Coordinates: 51°03′N 4°10′W / 51.050°N 4.167°W / 51.050; -4.167
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Village and civil parish
The centre of Instow, as seen from Appledore
Instow is located in Devon
Location within Devon
Population706 (2011 Census)[1]
OS grid referenceSS472302
• London218 mi (351 km)
Civil parish
  • Instow
Shire county
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Postcode districtEX39
PoliceDevon and Cornwall
FireDevon and Somerset
AmbulanceSouth Western
UK Parliament
List of places
51°03′N 4°10′W / 51.050°N 4.167°W / 51.050; -4.167
Instow railway station in 2018

Instow is a village in north Devon, England. It is on the estuary where the rivers Taw and Torridge meet, between the villages of Westleigh and Yelland and on the opposite bank to Appledore. There is an electoral ward with the same name. The ward's total population at the 2011 census was 1,501.

There is a small river beach and sand dunes, that home some rare species of orchid including the pyramid orchid.[2]

The Tarka Trail passes through Instow, providing an easy means for people to arrive on foot or by bike. This section of the Trail is also part of the South West Coast Path, offering longer walks along the coast.

The village is served by the Church of St John the Baptist, which has 13th/14th-century origins and is a Grade I listed building. A chapel of ease, All Saints, was built in 1936 and is now also used as a community centre.[3]


Instow is mentioned in the Domesday Book as having two ploughlands and 66 acres (27 ha) of meadow, pasture and woodland.[4] The name of Instow derives from Anglo-Saxon of St John's Holy Place, which would have been Johnstow, or Jonestow.[5][6] The suffix Stow, denotes a holy place in the Anglo-Saxon language, and the name is found in many places across Devon which had a church (Churchstow, Christow, Virginstow).[7] The original settlement was on the high ground opposite the more modern site of the village low against the riverside.[8] This is where the 14th century Church of St John the Baptist is located, near to the Instow Community Primary School.[9][10]

The parish was formerly in the hundred of Fremington, some 3 miles (4.8 km) north-east of Bideford,[11] and 6 miles (9.7 km) west of Barnstaple.[12] In 1889, a directory described the village as being 218 miles (351 km) from London, and on "the high road from Bideford to Barnstaple."[13]

Before the arrival of the railway in 1855, the village was quite small consisting of two sets of cottages, one by Lane End, and the other set next to the quay.[14] The quay was built c. 1620, and is a grade II listed structure.[15][16] The village hall, which was built in 1911, was formerly known as Rifle Hall, as it was used to train soldiers on rifle drills for the First World War.[17] Military training in the Second World War included practise D-Day landings with walls built into the dunes near to Instow. These were removed quite quickly after the war had ended.[18][19]

Instow Railway Station[edit]

Instow Signal Box

The line opened from Barnstaple to Fremington in 1848, and then passenger trains ran from Barnstaple to Bideford from 2 November 1855 after the Bideford Extension Railway reached Torrington and a station was built at Instow. The line was further extended to Torrington in 1872. Passenger services ceased on 2 October 1965 although ball clay traffic continued until 1982.[20][21]

Instow has a famous railway signal box, which is over 130 years old and was the UK's first Grade II listed signal box. It used to control the signals at Instow Station and also the operation of the level crossing. You can see the wheel that operated the gates, pull the signal levers, one of which still operates a signal, and generally learn how the box worked. In 2003 the box was nationally recognised for its restoration and educational value by receiving the Carillion Rail Award at the National Railway Heritage Awards. The signal box is now managed and run by volunteers of the Bideford Railway Heritage Centre and is open to the public on occasional Sundays and Bank Holidays.[22]

Instow Beach[edit]

Instow Beach, overlooking River Torridge and A39 Torridge Bridge

Instow Beach also known as Instow Sands, is used widely during summer months at the peak of the tourist season. The beach is suitable for families as it enjoys few waves because of the sandbanks at the mouth of the estuary cancelling out most of the ocean swell. However, bathing water quality has regularly failed Environment Agency mandatory standards over the last few decades.[23][24][25]

There is a large number of boats anchored on the sand. Many are only accessible at low-tide or via a dinghy or what is locally known as a tender. Windsurfing and kite surfing have become popular, taking advantage of the open position and calm waters. Canoeing and kayaking in the rivers to Instow beach is also popular.[26]

Leading lights[edit]

The rear of the two leading lights at Instow.

In 1820 a pair of leading lights was established at Braunton Burrows to help guide vessels entering the Taw Torridge Estuary from Bideford Bay.[27] Designed by Joseph Nelson, they were known as the Bideford High and Low Lights.[28] When the ground they were on became unstable they were demolished (in 1957) and replaced by a new pair of leading lights at Instow. Initially the rear light was supported on a tubular steel structure (since replaced by a steel lattice structure)[29] and the front light on a wooden structure, which was irreparably damaged in a storm in January 1990 and likewise replaced by a steel lattice tower.[30] Both lights remain operational and are managed by Trinity House.

RM Instow[edit]

Near the village is RM Instow, a military installation operated by the Royal Marines; the main unit which uses the camp is No. 11 (Amphibious Trials and Training) Squadron.[31]


The parish and built-up area had a population of 786 at the 2011 Census,[32] which had dropped to 706 by the time of the 2011 Census.[1] The ward had a population of 1,501 in 2011.[33] The area is represented at Parliament under the North Devon.[34]

Notable people[edit]

Instow features prominently in the 1919 novel Last of the Grenvilles by Frederick Harcourt Kitchin (under his pseudonym, Bennett Copplestone)

Bus services[edit]

Instow is served by frequent Stagecoach services 21/21A between Georgeham/Ilfracombe, Barnstaple, Bideford and Westward Ho!/Appledore daily.[39] These connect at Barnstaple with trains to Exeter and buses towards Exeter and Tiverton and at Bideford with buses towards Okehampton, Holsworthy and Hartland. Instow is also served by Stagecoach service 5B between Barnstaple, Bideford, Torrington, Winleigh, Crediton and Exeter and National Express coach services to London, Heathrow Airport, Taunton, Bristol and Birmingham.[40]

Ferry service[edit]

Panoramic view of Instow Beach

During summer a ferry service operates across the Torridge estuary from Instow Quay to Appledore slipway.[41] The service runs two hours either side of high tide. Aimed both at locals and users of the Tarka Trail / South West Coast Path this has been operated in recent times as a not-for-profit service on days when water levels in the estuary have been high enough.


  1. ^ a b UK Census (2011). "Local Area Report – Instow Parish (E04003096)". Nomis. Office for National Statistics. Retrieved 3 November 2022.
  2. ^ "Sand Dunes" (PDF). North Devon District Council. p. 1. Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 September 2011. Retrieved 1 September 2009.
  3. ^ "All Saints Chapel and Community Centre". A Church Near You. Retrieved 1 November 2019.
  4. ^ "Instow | Domesday Book". Retrieved 3 November 2022.
  5. ^ "Instow :: Survey of English Place-Names". Retrieved 3 November 2022.
  6. ^ Hesketh, Robert (2008). Devon place names. Launceston: Bossiney. p. 22. ISBN 1899383980.
  7. ^ Stanes, Robin (1986). A history of Devon. Chichester, Sussex: Phillimore. p. 35. ISBN 0850335280.
  8. ^ Lauder, Rosemary Anne (1982). Villages of North Devon. Bideford: Badger. p. 30. ISBN 0946290008.
  9. ^ "Instow". Retrieved 3 November 2022.
  10. ^ Historic England. "Church of St John the Baptist (Grade I) (1107600)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 3 November 2022.
  11. ^ "Genuki: Instow, Devon". Retrieved 3 November 2022.
  12. ^ "Parishes: Ide - Jacobstow | British History Online". Retrieved 3 November 2022.
  13. ^ Kelly's Directory of Devonshire. London: Kellys Directories. 1889. p. 274. OCLC 1131686133.
  14. ^ Lauder, Rosemary Anne (1982). Villages of North Devon. Bideford: Badger. p. 28. ISBN 0946290008.
  15. ^ Historic England. "Instow Quay Jetty (Grade II) (1107594)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 3 November 2022.
  16. ^ Lauder, Rosemary Anne (1982). Villages of North Devon. Bideford: Badger. p. 29. ISBN 0946290008.
  17. ^ McDonald, Pat, ed. (1990). The Devon village book. Newbury: Published jointly by Countryside and the D.F.W.I. p. 125. ISBN 185306078X.
  18. ^ Andrews, Robert (2013). The rough guide to Devon & Cornwall (5 ed.). London: Rough Guides. p. 191. ISBN 9781409361121.
  19. ^ "Devon & Dartmoor HER". Retrieved 3 November 2022.
  20. ^ Thomas, David St John (1981). The West country (5 ed.). Newton Abbot: David & Charles. p. 97. ISBN 0-7153-8210-1.
  21. ^ Clark, Daniel (7 February 2021). "Devon and Cornwall's lost and abandoned railways - and how some will return to life - Some of these lost railway routes could be restored". Retrieved 3 November 2022.
  22. ^ "Instow signalbox". Retrieved 3 November 2022.
  23. ^ "Bathing water quality". Environment Agency. 15 October 2012. Archived from the original on 24 December 2012.
  24. ^ "Instow Beach Bathing Water Profile" (PDF). Environment Agency. February 2011. Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 December 2012.
  25. ^ Elliott, Valerie (24 August 2007). "One in eight beaches polluted by flood sewage". The Times. No. 69099. p. 27. ISSN 0140-0460.
  26. ^ "Instow Beach | Visit Devon". Retrieved 3 November 2022.
  27. ^ Woodman, Richard; Wilson, Jane (2002). The Lighthouses of Trinity House. Bradford-on-Avon, Wilts.: Thomas Reed. p. 207.
  28. ^ "Lighthouse management : the report of the Royal Commissioners on Lights, Buoys, and Beacons, 1861, examined and refuted Vol. 2". pp. 94–95.
  29. ^ "Instow Rear Lighthouse". Trinity House. Retrieved 28 May 2019.
  30. ^ "Instow Front Lighthouse". Trinity House. Retrieved 28 May 2019.
  31. ^ "Royal Marines amphibious trials base remembers D-Day". Royal Navy. 10 May 2019. Retrieved 3 November 2022.
  32. ^ UK Census (2001). "Local Area Report – Instow Parish (18UE031)". Nomis. Office for National Statistics. Retrieved 3 November 2022.
  33. ^ UK Census (2011). "Local Area Report – Instow Ward (as of 2011) (E05003549)". Nomis. Office for National Statistics. Retrieved 3 November 2022.
  34. ^ "Instow CP". Retrieved 3 November 2022.
  35. ^ Australian Dictionary of Biography
  36. ^ Instow War Memorial
  37. ^ Foot, David (28 October 2009). "David Shepherd obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 November 2020.
  38. ^ Gray, Anne (7 May 2012). "Norah Simpson: Biography". Design and Art Australia Online. Retrieved 30 October 2012.
  39. ^ "Stagecoach Bus Timetable". Retrieved 21 May 2021.
  40. ^ Andrews, Robert (2013). The rough guide to Devon & Cornwall (5 ed.). London: Rough Guides. p. 180. ISBN 9781409361121.
  41. ^ Philip's street atlas Devon. London: Philip's. 2008. p. 15. ISBN 9780540094943.

External links[edit]