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BARNSTAPLE, at the head of the Taw estuary, makes an excellent North Devon base, being well connected to the resorts of Bideford Bay, Ilfracombe and Woolacombe, as well as to the western fringes of Exmoor. The town's centuries-old role as a marketplace is perpetuated in the daily bustle around the huge timber-framed Pannier Market off the High Street, alongside which runs Butchers Row, its 33 archways now converted to a variety of uses.
The Museum of North Devon (Mon– Sat 9.30am–5pm; free) holds a lively miscellany that includes a collection of the eighteenth-century pottery for which the region was famous. The museum lies alongside the Taw, where footpaths make for a pleasant riverside stroll, with the colonnaded eighteenth-century Queen Anne's Walk – built as a merchants' exchange – providing some architectural interest and housing the Barnstaple Heritage Centre (April– Oct Tues– Sat 10am–5pm; Nov– March Tues– Fri 10am–4.30pm, Sat 10am–3.30pm; £3.50), which traces the town's social history by means of reconstructions and touch-screen computers.
Set in Edwardian Style building dating from 1900; luxury hotel is situated adjacent to the River Taw at the edge of town.