrover. Adults £8.50, kid £4.95.

13 miles – the coast! For interesting geology, don’t miss the contorted cliffs at Hartland Quay or for the best beaches, drive north to the golden sands of Saunton, Woolcombe Bay and Croyde around 15 miles north of Bideford, North Devon surfing Mecca.

180 miles – the Tarka Trail is a 180-mile figure-of-eight loop running through Bideford, taking you up to the North Devon coast and right down to the north of Dartmoor. It’s mostly flat, especially the patch from Braunton to Meeth. Hire your bikes here.

2 comments on “12 brilliant things to do in Bideford”

  • Mary Durkin March 6, 2022

    I have just said that your advertising of Bideford and areas of interesting is extremely well done. a lot of thought has gone into it. Well done.

    Reply
  • Mary Durkin March 6, 2022

    What a fantastic view of Bideford and surrounding places.

    Reply

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