Thursday, December 28, 2006


Fresh air and exercise were the order of the day today. Get the kids out before they drive me totally insane. After all we haven't been out for a while. "We went out on Christmas Eve," they cried. Well that was ages ago!

So we got out the Jarrold Exmoor walks book to see where we haven't been before. Walk No 1 - Parracombe. That's not too far away, Blackmoor Gate, turn towards Lynmouth then left for about a mile. The book said 'short easy walk, some farm lanes may be muddy.' No worries, it's a nice day and a little bit of mud never hurt anyone.

Well for a mile and a half of the walk we were having a great time. The sun was shining, sheep were frolicking in the fields, the paths were easy to follow and only a little bit squishy underfoot, there were even a few tiny streams to wade through.

Then we hit the path from hell. Mud almost up to our knees and no other way through. We tried climbing the top of the hedge but that only got us so far. Children wailed, got stuck, fell down, became entangled in prickly brambles and had to be carried. But fear not, by the time we'd reached the hole in the hedge which let us into the adjacent field we were all laughing about it; which was a good job because the farmer in the farm at the end of the lane was laughing even harder when we got there.

Just to give you an idea - this was the last photo I took before my camera battery gave out. We had fun but this a walk best attempted in the summer.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas House

Christmas wouldn't be complete without a visit to this house. Somewhere in between Bickington and Instow on the old Barnstaple road this house is now so famous and so popular around here that the police put cones along the roads nearby to stop people parking in front of it. When we arrived there were already at least thirty people stood around. The photo really doesn't do it justice.

At the back of his house (I'm sorry I don't know the man's name) his garage is also as well decorated and full of animated snowmen, Father Christmas's and reindeer. People who visit are encouraged to donate money, all of which goes to charity - usually the Devon Air Ambulance. In the last four years he has raised over £16,000.

My children were fascinated and didn't want to leave. The only thing that eventually got them home was the thought of checking the NORAD website to see whereabouts Santa had got to. As I write he is currently in Italy - nearly here!

Pizza Hut

After our walk we went straight to Pizza Hut in Barnstaple. This is the third year in a row on Christmas Eve. It seems to be turning into a tradition. My motto is - keep them out of the house for as long as possible. Plus if I don't have to cook I don't have to clean afterwards either. The service is fairly crap but we were in no rush. The food was acceptable and they didn't moan too much when I said 'no ice cream' so that was a bonus.

Baggy Point

Travel through Croyde and out the other side and you will find directions to Baggy Point. A narrow country lane takes you to the National Trust car park and from there you can follow the signs to a path that takes you along the very edge of the cliff for 1 mile to the aforementioned point.

It was a bracing walk today and the fear of loosing one or more children off the edge of the cliff into the freezing seas far below was a much more effective hangover cure than the traditional hair of the dog. The walk is circular and coming back we took the route that was less hazardous, across the hills.

I have spent many hours at Baggy watching my husband and others climb the cliff. I've even had a go myself. It's a beautiful place, but you might prefer it when the skies are bluer and the sun more than just a distant memory.

The Park Hotel

It's party time! We came here last night for a lovely three course meal and some dancing afterwards, but there are plenty of places around to chose from. This is owned by the Brends, and there are four other Brend hotels in North Devon. The food was very yummy, the disco good fun, and it set Christmas weekend off just right.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Atlantic Village

It's been a while since I've had anything to report. When winter hits North Devon we tend to hide indoors. Plus the looming presence of Christmas forces the inevitability of hitting the shops and drives everything else from the mind (or at least one as tiny as mine!) So today I dragged my three children around Atlantic Village, a small outlet centre just outside Bideford on the A39.

There are really only a handful of shops, but if these are the shops you like then it's worth coming here to get the discount off the high street prices. There are several clothes and lingere shops - Select, Pilot, Kangeroo Poo, Salt Rock, to name but a few. There are also camping type shops, a toyshop, a bookshop, and - this is quite important - a Cadbury's shop!!! There are a few cafe's too. At the moment there is an ice rink, although only plastic ice, not the sort of ice you can actually go fast on.

Tagged on to the side of the Atlantic Village is an attration for children called Atlantis. A rather tempting looking pirate ship is the first thing you see on approaching the complex. But the last time we attempted to go in it was rather expensive, and we ended up not bothering. They charge prices comparable with the Big Sheep, which is only just down the road, for something which is only a fraction of the size.

So in conclusion, go for the cheap shopping, but if you want to entertain the kids, the Big Sheep is better. I bought a last few bits and pieces this afternoon and have now nearly finished! Yippee! When do the Sales start?

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Wistlandpound Reservoir

Wrapped up in warm winter coats, hats and gloves we ventured out this afternoon for a Sunday afternoon walk. Head out of Barnstaple towards Exmoor and after about nine miles you will reach Blackmoor Gate, a quick right and right again will lead you down a narrow country lane to Wistlandpound Reservoir. It supplies local drinking water and there are signs up around the lake warning people not to bathe in it. The water levels seemed unusually low for this time of year.

We took a leisurely stroll around the lake and it took us about an hour. There are wooded parts, grassy paths by the water's edge, streams to play Pooh Sticks on and a jetty where you can wander down to the water and try your hand at skimming stones. We managed about two skips today and were put to shame when we were joined by a boy who managed eight or ten several times in a row.

After heavy rain it can be quite muddy in places but today it was fine and quite sheltered too. My daughters had shed hats, gloves and scarves by the time we'd completed our circuit. I, however, was glad of a cup of tea when we reached home.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Barum Gate, Barnstaple

Situated at the entrance to Barnstaple this is the first thing that greets you as you turn off the A361. It is a Travel Inn and Brewers Fayre. The kids love it as there is an enclosed playarea out the side entrance of the restaurant where they can come and go at will, safely viewed by parents through the windows. So to console ourselves after our disappointing visit to the Honey Farm we decided to lunch here (well my husand did - I comfort shop, my husband comfort eats.)

They seem to change the menus quite regularly so the ploughmans lunch I was looking forward to wasn't something they did anymore. The chicken and leek pie I had instead was very nice, although I'm not sure why it needed to be square. The children enjoyed their meals, and only the littlest one ordered chicken nuggets and chips. My husband was disappointed and vowed never to come here again. Don't listen to him, he didn't read the menu properly and ordered the vegetarian burger by mistake! That's fate telling him he needs to be more careful about what he eats.

Quince Honey Farm

It was cold today and threatening to rain. So we decided to visit somewhere indoors. None of us had ever been to the Quince Honey Farm in South Molton before so we decided to give it a go - the leaflet looked quite inviting. We won't bother again - I'm afraid it's the one place on my blog that I have to advise against. The building itself is cold and uninviting, reminiscent of a Victorian mental institution, high ceilinged and echoey. The girl behind the counter in the entrance was miserable. And the cost was not the same as on the leaflet, £3.95 adults, £2.95 children. It most definately wasn't worth it.

Inside you are supposed to be able to look down on the working factory through the glass ceiling above it. It wasn't working. I thought at first it was just our fault for being stupid enough to pick a Saturday to visit, but reading the information on the walls around the museum it seems the honey production only happens during July, when the main hives are actually on the premises. November to Easter only the shop and cafe are open. So why charge full admission price at the end of October when there is nothing going on? It's a rip off.

The only thing interesting to see are the hives behind glass; these are many and varied but honestly, once you've seen one load of bees in honeycombs you've seen them all! PLEASE DON'T GO HERE.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Barnstaple Library

During school holidays there is always something for children going on at Barnstaple Library. They have themed days (pirates just recently), arty things to do, special holiday book stickers to collect, and today Kit Wright the poet.

He was available earlier in the day too, but this afternoon at 4.15 he gave a talk and read some of his poems to a set of children who had all achieved success in Book Track. This is a scheme where children are challenged to read and then discuss with a librarian 100 books. There are badges and stickers to collect along the way but upon receiving your gold badge you are invited along to meet an author and he/she presents you with a special certificate.

My eldest daughter was presented with her certificate today, although in true teenager-fashion she refused to stand up and collect it when her name was read out. She did let me take her photo with Kit Wright afterwards though, while he was signing a book for her.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Lets Go Superbowl

Another birthday party at another venue in North Devon that's not my home - excellent! Walk away from the mess and leave it for someone else to clean up. Today it was my youngest's birthday party. She wanted to go bowling - I have no idea why. So we booked two lanes for twelve children of various sizes from 4 to 13.

The place was packed, mostly it seemed with other birthday parties. We were advised to turn up 15 mins early to sort out shoes and things and it turned out there weren't enough shoes of the right size and the people on our lanes before us were in no hurry to get off, so we waited 25 mins before we actually started play. Not impressed with that, or the fact that they lost one of my daughters candles (we had to provide our own cake) so she only had 5 to blow out instead of 6.

Still the kids had a good time. There are other things to do here including the Megazone (a laser shooting game) and an extensive arcade. You can find it at the Barnstaple end of the duel carriage way, next to the Barnstaple Hotel on the Pottington Industrial Estate. I advise booking in advance.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Watermouth Castle

I couldn't get a good photo of the castle so this is my family having fun on one of the rides. Well once they'd stopped screaming for fear that Daddy might capsize the boat that is!

The reason I couldn't get a good photo of the front of the building is that it was covered in marquees. That was because there was an event on called 'It's our Coast' organised by North Devon Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. There were stands from just about every organisation you could think of to do with the coast from the Royal Marines to the Surf Life Savers. Some of them were interactive for the children and others were just giving out information. We liked the one where you had to identify the trees from samples of their trunks and photos of their leaves. We weren't very good at it though. The presenters of the BBC Coast programme were there too but we didn't get to see them - by then we were too busy inside the castle grounds.

Watermouth Castle is a Family Theme Park. Inside are lots of displays about life in the building during Victorian times, as well as a model train set, some very old but playable amuesment slot machines, a scary dungeon and a great set of fairground mirrors.

In the gardens behind the castle there is even more to do. The grounds have been divided into zones named Merrygoland, Gnomeland and Adventureland. In these you will find wet rides, fairground rides, adventure golf, a maze (strangely with no centre), Mystical Water Gardens, a shadow room, a very long tube slide and lots of small fat men in funny hats (they're mostly all plastic too). We were there for nearly three hours today and didn't have time to do all of it. The bargain of the day was that entry was free, although we did have to pay £3 per child for unlimited access to the rides. Normally it's £10 for adults, £8.50 for children. If you're interested you'll find it on the coast road between Ilfracombe and Combe Martin.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Westward Ho! Rock Pooling

Westward Ho! is one of the best places in North Devon to go rock pooling. It is easily much better than the aforementioned Instow. I came here today with 33 children and it was altogether a much more enjoyable experience than the time I spent at Instow with only 5 five year olds. From the slipway at Westward Ho! you turn left along the beach to find the rock pools and there are lots of them. We spent an hour here and the children caught crabs, prawns, blennies and many other creatures of interest. Not many of them came back with dry feet. One girl was heard to remark that this was her best school trip to date, and many others agreed.

Our experience after lunch was not nearly so pleasant. Turning right from the slipway will lead you along the beach for as far as the pebble ridge goes - it goes a long way. Eventually you will reach a concrete track which leads you over the ridge and onto Northam Burrows which, along with Braunton Burrows on the other side of the estuary, has been declared and SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest), it being the only place in England to grow a certain type of grass.

We had lunch at the Visitors Centre, then followed the sand dunes along the edge of the golf course until we reached the coast. Here the children valiently began to sketch the landscape amidst the angrily swirling sand. We had encountered the tail end of Hurricane Gordan which wasn't due to reach us until the following evening. It certainly felt like it (although there may be worse to come). Several sketch books blew away never to be seen again. Fighting our way back into the full force of the wind was, how can I put it - an 'interesting' walk. None of the children now wish to become desert explorers. I am still finding sand in places I never even knew I had!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Barnstaple Fair

Barnstaple Fair dates back to the time of Athelstan in AD930 and was given its Charter in 1852 It begins on the Wednesday nearest to the 16th September each year and lasts for 4 days. It is hugely popular and children of all ages talk of nothing else from the minute September arrives. A traditional ceremony at the Guildhall opens the Fair and a white glove garlanded in flowers, symbolising the hand of friendship, hangs from the Guildhall window for the four days the fair is in town.

The fair is a meeting of three travelling fairs and so many rides are duplicated. It is always crowded and as well as traditional rides such as the Big Wheel and the Galloping Horses there are thrill rides like Freak Out, stalls where you can chance your arm at winning huge cuddly toys or goldfish, plenty of rides for small children, candy floss stalls, and fortune tellers.It has also become a tradition in recent years that the final day of the fair is marked by fireworks. These begin at around 8.15 and can best be viewed from Barnstaple Bridge.

Our children were given a spending limit and we stayed until they'd reached it, which was just about the time they started to wilt. The rides were quite reasonably priced this year. Having expected them to be about £4 a go (listening to rumours and based on the fact that the prices always go up on the Saturday) we were quite pleasantly surprised to find that most were £2.50 and childrens rides only £1.50.

So, we have reached Summer's end and I must now turn my attention to things which can be done in Autumn and Winter with failing weather and the closing of seasonal attractions. Keep tuning in!

Barnstaple Carnival

Usually held of the third Saturday in September, Barnstaple Carnival coincides with the last day of the Fair and is when you know Summer is truly over. It starts in the Civic Centre car park with the crowing of the Carnival Queen at 5.30, then travels along the Strand and round Barnstaple, although the route is prone to change from year to year. It is one of the largest carnivals in North Devon with carnival queens, floats, majorettes and marching bands travelling in from places as far away as Bude in Cornwall. There are also many individual and group entries who walk the route in costume. The best we saw this year being Fred Flintstone and family complete with a very authentic looking car.

Hundreds of people line the route, sometimes three or four deep, and good places go early. Money is collected in buckets by people walking alongside the floats, all going to good causes. In times gone by spectators threw money onto the floats but this is now discouraged; presumably A&E no longer wish to be indundated by fancy dress clad persons sporting coin related injuries. This years carnival only took 45 mins to pass us, my children of course ran out of coins to throw much earlier than this. Then we headed across to the Fair.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


This is the other end of the beach from my last posting about Instow and the other end of the season too. There is a car park behind the sand dunes at the estuary side of Instow and from there you can follow a rickety old track to the Cricket Ground. The beach is accessed from a path either side of here and is well away from the one used by most visitors. Perhaps this is why DAISI (Devon Arts In Schools Initiative) decided to use it as the location for some art in nature work - less innocent members of the general public to disturb.

This is where I went yesterday and am only just recovered enough to write about it today. I came with my youngest daughter in my role as Mum, and so was only given five five-year olds to look after - believe me this was enough! There is a reason why I chose to work with older children! The beach was very nice though and there are even rock pools you can mess about in. A little known fact that managed to surprise many locals when I mentioned it.

Sunday, September 10, 2006


Having survived the night and packed up our tent we decided to pay a visit to nextdoor Ilfracombe. Ilfracombe was once a thriving Victorian holiday destination and is still popular as such. It has fallen into decline in recent years and is starting to look a bit shabby but still has something to offer the passing tourist. The harbour is pretty and is surrounded by plenty of nice pubs, cafes and gift shops. There is also the Landmark Theatre, known locally as Madonna's Bra because of the twin conical shapes of its buildings.

We went today because we happened to be nearby and to buy some seaside souveniers for my display at work; but we also decided to visit The Chocolate Emporium, a chocolate museum, shop and cafe in the High Street, as it had been recommended by a friend. It seemed to be the only shop to be shut on a Sunday but it looked very nice from the outside! You will have to wait for further details in a later posting I am afraid.


I don't know why but last thing Friday night I thought it would be a really good idea to go camping. I think it was the prospect of a beautiful weekend and a vain attempt to prolong that summer holiday feeling. Anyway, we searched the internet, found a good campsite, packed the ca and off we went.

It was a lovely campsite, and very busy too, excellent views over the sea as you can see, and we were lucky enough to find quite a level pitch. This is North Morte Farm Holiday Park in the tiny village of Mortehoe nestled between the bigger holiday towns of Woolacombe and Ilfracombe.

We arrived at around 5.00, set up the tent and cooked our BBQ (once I'd been down to the shop to buy the matches I'd forgotten to pack.) Sitting in the sun and drinking cold beer was lovely.
Then the breeze began to pick up and by 8.30 had turned into a howling gale. By 9.30 it was gusting so strongly I began to wish I'd packed a pair of shiny red shoes to click three times. Unfortunately my husband refused to listen to my chants of "There's no place like home" so we just had to go to sleep hoping that we didn't wake up under a pile of canvas, half way down the cliff or actually in the sea.

You can probably guess from the fact that I'm posting this that I lived to tell the tale, but it was a very noisy night. I can thoroughly recommend camping anywhere in North Devon, especially somewhere with fantastic views, but do check the weather forecast carefully first.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Broomhill Hotel Sculpture Garden

Summer holidays are now definately over, doom and gloom settles as I return to work. Still, we were broken into it gently by a visit to Broomhill. This is a place frequented by teachers undertaking training. Today we learnt the finer points of watercolour painting on very wet paper.

This is a lovely place to visit if you are into art. Head out of Barnstaple towards Lynton on the A39 then turn towards Ilfracombe on the B3230 and its about a mile down a leafy country road. Entry into the gardens is £4.50 for adults and £1.50 for children. The hotel also does fantastic food for residents and non-residents alike (this is why teachers really come!)

The gardens stretch on for quite a way, easily long enough to walk off whatever delights you sampled for your lunch, or that extra dollop of cream you had with your cream tea. There are hundreds of scuptures to look at, ranging from the weird to the wonderful. The most famous is the giant red shoe which meets you at the top of the drive. Some are quite hidden away, so you have to keep your eyes peeled. Inside the hotel is an art gallery, entry to this is free, and there are even scuptures in the loo!

Friday, September 01, 2006

Horse Riding

September has arrived. Winter wends its way towards us. And although you can feel it in the air first thing in the morning by lunch time today it was boiling hot again. Thank goodness for that as we'd booked to go horse riding and it would've been miserable in the rain.

There are plenty of place to go riding in North Devon. They all charge pretty much the same at £18 an hour per person, but some insist on you having lessons before they'll let you out in the big wide world. We went to Kingsland Stables in Woolsery (Woolfardisworthy as the sign reads). They offered us a deal on a family of five at £70 total. They were very friendly and great with the kids. We went on a two and a half mile ride down country roads and along a woodland track. It was very pleasant.

Horse riding - ahh! One of those things every little girl wants to do - until they actually get on the back of one and realise its not all its cut out to be. My littlest one was moaning of a sore bottom by the time we got off! She loved feeding the horses some carrots afterwards though. And actually they all want to go again now! Bums recover easily obviously - well young ones do anyway! I can't say the same about mine.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Lynton and Lynmouth

20 miles out of Barnstaple, where Exmoor meets the sea, you will find the sister towns of Lynton and Lynmouth. Like salt and pepper, or Sooty and Sweep, they come as a pair; so much so that the signpost as you enter the area reads 'Welcome to Lynton and Lynmouth'. When you get to the village of Barbrook you have a choice of routes into Lynmouth, a one mile descent down a 1:4 hill, or a 3 mile scenic road around many twists and turns and through pretty woodland. We took the shorter way today.

It was a cloudy day and Lynmouth was crowded with grockles. Parking was nearly impossible but we found somewhere in the end and then made our way into the centre of the town to find somewhere for lunch. The Corner House was very lovely but very expensive at £4 a sandwich. Still, we were indoors for the only time that it rained.

After that we visited the Exmoor Brass Rubbing Centre. Free to enter but an average cost of £3 per brass rubbing. After a wander round the shops we made our way to the Cliff Railway, pictured above. It has been running since 1888, is water powered and rises 500 feet up the cliff and into the town of Lynton. A return journey cost £2.75 per adult and £1.75 per child. The children loved it and the views out over the bay are fantastic.

In Lynton we had a cup of tea and an ice cream (no Hockings - they don't travel out this far, but they were locally made and very nice). I bought a very nice fluffy pink jumper, made by a company called Weird Fish - who knew there were clothes out there not made by Next?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Barnstaple In Bloom

The sun peeked intermittently out from between the clouds today. I took advatage of a non-sunbathing day to do a spot of shopping.

Everywhere you look Barnstaple is gearing up for its annual Britain in Bloom entry. It has been a winner on no less than three times in the last ten years, in the category of Best Town, and has gone on to win World In Bloom Best Town.

In the photographs above you can see the Albert Clock, also known as the Four Faced Liar because none of its four faces ever says the same time as any one of the others, and the Heritage Centre. The people with their backs to the beautiful flowers are looking at the Millenium Mosaic, telling Barnstaples history since it began around 900AD.

Croyde Beach again!

Compare the difference between this photo of Croyde and the one taken in June! Croyde yesterday was heaving. Grockles (tourist to you), school holidays, and extreme heat have combined to make it full to bursting. Just look how many people are in the water! Even the car park was nearly full. Prices, by the way, have jumped to £4 per car.

The water was refreshingly icy, and the children would have stayed in it for hours if one of them hadn't fallen over and got a mouthful! We did get a nice wave from those lovely men in the yellow helicopter though.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

RHS Rosemoor Garden

Rosemoor Garden is just outside of Great Torrington. We went there for the first time today, although my children have been before with school and grandparents. It's reasonably cheap to get in: £5.50 for adults, £1.50 for children. But this weekend the children were free as they were having a Family Event Weekend.

The gardens are massive. There are formal gardens, woodlands, cottage and herb gardens and much more. I certainly wasn't expecting it to be quite so big. And we didn't get to see everything today because we were so busy taking part in the specially organised events.

The Family Weekend was sponsored by ING Direct so there was a fair bit of in-your-face advertising going on, but the kids didn't really notice. There were storytelling sessions, where a strange looking gnome told stories, did magic and made balloon animals; there was a craft workshop, the children painted a paper plate; moving statues, bird of prey, a bee-keeping stall and chickens with newly hatched chicks. We also went to listen to extracts of 'Alice in Wonderland' as told by Alice where the Queen of Hearts turned up, towering over everyone in stilts, and enlisted the children to play croquet by being the hoops and the hedgehogs!

At other times of the year I understand they have different events and other workshops for the children to take part in - origami, card-making, etc. The only word of warning I would give is that the restuarant is very expensive, so take a picnic lunch, there's plenty of places to sit and eat.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

North Devon Show

This is essentially an agricultural show where local farmers, craftsmen and small businesses get to show off their wares. But it is a very popular event locally and there is plenty for the children to do.

The show takes over several very large fields and fills them with marquees, show rings, stalls and fast food wagons. One corner of the show is devoted entirely to entertainment with fairground rides and bouncy castles gallore. A favourite with my children today was the giant Mickey Mouse inflatable slide. It wore them out too, so I loved it!

In the show rings there are displays from local children's organisations (we saw gymnastics today) show jumping, dog trials, cattles shows and more. Marquees house a local Food market, craft stalls, beer or are devoted entirely to animals such as goats, poultry or alpacas (strange animals which had been shaved and looked somewhat like a cross between a dwarfed giraffe and a poodle.)

Sunday, July 30, 2006


Every good town has one and Barnstaple is no exception. We went there last night for a drink or two with some good friends to celebrate my husband's birthday. If you're wondering about the name it comes from Barnstaple Pannier Market which is in the street just opposite, panniers being the large baskets they used to store the produce in.

Our Weatherspoons serves the best plate of Nacho's this side of the M5, a visit isn't complete without some. I'd like to recommend the Tex Mex platter but we ordered one and something completely different arrived. None of us noticed until the food was nearly all gone. Copious amounts of beer, vodka, red wine and the Weatherspoons equivalent of Southern Comfort later and we all managed to stagger out and find our way home.

They are a child-friendly pub during the day with a special area for families and I can recommend the roast dinner on a Sunday. So far we've always got what we ordered there.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Milky Way

Travel out of Bideford along the A361 in the direction of Cornwall and after about 9 miles you'll reach The Milky Way. It's another one of those farms-converted-into-theme-parks, like the Big Sheep. Inside is the obligatory soft-play and death-slide area, but there is more too it that this. There are displays of historical farm equipment, archery, dodgem cars and a ride/experience called The Clone Zone which claims to be scary but didn't worry my five year old as much as the plastic spider we have at home. A pet's corner, where you can go and feed the lambs and goats, is actually a huge barn where today there were also vintage motorcyles on show. Opposite the bikes are small pens holding two or three sheep or goats. These you are allowed in and all of my children had great fun petting the animals who are quite tame and friendly (more than you can say of my children at times!)

Two cafes offer fast food and traditional food but this is not one of those places that serve overpriced rubbish and force you to eat it. There are plenty of picnic areas scattered around and they don't mind you bringing in your own food. A hand stamping system allows you to go in and out to your car at will.

Outside attractions are the Bird of Prey centre, mini-golf, a train ride, a maze (although this is still growing) and another play area. The Bird of Prey display is outside in nice weather but there is also an Indoor Arena where the birds are flown on days like today. They also have a ferret show.

Thursday, July 27, 2006


Saunton beach, about 2 miles out of the village of Braunton, is a popular destination for tourists and locals. Car parking, at £4 a time, is fairly expensive, but worth it if you're going to spend all day there. The sands stretch out for miles and there are plenty of sand dunes for the children to play in when they're fed up of making sand castles. There are also rock pools and a couple of caves in the side of the cliff to explore.

Facilities include a toilet block, showers, shop, ice cream kiosk (not Hockings I'm afraid) and a cafe/bar. The beach is privately owned and the owners decided recently that they would not employ life guards so it's not quite as safe as next-door Croyde, but that hasn't seemed to deter anyone. The car park fills up just as quickly as it used to so it's wise to get here early.

We took a risk today and didn't arrive until 2.00. A rather nice young man waved us into a spot with his yellow flag and we found a spot on the sands which was wet enough to build sandcastles on but not so wet that we couldn't sit down. Sixty-five sandcastles and one sand-car (which rather more closely resembled a boat) later and my children decided it was time to make the long trek to the sea. Well two of them did. Grumpy teenager decided it would be more fun to lie about and listen to something vaguely musical on her MP3 player.

We played 'Count the dead crabs' on the way down to the waters edge then decided there were too many of them to bother. The water was lovely and warm and the waves not too high. Just right for us but annoying for the surfers. Half an hour later we made the long trek back up the beach and warmed up in the sunshine. A great afternoon.

Point of Interest:This was the beach where Robbie Williams filmed the 'Angels' video.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Pilton Green Man Festival

Pilton Festival is held on the third Saturday of July and draws thousands of visitors into this normally quiet suburb of Barnstaple. The festival is opened with a parade which starts in the centre of town and makes its way across to Pilton Street complete with Morris dancers, the Pilton Worm, several loud bands and local school children dressed as trees.

Twice during the day you can see the Pageant of the Green Man, a symbol of nature and fetility, in the grounds of Pilton House. There are three other stage areas where live bands play, plenty of strategically placed beer tents, stalls along both sides of the street, two pubs and the local chippy all doing a roaring trade. There are also more than enough bouncy castles and fairground rides to keep the children busy and empty your pockets.

We arrived at 12.00 today and didn't leave until nearly 5.00. The sun was blazing, and sitting on the grass in the grounds of Pilton House with a mini-picnic (scrounged off a good friend) and a nice cold beer was just perfect.

Monday, July 03, 2006

The Big Sheep

The Big Sheep is in Bideford, just over the new brigde and straight over the roundabout. It's been getting bigger and better each year. This is Ewetopia, one of those ever-popular ball pit and death slide room, except that this is more in the way of a very large barn than a room. When it first opened ten years ago all they had was a small ball pit - how things change!

As well as this there are plenty of outdoor attractions; duck trials, sheep races, sheep sheering, lamb feeding, pony rides, horse whispering, dog trials, pot making, trampolines, and more. There's enough to keep you busy all day, and for the cost of a family ticket you'd need to go all day. A standard family entrance will set you back £30. It is a good day out though and they offer you discounted tickets if you return up to a week after your first visit.

We went down for the evening, just to do Ewetopia, as you can hire the play area out privately from 6.00- 9.00 after the attraction has closed to the public. This is popular with schools, and in our case ballet schools, as a treat for the children or to raise some money for school funds. It was a bit like sitting in a sauna but we survived and our littlest one finally got brave enought to come down the big death slide by herself.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Race For Life

OK, this is not strictly in the remit of my blog as it's not technically something touristy, but it is something which features quite prominently in the collective conciousness of North Devon women. It's the Cancer Research charity run undertaken by women all over the country and it's becoming more and more of an event in this corner of England. This year the race was so popular that, for the first time, they had to run two, one at 11.00 and one at 2.30. And for weeks before the race everywhere you look there are women out running the streets in training. It's a 5km run (or walk) and supporters line the whole route, clapping and cheering you on.

This is the third year I've done it, with my oldest daugher. I walked it in 42 mins and she ran it in 33 mins. I think she could have done it faster but she went with a friend and they walked the last k. The photo above is of women at the start of the race, I would have included one of me finishing but my husband was so busy photographing other women he neglected to take any photos of me whatsoever!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Gold Coast Oceanfest

Oceanfest is the center piece in the crown of the North Devon Festival. This year it was being held at Croyde over Friday, Saturday and Sunday. These photos are just a snap shot of what goes on. We went in on Friday night, Saturday daytime and Sunday evening. There was loads that we didn't see. For me, the best bit was sitting watching the bands with the sun on my face and a beer in my hand. Excellent! There are bands on stage almost constantly until late into the night.

The children enjoyed having a go at everything: climbing, trampolining, bouncy castle. On the beach you can try your hand at surfing with lessons for beginners, or just sit and enjoy the football, volleyball or other exhibition sports on show. There was an Aquathon, although I wasn't quite sure whether that was something you could join in with or just enjoy watching. And an event which involved paddling your surfboard from Croyde round to Saunton, the beach next door.

Friday is schools day with events laid on especially for the schools. It is also FREE! Of course it's free on the beach anyway, but Saturday and Sunday you have to pay to get into the field where the stage, the bike displays and the skateboards are. My advice would be to purchase your tickets online and go and pick them up on Friday. This will saving queuing as on Saturday you can then walk straight in - very satisfying and almost VIP-like to walk past all those people (and there were a lot of them) who hadn't pre-bought tickets!

Also inside the grounds are various stalls from skate and surf shops like Animal and Billabong, jewellery stalls, tents full of skateboards, canoes, etc. Then there is every kind of food van you could possibly imagine from your standard fish and chips, to pasta, mexican food, crepes, and cappucinos. Its also quite safe to let older ones go wandering. My eldest daughter founds some friends on Saturday and we didn't see her for hours, although she did throw the usual teenage strop when we made her come back so that we could go to the beach together.

A lot of the nearby fields were filled with campers, and some of these were locals (the aforementioned teenage daughters friends). Next year I think we might do the same. Then I can spend longer in front of the music stage, with my beer, and not have to worry about getting home!

Sunday, June 11, 2006

North Devon Leisure Centre

North Devon Leisure Center is located in Barnstaple across the bridge from the main town centre by the river bank. It has changed hands a lot in recent years and has come in for a bit of stick in the local press about cleanliness but it seemed OK yesterday when we went for daughter number two's birthday party. However, we did have an inordinate amount of trouble booking the party. First it couldn't be done because the only person who knew how to use the computer was on holiday, then there was a big argument about the price. I don't think I'll bother with a birthday party there again, but it's OK if you are a keen swimmer, or want to use any of the other facilities - sports hall, gym, dojo, etc.

We hired the inflatable for the party, great fun, but I think they may have it out for Joe Public to use at other times. Insider Tip: Use Lidl's car park across the road, it's free - although the public car park at the back of the centre doesn't actually cost that much.

Friday, June 09, 2006


The house, just visible in the top left hand corner, is National Trust property and has a shop and a lovely tea room and gardens. To reach it you need to park in the car park at the top of the valley and follow a path through the woods down to the river. It is the only building for miles around and is an excellent starting point for many walks. Watersmeet is so called as it is the place where the East Lyn and Hore Oak Water meet. From here you can follow either river back up stream or take one of several paths downstream.

Yesterday I came here with 59 school children who were all very well behaved and didn't disturb the beautiful peace of the countryside (too much!). We walked downstream into the town of Lynmouth. It should have been a beautiful stroll on a sunny day through leafy woodland following the path of the river. A word of warning at this point. When you come to a fork in the path and the right is signposted Lynmouth, the left takes you across a footbridge and has no signpost, and you map shows you a non-existant path straight ahead - go left! If you follow the signs to Lynmouth, as I did (logically, as that was our destination) you end up going on a two mile route march through some VERY steep terrain and along a narrow path with an almost sheer drop to your left as you look down on the river from a great hieght!

Still, we did have a good day. More about what to do in Lynmouth in another post.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Bideford Park

Bideford has THE best park in North Devon. It has loads in it. There are two main playing areas for children with swings, slides and climbing frames - much better than the two park playareas in Barnstaple. There is also this paddling pool. I remember (a long time ago) this was originally intended to be a boating lake - like that was ever going to happen! This is a much better idea. It's walled in and has plenty of grass all around for people to sit on. The kids love it.

As well as all that there is a playing field, lots of grassy areas to sit on, the Burton Art Gallery in one corner of the park, and my favourite as a child, the castle! It's not as grand as it sounds - more like a raised concrete roundabout with fortifications around it, but it is also surrounded by real cannons, some of which were used against the Spanish Armada. It's great for playing in, or just having fun sitting on and climbing over the cannons.

And then, just outside the gates, there is my old favourite - the Hockings Ice Cream van. Don't they just get everywhere? Yum!

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Croyde Beach

This is Croyde beach, situated about 8 miles outside Barnstaple. It's a popular destination for surfers and if any of you are so inclined there are plenty of surf-cam's and websites ready to report on the weather conditions. Today the surf was quite flat but there were still surfers in abundence on the water. We ventured in up to our ankles and then decided it was far too cold to go any further. Only our littlest one ran in and out with no regard for the temperature.

The sands were plesantly warm and a cool breeze kept everyone from overheating. It also disguised the strength of the sun. One of my children is now delightfully refering to me as a peach. Lobster would be a more accurate assessment!

The beach is accessed from either side of the village of Croyde. We parked in the car park just past Saunton, pricy at £3, but that's about the going rate wherever you go. The alternative is to drive through Croyde and park on the other side, or walk from the village, but this can be a hike. On the far side of the beach from where we were there are Life Guards but the red and yellow flags are so close together people are crammed in like sardines. Much better to have your own space and watch your own children. Especially when they're more interested in building sandcastles than freezing in the sea. We build a whopper today.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Tordown Farm

At last some real sunshine to venture out in! This is Tordown Farm and we found it by accicent today. Just outside Barnstaple on the road to Landkey is a signpost which reads Tordown Farm Nature Trail. So we followed the signs. They lead us down three miles of single track country lanes to the Farm car park. A handwritten sign told us to report to the farmhouse which we duly did. Tordown Farm is a working farm but they offer a two mile nature trail to visitors for a donation at the Farmhouse, and Cream Teas are on offer in the dining room. The farms wife is very friendly and gave us a map and explained in detail what we had to do. But before we set off we were able to pet the farm's dogs and check out the guinea pigs, lambs, chickens, quails and an owl all kept in various enclosures in the yard.

The walk was very well sign posted with white arrows and took us through fields, over hills, down into wooded valleys and alongside streams. Many of the fields were resident to goats, sheep and cows, who all stopped their feeding to watch us as we passed. The views were fantastic. What made it even better was the fact that we were the only ones there. Apparently they are busier at weekends. After the walk we stopped for a drink then on the way to car were able to feed grass to the pony in the neighbouring field. A great find!

Monday, May 29, 2006

Westward Ho! Potwalloping

We went to Westward Ho! today to become windswept and frozen at the local Potwalloping Festival. On a day with better weather this could be a fun event with lots to entertain children and grown-ups alike. We stayed long enough to watch an Aikido display and wander round to take in the sights. There were plenty of stalls, a whole marquee dedicated to local crafts, and more market-type wares ranged along the sea front. Bouncy castles seemed to multiply in front of our very eyes there were so many, although not too many that we couldn't find the beer tent! Activities for children included a fancy dress competition, painting pebbles and designing T-shirts.

Potwalloping dates back to Victorian times when all those who lived in the parish spent some time after the Spring tides collecting pebbles that had been washed down off the ridge and throwing them back again. This protected their grazing rights on Northam Burrows, as well as preventing the Burrows from flooding. Potwalloping became something of an event with food and cider laid on as the whole community turned out. I'm told that both my Grandmothers are true potwallopers as they were born in the parish. The tradition gradually died out but the Festival was started in 1995 in order to celebrate the history of the event and it's getting bigger each year.

The best entertainment of the day was provided by my two youngest daughters Sumo wrestling in giant plastic padded suits. I laughed so much I cried!

Monday, May 22, 2006

Theatre and Cinema

Barnstaple has both a cinema and a theatre and this weekend I spent some time in both. The Queens Theatre has had quite a face lift in recent years and now sports plush seats and a cafe/bar. I went here on Saturday to watch my daughters in a ballet show, but am-dram is not all they host; a lot of shows are touring productions with some quite big names and they have musical events too.

The cinema has also greatly improved in the last ten years. It has one of the largest screens in the South West with comfy seats, surround sound and a cpacity of around 250. There are three smaller screens downstairs and a small bar. They are very quick to get all the new releases and they have an online booking system which is so easy even I can manage it.