There is a much more comprehensive site about North Devon at "The Ilfracombe town Crier - all about Ilfracombe and North Devon".
The town of Barnstaple developed in the C9th and C10th from its original hilltop settlement in neighbouring Pilton. Thought to be Great Britain's oldest borough, this pleasant town has won many awards for its floral displays. Since its importance as an industrial and international trading centre in the Midddle Ages, it is now a fine shopping area with many small and independent producers. The Victorian pannier market, established in 1855 to replace the proliferation of smaller venues, is in daily use. Panniers were the large baskets used to convey produce to and from markets. Close to this market are many places to eat and drink within an attractive pedestrian precinct.
In the same area is the Parish Church of St. Peter. Its twisted spire is famous. Most certainly a wooden church would have been on this site in Saxon times, though there are no remains of it. The historical church dates from early C12th and the present building around 1318. Many subsequent alterations have been made. Near it and inside the churchyard is the C15th St. Anne's Chapel, Barnstaple's sole chantry chapel to survive. The term refers to a chapel financed by a single person, prayers there being offered for that individual's soul. In 1549 St.Anne's was bought by the town. It became a grammar school, with some notable alumni. This small part of Barnstaple has the quiet charm of a cathedral close in miniature.
An alternative route to Barnstaple, especially on roads laden with Summer traffic, is the scenic Exeter to Barnstaple Branch Line. This is more popularly known today as the Tarka Line. It escaped Beeching's Axe of the mid 1960s. The service is severely limited, with only two pick-up points on our visit and no request stops. The station above is Eggesford, which has attractive countryside around it. Novelist and poet Thomas Hardy visited Eggesford Manor in 1885, arriving by train at this station. The line dates from 1854, the landowner making the sale conditional on trains stopping here. Hardy's trip was to the Earl of Portsmouth, who might have been that landowner.
In the Age of Steam Barnstaple was an important railway hub with three stations and five different lines either terminating there or passing through. The Lynton line was discontinued back in 1935, to much opposition. Crowds of protesters from Lynton through Barnstaple held a meeting, when their cause was doomed on the discovery that everyone had travelled to it by road. Beeching's axe also forced the closure of the passenger services through Bideford and Halwill Junction, as well as the Barnstaple to Taunton line. The line to Ilfracombe (the destination of the Devon Belle Pullman service) survived until 1970. Today the Tarka Line is all that remains of this heritage.
The Shamrock is a charmingly old-fashioned little shop on the high street. Hartland is an attractive and peaceful (when I was there in November) village or small town near the North Devon coast. A mile away in the pretty village of Stoke is the splendidly named Church of St. Nectan, which is the parish church. A church has been sited here since AD 700-600. Its impressively tall steeple defeated my efforts to photograph the church, so it's just an impression behind the trees, but a visit in person is recommended. A real photo of the church was taken by photographer Michael Russell.
Nearby Hartland Abbey was the last monastery to be dissolved by King Henry V111. Its house and garden is open to seasonal visitors. Saint Nectan is buried there. From Stoke you can carry on a couple more miles down to the coast at Hartland Quay and Hartland Point. If you enlarge the last Hartland picture, you'll see a distant view of Lundy Island from just east of Hartland Harbour. The non-vertiginous would delight in the Coastal Path walk.
North Molton is a quietly attractive small town a couple of miles north of South Molton. It held a fair from the C14th; this was abandoned on 1888. Gold has been found here in small amounts. Copper was mined from the early C19th. Iron-mining in the region ceased in the late C19th.
The woollen industry was for a long time of great importance here, as in many places in Devon. North Molton's parish Church of All Saints, with its 100 foot-high tower, is built of sandstone. The mile or two from South Molten is through a lovely wooded valley, truly a gateway to Exmoor.
The stone at Shebbear isn't any old stone, it's the Devil's Stone. The Devil himself lives beneath it, a constant danger to the people of Shebbear village. Long ago the stone was to be used as a foundation for a church at Henscott, on the other side of the river; every night the Devil rolled it away and every day the people rolled it back, until eventually they gave up. Once a year, on November the 5th, they use staves to turn the stone over to protect the village. I was there on May 9th 2005; since nothing dreadful had happened to Shebbear, clearly its annual precaution is effective. The village itself has a large and open square with a war memorial to those residents dying in military service in WW1 and WW2. The population then was much lower than it is today. You can find the Devil's Stone near the oak tree in front of the Church of St. Michael. If you find the experience unnerving, the Devil's Stone Inn is just across the square.
Black Torrington's Church of St. Mary is largely C15th, with a trace of its C12th construction. The earliest record of a parish rector is from 1278. This small village existed before the Norman Conquest. It is fortunate in still having a village primary school, one of the smallest in Devon. The River Torridge runs through the area.
This large village was an ancient settlement. From the early C13th it had a weekly market and a 3-day fair in Summer. King Henry III granted the charter in 1248. The market has long ended. At the fair horses, as the main means of transport other than walking, were traded. Holding of the fair was interrupted in the 1930s, to be reinstated in 1991. This year, 2007, it takes place on the week starting on Saturday June 23th. In the late C19th Witheridge held 2 fairs and 3 cattle markets a year. The main square would be a fine place for these events. Witheridge parish church is dedicated to St. John the Baptist.
Also known as Great Torrington, this is a pleasant and friendly small town very welcoming to its many visitors. It is famous for the Battle of Torrington in 1646 during the English Civil War, which was really a series of battles. Peaceful though Torrington now appears, its townfolks still enjoy wearing the C17th clothes and re-enacting battles of that time. On request the 1646 Castle Cafe will supply you with "Rat Pasty", a dish surely relished then. In fact, with the recent (2007) introduction of bi-weekly rubbish collections, I expect rat pasties will appear increasingly on local menus.
In the town centre square is Torrington Heritage Museum, entry being free courtesy of nice local volunteers. Until the pannier market was built in 1842, trade was conducted in The Shambles. Murals of the various trades and events decorate the walls. The peasant being punished in the stocks looks surprisingly cheerful.
On the same side is the church of St. Michael. Its first known vicar was in 1259, though it's likely that a church existed here much earlier. During the Battle of Torrington the church was blown up: the Royalists had stored gunpowder there, where Cromwell's Roundheads had kept 200 Royalist prisoners. They are buried in a mass grave under a mound of cobblestones.
The church can also be approached from pretty Church Lane. In the little close opposite the church are some picturesque cottages.
At the top of Castle Hill, where the 1646 cafe and centre is sited, is the main car park. Within the centre is the Physic Garden and outside are the remains of a castle. Fine views of the surrounding countryside can be had from here.
From early days the site of the town would have attracted Man to live there. High on a hill, with access to the River Torridge, game would have been spotted coming to drink (and thereby killed), enemies would have been visible as they approached (and thereby killed or taken prisoner).
The days of Cromwell's victory and England's subsequent doom and gloom are long over. Though the Battle ended Royalist hopes in the South-West and brought about the murder of King Charles I, the monarchy would be restored and good times would return. They have certainly returned to Torrington.