This little town on the Torridge Estuary is an emerging alternative to North Devon’s better-known surfing hotspots. Words: Lesley Gillilan
Not only is this the one place in Britain with an exclamation mark tacked onto its name, but Westward Ho! also has the unusual distinction of being named after the title of a book. Borrowed from a best-selling 1855 novel by Charles Kingsley, the name was coined as part of a bid to promote this Atlantic-coast backwater as a popular seaside resort.
The exclamation mark stuck and there are good reasons to express surprise on a first encounter with Westward Ho! Three miles long, backed with a distinctive pebble ridge and merging into the salt marshes and grassy plains of the Northam Burrows Country Park, the beach is a cracker. Indeed, you have to ask why it’s been so overlooked in favour of Croyde and Woolacombe, surfer hotspots on the other side of the estuary. Okay, so the only thing cool about Westward Ho! is Hocking’s ice cream, but that’s beginning to change. Luke Williams, estate agent at the local branch of Stags, moved here a few years ago and has seen a steady increase in incoming buyers. Aside from the coastline, most are attracted by affordable homes in the triangle of small towns formed by Westward Ho! and its Torridge neighbours, Bideford (a traditional market town) and Appledore (an old port with a fishing-village vibe) – all within three miles of each other. All have seen a resurgence in recent years, says Luke.
With seaside apartments popping up on the seafront, alongside cafés and restaurants and Appledore’s bohemian shops and galleries, Westward Ho! is ‘buzzing’ he adds.
WHERE TO BUY
The town is largely made up of post-war bungalows, park homes and new-build apartments, none of which will win any beauty contests but many offer fabulous views. The medieval river port of Appledore is older and prettier, with narrow streets of colourful cottages and some splendid detached houses – remnants of the town’s heyday in shipbuilding and fishing (industries that still survive). Bideford Old Town has attractive streets of Georgian townhouses and Victorian terraces or head for ‘East the Water’ for fine views of the river.
Generally much cheaper than the towns north of the Torridge. Even in Appledore, the most expensive of the three places, the cost of substantial detached properties rarely tops £700,000 (buy four-bedroom houses for around £400,000). In Westward Ho! you can buy a spectacular sea view for less than £500,000. Bideford has the bargains: roomy town cottages go for a squeak over £150,000; or buy a Grade II-listed townhouse with four bedrooms and river views for under £200,000. In any of the three places, you can rent a three-bedroom house or a two-bed contemporary apartment for £650 a month or less.
Surf the waves off Westward Ho!’s blue flag beach, sail out of Appledore, follow rock-pool rambles and nature trails in the Northam Burrows, cycle along the Tarka Trail, or walk the coast: the North Devon footpath between Westward Ho! and Hartland (on the Cornish border) is stunning. In summer you can hop aboard the MS Oldenburg from Bideford Quay for a day trip to Lundy Island. Popular local watering holes include The Pier House (thepier-house.co.uk) in Westward Ho! and The Seagate (theseagate.co.uk) in Appledore. For more information, see northdevon.com.
What you gain here in affordable house prices, you pay for poor public transport – a car is a must. The nearest train station is at Barnstaple, a 15-minute drive away, and for those who need a regular city fix it’s over an hour’s drive to Exeter. The journey to London takes between four and five hours by road or rail, but if you are heading for, say, North Cornwall, it’s a breeze along the A39. Exeter International is the nearest airport.
With no secondary school in Westward Ho! older children make their way to nearby Bideford, either to Bideford College or co-ed independent Kingsley School.
The old-school charm of Westward Ho! is slightly marred by a disproportionate amount of prominent new-build holiday apartments. Inside, however, the views are priceless.
Among new developments currently on offer in the area, Lighthouse View plans to add terraces of beach-hut style holiday homes to the shoreline at Westward Ho! And on the east side of Bideford, Cleave Wood’s collection of glassy, futuristic homes – with millionaire price tags – deserves an exclamation mark of its own.
PAY A VISIT
Horizon View (0330 1346758, bluechipholidays.co.uk)
This is Horizon View’s apartment 15, ¬one of a collection of modern holiday apartments and penthouses offered by Blue Chip Holidays in Westward Ho! On the first floor, the colourful, beachy apartment has two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a roomy lounge-diner with sliding glass doors with a veranda and spectacular views of Golden Bay. Short breaks are priced from £425.
CAN YOU AFFORD IT?
Westward Ho!: £283,608
Average house prices source: Rightmove [April 2022]