Walking the historic town of Barnstaple

I’ve heard it said that Britain is a nation of towns rather than cities (or words to that effect). And Barnstaple would be the perfect example of just such a town. The county town of North Devon, sat on the banks of the River Taw with a rich history that stretches back to at least the 10th Century when it became one of Alfred the Great’s Burhs – the defensive settlements created as a bulwark against Viking raids. Once a prosperous trading hub with a charter to export wool from its town centre quay, you can sense it’s been hit hard by the pandemic with its fine High Street marked by boarded up shops and people sleeping in doorways.

Barnstaple Castle
Barnstaple Castle
Barnstaple Guildhall
Barnstaple Guildhall

The walk around the town starts on its medieval Long Bridge (it’s been improved over the years) and passes along the river front to the mighty Barnstaple motte and bailey castle. From here we wind up the narrow streets to Joy Street, once home to the author W.N.P. Barbellion whose Journal of a Disappointed Man caused a sensation when it was published in 1919 shortly before Barbellion’s death. We pay home to the Pannier Market and Butchers Row and take in the medieval quarter around the parish church before ending our walk at the clock tower.

Walk to the Bluebell Wood

Bluebells Devon

Bluebells and Wild Garlic burst from the high hedgerows on the lane up out of the North Devon village. Dad had said he’d show me the Bluebell Wood.

Devon walk

We headed out at 6pm for those last two hours of golden light, up along the lane that runs above the link road, hills rising in the distance. The Hawthorn was in flower (a little early?) and ‘the Old Fella’ told me how they used to eat the leaves when he was a kid, called them ‘bread and cheese’. I tried one, it didn’t taste anything like bread and cheese.

wild garlic

We passed a dell thick with Wild Garlic.

north devon walk IMG_7463

Over the fallow field and beside the perfect babbling brook to the edge of the Bluebell Wood.

Bluebell Wood North Devon IMG_7472

The pungent aroma of the Bluebells fills your nostrils as soon as you step over the stile into the wood. The flowers cascade down the hillside to the brook below. It’s almost too perfect.


wild garlic

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At the end of the wood you splash through the water running downhill over cracked shale to a hill crested with oaks. I swear I spotted a Hobbit puffing on his pipe sitting in the shade.


We didn’t have time to tackle the hill and the long loop back round to the village so we retraced our steps through the Bluebell Wood, over the fields and home.