My Devon: A Tour Guide’s Favourite Destinations
Devon tour guide, Alex Graeme, knows more about the county than most. Here, he reveals his top 10 favourite Devon destinations.
1. Whiteworks, near Princetown
Good for isolation and history.
For some people, Dartmoor is all about open space, and this is one spot that has it in abundance – and it’s easily accessible too! Following Tor Royal Lane out of Princetown, the road peters out after 3.5 miles, becoming a track for hikers who wish to head out across the open moor. Shortly before one gets to the end of the road, you’ll come over the brow of the hill, and see before you Fox Tor Mire, which became Grimpen Mire in Conan Doyle’s aforementioned Baskervilles story. Park in one of the small car parks, and take one of the trails for a peaceful walk around this great bowl of marshland, or walk to the end of the road to visit the remains of Whiteworks, a former tin mining community. It’s very tranquil here nowadays, but once would have been busy with the noise of working men, striving to make a living in this isolated and sometimes very harsh environment.
Tour guide’s travel tip: to get a further insight into what life was like in this harsh area of Dartmoor, perhaps visit Dartmoor Prison Museum after you’ve been to Whiteworks, and learn about the history of this intriguing prison that’s over 200 years old and still open today.
2. Holy Trinity Church, Buckfastleigh
Good for literary culture, myths and legends.
In my line of work I visit a great many churches in Devon, especially when on family history tours with guests who are following in their ancestors’ footsteps. However, Holy Trinity Church is, to me, very special, unique as it is from the other 617 churches in Devon. It has suffered great misfortune over its 800 years, and it now stands as a gutted shell of a ruin, on top of a hill, ready to tell its tales of which it has many. The main story is about one particular man that’s buried here, this man being the one who inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to create his Sherlock Holmes masterpiece, The Hound of the Baskervilles! Well worth a visit on your own, or if you want to hear more about the Baskervilles story, you could take part in our Hound of the Baskervilles Tour (see here).
Tour guide’s travel tip: you’re in the place that inspired one of detective fiction’s most famous stories, so make sure that you bring a copy of The Hound of the Baskervilles with you and read it whilst staying on Dartmoor.
3. Anstey’s Cove, Torquay
Good for peace and beauty
It’s quite a steep walk down to this tucked away cove in Torquay (and no less steep on the way back up!), but on a still, sunny morning it can feel like one’s been transferred to a gorgeous Mediterranean cove. The views from here are quite lovely, looking across the bay to the shapely Long Quarry, with its tooth like prominence, and very rarely does it get overly busy here. It’s a great place to sit and look, something that most of us don’t do enough of, me included! There’s also a café to enhance one’s relaxation.
Tour guide’s travel tip: perhaps combine a visit to Anstey’s Cove with a trip to nearby Kents Cavern, the UK’s most important cave system. This is the only place in the World where evidence of three different species of humankind has been found!
4. Grimspound and Hameldown, Dartmoor
Good views, ancient history and walking
Having been a tour guide for nearly six years, there are many places that I visit on a regular basis. That’s not to say that I don’t love going to them though, and one place that I feel a special sense of calm at is Grimspound, the Bronze Age settlement on Dartmoor. Even on the busiest Dartmoor days I invariably find it relatively quiet, and often it’s just my guests and I that are there, alone, apart from perhaps some Dartmoor Ponies or sheep! My guests find it quite breath-taking to be here, in this place steeped in history and offering such spectacular views. For the fitter ones amongst them, we sometimes hike up the steep hill to Hameldown, the ridge that runs above Grimspound in the direction of Widecombe. The views from here are on another scale, and well worth the extra effort.
Tour guide’s travel tip: to truly appreciate the multi-layered history of this area, try to get hold of one of the small guidebooks about Grimspound - they can be purchased from one of the National Park visitor centre (at Haytor, Princetown and Postbridge).
5. The Denbury Triangle
Good for walking through Devon lanes and country pubs
Not far from Newton Abbot is an area sometimes known as the Denbury Triangle, although maybe it could also be called the Ipplepen Triangle or the Broadhempston Triangle! If one draws a triangle, using Newton Abbot, Totnes and Buckfastleigh as the three corner points, the area within is a wonderful expanse of beautiful rolling green fields, woodland, lanes and small communities. The opportunities for getting wonderfully lost in this area are great, whether in a car, on a bicycle, or on foot. You’ll never get completely lost as a pub will eventually rear up before you, whether in Landscove, Torbryan or Denbury, and one thing’s for sure, you won’t be sharing the lanes or footpaths with too many other people!
Tour guide’s travel tip: look online for some walks in this area, as there are plenty of good trails to follow, including many public footpaths.
Good for antiques, independent shops and cafes
I’ve become a very big fan of this old market town in the last five years, and bring a lot of my guests to see it. Ashburton has given itself a tremendous facelift in the last 20 to 30 years, and now ranks as one of the nicest towns in the whole of Devon. The independent shops take great pride in providing the best for their customers, whether selling clothes, comics, freshly baked bread, chocolate or fresh fish. Ashburton has a great antique scene, something that my international guests are often fascinated by, and they also love the great café culture that has developed here, with Taylors Tea Room being a favourite thanks to its quintessential English charm, fabulous array of freshly baked cakes, and very tasty Devonshire cream teas!
Tour guide’s travel tip: Sundays and Mondays are not the best days to visit Ashburton, since some of the independent shops are closed, particularly on Mondays.
7. Berry Head
Good for sea views and nature appreciation
I rediscovered Berry Head about two years ago, having not been for many years, and now I can’t get enough of it! It has history right in front of you, with its two Napoleonic forts guarding Torbay. It has beautiful sea views, and is a great place from which to observe nature, whether it’s Dolphins or Porpoises in the waters below, or Guillemots or Peregrine Falcons in the skies above. There’s also the fabulous Guard House Café where they serve up original dishes and tasty drinks. One can drive straight to Berry Head, but a favourite walk of mine is to park at Freshwater Quarry car park in Brixham, follow the footpath around the picturesque town harbour, and keep hugging the coastline (partly by road and partly by footpath) up to Berry Head. It’s a walk, there and back, of about two hours, but add some time for pausing at Berry Head and for a stop at the café.
Tour guide’s travel tip: taking your binoculars with you will give you a distinct advantage when trying to spot the wildlife at Berry Head.
8. Dartington Hall
Good for gardens, walking and shopping.
I’ve fallen for Dartington Hall for several reasons. The grounds are lovely, from the beautifully kept gardens, to the endless network of different paths one can follow around this huge estate. It is a very active place, with its Barn Cinema providing constant and varied entertainment. There are events going on all the time, celebrating the arts, literature and education. They have concerts, utilising their magnificent Great Hall, and there are three great places to eat at, including The Green Table Café where, amongst other things, the salted caramel brownies are just incredible!
Tour guide’s travel tip: I might have talked about Totnes here, but felt the need to write about somewhere a little less obvious. Totnes is nearby to Dartington Hall, so the two can be combined together in a lovely day visit, perhaps along with a visit to the Shops at Dartington.
9. Haytor (well, behind it actually…)
Good for going beyond the crowds and beautiful scenery.
Haytor cannot be described as any kind of secret place – it stands proudly at the edge of Dartmoor, visible from many miles away, luring people to visit it which they do in vast numbers. It’s wonderful there early in the morning or late in the evening, but otherwise I tend to find quieter alternatives to visit with my guests. However, there is a lovely walk that includes this great tor, but quickly leads you away from the madding crowd. It incorporates the quarries behind the tor, part of the old granite tramway, Becka Brook and Greator Rocks (and can be extended to include Hound Tor), and then circles back around, up to Smallacombe Rocks before returning via Haytor to where you started. We’ve done this walk many times, and rarely see more than a handful of people after passing Haytor.
Tour guide’s travel tip: please don’t be tempted to feed the Dartmoor Ponies here, or anywhere else on the moors. It encourages them to come closer to the road, making it more likely that an accident will happen.
10. Hope Cove
Good for beaches and coastal walking.
I discovered Hope Cove for the first time just a few years ago when my Dad had a big birthday celebration, and as a family we spent a weekend there. It instantly captured my heart, being in such a pretty and cosy location, and offering such great opportunities for coastal path walking. I remember swimming and kayaking from the two sandy beaches there, and hiking around the coast to Bolt Tail Head, where the views are quite spectacular. Needless to say, I’ve returned many times since then, and generally it has been peaceful and uncrowded. It’s certainly well tucked away, way down in the south of Devon!
Tour guide’s travel tip: bring your towel and bathing costume – you may well find the temptation of a swim too much to say no to, just like I did!
Unique Devon Tours
To find out more about more about Alex’s guided tours, please visit his website www.uniquedevontours.com, or email firstname.lastname@example.org and/or telephone 01803 812556 or 07585 928070.