Tiverton is a busy market town, in mid Devon, right at the heart of the Exe Valley. From here you can explore the whole of Devon. You can visit the contrasting coastlines of north and south Devon, as well as seeing the two varied moorlands of Dartmoor and Exmoor. It is handily placed for visiting Devon’s two largest cities: Exeter and Plymouth. The town has a small, part-pedestrianised shopping area with a cinema, there are an abundance of charity shops in the heart of the town, and some excellent markets, including the recently redeveloped Pannier Market. Here is my guide to things to do in Tiverton.
Tiverton was a Saxon settlement from as early as the 7th Century. Its name was originally Twyfyrde, meaning the town of two fords, as it forded both the Exe and the Lowman. These rivers provided a source of power for the town when it became the centre of Devon’s wool trade.
Things to do in Tiverton
Tiverton Castle is the remains of a medieval castle which was converted into a country house. It was the seat of the Earls of Devon for several centuries. The castle has a three acre garden to explore, and lots of interesting architecture. There are exhibitions and displays which chart the history of the building. Children can try on some armour, as well as learning about secret passages and sightings of ghosts.
The Tiverton Museum of Mid Devon Life is hosted in a former schoolhouse and contains the largest collection of social history memorabilia in the South West of England. It has exhibits describing the social and economic history of the region and displays about industry, agriculture and transport. One of the popular exhibits is a steam train known affectionately as ‘The Tivvy Bumper’. It is a family-friendly museum with free entry to under 16’s. Children are given explorer backpacks to help them explore independently as they learn all about everyday life in the area.
Just north of Tiverton is one of my family’s favourite National Trust properties. Knightshayes Court at Bolham is a magnificent Gothic Victorian house, with fantastic gardens and great woodland trails to explore. We can let off our dog on the long woodland walks and enjoy picnics by some beautiful ponds. In the walled kitchen garden you can see the food growing before it is served up in the Stables Cafe. The house has a medieval hall with gargoyles, a chapel, and loads of great rooms to explore. There is also a great shop and a small second-hand book shop. The standout feature for my family is the fantastic play area. The Four Oaks Play Area was opened in 2016 and is based around four fallen trees which were felled by high winds in 2014. The fallen trees now include tree houses, rope swings and a tunnel bored through the trunk of one of the trees. My children love this play area. It is natural looking, mildly risky and perfect for imaginative play. The best news about the play area is that although it’s on Knightshayes parkland, it is outside of the pay barrier so it is free to use for everyone.
Devon Railway Centre is a great day out for families. Visitors can have unlimited train rides around the centre as well as enjoying lots of train-related activities. Children can clip tickets and wave the flag to start the trains, as well as exploring the large model railway. The under-cover model railway exhibition has hands-on controls, and a well-constructed model village, with both night and daytime scenes. The attraction hosts a whole lot of family activities in one place. As well as the trains and the model trains, there is a play shed with a soft play area, a ghost train and a small bumper car ride. There is also a cafe and a place to play a round of mini-golf.
Just off the M5 is an attraction called Diggerland, where fans of diggers can spend a happy few hours. There are various fun things to do with diggers and construction machinery, including a chance to try to knock over skittles with a wrecking ball! You can ride on diggers and dumpers, dig for treasure with a mini-digger, or sit inside the Spindizzy to be whirled around in the air.
Places to eat and drink
The Trout Inn is a beautiful thatched pub in the nearby village of Bickleigh. This pub has all the looks and charm you’d expect from a great Devon country pub. With real ales and excellent food, this pub is a winner.
The Hartnoll Hotel is a great place for a gourmet treat. The restaurant is open to non-residents throughout the day and evening. Food here is of the highest quality, with fresh, locally sourced ingredients imaginatively put together. It is the sort of place where you know that the chefs really take pride in their work. As well as the main restaurant, there is a lovely conservatory where light lunches are served and even a welcoming sitting room where you can enjoy a Devon cream tea.
A great cafe bistro in the town centre is Frou Frou. This place is very popular with the locals, both in the daytimes, when it is a great cafe, and in the evenings when it is a bar and restaurant. They have decorated the 17th Century building with a Parisian Jazz-age look, which makes for a great atmosphere. The bar specialises in Spanish and Italian beers, making a night here quite the Mediterranean affair. There is even live jazz every other Thursday evening.
The Mad Hatters is on the main street. This cafe bar is one of the most popular venues in town. There is a full Breakfast menu, as well as Paninis, Baguettes, Melts and Quesidillas. The owners describe their food as ‘English with a Mediterranean Twist’. The building is a three-story Georgian Town house which has been decorated well. It has a relaxed outside space which is very popular in the summer months.