20 Ideas for a Devon Winter Break
Here are our favourite 20 things to do in Devon in winter, from bracing walks and pub roasts, to spa treatments and star-gazing.
1. Walk in a winter wonderland
With its beautiful beaches, pretty woodlands and charming towns and villages, Devon is stunning in the summer, but it’s even more magical under a dusting of glistening frost. Our favourite thing to do in winter is to walk to the tiny parish church of St Michel de Rupe, sitting atop Brent Tor. It’s one of the cutest churches you’ll ever see, and the views are spectacular. Around the Tor are Iron Age earthworks and the remnants of a hill fort. > Devon’s best walks
2. Curl up in front of a log fire in a thatched cottage
One of the best things to do in winter in Devon is to curl up in front of a roaring log fire, and we defy you to find a cosier place to do it than at Moorland View Cottage, our romantic thatched holiday cottage in the idyllic Dartmoor village of North Bovey. Marshmallows for toasting, wine, snacks and firewood are provided. Have a long soak in our giant copper tub, then tuck into our sumptuous king-sized bed. Bliss.
3. Try traditional artisanal Dartmoor skills
The Dartmoor Artisan Trail is a new arts and craft trail that gives visitors the chance to glimpse behind the workshop walls of the moor’s finest artisans, including blacksmiths, shoemakers and cider makers. Most of them work indoors, so make a perfect attraction for Devon winters. Watch them work or have a go yourself on one of their mini courses. > More things to do on Dartmoor
4. Go wild swimming
Nothing sets the pulse racing more than a bracing winter dip in an icy sea. Choose your beach from our guide to South Devon’s best beaches.
5. Hit the beach
If swimming in mid-winter sounds like it’s too adventurous, how about a romantic stroll along a deserted beach? Devon’s sugar-white beaches are busy in summer, but gloriously empty in winter. Mill Bay, a quick ferry ride across the water from Salcombe, tops our list, and we also love Bantham beach, Blackpool Sands and Thurlestone Sands. > Devon’s best beaches
6. Have a spa day
As a guest of Moorland View, you have complimentary membership of five-star spa at Bovey Castle, with use of its pool, sauna, Jacuzzi and steam room and up to 25% off spa treatments, food and drink. Set on a private sporting estate just up the river from North Bovey, this luxury country club has an 18-hole championship golf course, indoor swimming pool, tennis courts, fly-fishing lake, croquet lawn and archery arena - all of which you can use during a stay at our boutique Devon cottage. The 20-minute walk along the river, across old stone bridges and through woodlands, is beautiful.
7. Visit an ancient dwarf oak forest
Denuded of leaves, winter is one of the best times to see the sculptural shapes of the dwarf oak trees in Wistman’s Wood, a gnarly cluster of prehistoric trees furred with mosses and lichen. The easy one-hour walk starts from the Two Bridges Hotel, near Princetown. End with a delicious cream tea at Princehall Hotel. > More Dartmoor walks
8. Take a cookery course
Housed in one of Ashburton’s many grand merchant's houses, Ashburton Cookery School runs short cookery classes in fish and seafood, bread, and "gastro pub" style food. One of the founders has been promoting organic food since the 1980s.
9. Shoot clay pigeons
Winter is game shooting season in Devon, but if you’d rather have a go at shooting clays, Ashcombe Adventure Centre is the best centre in Devon, offering expert tuition for couples and small groups.
10. Visit a stately home
The National Trust property of Saltram House may look familiar: it was used as the Dashwoods’ pad in Ang Lee’s film of Sense and Sensibility. The grand Georgian façade has a Robert Adam interior with original Chippendale furniture, Wedgwood China and portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds. It makes the perfect Devon winter attraction. > More Devon attractions
11. Make your own gin
Plymouth Gin’s Master Distiller’s Tour includes a talk about the history of the distillery, the distillation process and botanicals used. There is an in-depth blind tasting of five gins and a distilling masterclass, where guests distil their own gin using their own combination of botanicals. Every guest is given a small bottle of their own handmade gin to take away as a momento of their experience. At the end of the experience, you’ll get to choose between a complimentary miniature of Plymouth Gin to take home or enjoy a Plymouth Gin and Tonic at the Refectory Bar.
12. 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
13. 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
14. Have a Sunday roast in a cosy country pub
Our friendly village pub, The Ring of Bells, recently reopened after being destroyed in a fire, with a like-for-like restoration that has melded medieval features with a fresh, modern feel. Sitting next to one of their log-burnings stove is one of Devon’s cosies things to do in winter. The roasts are sublime: Dartmoor-bred lamb and beef and high-welfare chicken. > Best Devon pubs
15. Indulge in a cream tea
Devon is the home of the cream tea and an essential thing to do in Devon in winter. The Endsleigh serves our favourite, with supersized offerings in a sublime setting. Just-baked scones are served up with huge, help-yourself quenelles of thick, clotted cream and gloopy strawberry jam, alongside fragrant loose-leaf tea in bone china cups. The wood-panelled drawing room has log fires and views of the Tamar Valley and there are Grade-I listed gardens which are beautiful, even in winter. > Dartmoor’s best cream teas
16. Drink in an old pirate’s island haunt
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
17. Dine at a Michelin-starred restaurant
Michelin starred Gidleigh Park is a grand Tudor-style country manor hotel, set in 107 acres of Dartmoor woodland outside Chagford. Creative menus are delivered with pin sharp accuracy, and there’s a 50-page wine list to choose from. Well worth the £100+ price tag. Work up an appetite with a walk around the Lord of the Rings-style grounds. > More fantastic Devon restaurant and cafes
18. Dine on a private island
Burgh Island Hotel is a vintage art deco pile perched atop a privately owned island just off the south Devon coast, and is much as it was when Winston Churchill, Noel Coward and Agatha Christie beat a path to its door in its 1930s heyday. Non-residents can book for black-tie evening meals and Sunday lunches. Booking essential. > More fantastic Devon restaurant and cafes
19. Go stargazing
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.
> More things to do on Dartmoor
20. Shop for local pottery, crafts, home decor and antiques
The Devon Guild of Craftsmen, in Bovey Tracey, is the largest contemporary crafts centre in the South West, displaying beautiful contemporary pieces made by West Country craftsmen in an idyllic riverside setting. For antiques, Ashburton is an elegant town, where fine slate-hung frontages house a well-to-do selection of antique shops. Pretty Topsham has a lovely array of interiors shops and an extensive antiques market on the quayside. > Devon’s best shopping