Swiftshore to come back home?

April is a month to be looked forward to; a month when the veil of winter has finally started to retreat, and spring manages to get a foothold. It is also the month that the ferry from Instow to Appledore once more starts its daily run back and forth across the estuary for locals and tourists alike.

There has been a ferry of some kind between Appledore and Instow for centuries, taking a shortcut from one side to the other rather than having to go all the way upstream to the bridge. But it was not until Appledore developed and the railway came to Instow in the 1850s that it really became an important means of transport. Michael Johns explains the history and associated tales of the ferries delightfully on his website.

This is a photo from the North Devon Maritime Museum of Norman Johns; the Appledore-Instow ferryman in the 1960, and 70’s.

One such tale is about the ferry Swiftshore, built in 1952 to accommodate increased passenger demand while the Power Station at Yelland was being constructed. Swiftshore had the capacity to carry 36 passengers. She would start at 7.30am with the paper run and then be busy with workers off to the power plant, and tourist traffic. On quiet days she would take pleasure trippers up and down the river. Early evening, she would be in demand again as a ferry when once again the river commuters would hail a lift. The early 50s were the busiest the ferry had ever experienced in passenger numbers, and within a year Swiftsure was paid for.  

Swiftsure ferry at work in the summer months in the 60’s and 70’s – photo courtesy of the North Devon Maritime Museum FB.

When the power plant was built demand fell away, and a smaller boat replaced Swiftshore during the winter months. In the winter Swiftshore was refurnished ready for the summer tourist trade. Trade dropped severely with the closure of the railway, and after that, the ferry relied upon tourists crossing for amusement and the joy of being on the water on a fine day.

A modern-day Instow-Appledore ferry

Swiftshore has retired, her predecessors continuing to offer a short cut across from Instow to Appledore and back (2024 ferry timetable.). However, there are plans to bring her back to Appledore, renovate her and keep her as part of a growing fleet of renovated boats providing a tactile touch stone from the past to the present along the Torridge estuary. She is currently in the Isle of Wight, but The Johns family of Instow and Appledore are investing in her return and a space has been promised for her at Rolle Quay. This website will keep you up to date on this exciting progress.