South Molton travel guide

What Makes South Molton Special?

  • ‍Traditional Devon market town
  • Surrounded by idyllic countryside
  • Busy pannier and livestock markets
  • Packed with family-run businesses
  • Gateway to Exmoor National Park
  • Stone’s throw from sandy beaches
  • Traditional fayres and festivals
  • Cosy country pubs
  • Famous for fresh, quality produce
  • Fine historic architecture
  • Short drive to unique family attractions

What Can We Do in South Molton?

  • ‍Shop for fresh produce at the Pannier Market.
  • Take the family for a day out at Quince Honey Farm.
  • Treat yourself to chocolates from Melchior.
  • Delve into the area’s history at South Molton Museum.
  • Indulge in a Devon cream tea at the Corn Dolly Tea Shop.
  • Pick up a Heritage Trail and discover Medieval, Elizabethan and Georgian architecture.
  • Watch sheep and cattle trading at the Livestock Market.
  • Explore South Molton Food Festivals.
  • Spot wild ponies and deer in Exmoor National Park.
  • Surf, swim and sunbathe at North Devon beaches.
  • Enjoy an evening meal at one of the area’s country pubs.
  • Meet wolves and lions at Combe Martin Wildlife and Dinosaur Park.
  • Visit the Apple Fair.
  • Have an afternoon at Watermouth Castle and Theme Park.
  • Wander through historic gardens at Castle Hill.

Where Can We Stay in South Molton?

  • ‍Book a room at one of the town’s historic inns, such as the Bell or the Stag’s Head.
  • Stay in one of South Molton’s many family-run bed and breakfasts.
  • Pitch a tent or park a caravan at Riverside Caravan and Camping Park.
  • Choose a holiday cottage in South Molton or the surrounding countryside.  
  • Book a room at the George Hotel in the town centre.

All About South Molton

South Molton is a friendly market town in North Devon, on the banks of the River Mole, near the southern edge of Exmoor National Park. It has a rich tradition as a centre for trading sheep and cattle, and the town centre still hosts a weekly livestock market. The countryside surrounding the town is some of Devon’s most idyllic, with gently rolling hills, peaceful pastureland, ancient woods and historic gardens. Holidays in South Molton are also a good opportunity to explore the North Devon coast, with vast, sandy beaches, rocky coves and fishing villages. There’s loads to do in and around the town, including shopping for fresh produce, walking, horse-riding, surfing, wildlife-watching and visiting the area’s unique family attractions.

South Molton is a typical Devon market town which hasn’t lost its rural atmosphere. An excellent pannier market is held every week, with a variety of stalls selling the best-quality produce from local farms, antiques, collectibles and plenty more. There is also a renowned livestock market, which is well worth a visit for an insight into how sheep and cattle have been traded in the town for centuries. South Molton town centre features fine Medieval, Elizabethan and Georgian architecture, which can be explored with the help of a Heritage Trail map, available at the Tourist Information Centre. A graceful church stands in the heart of the town, with an avenue of lime trees and a bell tower dating back to 15th century. The town square is surrounded by family-run businesses such as the Cheese Larder, which sells a range of local cheeses, Bon Bons old-fashioned sweet shop and Melchior, selling award-winning chocolates by Swiss chocolatier Carlo Melchior. The Corn Dolly Shop is a must for a delicious Devon cream tea, and there are a number of welcoming pubs, including the George and the Coaching Inn, serving good food and local ales. South Molton and District Museum is in front of the market, on Broad Street, with exhibitions on the town’s agricultural heritage. On the edge of the town centre, Quince Honey Farm is a lovely family attraction where you can watch beekeepers at work, explore the world’s biggest honey bee exhibition and pick up a jar of locally produced honey.

North of South Molton, Exmoor National Park is an enchanting expanse of windswept moors, wooded valleys, towering cliffs and rocky bays. The park is a paradise for walking, wildlife-watching and horse-riding. Scenic footpaths and bridleways crisscross the park, with spectacular views of the coast and countryside, and the chance to spot deer and wild ponies. Inland villages such as Simonsbath and Brendon are home to thatched cottages, trickling streams and rustic pubs, while the coast is scattered with harbours and sleepy villages such as Porlock, Lynton and Lynmouth.

The North Devon coast is a short drive from South Molton. Croyde, Saunton and Woolacombe are all long, sandy beaches backed by dunes, where surfing, swimming and sunbathing are popular activities. The resorts of Combe Martin and Ilfracombe are also nearby and perfect for a day of sandcastle-building, crab-hunting and nostalgic seaside amusements. South Molton is also close to some of Devon’s best family attractions. Combe Martin Wildlife and Dinosaur Park is a half-hour drive away with wolves, lions and animatronic dinosaurs. Watermouth Castle and Theme Park is a great day out for the whole family. And the Lynton and Barnstaple Railway offers steam-train rides through stunning countryside.

South Molton History

There have been people living in the South Molton area since Saxon times, when the settlement’s name was Dumnania, with a population of roughly 650. The Doomsday Book showed it to be a significant community with the unusually high number of six priests. South Molton was developed around the church, and a square was created in the Middle Ages. The church that stands in the heart of the town today is dedicated to St Mary Magdalene and is approached by an avenue of Lime Trees. It is thought to be the third church to be built on the site and dates back to the 15th century. Gilbert de Turberville founded the borough in around 1150. The town’s museum houses Royal Borough charters granted by Elizabeth I in 1590 and Charles II in 1684, and the charters are commemorated at the Olde English Fair every summer.

Hugh Squier played an important role in shaping the history of South Molton. Aged 29, having made his fortune in London, he bought the lordship of the manor of South Molton and feudal position entitled him to the tolls and fees from markets and fairs held in the town. In 1686, Squier paid for the construction of grammar school, which became known as Hugh Squier’s Free School. He left a considerable amount of money to the Corporation of South Molton for cleaning and repairs in the town. There is a portrait of him in the mayor’s office a stone bust of on the façade of the same building.

South Molton thrived as one of North Devon’s most important centres for trading wool. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the town gradually became a hub for transport, administration and services in the area. The Town Hall, schools and Assembly Rooms were built, and South Molton filled with new businesses to serve the town’s growing number of residents and visitors.   

Tourism grew with the development of local roads and the opening of a railway station, which was permanently closed in 1966 when the line between Barnstaple and Taunton was shut. In more recent decades, tourism has become an important part of the town’s economy, partly thanks to its location on the edge of Exmoor National Park and a short distance from the north coast’s sandy beaches. The Square is still surrounded by family-run businesses and a market is held on Thursdays and Saturdays. South Molton’s architecture includes many fine Elizabethan, Georgian and Medieval buildings, which can be explored using the Heritage Trail.

How Do You Get to South Molton?

South Molton is 26 miles from Tiverton Parkway Railway Station, which has direct trains to London and Cornwall. It is 11 miles from Barnstaple Railway Station, which is connected to Exeter by the Tarka Railway Line. Tiverton and Barnstaple can both be reached using the local bus service. South Molton is also served by Mega Bus and National Express coaches to London, Bristol and Cornwall.

Driving to South Molton from the east, exit the M5 onto the A361 for Tiverton and Barnstaple, before taking the exit for South Molton. Alternatively, follow the scenic A39 along the Bristol Channel coast before turning left to South Molton via Simonsbath, through Exmoor National Park. From the west, follow the A39 to Barnstaple, join the A361 towards Tiverton and take the exit for South Molton.

South Molton’s nearest airport is Exeter, a 50-minute drive away with flights to cities across the UK and Europe. Bristol Airport is a 90-minute drive away, with a greater variety of routes. Travellers from further afield will probably need to fly to London and hire a car or take public transport to get to South Molton. Heathrow is London’s most convenient airport for travelling to Devon. Travellers from western Europe may also want to consider taking the ferry from northern Spain or France to Plymouth, which is a 90-minute drive from South Molton.