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The centre of Instow, as seen from Appledore
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 of Appledore. There is an electoral ward with the same name. Its total population at the 2011 census was 1,501.[1]

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 by foot or on 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.[3] A chapel of ease, All Saints, was built in 1936 and is now also used as a community centre.[4]

Instow Railway Station[edit]

Instow railway station in 1969

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. The line was further extended to Torrington in 1872. Passenger services ceased on 2 October 1965 although ball clay traffic continued until 1982. The track was finally removed in 1985.

Instow Signal Box

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.

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.[5][6]

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.

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.[7] Designed by Joseph Nelson, they were known as the Bideford High and Low Lights.[8] 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)[9] 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.[10] 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.

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.[13] 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.

Ferry service[edit]

Panoramic view of Instow Beach

During summer a ferry service operates across the Torridge estuary from Instow Quay to Appledore slipway. 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. ^ "Ward population 2011". Retrieved 21 February 2015.
  2. ^ "Sand Dunes" (PDF). North Devon District Council. p. 1. Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 September 2011. Retrieved 1 September 2009.
  3. ^ Historic England. "CHURCH OF ST JOHN THE BAPTIST, Instow (1107600)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 1 November 2019.
  4. ^ "All Saints Chapel and Community Centre". A Church Near You. Retrieved 1 November 2019.
  5. ^ "Bathing water quality". Environment Agency. 15 October 2012. Archived from the original on 24 December 2012.
  6. ^ "Instow Beach Bathing Water Profile" (PDF). Environment Agency. February 2011. Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 December 2012.
  7. ^ Woodman, Richard; Wilson, Jane (2002). The Lighthouses of Trinity House. Bradford-on-Avon, Wilts.: Thomas Reed. p. 207.
  8. ^ "Lighthouse management : the report of the Royal Commissioners on Lights, Buoys, and Beacons, 1861, examined and refuted Vol. 2". pp. 94–95.
  9. ^ "Instow Rear Lighthouse". Trinity House. Retrieved 28 May 2019.
  10. ^ "Instow Front Lighthouse". Trinity House. Retrieved 28 May 2019.
  11. ^ Foot, David (28 October 2009). "David Shepherd obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 November 2020.
  12. ^ Gray, Anne (7 May 2012). "Norah Simpson: Biography". Design and Art Australia Online. Retrieved 30 October 2012.
  13. ^ "Stagecoach Bus Timetable". Retrieved 21 May 2021.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°03′N 4°10′W / 51.050°N 4.167°W / 51.050; -4.167