Category Archives: Bideford

The Charms of the North Devon Coast – 1921


Harold tells of the charm and beauty of Lynton and Lynmouth, Clovelly, Ilfracombe, Bideford and Westward Ho a region which has been called “The Switzerland of England,” and is at present attracting large numbers of visitors. Lynton and Lynmouth and that section of the north coast of Devon have frequently been called the “Switzerland of England.” The Exmoor hills, the steep cliffs, the massive and jagged rocks, hills and vales, streams and brooklets, and the villages and resorts nestling amid crags and verdure- clothed slopes, bespeak the charms of the Alpine land across the Channel. Lynton is perched upon the rocks some hundreds of feet above the sea. You can reach it by means of a remarkable cliff railway from Lynmouth, or climb the zigzag path that winds its way up slopes and crags, passing a picturesque house here and there, till it gains a shelf about large enough for it to expand into a straggling street like an Alpine village. Lynmouth, on the other hand, nestles in a valley at its feet. If it is not as deep as most Swiss valleys are, the effect is similar. In one respect Lynmouth and this applies to other North Devonshire resorts has an advantage over most Swiss villages, for there is a much brighter glow of colour over everything. The red sandstone crops out everywhere along the great stretches of cliff on either side, the newly turned soil is deep red instead of brown and black, the crimson heath outvies the paler ling on the moors, the bracken begins to assume in early June the glorious hues associated with the late autumn in our northern regions, the stone walls and banks are thickly draped from top to bottom with that most beautiful of all flowering trailers, the ivy-leaf toad-flox, rarely found even in Derbyshire, and from walls and rocks and garden hedges alike spring giant clusters of red, pink and white valerian. The evening prim rose is a comparative rarity in northern gardens in Devonshire its large flowers give a golden glow to the hedges and sweet scent to many of the field paths. The white and pink foxgloves flourish equally with the common red, and there are places where even Canterbury bells and sweet-williams rear their flowers in wild luxuriance over the waving grasses.

From Lynton the great moorland rolls away westward towards Ilfracombe; it is for the most part now furrowed by the plough, fenced by hedge or bank, and forest no longer, though here and there tracts still remain open upon the uplands. R. D. Blackmore’s Lorna Doone has made this part of North Devon famous no one who has read that enchanting romance should fail to visit Bredon, within walking distance of Lynton, where the remains of the houses of the Doones may still be seen. Ilfracombe, the best known of the North Devon resorts, has been aggrandised and modernised. It is built on the slopes of the hills over looking the water, to which many of the shorter streets descend very steeply. The coast line is very rocky, there being no stretches of sandy beach beneath the cliffs. Yet Ilfracombe can boast of what is described as the largest covered swimming-bath in England, as well as a great rock-guarded pool for ladies, access to which is gained from the promenade gardens by tunnels. In one of the caves hard by, according to tradition, Sir William Tracy, one of the murderers of Archbishop Becket, concealed himself for a fortnight, before he made his escape from England.

A mile due west from here is Morthoe Point, a crawling, rocky promontory from which there is a fine view. Journeying along the rock-bound coast we come to the little white town of Bideford, made famous by Kingsley. On the very first page of Westward Ho he gives us a charming picture of the town, standing at the mouth of a river, enclosed with hills and knolls beneath a soft Italian sky, fanned day and night by the fresh ocean breeze, which forbids alike the keen winter frosts and the fierce thunder heats of the Midland.” It is an interesting circumstance that these words were actually written in Bideford, and the Royal Hotel contains a hand some apartment that is pointed out as Kingsley’s room.

Three miles from Bideford is the popular resort of Westward Ho, which, of course, takes its name from Kingsley’s famous work. Unlike the other North Devon coast towns it has a fine stretch of smooth sand, two miles in length, and of considerable width at low tide. The United Service College, where Rudyard Kipling was educated, and which he celebrates in Stalky Co.” is situated here. The coast in both directions comprises some of the very finest scenery in North Devon.

Thirteen miles away is Clovelly, the most beautiful village in all Britain.” Hung, as it were, in a narrow and umbrageous combe, it consists of one street running down to the sea. The cliff is so steep that the road is made like a staircase, paved with round stones or cobbles.” With their white walls, unequal levels, and hetero generous shapes, the houses are decidedly quaint. The picturesque balconies, gables, bay windows, relieved here and there by climbing fuchsias and wisteria make up one of the strangest and prettiest pictures imaginable.





The town of Bideford, sits on the banks of the river Torridge, its name is said to derive from ‘by-the-ford. Most people will know the iconic bridge that crosses from Bideford to East-the-Water, first built in 1286 as a pack horse bridge, it was later rebuilt in 1535. The 24 arch bridge as we see it today was built in a variety of sizes, it is rumoured that this was the case because each of the arches was paid for by local businessmen, the larger arches reflecting those with more wealth. Historically the town was referred to as the ‘Little White Town’ before the Doomsday book recorded the ‘manor’ in 1086. According to the Doomsday book there were 30 villagers and 8 smallholders. Bideford is also very well known for a slightly unusual reason, it would be the home of the last woman to be convicted of witchcraft in England. The story of how Temperance Lloyd, Mary Trembles and Susanna Edwards came to the gallows is a tragic one that serves as a dark reminder of England’s superstitious past. The book of Bideford, written by John Watkins, a local historian in 1792 tells the story of their misfortune: On a July Saturday in 1682, a local shopkeeper reported to the town constables that he suspected that Temperance Lloyd had been using witchcraft to cause illness to a local woman by the name of Grace Thomas. Following this, Temperance was arrested and further charged of using magical acts upon Grace Thomas, and having communicated with the Devil. Following this, others came forward to accuse Temperance of further acts of witchcraft, including the sightings of a cat, which was believed to be a manifestation of the Devil. Lloyd denied the use of magic. Two more Bideford women, Mary Trembles and Susanna Edwards, were denounced by their neighbours, having been noticed in the company of Lloyd when all three were begging for food in Bideford.

They were arrested and incarcerated with Lloyd, and crowds gathered to stare at the three suspects as they languished in the town lock-up. The three women were sent to Exeter on the 8th July 1862 were they awaited trial for over a month. The trial eventually took place on the 19th August, The presiding judge, Sir Thomas Raymond, allowed his will to be swayed by the emotional atmosphere in the court and raised no objection to the jury finding the suspects guilty of all charges. Once sentence of death had been passed, the women were sent back to Exeter gaol to await execution. Their deaths took place on 25 August 1682 at Heavitree just outside Exeter. A plaque commemorating the tragic deaths of the Bideford witches can be viewed today on the wall of Rougemont Castle in Exeter. By the 16th Century, Bideford was the countries third largest port, it was even rumoured that Sir Walter Raleigh landed his first shipment of tobacco here, although this is believed to be a myth. In 1699 more ships are reported to have left Bideford than anywhere else in England, apart from London and Topsham. The area of Bideford is probably best known by the works of Charles Kingsley who came to Bideford in 1854, hiring a house, where he wrote his best seller, Westward Ho! And consequently the area saw a boom in tourism from people coming to the see the stories setting. In 1886 The ‘Thorough Guides of North Devon & Cornwall’ promoted Bideford: “Every visitor to these parts is or ought to be familiar with Kingsley’s “Westward Ho!” and so we need not quote his description of this old fashioned town and port. It stands on the margin and steep western bank of the Torridge, and is fully seen as we approach by rail and alight at the station, which is on the opposite side of the river.

The town is of considerable antiquity, and was formerly of relatively greater importance than at present. It’s principal streets are wide, and the atmosphere and general appearance of the places throughout suggestive of quiet and healthy ways, not unaccompanied with fair prosperity. The bridge has been more than once widened, and affords a delightful promenade when the tide is up and the softly beautiful Torridge valley is bright with the windings of its then broad stream. There are no particular points of interest in this town by a pleasant place for a day or two whilst exploring the neighbourhood. Today Bideford is still a working port seeing many ships transporting aggregates and clay extracts, there is still a small but flourishing local fishing trade as well as local connections to Lundy Island. The town houses its own Pannier Market, and traffic free streets makes this the perfect place to have a walk around and enjoy the many shops and cafes that the town has to offer. You could take a walk along the quay and admire the expansive waterfront, or perhaps visit the fortnightly farmers’ market. For cyclists and walkers, there is the Tarka Trail that is the perfect way to explore the area.