Barnstaple and South Molton Cottages
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 - as the commericial and agricultural centre of North Devon is 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.
What is there to do in and around South Molton?
Just outside town is one of Devon’s most popular attractions – Quince Honey Farm. Amazingly, it’s the world’s largest exhibition devoted to honey bees and gives visitors a chance to get up close to the native honeybee in a specially designed and interactive indoor apiary. Little ones will also enjoy the soft indoor Happy Bee play hive and you can all indulge afterwards with a Devonshire cream tea and honey ice cream. And don’t forget to take a pot of honey made from their own bees’ home with you.
While we’re on the subject of sweet treats, a visit to Melchior Chocolates is a must. Carlo Melchior and his artisan chocolatiers have been making exquisite tasting, handmade chocolates for over 25 years. Carlo trained in the art of chocolate making in his native Switzerland and his business in South Molton is now so successful, he supplies Fortnum & Mason! Carlo’s extensive range includes fresh handmade mouth-watering truffles, pralines, liqueurs and glacé fruits. Visit the chocolate factory to catch a glimpse of Carlo and the team at work, before heading to the shop to indulge yourself.
Just outside South Molton, there’s a different kind of sensory treat in store – this time for garden lovers. Castle Hill Gardens surround the magnificent Palladian house, seat of the Fortescues since 1454. Today, Castle Hill is home to his descendants, the Earl and Countess of Arran. The gardens take up 50 acres of stunning grounds and are home to lavender-edged herbaceous borders, a water sculpture, and woodland walks filled with daffodils, bluebells, camellias, magnolias and azaleas.
Where are the best places to eat and drink in and around South Molton?
As you’d expect of Devon, this is an area awash with cosy pubs. But there are also some more contemporary places to eat in.
Set in the heart of Kings Nympton, The Grove Inn is a classic Devon thatched pub, with an interior of low beams, flagstone floors, open fires and lovely red walls hung with photographs of old-timers from the village. The menu makes full use of local produce and features robust mains like the Grove Devon rose veal burger with mature cheddar cheese and chunky chips, or Lundy plaice with herb butter. There are plenty of West Country ales on tap (including beers from the popular Cotleigh Brewery) and a collection of 65 single malts. Maybe book a taxi for your return journey!
With its perky interior of bleached timber, white-painted furniture and comfy sofas, Venue 72 is a warm and welcoming café which transforms into a popular bistro every Friday and Saturday night. By day they serve home-made cakes and coffee, bacon sandwiches, soups, Ploughman lunches and cream teas. When the bistro’s open, expect a more Mediterranean menu with pastas and seafood making an appearance. Venue 72 doesn’t have a license, but you’re welcome to bring your own wine – and there’s no charge for corkage!
Take a little time to browse through our selection of holiday cottages in Barnstaple and South Molton, plus their surrounding villages. We’re certain you’ll find something just right for a truly special Devon holiday.