Wadebridge on the River Camel is perfectly placed for exploring North Cornwall, its beaches, attractions and restaurants

With three bridges crossing the River Camel, Wadebridge is perfectly placed for exploring North Cornwall's many delights. We visit the town and discover the attractions of this increasingly popular town

With its open spaces, imaginatively designed river frontage, solidly constructed Victorian town houses and a distinct lack of quaint cottages and narrow streets, this magical town doesn't quite fit the stereotypical Cornish picture-postcard image. But Wadebridge has an allure of its own that keeps attracting visitors and people who want to live there.

The Trail passes through a lush green river valley surrounded by trees and rolling farmland; head the other way and it meanders along the southern bank of the Camel Estuary alongside wading birds and sandbanks all the way to Padstow

Set at the end of the River Camel's upstream tidal reach, Wadebridge is dominated by two man-made structures. Between them they have ensured the strategic and commercial importance of the town for centuries. One structure is old, the other relatively new. The older, built in 1468, was the only bridge across the River Camel upstream from the estuary at Padstow. Little changed for the next 500 years or so until a second bridge, soaring high across the river, was built to carry traffic on the A39 'Atlantic Highway' as it bypasses the town. Even so, travellers wanting to cross the River Camel between Wadebridge and the sea must use one of these two bridges (or the smaller footbridge across the river 500 yards upstream from the old stone bridge), or find a friendly boatman.

Around town

One of Cornwall's newer towns, Wadebridge was granted a charter in 1312 to hold a market and fairs. However, in its early days it was the river crossing and not the town that attracted most attention. Even before the first bridge was built it was the only crossing place on the river between the town and the sea. Two chapels - St Michael's on the west bank and King's Chapel on the other side: one in which to pray for a safe crossing and the other in which to give thanks - suggest crossing was not always a safe experience.

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One of the town's biggest attractions is its location on the 18-mile-long Camel Trail. From high on Bodmin Moor the trail, one of Cornwall's most visited attractions, meanders along the riverbank through some of the county's most beautiful and little explored countryside before picking up the route of the long-gone Bodmin to Padstow railway line, which passed through Wadebridge. Little remains of Wadebridge station apart from the old booking office and waiting rooms that now serve as the Betjeman Centre in memory of Sir John Betjeman who lived in the town.

With its ample car parking, central position on the Camel Trail and excellent bike hire outlets, the town is crammed in summer with visitors, children and dogs intent on exploring one of Cornwall's main tourist attractions. Passing through Wadebridge town centre, the trail, with its flat and well-maintained surface, is a year-round attraction popular with bird watchers, walkers, cyclists, horse riders and nature lovers. And don't worry if you've left the bike at home - there are plenty of local outlets ready to lend you a set of wheels.


Where can we stay?

There are plenty of places to stay in and around Wadebridge. Though most of the town accommodation falls in the guest house/B&B category there is a town-centre hotel and several others in the surrounding villages.

The 16th-century Molesworth Arms Hotelin the town centre, is within walking distance of the Camel Trail and bike hire outlets and offers comfortable accommodation in a typically Cornish setting.

Three miles out of town in a sheltered wooded valley is the Hustyns Resort Hotel. Superb rooms, a great restaurant, modern art gym, indoor pool and a beauty centre will all help brush your cares aside.

With outstanding views across the estuary toward Padstow, the St Enodoc Hotelat Rock, five miles from Wadebridge, offers accommodation of an exceptional standard and first-class food.

There are scores of B&B from which to choose. Built in 1790, Giles Cottagehas a beautiful garden; and the B&B at Trevorrick Farmhas a swimming pool and tastefully furnished rooms, typical of the standards to be found in this enchanting area.

For camping and caravanning enthusiasts, just take your pick. Little Bodieve Holiday Parkis right on the outskirts of town, while the manicured Laurels Holiday Parkis just across the road from the Royal Cornwall Showground. Head towards the coast and there are camping and caravanning sites at almost every turn.


Shopping in Wadebridge is also a relaxing activity. From wide pedestrianised Molesworth Street to the newer shops clustered around the redeveloped riverside quay, there's something for everyone. Choose from trendy clothes shops, arts, crafts and antiques stores, surf shops, outdoor outfitters, furniture, kitchens and interior specialists.

Eating out

Though it's set back a little from the coast, Wadebridge is still something of a culinary hotspot. Lovers of fish and chips will not be disappointed if they visit Barneys (01208 812389) while La Mesa (01208 813362), with its cosy lighting and gypsy music, serves up an authentic taste of the Mediterranean.

Five miles out of town is St Issey where you'll find The Journeyman, the only non-Indian restaurant in Cornwall included in the 2007 Cobra Good Curry Guide, offering exquisite Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese dishes as well as great curries. Finally, the exciting L'Estuaire (01208 862622) in Rock may be a bit further away but is well worth the drive. Cornish proprietor Emma and her French husband and chef Olivier provide the personal touch and outstanding cuisine.

Things to do

The Camel Trail is probably the most popular attraction in the area. To enjoy it all you need is walking boots or a bicycle. Head towards Bodmin and the Trail passes through a lush green river valley surrounded by trees and rolling farmland; head the other way and it meanders along the southern bank of the Camel Estuary alongside wading birds and sandbanks all the way to Padstow. It's the perfect way to check out the wildlife, walk the dog or just relax in beautiful surroundings.

For a special treat why not take in the latest blockbuster at the Regal Cinemain the town centre. It may not be a big multi-screen complex, but it shows all the latest releases and has the most comfortable chairs imaginable. Culture vultures will also find Pencarrow Househard to resist. With woodland walks, children's play area, craft and gift shop, this listed Georgian house has a superb collection of pictures, furniture and porcelain.

Wadebridge also has riverside bowls, tennis courts, an indoor swimming pool and a leisure centre with squash courts, fitness room and solarium. And when Betjeman wrote about the pleasures of seaside golf, he was writing about this area with the renowned courses at Trevose and St Enodoc just down the road.

Three things to take home

Try a little local tipple. The Camel Valley vineyard may be six miles away but its prize-winning wines from locally grown grapes are more than worth the trip.

Typically Cornish saffron buns from baker Malcolm Barnecutt's in Molesworth Street are sure to put a smile on your face when you get home - if they last that long.

What about a photograph? Tristan's Gallery in Molesworth Street exhibits fine photographic art by new and established photographers, and stocks an interesting range of historic and modern images.