Day Trip: North Devon
The Best Things To Do in North Devon
Wild and windswept, the north Devon coastline draws visitors in search of surf, seclusion and salty air. We round up the best things to do.
North Devon Towns and Villages
Concertinaed between dramatic sea cliffs, the pretty harbour town of Lynmouth, in Exmoor National Park, has an edge-of the-world feel that’s perfect for lovebirds in search of sea air and seclusion. A favourite holiday resort for the Georgians and Victorians, it was where R.D. Blackmore wrote Lorna Doone, and where poet Percy Shelley honeymooned with his first wife, Harriet, staying in the thatched 14th-century thatched smugglers’ inn, the Rising Sun. Days mean wildly romantic cliff-top and moorland walks, frolicking in sand dunes and – for the brave – a bracing dip in the sea, while evenings invite dining fireside in cosy country pubs.
With majestic vistas of the north Devon coastline, the steeply sloping chocolate-box fishing village of Clovelly (pictured above) is privately owned and a world lost in time. Traffic-free, this is an away-from-it-all escape where pleasures are simple and wholesome: coastal walks and cream teas, donkey rides and dramatic views. Pant your way up and down the steep, car-free alleyways and gawp at the cute whitewashed cottages and exhilarating sea views. The village has a small museum, craft centre and donkey rides and is on the South West Coastal path. Clovelly Court Gardens is a short walk away.
A coastal version of Dartmoor, but even quieter, this former royal hunting ground has heather-covered moorland dotted with red deer, ancient woodlands and craggy shores. It has inspired artists and writers alike: RD Blackmore wrote Lorna Doone, the West Country classic, here.
It’s not in north Devon, but this small market town of Honiton is on the way and has no less than 85 antiques dealers, selling everything from carriage clocks to leather-bound books. Most have stalls at Fountain Antiques, on the High Street, with a handful selling the lace for which Honiton was once famed. Honiton Fine Arts sells gorgeous mid-century English oil paintings, while Strummer Pink, sells colourful artwork, mirrors, lighting, rugs and blankets made by local artisans. Take a breather at rustic café Toast.
North Devon Beaches
Tunnels Beaches, Ilfracombe
Accessed via hand-cut tunnels, this Victorian rock pool is a tranquil swimming spot on the otherwise choppy north coast.
Sand, sand, and more sand. If the three-mile stretch of Saunton Sands isn’t enough, there’s the 1500-acre dune-scape of Braunton Burrows behind it
A Unesco Biosphere Reserve, this beach has 1,500 acres of dunes to play, hide or snooze in.
An epic, three-mile swathe of sand, which has oodles of space for surfers, swimmers and sunbathers – as well as a Blue Flag.
Broad Sands, Combe Martin
You’ll need a head for heights and strong legs to get to this deep, double cove, accessed down 220 uneven steps moulded out of a steeply-wooded cliff face between Watermouth and Combe Martin on Devon’s wild Exmoor coast. Once you’re down, if conditions allow, you can explore the arches, caves, island lookout and tunnels to the west of the bay, and have one of the large coves for yourself.
North Devon Walks
Valley of the Rocks
Spectacular rocks, woodland walks, tree-clad headlands with a secluded bay and a Victorian folly, and heathland high above the Valley of Rocks, with wonderful views over a dramatic landscape. In spring the woods are bright with wildflowers and birds call from gorse bushes blazing with blossom, while in autumn the colourful woodland is alive with small birds and mammals feasting on the nuts and seeds, and the fungi.
A rollercoaster walk heading north from Hartland Quay to Hartland Point, above a stretch of coastline notorious for the extensive catalogue of shipwrecks on its deadly rocks. It returns along ancient green lanes, passing through the churchyard of 'The Cathedral of North Devon', near the fifth-century saint's holy well. A good walk on a blustery day in autumn, when flocks of migrant seabirds such as skuas and shearwaters can be seen offshore, heading south. There is an optional shortcut halfway around the route, which reduces the distance to about three miles, although it still includes some steep ascent and descent.
North Devon Pubs and Restaurants
Mason’s Arms, Knowstone
The gridlock at meal times outside this remote 13th-century thatched pub in the pretty village of Rockbeare, in the foothills of Exmoor speaks volumes for the Michelin-starred pub food served within. Sloping floors and precariously low doorways mean pillows have to be strapped to doorframes to protect patrons’ heads. Typical mains at The Mason’s Arms include breast of guinea fowl with pickled grapes, cauliflower and sweet wine sauce, or Turbot cooked on the bone with sorrel sauce, kohl rabi and apple. Desserts include toffee and banana mille-feuille, and rhubarb and custard.