PUBLISHED: 12:45 20 April 2010 | UPDATED: 10:50 28 April 2010
The waterfront is the focal point of Bideford’s appeal to the visitor. Last year the whole area was upgraded to match the new Quayside development, even to the extent of planting new trees more in-keeping with the environment beside the river.
There is a unique water fountain display built into the quay wall. The fountain shoots huge jets of water out into the river in spectacular fashion. The show looks particularly impressive when viewed from the old Long Bridge.
The Quay is the place to go to see a variety of boats, both large and small, moored alongside the wall. They range from fishing boats to larger cargo ships, which arrive from many parts of the world to fill their holds with local clay.
In the 16th century, Bideford was the third largest port in the country. Merchants got rich on the proceeds of trade and built large houses which are still a feature of Bridgeland Street, opposite the Quay.
From the riverside, you can see Bidefords two bridges the graceful, high-level Torridge Bridge, across which the North Devon Link Road passes, and the medieval Long Bridge. When Charles Kingsley stayed on the other side of the river at the Royal Hotel where he wrote much of his novel Westward Ho! he no doubt strolled across the venerable Long Bridge into town. The 24 stone arches vary in width from 12 to 25 feet. Thats thought to be because it follows the design of the original wooden bridge built before AD 1300, the arches of which were determined by the lengths of oak beams available.
There is now a Bideford Town Trail to help visitors see places of interest. Guided walks for groups can be arranged, but prior notice must be given.
Go along the quay, past Kingsleys statue, and you are in Victoria Park with gardens that blaze with colour from spring to autumn. This is just the place to bring the children. It has playground equipment complete with safety matting, a paddling pool and lots of room to play and run around. You could even fly a kite!
Also visit the Burton Art Gallery and Museum where youll find classic ceramics, original ironwork, wonderful watercolours, tasteful textiles and jewellery. It is awash with colour and creativity.
Also, dont miss Bideford Museum which illustrates local historic personalities and details the industrial heritage of the Torridge district, with its famous ancient pottery, tobacco and rope-making industries.
Nearby is Bideford Sports Ground where Town and Country Markets well established open-air market is held every Wednesday.
On the other side of the river a 1950s railway carriage houses an information centre at the old Bideford Station. And on the riverside is the beautiful Kathleen and May schooner, which has been lovingly restored. It used to ply its trade between Bideford and Southern Ireland carrying all manner of cargo. Now it is open to the public, although it sometimes still makes the voyage to Southern Ireland to go on display for part of the summer.
Cycle hire is also available close to the station, allowing you to join the Tarka Trail for a scenic and safe journey through the Torridge Valley.
Bideford is the commercial and administrative centre of Torridgeside. At its heart is the Pannier Market Hall. The small shops and stalls in the market hall sell a huge variety of goods from local produce to curios. Market days are Tuesdays and Saturdays from 8am to 3pm.
The town still has many family-run shops as well as the larger national chain stores. Several streets have been upgraded and are virtually traffic free so that shopping and browsing is a real pleasure. There are restaurants, cafs and take-aways a-plenty. And pubs with histories that go back beyond the days of Sir Francis Drake and the Spanish Armada.
In the market place
More than 700 years after Bideford gained its first market charter, the towns Market Place remains a focal point and a major attraction. You will find the market by walking from the quay, up High Street and turning left into Grenville Street. At its heart is the ancient Pannier Market itself, which the town council has been instrumental in restoring to its former glory. The Market Hall restoration was completed in 1993.
Every Tuesday and Saturday from 8am to 3pm, country and town combine as local growers bring their produce and garden plants to sell from traditional stalls. They are joined by antique dealers, butchers, fishmongers, bakers, craft workers and those selling curiosities.
June 1999 saw the re-opening of the newly refurbished shops in Butchers Row and the Market Place shops, which are open six days a week from Monday to Saturday, where a variety of goods and services are available.
You can buy country foods, jewellery, traditional pine furniture, patchwork and quilting accessories and unique gifts for the home. Here you will also find the only shop in the area to specialise in tiny incubaby and premature baby clothing.
The caf in the Pannier Market has also been completely refurbished. It has been given a maritime theme, complete with a decked seating area for 48 customers.
Car parks in Honestone Street and Bridge Street provide access to the High Street and enable visitors to browse in the shop windows of Grenville Street en route.