Bideford is one of the prettiest and most distinct looking towns in North Devon with a fascinating history to match its disarming beauty. Bideford doesn’t even try to compete with the more cosmopolitan and modern Barnstaple, it focuses on what it means to be a different and quirky Devonshire town. Situated close to several great beaches, the town boasts a lively culture of sporting events, like the Bideford 10K Run that draws in fans and participants from far and wide.
The 14th century bridge is a focal point of the town and until the late 1990s it was part of one of the busiest roads to Cornwall. Nowadays, there is a newer bridge that towers high above the town, further downstream along the River Torridge to share the load. If you're looking for something to do in the town, local attractions include family theme park such as The Big Sheep and The Milky Way, and for bigger kids (and adults) try out the Ultimate Adventure Centre. For fans of local history and culture, head into the Burton Gallery at the edge of Victoria Park or The Plough Arts Centre (in Great Torrington). There’s something for everybody in Bideford. It just so happens to be the location of our head office too, and that’s why we love it here.
About the town:
Bideford is a town with a rich history and a real home-from-home vibe. People who have been holidaying here may have been doing so for years because it’s a friendly place to be, with so many places to stop and take in the river views, great pubs, cafes, and fish & chip shops lining The Quay. It’s easy to see why it is a family favourite. There is a beautifully landscaped town park at its centre, Victoria Park, which is home to a fabulous outdoor playing area for young children that includes a paddle pool (summer only). Most of the shops can be found on three main town streets: High Street, Mill Street and Grenville Street.
Beyond the fringes of the main town is the retail outlet, Affinity (formerly Atlantic Village) which is brilliant for picking up a bargain if you are hooked on High Street brands. The town straddles both banks of the River Torridge, linked by the old bridge, a sight to behold in itself. On the East-the-Water side, on the far bank, you can pick up the Tarka Trail which is a popular walking and cycling route snaking for nearly 100 miles around the North Devon region. Bideford is 2 miles upstream from the Atlantic coast at Westward Ho!, while the confluence at Appledore and Instow is another great hub of activity for those in search of sunny pints and fine food.
Westward Ho! is one of the best sandy beaches in North Devon. It runs parallel to a large nature reserve and golf course for much of its width, leading out to the Torridge/Taw Estuary and Northam Burrows. Westward Ho! has aligned itself perfectly to offer everything to those who love the beach. Conditions can be ripe for surfing, paddling, sea swimming, paddle boarding, kite surfing and so much more.
The best beach for dog walking all year round, although not a bathing beach, is Instow, also home to a great dune system and numerous great eateries. A ferry links Instow to Appledore for more places to explore and lunch.
If you love wild beaches, the coastline heading westwards to Hartland has some great lesser known beaches like Abbotsham Cliffs, Brownsham Beach and Hartland Quay – please note these are more for walkers than bathers. For more sandy beaches head 15 miles around Bideford Bay to Saunton Sands, Croyde and Woolacombe for more great days out by the seaside.
Park Resorts - Bideford Bay Holiday Park
The Park Resorts-owned and managed Bideford Bay Holiday Park makes for a superb family holiday location. Set in cliff-top woodland along the A39 a few miles west of Bideford, you are close to the South West Coast Path and the Hobby Drive that winds along the coast and down to picturesque Clovelly. On-site features include a clubhouse, play areas, a swimming pool and a handful of useful shops and more general facilities. You are also close to The Big Sheep and even closer to the Milky Way theme parks if you have children to entertain.
We also have a very wide range of exciting Bideford holiday cottages, sea view apartments, suburban home-from-homes and much more to inspire your holiday in Bideford.
Bideford is the hometown of two very great men: first of which is sea captain and explorer Sir Richard Grenville who played a role in establishing early British colonies in America and lived and worked in Bideford town. Look out for various blue plaques nailed to some of his former houses in the town centre. Many of the street names bear relation to his legacy too (Grenville Street and Manteo Way) and the area is known for its seafaring history to this day.
Charles Kingsley, author of the timeless novels Westward Ho! and The Water Babies, lived in town too. Many locations from his books can be visited still.
Bideford also has the dubious distinction of being the last town to have hosted a witch execution (1682) and not 2010, as some locals joke. On the bright side though it was once the site of many mines that specialised in the retrieval of the unique geological wonder: Bideford Black. You can still see the seam where it emerges from the rocks at Abbotsham Cliffs. It was once used to make mascara and other beauty products until the mines closed forever. Today there’s virtually no trace of the mine heads or tunnel openings.
Bideford Quay is beautiful by night with its perennial chains of street lights reminiscent of riverside towns in France. The old bridge is a major highlight and if you are in town during the autumn, you will be able to see a beautiful natural phenomenon as thousands of swallows murmurate around the bridge looking for somewhere to sleep in the arches. It is one of the only built up places to see the event in the UK to our knowledge.
The Burton Gallery has a growing national reputation as a place to see great art and photography - recently the work of Diane Arbus was showcased.
Be sure to hire a bike and take a ride along the Tarka Trail down to The Puffing Billy in Great Torrington, this section puts you at the heart of Tarka the Otter territory.
Collectors of quality ornaments will need to make time for a tour of Dartington Crystal too, a great local experience. Fancy live music, dance, theatre or an unusual film? Then head to The Plough Arts Centre, one of the West Country’s very best venues. Be sure to check their events programme before your holiday. If you like films, you might recognise Grenville Street from the recent cinema hit, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society.
Bideford is home to a growing shopping centre, which is a popular place for locals to meet for a coffee or get a haircut. There are many independent shops and cafes in the main town with a few specialist antique shops in the mix too.
Head up the High Street and left into Grenville Street for the Pannier Market which offers one of North Devon’s most interesting diversities of shops and art studios. There are also busy market days too where homemade crafted goods can be bought. If you like factory stores, make your way to Affinity, 1.5 miles outside Bideford for great deals from big name outlet stores like Gap, Nike, M&S and more.
The food and drink:
Bideford has several excellent eateries that are also reasonably priced. Some are so good you will feel like leaving a huge tip and returning the following night for more. Top of our list for evening meals is The Italian Kitchen on Bridgeland Street; the food is so authentically Italian with ingredients and even a pizza oven imported from Southern Italy. Fine dining restaurant Number Eight, on Allhalland Street, is equally delightful, serving delicious dishes with great service and a warming atmosphere. Book ahead to avoid disappointment. Also seek out The Mariners, for a low-key yet quality dining experience - the food is exceptional - book in advance.
For a daytime lunch to die for, walk past the legions of other cafes up the High Street until you reach Café Collective which is the best in town bar none. With lovely hosts and a superb, ever-changing lunch menu you won’t be sorry you sought them out.
Bideford caters for all palates whether you like a Sunday Roast made from local fare, or Chinese, Indian, Turkish and more. The big chains you’d normally expect to see haven’t cracked their way into Bideford, so if you are intrepid when it comes to food, you’re onto a winner. For High Street brands, such as Pizza Express, drive 10 miles to Barnstaple or catch a train to Exeter for an endless selection.
Stay in Bideford on your next holiday to North Devon. We have some lovely accommodation throughout the town and the wider area.