Following an initiative by various North Devon local government bodies and other interested parties the Stagecoach bus company trialled a "Surf and Cycle" bus service during the summer of 2011.
Two normal double decker buses were specially refitted with the lower decks adapted for carrying surf boards and bicycles whilst their upper decks remained as they were for passengers - it seems there is a Health and Safety requirement which disallows passengers and sports equipment to ride on public transport in the same space.
This was the first service of its kind in the UK and after the 15 week trial period, during which the buses carried over 6000 passengers and just under 1000 boards and bikes, the pilot scheme was deemed a success. After a little route and timetable tweaking 2012 saw the introduction of a full-scale service beginning in April and running through until October.
The two buses now provide four services a day, seven days a week, between Barnstaple and Woolacombe with an average journey time of about an hour and a half. These stop at other popular resorts including Croyde and Saunton Sands as well as stopping at several holiday parks and Braunton town centre. The first bus leaves Barnstaple just after 0800 going to Croyde whilst the last bus returns from Woolacombe about 1820 and the other services are spaced between these times.
Ilfracombe was included in the original trial service but it was decided that the town was already well catered for by public transport and didn't require the surf or cycle capability.
Barnstaple is the transport hub for all of North Devon. From the bus station here in the town centre (Belle Meadow, at the end of Queen Street) there are regular bus services all over the area, as well as services to and from Exeter to access the south of the County.
The two main service providers are First and Stagecoach (websites below) and there are also a couple of smaller local companies such as Flyers and Turners. Unfortunately each company has it's own tickets and so there is not coverall ticket but First run the majority of routes and their day tickets are great value for money.
The bus station itself is well laid out and signed with the various destinations served by individual bays which have their timetables posted. The information office in the main building is always happy to guide users and also the drivers and other staff will provide general advice.
For those arriving in Barnstaple by train the bus station is about 800 metres, 10-15 minutes, walk, with a couple of bus services connecting the two. Train users can also add a "Plus Bus" option to their rail ticket which gives unlimited local travel around the immediate vicinity - the North Devon Rail Users group has a useful Wiki Page with links and more info.
Barnstaple is North Devon's main (and pretty much ONLY!) railway station, being the terminus of the branch line known as The Tarka Line which runs up through mid-Devon from Exeter. Trains run roughly hourly in both directions from about 7am until 10pm and the journey to Exeter takes about an hour.
In the "Golden Age of Steam" Barnstaple's 2 town centre (Town and Junction) stations were the hub of North Devon's rail network with train services radiating upwards to the North Devon coast, westwards to Bideford and Torrington, eastwards to Taunton and beyond and of course down to Exeter. In modern times however only a single track line down to Exeter remains and the only station is now out of the town centre, about a 10 minute walk over the Long Bridge.
For a brief history of the station and some useful links try the 2nd site.
Unlike its slightly better located rival Tarka Trail Cycle Hire this little business is open year round. Situated on the tranquil Fremington Quay, a couple of miles down The Tarka Trail from Barnstaple, BikeTrail offers a range of adult and childrens cycles including some very interesting bits and bobs such as a genuine Rickshaw or even a Penny Farthing!!
Bikes can be hired by the hour or by the day with a standard adult cycle's daily rate of 10 GBP which includes helmet and rucksack.
Even though they are slightly out of the way they do offer a delivery and pick-up service.
Full details are available on the website.
With Barnstaple's location on The Tarka Trail then it comes as no surprise to find that the small town is well endowed with cycle sales and hire shops. The two main hire companies are Tarka Trail Cycle Hire and Bike Trail Cycle Shop and Cycle Hire (see next tip for more info on the latter).
Tarka Trail Cycle Hire is the more prominent for those of us who travel by public transport as it is located quite literally in the railway station with its main entrance on the platform itself and has a wide range of both adult and childrens cycles for hire along with such accessories as helmets and child seats.
Cycles can be hired by the half-day or daily with rates from £7.50 for a full-size adult bike or £4.00 for a child's (half-day rates) - web site has full details of other rates.
The business is seasonal running from April to October, 9.15 am to 5pm 7 days a week.
Despite the building of a new bypass to the south, it does absoluely nothing to relieve the traffic clagging up the centre of the town at what seems like most of the day!
Getting from Ilfracombe to the A361 east took 20 minutes to get across the town centre and that was about 0930am.
North Devon is a rural area, but we do have a reasonable public transport system. Trains arrive in Barnstaple from Exeter, and we are also connected to the National Express Bus Network.