Tourists Guide to Braunton, North Devon

Braunton is known as the "Gateway" to the North Devon coast and the glorious beaches at Saunton Sands, Putsborough and Woolacombe. The village claims to be the largest village in Britain but so do many others but it is certainly the largest village in Devon and has a vibrant and bustling feel to it, especially in the Summer when the town fills with tourists. As a result of the rise in popularity of surfing on the waves at all the local beaches Braunton has become the retail centre for surf kit. There are plenty of excellent shops, bars and restaurants in the town and loads of holiday cottages for families to stay and make a base to explore the area.

What Makes Braunton Special?

 

  • The gateway to North Devon’s gold coast beaches.
  • Hub of the area with a supermarket and lots of independent retail shops.
  • Quality restaurants including Le Coin de Bistro (stunning food), At One, the Riverside, the White Lion and SQ
  • The centre of the surf industry, lots of surf shops and outlets including Tiki and Saltrock.
  • Very cheap parking in the main car park.
  • Easy access to the Tarka Trail and the start point for the trail.
  • Centrally located, Barnstaple, Saunton, Croyde and Woolacombe are easy to get to.
  • Quality holiday properties, typically of individual character in pretty locations.
  • Regular events including a Christmas market, Village Fair, Free Wheels and dog show.
  • The home of Squires Fish and Chip Restaurant.

 

 

What Can We Do in Braunton?

 

  • The Tarka Trail, park your car in the main Caen Street Car Park and access the trail from the Police Station at the rear of the car park.
  • Surf hard wear and clothing, there are several surf shops in the main village centre and two outlet stores near the Tesco’s supermarket.
  • Visit Velator Quay, walk alongside the tidal river to the Estuary.
  • Visit the Great Field of Braunton.
  • The Elliot Art Gallery, Braunton Museum and the Countryside Centre offer great information.
  • Visit the Museum of British Surfing in the main car park.
  • Explore the village, it is very pretty especially the older areas around St Brannocks Church.
  • There are several walks and cyclepaths including the Tarka Trail, hike up to the Beacon for spectacular views accessed from the top of Frog Lane.
  • Regular farmers markets in the village hall.

 

Where Can We Stay in Braunton?

  • Braunton holiday cottages managed by My Favourite Cottages.
  • The George Hotel offers Bed and Breakfast.
  • Numerous smaller bed and breakfasts.
  • A good number of quality holiday homes throughout the village.
  • There are no hotels in the village but nearby Saunton Sands Hotel is beautiful!

 

 

 

All About Braunton

 

Recently, independent shops, bistro’s and cafes and quality restaurants have evolved to make the village a retail destination for tourists. New shops are appearing all the time from specialist bike shops to home furnishings and craft furniture shops. The village also has a large number of cafes and food outlets as well as being the home to the award winning Squires Fish Restaurant and takeaway, very popular and there are certainly queues during peak periods!

There are a significant and growing number of holiday cottages within Braunton itself, although not to the detriment of the local community unlike in other coastal villages. A balance appears to have been achieved with sympathetic developments and restrictions. 

There are some beautiful areas of the village to explore away from the traffic of the centre. There is a great little walk along the old railway line starting from the anchor by Cawthornes. Only half a mile or so long, perfect for families with dogs and very safe. East Street on to Church Street from one of the main old areas of the village and you can walk further along Silver Street up to Coral Head towards Knowle where there is rarely any traffic.  The area around North Street accessed by the White Lion pub (great food) is the old farming heartland with several buildings being the old farm houses as you can see by their names. South Street that leads down to Velator was the hub of the fishing and boating community with the Mariners Arms pub being the main focal point.

 

There are several events on regularly throughout the year, the main Village Carnival on the May Bank Holiday Monday is held in the recreation ground opposite the garage and is a major event. At the same location, there are several events throughout the summer including a dog show and the Wheels Extravaganza which is a must for petrol heads with all types of cars and motorcycles on show, new and old.

 

If you are in need of provisions, there is a Tesco supermarket in Braunton, it is signposted but if you follow the signs for the burrows and take the third exit at the roundabout near Saltrock then you will find it. The Co-op in the centre of the village is very conveniently situated, also opens late on Sundays when Tesco’s is closed.  Cawthornes is the main large independent food shop, actually stocks some very good quality foods that you won’t find in supermarkets, great cakes and freshly cooked bread. Wensely’s newsagents near Caen Street car park has all of the papers, this is actually the old station house when the railways existed.

 

 

 

Braunton History

 

The history of Braunton is centred around agriculture and fishing up until modern times when tourism became important, the village still has a significant farming community and heritage. If you take the time to stroll around the village, you can see how agriculture formed the development, especially around the older areas such as North Street where the major old farms where situated.  The Great Field to the south of the village is a huge and incredibly fertile land that is still farmed today by families who have farmed for generations.

 

The village dates back to the 6th century when Saint Brannock established a monastery at the top of the hill to the north of the village. The ruins of the church are still visible at the top of the hill to the right as you drive out of the village towards Ilfracombe. It is believed that the original church failed, structurally and because it was at the top of a hill that took the full force of the Atlantic winds. St Brannock decided to relocate and visited a farmstead that is now the site of the new St Brannock’s church that lays on the foundations of the original. The story goes that St Brannock feel in love with some piglets at the site and decided that would be his home, still evident by a stained glass window at the church and if you have the pleasure of meeting the Reverend at the Church, she can explain more about the tale

 

The village remained agriculturally base and developed significantly with the arrival of the railways in 1874 when the Ilfracombe branch line from Barnstaple opened. This allowed Braunton to flourish as an agricultural centre where transport and plentiful and very fertile land allowed Braunton to develop a large flower growing industry on the Great Field. Large areas of bulbs were planted and harvested, a significant trade grew with the railway transporting the flowers to Covent Garden in London. The line closed in 1970 due to the impact of cars and road haulage transport, not helped by the geographical nature of the railway where there were significant climbs in certain track sections that necessitated the need for two trains to work together! 

 

Since that period, the village has evolved significantly being the major centre for tourism and specifically within the surfing industry in the area. The village has evolved from having a handful of surf shops such as Tiki, Chapter and Windjammer in the early 1980’s with small manufacturers, notably Second Skin wetsuits and various surfboard shapers.  Now, some of the names such as Tiki still exist and thrive along with several others, notably Saltrock with a significant outlet store and head offices within the village.

 

 

How Do You Get to Braunton?

 

Braunton is easily accessed on the A361 from Barnstaple, if you are coming to North Devon for the first time, follow signs for Ilfracombe on the link road as you approach Barnstaple. Be warned, Braunton is very busy, especially at tea times on week days and Saturdays and Sundays during holidays.  There are very long queues going to the beaches (mornings) and coming back from the beaches (evenings), especially during the summer holidays so expect to sit in the traffic for a short while.

 

You really have to access the beaches and Ilfracombe going through the centre of the village, there are short cuts but they have traffic calming measures that narrow the road widths down so that only cars can pass. If you are driving a van or towing a caravan, don’t even think about it. As you approach from Barnstaple, take the left turn at the traffic lights (not the pedestrian crossing) in the centre of the village and for Woolacombe and Ilfracombe, go straight on heading to Knowle. The main car park is in Caen Street, turn right at the traffic lights if coming from Barnstaple and then take the first right approximately 200 yards further on.