A Tale of Two Cities
Well, a tale of two villages actually, Appledore and Instow, on the North Devon coast, separated by the most stunning stretch of water. The next few months are uncertain but these beautiful places are not going away. Time to make a UK adventure wish list?
These welcoming coastal communities, and many others like them, will certainly endure. They have in the past and they will in the future. They have their own unique maritime histories, fishing and ship-building, and are tied together by the ebb and flow of the tidal waters and the ebb and flow of their residents and visitors.
Appledore and Instow face each other in a friendly stand-off across the estuary of the rivers Taw and Torridge in North Devon, harbouring their different characters.
A seasonal ferry takes passengers back and forth between the two, weaving past the yachts at anchor as they curve smoothly around their buoys with the direction of the tide. Every now and again one of them is freed from its berth to slide silently out to sea. It’s a peaceful and atmospheric sight that speaks of breathing in sea air, of saltiness, of a maritime past and now of pastimes and holidays – whether you are a sailor or not.
Appledore has the tight pull of the tide against its historic quay whilst Instow has the gentler journey of shallow water along its beautiful sandy beach. The special thing about this endless beach is that it is dog-friendly all year round and whatever the level of the tide there is always plenty of sand and space for everyone to enjoy. As the tide retreats far out, a splash of seawater pools appear which are fantastic for children to play in. At the far end, the backdrop of soft dunes are a wonderful natural playground and even though the wind releases sand onto the coastal road no-one seems to mind. It’s the seaside after all!
Whilst Instow has the beach, Appledore has the lion’s share of artisan shops, galleries, pubs – with a reputation for live music in normal times - and places to eat tucked away in its narrow streets and along the Quay. The jewel in the crown for Appledore is its internationally acclaimed annual book festival – this year the UK’s first ever drive-in book festival was the talk of the town. Its very own first edition!
From this side of the estuary, you can pick up the coastal path all the way to Westward Ho! You can follow the headland around the Northam Burrows nature reserve and along Pebble Ridge, which absolutely lives up to its name, with a high bank of huge rounded pebbles, two miles long, tossed effortlessly there by countless seas over countless years. There are just as many miles of sand as well, even at high tide, making this uncrowded Blue Flag beach ideal for kite surfing, board surfing and kite flying.
Back on the Instow side, you can follow the Tarka Trail, which actually covers 180 miles in a circular route through North Devon and Exmoor (the latter is definitely not for the faint-hearted!). Where the trail runs alongside the River Torridge towards Instow it is considerately level for cyclists and walkers, offering up clues to a very different past along its banks and across the water to the historic shipbuilding yards.
Further afield but set in the sights of both villages, fringing the far side of this estuary panorama, Braunton Burrows is one of the largest sand dune systems in the UK. It is roughly the size of 1000 football pitches and is at the heart of North Devon’s Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
There is so much more, but perhaps you would like to explore for yourselves. Appledore and Instow could not be better bases to start from. Time to add them to your travel wish-list.