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Barnstaple Area Guide

Driving along the A361, you’ll discover the bustling towns of Barnstaple and South Molton, that both provide great bases for exploring North Devon and Exmoor.

Barnstaple is the commericial and agricultural centre of North Devon. A charming place that comfortably blends a handsome past with an energetic, present-day buzz. Central to all the attractions and on Exmoor’s edge, it offers a great base for exploring all that the local area has to offer. But it’s also a lovely place to explore in itself. It’s the shopping capital of the region, with a mix of cutting-edge retail outlets, long-established family owned stores and little boutiques and in the pannier market, local food producers (interspersed with dozens of cafes to rest weary shoppers’ legs!).  At weekends, Barnstaple makes wandering the streets a distinct pleasure, with performers and musicians out to entertain!

If the weather turns nasty, you’re well provided for in the town. Let’s Go is Barnstaple’s newest family entertainment complex. There’s also a lovely 1930s cinema in town which offers four modern screens showing the latest releases as well as live screenings of major theatre productions. Just out of town, garden lovers will enjoy Marwood Hill Gardens, 20 acres of private garden, created by Dr Jimmy White in the 1950s. With three lakes and magnificent views (particularly from the Garden Tea Room), this is a relaxing and – for gardeners – inspirational day out.

If history’s your thing, Arlington Court is well worth a visit. It’s the ancestral home of Sir Francis Chichester, the first person to sail single-handed around the world by the clipper route. The house is home to a model of his boat – Gypsy Moth IV – as well as a number of other nautical displays and objects. But it’s much more than a maritime museum. Wander its many rooms to discover a fascinating history of one English family – reforming MPs, wealthy playboys and a globetrotting Victorian inventor-collector with a passion for wildlife among them.

For art lovers, there’s a real treat in store. Broomhill sits in a picturesque valley, surrounded by woodland and divided by a pretty stream. Established in 1997 by Dutch couple Rinus and Aniet van de Sande, it has become one of the largest permanent collections of contemporary sculpture in the region. Expect to see plump neon birds in the woodland, a giant red stiletto outside the main house and a disturbing installation on an old disused tennis court. Not what you’d expect – and all part of the fun and fascination.

South Molton - whether you’re exploring Exmoor, heading up to the coast or sampling the delights of mid Devon, the typical Devon market town of South Molton offers a great base. A bustling place with an indoor Pannier Market on Saturday (selling fish, meat, cheese, books, bric-a-brac and more) and a cattle market on Thursday. It has a few attractions of its own to enjoy, not least a rather special resident chocolatier.