The Great Quay is represented by the sunken area in front of Queen Anne's walk. Here you will find a mosaic feature which represents the town's maritime history. Here ships would land and unload exotic cargos and it is from here that locally made cloth and pottery would be exported to places as far afield as North America and the West Indies.
The Prudence was one of Barnstaple's most successful ships and was responsible for making some of the town's merchants the equivalent of today's millionaires. "December 1590 - Arrived the Prudence having in her 4 chests of gold to the value of 16,000 pounds and other things of great value. Such a prize as this was never brought into this port."
The tree covered man made mound is all that survives of the Norman castle. A scheduled Ancient monument, the Castle was sited in the prominent position at the meeting point of the rivers Taw and Yeo. It was originally thought to be constructed in around 1068, a motte and bailey wooden structure which was rebuilt in stone by the early 12th Century. It is thought the town wallswere also rebuilt around the same time. The Domesday book records that 23 houses had been laid to waste since King William came to England and this may have been to clear the site for the erection of the castle and its defences. An excavated section of the former moat can still be seen today. In the 13th century it was decreed tht the castle's projecting walls be lowered, probably marking the end of the settlement's defensive role and the beginnings of the commercial one. By 1500 little was left of the castle and its defences, its stone being pillaged and used in the construction of more recent buildings.
The castle green which surrounds the castle mound is a lovely area to sit and enjoy a picnic or rest those weary feet. Here you'll find some great information boards detailing the history of the Castle.
In the 18th Century, Barnstaple's famous Pannier Market was held in the High Street and in 1806 a local writer commented 'A better market or worse accomodation rarely shall we see'. This comment led to the construction of the lovely covered Pannier market which we see today. Here you will find a wide variety of stalls selling local crafts, produce, clothes, books and much more....
In 1834, Christopher Lock, a stonemason from a nearby village travelled to Barnstaple market with his Wife with the intention of putting her up for sale!! A large crowd gathered to witness the sale which had just begun when a police constable arrived and put a halt to the proceedings!
Butchers Row was designed by RD Gould, it was built in 1855 and was constructed with the aim of bringing the sale of local produce together in one area of the town. Butchers Row faces North and its shop fronts are perpetually shaded by the overhanging roof, ensuring the best possible conditions for displaying meat, the only produce sold on the street until the time of the second World War. Nowadays, Butchers row consist of a row of shops selling local gifts, art, produce with a few quaint coffee shops thrown in for good measure.
The Guldhall which stands in the centre of Barnstaple was built in 1862. Its' Main Chamber served as the town's Court room until the late 1960's. The interior of the Guildhall is open to the public at certain times. The dodderidge room upstairs contains an early 17th Century carved fireplace and fittings and incorporates windows from a former Tudor Guildhall. It is also home to a notable collection of the town's silverware. The clock on the side of the building originates from the old Blue Coat school, first sited in rooms over the North Gate. On the corner of the building you can see the Turnpike stone, dated 1879. All mileages to other towns are calculated from this point.
The Albert Clock Tower takes pride of place in the Square. It was built in 1862, paid for by public contribution. It commemorates Queen Victoria's husband Prince Albert who died in 1861 and was started exactly a year to the day of his death in a solemn public service at 11am. In 2009 the clock was subject to major renovation work which included careful removal of the clock workings and conversion from manual resetting to an automated one. This brought to an end the need for someone to climb the internal ladder to wind up the clock each Saturday at noon!! The clock is localy known as the four faced liar as each of the four faces tell slightly incorrect times. One is correct although it is often forgotten which one!
This lovely neo-gothic building holds a great waterfront position just across the Great Quay from Queen Annes Walk. It was constructed in 1874 by RD Gould, the town surveyor. Gould was responsible for many of the Town's victorian structures which demonstrate the then fashionable neo-classical style.
The Long bridge is perhaps the only medieval structure to survive in the riverfront area, although it has been altered frequently over the years and widened at least three times. An idea of its' medieval width can be seen by viewing the underside of th bridge arches, it was originally no wider than 10 feet. The packhorse stone bridge was in place by the 13th century, recorded in a document in 1230, although the exact date of construction is not known. During the medieval period there was a chantry chapel to St Thomas a Beckett ath the Barnstaple end of the Bridge.
Queen Anne's walk was rebuilt and elaborately decorated in 1708 on the site of an earlier merchants exchange. The building is a testament to he commercial success of the early eighteenth century in the town. Underneath its' covered walkway merchants would conduct public business transactions and seal deals with a handshake over the Tomb Stone. A Tomb Stone dating back to 1633, inscribed with the names of three conotemporary merchants, can be seen outside the building today. The grand statue of Queen Anne on top of the building was presented by Robert Rolle in 1709. It is said that att the last stroke of midnight, the statue of Queen Anne throws the ball into the air three times and dances a jig before quickly resuming her position!...sadly no photographic evidence exists!! The building at the back of the walk was added in 1859 an originally served as a public wash house. This building now houses a lovely Heritage centre where you can purchase gifts, guide books and maps of the local area. For a small fee I bought a heritage trail booklet which takes you on an interesting trail through Barnstaple, highlighting areas of historic interest.
This is pretty much a perfect small town museum with a wealth of local information regarding the town itself as well as the surrounding area. The exhibitions, over two floors, cover every aspect of Barnstaple and North Devon's history commencing with the archeological and geographic and then following the human story from prehistory through to the present day.
In addition to the insight into people's lives there are also a couple of rooms devoted to the the area's natural history with the Tarka Gallery introducing the fascinatingly diverse ecology of the countryside and its many rivers and a room dedicated to the marine life found off the coast.
On the upper floor there is a room dedicated to temporary exhibitions which include showcases of local artists, the annual photography competition as well as more museum-style presentations (at the time of writing (Oct 2008) this is an exhibition entitled "A Harvest of Jugs" which features a fine array of the vessels comissioned from local potters by the local farmers for the pouring of the celebratory ales and ciders at the traditional supper at the end of the harvest.
Whilst this isn't a particularly large museum it is well worth an hour or two of anyone's time and also doubles up as the local tourist information centre.
The museum (and information centre) is open year-round Monday to Saturday from 9.30 am to 5 pm (except Christmas week) and admission is free.
This is a very short cycle/walkway section of The Tarka Trail (about 2Km) along the River Taw to pick up the A377 heading south towards Eggesford and its main advantage is that it allows you to avoid the town centre traffic. It has the added plus that it is level until the hills before Bishops Tawton but once you arrive you do have to get off and walk (unless of course you are super-fit!) - GREAT freewheel cycle down the hill on the other side tho' :-))
The only drawback is that there are no pubs ON this stretch - HA! But plenty at both ends!!
The Tarka Trail heading west (and slightly north) from Barnstaple once again follows the old railway line. This time for about 6 miles to the town of Braunton following initially the Taw estuary before turning inland at Chivenor.
As with the trail going south the path is pretty much level and traffic-free and makes for a really pleasant cycle, certainly as far as Chivenor, with the estuary to one side and (once out of Barnstaple) the gentle rural landscape of the upper reaches of the Taw Valley. I must admit to being a little disappointed by the path after it left the river but then maybe that's just me (plus the fact there were no pubs on that stretch!!!) but it is still a good easy cycle.
One thing tho' is that where the trail arrives at Braunton the signage seems to disappear and so I missed getting into Braunton directly; managing to find a not unpleasant, tho' slightly strenuous, detour via the rollercoaster dunes of the military training area and then the glorious beach at Saunton Sands - HA! Well I did need the aerobic exercise (but perhaps could do without the accompanying aching buttocks!)!!
Arriving eventually at Braunton none of the pubs really seemed to beckon - now there's one for the book: John arriving somewhere where there ARE pubs but not going into one!!! There is however a cracking pub back towards Barnstaple called the "Tarka Inn" which did become my eventual lunchtime destination - see "Off The Beaten Path" tip for details.
All in all tho' a cracking couple of hours out and the eventual beers felt well-deserved ;)
Having followed the banks of The River Taw west from Barnstaple the 6 miles to Instow the Tarka Trail then veers southwards to follow The River Torrington with the next main town being Bideford, a further 3 miles along. On this particular day I was treated to an absolutely perfect mid-November Devon day with a crystal clear Devon Blue sky and golden sunlight for company, both of which made the cycle a real treat (plus of course the prospect of a couple of beers with lunch at Bideford adding their own little extra plus!).
The day was so beautiful and the cycle so invigorating that the lunchtime beers were postponed until later and a very pleasant couple of hours spent wandering around the town with the camera (and with the most special person in the world :-X), taking in The Burton Art Gallery, a wander up to The Pannier Market (and its Butcher's Row) and just generally being a happy and contented person!!!
This is something that I haven't done for far, far too long; cycled purely for the pleasure, enjoying both the scenery and the exercise with the mid-October sunshine for company to keep my heart warm and its honey melting ;)
The Tarka Trail itself comprises a 180 mile figure-of-eight loop around North Devon with Barnstaple as its focus and comprises sections of stunning walks, easy cycling and sections for horse-riding. This is something I've been meaning to do for years and finally last week made a start by cycling from Barnstaple south to Instow along the Torridge River and is now my new project to further extend my cycling range until I've managed the whole of the local loop from Braunton down to Meeth.
This made for a beautiful afternoon out, commencing with a light late breakfast at The Riverfront Cafe in Barnstaple and then following the completely level (and traffic-free!!) path down to Instow with its sandy beach and the pair of pubs!!! and then returning by the same route with a coffee stop at The Quay Cafe at the old railway station at Fremington.
This really is worth doing, even for this 40-a-day (plus how many beers??) guy and getting the old endochrins working made the evening's beers all that more deserved!!!