As the commercial and agricultural centre of North Devon, Barnstaple has a bustling feel about it. It’s a charming place that comfortably blends a handsome past with an energetic, present-day buzz.
The town boasts a busy high street and the Green Lane shopping centre, while promoting independent retailers and, in the Pannier Market, local food producers. And a lively bar, restaurant and café scene is matched by the entertainment on offer, including classical music, comedy nights and a rather special 1930s cinema.
What’s there to do in Barnstaple?
Central to all the attractions and on Exmoor’s edge, Barnstaple is a great base for discovering North Devon. 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 (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 – offering skating on the UK’s first eco-friendly rink, ten pin bowling, karaoke party pods and lots more.
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. The gardens have matured to become a haven for wildlife and an impressive display of plants, shrubs and trees. 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. A family that once had so much money they installed the latest central heating system but then, just years later, were almost broke.
In you’re visiting in the autumn, don’t miss the North Devon Foodfest, which showcases the finest local produce from across the region. It takes place in the historic Pannier Market and offers visitors a real taste of North Devon and Exmoor, selling cheese, artisan bread, ciders and ales, as well as local meats, fresh produce, fish and much, much more. Keep your eyes peeled for the chef demonstrations and free tastings.
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.
Where are the best places to eat and drink in Barnstaple?
From cosy cafés to upmarket restaurants, Barnstaple has an eaterie to suit every taste, occasion and budget.
Let’s start with breakfast. For a traditional English, there’s no better place to head than The Corner Café. Bright, cheerful and spotlessly clean, the café boasts two storeys of seating, ensuring there’s always room, even during the breakfast and lunchtime ‘rush hours’. It’s just as well. The breakfasts at The Corner Café are legendary – with the doorstep wedge and bacon-crammed butty a particular favourite with punters. Other treats include home-made chips as well as daily specials like chilli and rice followed by coffee sponge and custard. Delicious and inexpensive food to fuel up on during those cooler months.
When you’ve drunk in enough art, Broomhill’s very own restaurant, Terra Madre, serves up creativity of a different sort. Based around the slow food movement, the restaurant’s menu is inspired by the tastes of the Mediterranean, and treats diners to home made fresh sourdough bread, cakes and biscuits, as well as home-cured artisan chorizo and salamis! Terra Madre was named ‘Best Restaurant’ in 2014’s North Devon Food and Drink Awards and achieved 2nd place for ‘Best Restaurant’ in the Food Drink Devon Awards.
For a more traditional pub meal, the New Inn at Goodleigh enjoys a well-deserved reputation for serving up excellent pub grub as well as a few more exotic dishes, such Moroccan tagine with lamb and apricots. Food is sourced as locally as possible and the pub welcomes families and well-behaved dogs. Such is the service here, they even offer to cook a favourite dish to order if customers call in advance.
For classy fish & chips and other seafood treats, head to Fatbelly Fred’s in Barnstaple. Fred may have slimmed down but the place still enjoys the same reputation for its seafood platter of mussels, sweet chilli prawns and fried squid and aioli, and main courses like haddock on a bed of samphire, and moules frites. The menu changes daily depending, of course, on what’s landed locally. This small, perfectly formed restaurant has just twelve covers so booking early is advised.
A blend of historic building and contemporary design, Claytons and The Glasshouse offers a sophisticated night out in the heart of Barnstaple. Enjoy a cocktail in the bar before moving on to The Glasshouse for a classy and delicious menu that features dishes like pan-seared west coast scallops with crushed peas, pancetta crisps and mint oil, followed by rump of Devonshire Lamb served with creamy mashed potato, beetroot puree, honey and thyme carrots, a salsa verde and a forest fruits jus. Mouth-watering stuff!