Discovering Barnstaple: A Historic Gem in the Heart of North Devon

At A Glance


🏘️ – Quaint Town: Barnstaple is a picturesque market town with charming streets and buildings.
πŸŒ‰ – Barnstaple Long Bridge: A historic, 16-arch stone bridge that crosses the River Taw.
πŸ›οΈ – Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon: Showcasing the region’s history and culture.
🎭 – Queen’s Theatre: Hosting a variety of performances, from plays to musicals and dance.
🌳 – Rock Park: A beautiful public park along the River Taw, perfect for picnics and outdoor activities.
πŸš‚ – Barnstaple Heritage Railway: A restored heritage railway offering scenic rides.
🏰 – Castle Mound: Remnants of a 12th-century motte-and-bailey castle in the heart of the town.
πŸ›οΈ – Pannier Market: A historic market hall offering local produce, crafts, and antiques.
πŸ₯Ύ – Tarka Trail: A walking and cycling route that follows the River Taw and offers stunning views.
🍽️ – Culinary Scene: Enjoy local Devonshire cuisine at a variety of pubs, cafes, and restaurants.


Nestled in the picturesque North Devon countryside, Barnstaple is a charming and historic market town that has something for everyone. With its rich history, vibrant local culture, and stunning natural beauty, Barnstaple is the perfect destination for travellers seeking a quintessential English experience. This comprehensive guide will take you on a captivating journey through Barnstaple’s past, explore its key features and highlights, and provide insider tips to ensure you make the most of your visit.

History of Barnstaple

Barnstaple’s roots stretch back over a thousand years, with its origins as a Saxon settlement in the 9th century. The town’s strategic position at the confluence of the rivers Taw and Yeo made it a vital hub for trade and commerce in medieval times, and this rich history is still evident in its beautifully preserved architecture and historic sites.

One must-visit destination for history buffs is the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon, where you can delve into the town’s fascinating past through interactive exhibits, displays, and knowledgeable local guides. Be sure to explore the intriguing story of the Barnstaple Elephant – a unique find that offers a glimpse into the town’s prehistoric past.

Key Features and Highlights

Barnstaple’s historic charm is evident as you stroll through its narrow streets, admiring the blend of medieval, Georgian, and Victorian architecture that gives the town its distinctive character. The Pannier Market, dating back to the 19th century, is the heart of the town and a bustling hub of local life. You can find everything from artisan crafts and fresh produce to vintage treasures and handmade gifts here.

Take a leisurely walk along the Tarka Trail, a 180-mile footpath and cycleway that meanders through the North Devon countryside, offering breathtaking views of the rivers, estuaries, and coastal landscapes. Named after the famous otter in Henry Williamson’s novel “Tarka the Otter,” the trail takes you through the very landscapes that inspired this classic work of literature.

The nearby Exmoor National Park offers a stunning array of outdoor activities for nature lovers, from hiking and horse riding to wildlife watching and stargazing. As you explore this pristine wilderness, keep an eye out for the iconic Exmoor ponies and red deer that call the park home.

Top Attractions

  • Barnstaple Castle: Although only a few remnants of the original 11th-century motte-and-bailey castle remain, the Castle Mound provides a unique vantage point to take in the panoramic views of the town and surrounding countryside.
  • Broomhill Sculpture Gardens: Explore the most extensive sculpture garden in South West England, featuring over 200 contemporary sculptures set in a lush natural environment.
  • Queen Anne’s Walk: This elegant promenade, lined with historic buildings and charming cafes, is the perfect spot to enjoy a leisurely stroll along the riverfront, taking in the town’s picturesque setting.

Want more? Check out our Ultimate list of things to do in Barnstaple

Practical Information for Visitors

Transport Options: Barnstaple is easily accessible by car, train, or bus. The town is well-connected to major cities such as London, Birmingham, and Bristol, with direct train services to Exeter and onward connections to London Paddington. The bus station in the town centre provides regular services to nearby towns and villages, making it easy to explore the wider North Devon region.

Dining Recommendations: Barnstaple’s culinary scene is a delightful mix of traditional English fare and contemporary international cuisine. For a taste of local Devon produce, head to the Corner Bistro, a charming eatery that prides itself on sourcing ingredients from local suppliers. For a more upscale dining experience, book a table at Clayton’s & The Glasshouse, where you can savour exquisite dishes in a stylish, modern setting.

Accommodation we recommend

Insider Tips

  • Don’t miss the Farmers’ Market held at the Pannier Market every second and fourth Saturday of the month. This is a great opportunity to sample some of the region’s finest produce, from locally-made cheeses and artisan bread to handcrafted chocolates and organic meats.
  • Plan your visit for a truly memorable experience to coincide with one of Barnstaple’s annual events, such as the Barnstaple Fair in September or the North Devon Festival in June. These events showcase the town’s vibrant community spirit and offer a unique insight into the local culture.
  • If you’re looking for a tranquil spot to relax and unwind, head to Rock Park, a beautiful Victorian park located along the banks of the River Taw. You’ll find serene gardens, a children’s play area, and plenty of green space for picnics and leisurely strolls here.
  • For a more active adventure, rent a bicycle and explore the Tarka Trail, which is a great way to experience the stunning North Devon landscape and a perfect opportunity to spot local wildlife, such as kingfishers, otters, and even seals along the estuary.


Barnstaple is a true gem in the heart of North Devon, offering a perfect blend of history, culture, and natural beauty that will captivate and enchant visitors. With its charming streets, vibrant market, and stunning surrounding countryside, there’s no better destination for a quintessentially English getaway. Whether you’re a history enthusiast, a nature lover, or simply looking for a relaxing break, Barnstaple is sure to delight and inspire. So pack your bags and embark on a journey to discover the captivating charm of this historic market town – you won’t be disappointed!

Check out these other things to do in North Devon

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