Thursday, November 23, 2006


Back – sated and sorted. Instow is a waterside village situated between Barnstaple to the north and Bideford to the south in North Devon. There is a sandy beach on the mouth of the Taw and Torridge estuaries and lots of messing around in boats. Immediately opposite is Appledore a port and ship building town. The whole area is known as Tarka country from Henry Williamson’s tale of Tarka the otter

In the 1930’s Cicely Courtneige (Two dozen double damask dinner napkins) used to rent a cottage and holiday in Instow with husband Jack Hulbert, his brother Claude and their children. Another famous visitor was Robertson Hare but he came solely for the cricket. In the late thirties a very young Elizabeth Taylor used to play on the beach. I know this thanks to a magnificent tome in our hotel room: ‘Instow: a History’ written by Alison Grant and others, to mark the millennium. It took the Instowites twenty months of research and is a valuable insight into how life was before the advent of the motor car.

Appledore is where the writer and photographer Daniel Farson ended his days. I knew him in the fifties as a fresh faced, charming young man. In the late fifties he found fame, became one of the Soho drinkers and carousers and became an alcoholic. He wrote a book on Francis Bacon which was published after Bacon’s death. Sorry Doc!

We visited Torrington and had lunch at the Black Horse Inn in a room with elderly local ladies. We noticed how different the local accent was to Somerset and as they unselfconsciously chatted to each other whilst scoffing enormous helpings I thought what rich pickings this would be for a writer of bucolic comedies. In fact Jennifer Saunders who wrote ‘Absolutely Fabulous’ lives nearby and her new series ‘Jam and Jerusalem’ is imminent on TV. All the usual suspects, including Jo Lumley and Dawn French are part of a fantastic troupe so, not to be missed I think. We caught the tag end of an ‘experience’ where people dressed as peasants of yesteryear, took you through ‘the experience’. We just caught the demonstration of how to fire a cannon ball which I’m sure will come in useful one of these days.

We were blighted by the weather but, undaunted we drove to Bideford – still a working port and referred to in ‘Westward Ho!’ by Charles Kingsley, I think it was the poet – postman Edward Capern who referred to Bideford as the ‘little white town’.
Sir Walter Raleigh is believed to have brought his first cargo of tobacco to Bideford. Spanning the river Torridge is the ancient Long Bridge with its 24 arches. It was first built in 1280 as a pack horse bridge. It gave up its wooden origins centuries ago and now is a sturdy stone structure. The original wooden bridge replaces a ford which was responsible for the name – Bideford – by the ford. The bridge is built at a slight angle to withstand the forces of the tides. The arches vary in size, possibly because of fluctuating amounts of money available. Two arches collapsed in 1968 causing considerable disruption and the town had to rely on ferries. Clearly another bridge was needed and in 1987 the Torridge Bridge was opened.

On the eastern side of the old bridge is the Royal Hotel. In the late 17c it was a private residence, then a workhouse, a prison and finally an hotel. Inside there is a magnificent oak staircase which leads to the Kingsley drawing room where – yes you’ve guessed it – Charles Kingsley wrote part of ‘Westward ho!’ Hands up those who have read it! Granny P I’ll bet!
In its Green Room there is a plaque of ‘Combined Operations’ recording the fact that many far-reaching decisions were made there by officers in WW11. I have to admit that I eschewed visiting the Royal Hotel as it meant a long gusty walk over the bridge and it was bucketing down. Next time maybe. No matter how grisly the weather, it was always a pleasure to get back to a hot bath, a Kir and a delicious meal


apprentice said...

Looks like a lovely trip! Not read the poem, but we tended to get Scottish stuff at school!


Caz was taken to Bideford as a little girl and loved it. We went for the first time a long while back and still go every couple of years. I love the quiet. It's a gentle place. I could live there. (Sunday went great by the way)

PI said...

apprentice : hope you have a good one too. I loved the Scottish poems we had at school but I hope you didn't miss out on poems like 'The Lady of Shalott'!

Guyana-Gyal said...

Charles Kingsley...The Water Babies. One of my favourite children's classics.

Haha, those 'elderly local ladies unselfconsciously chatting to each other whilst scoffing enormous helpings' remind me of some not so little ol' ladies in Australia who go on bus tours, and eat and eat, I know at least two of them.

PI said...

GG: they were fascinating and i had to remind myself not to stare. Usually I get frustrated because I can't hear what they are saying (you're allowed to eavesdrop
to gather local colour.) but these girlies were loud and clear.