Like its neighbour Appledore across the estuary, Instow is defined by its position. It’s where the rivers Taw and Torridge meet and the resulting expanse of water is the village’s natural playground. Sailing boats and catamarans head out in summer and, at low tide, the golden beach is revealed, offering families a long swathe of soft sand – perfect for paddling and building castles.
Out of season, Instow is equally lovely. A place to enjoy the birdlife on the estuary, ships sailing to and from Bideford, and the whitecaps whipped up by stiff offshore breezes. Then, when you’ve had your fill of sea air, find a spot by the fire in a local pub and warm up with a pint and a hearty meal.
What’s there to do in Instow?
Instow is a village to explore at a gentle pace. Stroll along its pretty front to drink in the views of the estuary or pause to admire the beachfront cricket ground and remarkable thatched pavilion – one of the oldest in the country. For spectacular vistas over the water and Braunton Burrows, head up into the farmland above the village. And if you’re itching to get out on the water, take the summer ferry between Instow and Appledore, or enjoy a charter from the village to go fishing or birding.
Given Instow’s position on the estuary, it’s no surprise that the big event of the year is a maritime one. The Appledore & Instow Regatta, first held in 1885, is a relaxed but competitive event that promotes old traditions of boat-building while hosting lots of nautical fun and excitement. The Regatta includes Gaffers & Luggers Sailing Races, Model Yachts Racing, Dragon Boat Style Racing, a World Championship Crabbing Contest, Salmon Boat Races, Beach Tug of War, Gig River Races and much, much more. Held every year in late July and early August.
The water is the setting for another popular sport – windsurfing – with Crow Point the place to head. If you’re an experienced surfer, you’ll be aware of the need to go at the right time but, broadly speaking, windsurfers normally have three hours each side of the tide to enjoy the Taw. The ideal conditions are at falling tide and north westerly – and the best place to launch is opposite Appledore on the far side of Crow Neck. Remember, if you’re a beginner, you’re better off seeking professional instruction on a more populated stretch of the coast.
If sedate pleasures are more your cup of tea, then head inland. Tapeley Park calls itself a ‘sustainable stately home in the making’ and while on the surface, there’s the usual gardens, gift shop and cream tea on offer, there’s much more to this stunning house and its grounds than meets the eye. The owner, Hector Christie, is passionate about the ills of capitalism and once ran the house along the lines of a commune. Though Christie still actively campaigns, changes have been made at Tapeley. The hippies have now gone and, following an appearance on Channel 4’s Country House Rescue, time and energy have been poured into the grounds, ensuring a stunning blend of natural beauty and man-made landscaping and planting. Formal Italianate terraces full of semi-tropical and tender flowers, a lake, woodland walks and organic vegetable gardens all contribute to a magical day out – and a very different kind of stately home.
The Tarka Trail is one of the country’s longest traffic-free walking and cycling paths and Instow is right on it. It follows the route of the old Southern Railway track which halted at Instow Station (amazingly it linked the village with Waterloo Station in London!) before continuing on to Bideford. With sculptures, mud flats, salt marshes, oak woodland, streams, hedgerows and meadows to enjoy, it’s full of visual feasts and, being largely flat, offers a manageable ride for the family. If the going gets tough, there are frequent shelters where you can take a breather, as well as the delightful Yarde Orchard Café (see below).
Where can you eat and drink in Instow?
Instow boasts a handful of lovely eateries, some in prime spots along the front with glorious views of pretty Appledore to the left, the sandy Burrows to the right and, in the distance, the Bristol Channel.
The Boathouse sits right on the beach and, for waterside views, it’s hard to beat – particularly at sunset. Relaxed and often very busy in the summer months, this is the place to come for local seafood cooked with flair, like Lundy crab, John Dory or skate wing. Carnivores and vegetarians are equally welcome and taken care of, with seasonal and locally sourced dishes the order of the day.
Foodies in the know head to John’s of Instow for its mouth-watering selection of cheeses, charcuterie, smoked fish, pies and marinated olives, as well as home-made bread, quiches, pates, cakes and desserts. Everything you need for a special evening in – or a very stylish picnic on the beach. And why not wash it all down with an artisan ale from The Clearwater Brewery in Bideford or a bottle of Sam’s Poundhouse from The Winkleigh Cider Company? (You can also buy freshly caught fish down at the beach, courtesy of fisherman Mick Hook. There’s a chalkboard with details of his expected landing times.)
Though not actually in Instow, The Yarde Orchard Café is well worth a detour. And if you’re on the Tarka trail, that won’t be necessary, as it’s right on the route. A former turkey shed which was once a sailors’ dormitory in Plymouth, the café is a homely place with wooden floors, tables and chairs and a handful of large Chesterfields to sink into. It’s a great place for a coffee and slice of home-made cake, as well as light lunches of pizzas, baguettes, salads and soups. A licensed bar serves West Country ales and ciders. The policy of sourcing locally extends to the meat, salads and veg, while coffee, chocolate, olives and crisps come courtesy of Essential Trading, an ethical supplier in Bristol.