Instow is a picturesque fishing village situated in Bideford Bay, in North Devon. It is on the estuary where the rivers Taw and Torridge meet, between the villages of Westleigh and Yelland. It is on the South West Coast Path and more significantly, the Tarka Trail.
At low tide, there is a large expanse of yellow sand known as Instow Sands. Here children and families have an ideal location to play beach games, whilst the parents can enjoy views across the estuary to Appledore and admire the colourful fishing boats at anchor.
When the tide permits, the Instow Ferry carries passengers across the estuary to Appledore. There is a good variety of accommodation in this popular holiday village, ranging from bed and breakfast, to the prestigious Commodore Hotel on Marine Parade, which has been in the same family ownership for over 30 years.
Near Instow seafront, is Instow Signal Box on the disused Barnstaple to Bideford Railway Line, which closed for passenger services in 1965 and the track was removed in 1985. The Signal Box is famous for being the United Kingdom’s first Grade II Listed Signal Box. It was opened in 1874 by the London and South-Western Railway and used to control the signals at Instow Station and also operate the level crossing. It is over 140 years old and has been restored to its original condition internally. In 2003, the Signal Box was recognised for its restoration and educational value, by the Carillion Railway Heritage Awards. Volunteers of the Bideford Railway Heritage Centre allow free public access on occasional Sundays.
In 1987, Devon County Council purchased the Barnstaple to Bideford Railway Line and it became the first part of the Tarka Trail, known as the Taw/Torridge Country Park. It opened in May 1991 as a combined footpath and cycle path. The path has been extended and now covers 180 miles for walkers and cyclists. It has become a popular tourist destination for North Devon. The trail follows the route taken by the fictional “Tarka the Otter” in the book of that name.
“Tarka the Otter”, by Henry Williamson, tells the story of an otter, “His Joyful Water-Life and Death in the Country of the Two Rivers”, which are the River Taw and River Torridge in North Devon. It was published in 1927 and attracted praise from Thomas Hardy and T.E. Lawrence. It has been described as, “the greatest animal story ever written.” It was made into a film in 1979 and Sir Peter Ustinov was the narrator. The book is often used to promote the area of North Devon.