Summer Holiday Ideas For Devon
Climb a Dartmoor tor, North Bovey
For a heady shot of invigorating country air and instant perspective on your surroundings, take the two to three-hour walk up Easdon Tor, the hill you see from the main bedroom window in the cottage. From the top you’ll see 360-degree views of Dartmoor and be kept company by wild Dartmoor ponies who come here to graze. Details on how to walk from the cottage are in the back of this folder.
Take to the skies
Take a hot air balloon flight over beautiful Dartmoor, or down to the south coast with local company Aerosauraus. A group ride from either Ivybridge or Exeter (both half an hour's drive away) costs £125 per person, and has a maximum of 16 other passengers. Flights are twice daily.
Undeniably pretty, the pastel coloured houses, steep streets and sandy coves of this boating town attract ‘up country’ yachtie visitors in their hundreds in the summer.
Boat up the River Dart
Winding its way from Dartmoor to the port of Dartmouth on the South Devon coast, the Dart is grown-up’s playground in the summer, with yachts and pleasure boats plying between beaches, historic sites, villages and vineyards. Take a trip on one of the boats, or on the UK’s last remaining coal-fired paddle steamer, returning home after 47 years. For a picnic with a difference, hire a private boat up the Dart. You can stop off in little bays to go crabbing, or take a vineyard tour at Sharpham. There’s cover in case of bad weather.
Rent a thatched holiday cottage
There’s nowhere more romantic to stay during an English summer than a thatched holiday cottage. Moorland View Cottage, in the 13th century Dartmoor village of North Bovey, is perfect for summer breaks. The cottage has a beautiful walled garden ringed with honeysuckle and clematis and filled with the blooms of Old English roses. The village has a wonderful pub with a sunny pub garden, and with 385 square miles of wilderness on the doorstep, it’s easy to find a spot for yourselves, even in the height of summer.
Have lunch at the River Exe café
Our favourite alternative-eats venue, at least on a sunny day, is the new River Exe Café a floating shed-cum-pontoon moored off Exmouth. Serving seafood dropped off by passing fishing boats, the sea-to-plate interval can be as little as five minutes. Get there on the new Topsham to Exmouth cycle path, then catch a water taxi to the café. Closed winter. Booking essential.
Try stand-up paddle surfing
Try stand-up paddle surfing down the river Avon from Aveton Gifford all the way to the river mouth at Bigbury - about three miles. It's a great way to see scenery and wildlife - herons, ducks and kingfisher upstream, waders, gulls and oystercatchers. There's a walking route if you don't fancy getting wet.
Enjoy a waterside tipple
A waterside pub makes summer complete, and we defy you not to fall in love with the 17th-century Waterman’s Arms, overlooking tinkling Bow Creek, near Tuckenhay. Hidden away at the bottom of a steep valley, the streamside tables are perfect for savouring a pint of the fine Palmer’s Copper Ale. The lunches, sourced from local suppliers and served under an outdoor awning, attract foodies from as far away as Exeter and Plymouth. Another enticing option is the Maltsters Arms(01803 732350; tuckenhay.com) in Tuckenhay. On the River Dart, it has its own jetty and is big on open fires in winter and guest beers all year round.
Take a tour of a vineyard, Totnes
Award-winning Sharpham vineyard offers regular tours. The views of River Dart and Capability Brown-designed hillsides are spectacular. Book ahead.
Go sea kayaking, Dartmouth
Sea kayak outfit Sea Kayak Devon run trips to otherwise-inaccessible coves and caves along the south coast. Watch out for seals trying to hitch a lift!
Eat crispy squid at The Beach House, Thurlestone
This weather-beaten clapboard shack overlooking the dramatic sea arch of Thurlestone is right on the beach, making it a perfect pit stop for a coastal walk. Crab cakes, crispy squid and bacon sandwiches are served up on rustic wooden tables in an amiable atmosphere. Check ahead for opening times.
Discovery Surf School offer lessons for beginners through to advanced surfers from their base in Bigbury-On-Sea all year round. A two-hour beginner lesson is £38.
Bask on the beach
It’s hard to choose from the array of beauties on the south coast, but Mill Bay, a quick ferry ride across the water from Salcombe, tops our list for being seaweed-free and warmed by the sun all day. In the summer, it gets busy, so take an Ordnance Survey map to walk to quieter coves further up the coast, or hire a tender boat from town. Further west along the coast, at Bantham beach, wetsuits outnumber bikinis on south Devon’s only surf beach. Look out for stand-up paddle surfers, a quirky new take on the sport. Lannacombe Sands is a local secret. This small, sandy horseshoe cove near Kingsbridge, is at the end of a long dirt track and only has space for six cars, so get there before 10am and you’ll be assured a spot, even in the height of summer. North east along the coast from Salcombe, nestled below wooded cliffs, is Blackpool Sands, a mile-long, privately owned sweep of shingle. By day, swimmers can practise their dives from a floating dock; at sunset, the café serves beach BBQs. Beware, it attracts families in their droves during the school holidays. For a beach with history, Slapton Sands is the place to go. More than 600 US servicemen were killed on this three-mile stretch of shingle when German E-boats attacked their D-day rehearsals. A Sherman tank on the sand commemorates them.
Have a romantic tête-à-tête in Grade-1 listed gardens
Built in 1812 as the holiday home for the Duchess of Bedford, Georgiana Russell, this is a wildly romantic verdantly-gardened Eden between Dartmoor and Exmoor.Wander around hotel’s romantic Grade-1 listed gardens, with shell houses, grottos and hidden glades for a romantic tête-à-tête.
Swim in The Dart at Spitchwick
The leafy setting, the clean water (that brown colour is healthy peat) and the sheer fun of Spitchwick justifies its popularity. There’s a gorgeous swimming and picnic spot with a high corner pool, a deep, tranquil lower corner pool for serious swimmers; and a cliff for daredevil jumpers. It can get busy on a hot day as families gather to picnic on the common, and parking can be a problem - get there early for a space, or walk the half-mile from the car park at New Bridge.
Go canoeing or kayaking, Ashburton
The River Dart is the most popular canoeing destination in the national park and the white water is considered by many canoeing enthusiasts to be amongst the best mid-grade runs in the west. The River Dart Country Park runs guided excursions.
Eat in a field kitchen
Food doesn’t get fresher or more local than at Riverford Field Kitchen, the organic farm that is home to the famous veg box scheme. Enormous bowls of hearty homespun fayre is served up on long tables in a wonderfully convivial atmosphere. Booking is essential.
Fish for your supper
Dartmoor is renowned for its sparkling clean rivers teeming wild brown trout, sea trout and salmon. If you have a licence, stretches of the East and West Dart Rivers may be fished on the purchase of a Duchy of Cornwall permit, available at the post office at Postbridge. Fingle Bridge is another beautiful spot; the Fingle Bridge Inn sells daily permits (01647 281287; finglebridgeinn.com). Dartmoor also hosts stunning lakes and reservoirs surrounded by towering tors. Information is available from the South West Lakes Trust on 01837 871565. www.swlakestrust.org.uk. Bovey Castle runs private fishing lessons.
Swim in a stream-fed pool, Chagford
Just a ten-minute drive from North Bovey, this pool can't be far from heaven. Swallows nest in the changing rooms and dive-bomb the swimmers, and with the sound of the river Teign running past stepping stones, it's as relaxed as a swimming pool gets.It’s river fed, so is chilly.
Go butterfly spotting
A two-mile stretch of woodland that runs along the River Teign from Clifford Bridge to Steps Bridge, Dunsford Nature Reserve has 20 species of butterfly including the rare pearl-bordered, high-brown and silver-washed fritillaries. Look out for woodland birds, as well as wagtails and dippers and the occasional kingfisher. The river walk is also wonderful for spring flowers.
Horse ride across the moor
Shilstone Rocks Stables, in Widecombe in the Moor, is the most safety conscious stable around, and offers hacks in small groups tailored to experience. Also very good, and slightly cheaper, is Babeny stables, who do two-hour hacks for £30.
Walk the South West Coastal Path
Britain’s longest footpath traces the north and south coasts of Devon, offering easy access to wild and windswept cliffs, secluded sandy coves and tiny hamlets. The three-hour walk from Bolt Tail, near Hope Cove, to Bolt Head, near Salcombe, is the wildest and most romantic stretch, offering perfect beaches and jagged headlands. For a longer winter walk, start further up the coast at Bantham, and stop off fora delicious fish lunch at The Beach House, a wonderfully romantic clapboard restaurant directly on the beach at South Milton Sands. > Devon’s best walks
Take a road trip
There’s no better way to blow away the cobwebs than with a drive across the high moor. The circuit to Widecombe, Buckland and around to Ashburton takes in 14thcentury churches, clusters of granite and thatched cottages, gurgling brooks and ancient bridges.
Walk a Dartmoor gorge
Taking in a fairytale castle, oak-lined gorge, ancient stone bridge and traditional pub, this two-hour walk along the Teign River is classic Dartmoor. Hunter’s Path runs higher up the valley, while Fisherman’s Path traces the spectacular wooded riverbank path, where kingfishers and woodpeckers dart between shaded pools, and trout, salmon and otters frolic in deep, clear waters. The small rocky beaches are perfect places for picnics and toe-dipping. Look out for glimpses of Prestonbury Castle Iron Age hill fort on the other side of the valley. At the bottom of the gorge is the age-old Fingle bridge, which has recessed buttresses for packhorses to pass. Behind it is Fingle Bridge Inn, which serves a mean cream tea and has a pretty terrace overlooking the river.
Eat fish and chips by the sea
The Beach House, on Thurlestone Sands, is weather-beaten clapboard shack overlooking the dramatic sea arch of Thurlestone is right on the beach, making it a perfect destination for a wintery Devon coastal walk. Crab cakes, crispy squid and bacon sandwiches are served up on rustic wooden tables in an amiable atmosphere. Over on Dartmouth harbour, the Rockfish Grill, run by celebrity chef Mitch Tonks, serves some of the best fish and chips in Devon. The menu includes locally-landed scallops and oysters, along with classics such as jellied eels, cockles, cracked crab and potted shrimp. > More fantastic Devon restaurant and cafes
Have a pint on a private island
The Pilchard Inn is a creaky, weather-beaten smugglers inn dating from 1336 oozing with swashbuckling history: ask about the pirates’ escape tunnel. Getting there is all part of the fun and makes an adventurous winter attraction. Perched on the tiny, tidal outcrop of Burgh Island, surrounded by sandy beaches and choppy seas, it’s cut off from the mainland twice a day, making it the ultimate romantic Devon place to visit. When the seas have parted, it’s a short walk across the spit. When the waters start coming in, a high-sided ‘sea tractor’ ferries passengers. > Best Devon pubs
With clear, dark nights, Dartmoor is a fantastic place to view the night sky, with the Milky Way often clearly visible, especially in winter. Grab some cosy knits, a blanket, torch, picnic rug and bottle of wine and head to the top of Hound Tor, one of the most atmospheric and easily accessible spots to view the night sky.