Devon is one of England’s best loved counties. Not only has it given us the cream tea, Agatha Christie thrillers and world class cider, it is home to pristine moorland, incredible beaches, and bustling cities. Covering a large chunk of the South West, Devon is so diverse in its charms that you may be confused about which part is right for your holiday, so we’ve compiled this handy guide to exploring Devon to help you decide.
North Devon stretches from Lynton and the Exmoor Heritage Coast in the north, to Barnstaple in the west, and down as far as Chulmleigh and Witheridge in the south. It’s easily reached by the M5 and well served by trains via Bristol from London and the north. You can easily leave the office on Friday and be sitting with your feet up in front of a magnificent view by dinner time.
North Devon’s beaches offer something for everyone whether you’re a keen surfer (Croyde Beach), after somewhere family friendly (Westward Ho!, Putsborough, and Widemouth Bay), taking your dog (Summerleaze), or want somewhere secluded to explore (Wild Pear, Woody Bay, or Lee Bay). Tunnels Beaches in Ilfracombe is a Victorian wonder and well worth the small entry fee. If it’s wet or you fancy something other than sunbathing, swimming, or surfing, North Devon’s shopping is a real treat, especially in Bideford and Barnstaple.
You can’t ignore the history of North Devon. Merthoe near Woolacombe was mentioned in the Doomsday Book, while Ilfracombe is a picture-perfect Victorian seaside town. The quay in Clovelly is more than 600 years old and is bursting with tales of pirates and smugglers.
The Tarka Trail is a thirty mile cycle route taking you from Braunton to Meeth through gorgeous countryside. Push yourself and complete the entire trail with a break for lunch at one of the area’s fantastic pubs and restaurants, or just stretch your legs on a few miles of it. You can see a full map of the route at Braunton’s Tourist Information Centre.
South Devon is well deserving of its reputation as the English Riviera. It boasts warm weather and 22 miles of stunning coast which more than rivals the northern part of the county for beaches and attractions. Teignmouth is popular with families both for the clean beach and impressive Victorian pier, while South Milton Sands is so clean that it’s not unusual to see dolphins and seals splashing around offshore. Paignton is another family friendly town with a well preserved Victorian pier and an excellent park catering for kids of all ages.
South Hams is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a must-see if you appreciate the outdoors. It’s fringed by both coastline and the Dartmoor National Park, but is also jam packed with history including Totnes Castle and Buckfast Abbey. Even better, it has some of Devon’s finest pubs and restaurants where you can satisfy the gigantic appetite you’ll build up by delving into the South Devonian landscape.
If you’re after a typical British seaside holiday then South Devon will deliver it in buckets and spades. Beaches, ice cream, steam trains, amusement arcades, shopping, eating… it’s all waiting for you here. Totnes has a laid-back, alternative vibe where over a thousand years of history gives it a magical feel. Newton Abbot will give your wallet a work out and is particularly lively on race day; and if you want to go upmarket then head for Kingsbridge with its vineyards and sailing.
Lush fertile countryside is one reason Devon milk and cream is so delicious. You’ll see it for yourself in Mid Devon – much of which is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Tiverton is the largest town in the region and the ideal base from which to access all of Devon. It’s a nature lover’s paradise, especially along the eleven mile Grand Western Canal. Bampton, Crediton and Cullompton are all charming and will leave you wanting to return.
The Blackdown Hills area is staggeringly beautiful. It’s a breathtaking mix of pasture, forest, farmland, valleys and plateaus and perfect for exploring on foot or by bicycle. You’ll feel like you’ve stepped back fifty – even two hundred and fifty! – years in time, in some places as it’s so removed from the noise and grime of modern life.
It’s virtually impossible to eat badly in Mid Devon. The region is renowned for the quality of its produce. The Otter Valley Dairy in Honiton serves award winning ice-cream with such a wide choice of flavours you’ll have to make more than one visit. Fresh seafood is easily obtained at Topsham Quay and Salcombe Harbour; and Tea on the Green in Exeter is arguably the best atmosphere in which to enjoy a cream tea, as you can watch the goings on in Cathedral Square from your vantage point in this Elizabethan building. Regular farmers markets are held in Crediton, Tiverton and Cullompton, allowing you to buy directly from the producers.
There’s always something interesting going on in Devon. March is the start of lambing season and you can’t beat the arrival of spring for a feast of natural beauty. Music festivals start in June and continue through the summer. Dartmouth Week is held in the third and fourth weeks of August and provides a spectacular sight with all sorts of boats racing for a prize. Dartmouth also runs an outstanding food festival at the end of October; and you can fill everyone’s stockings at the Christmas markets in Exeter, Plymouth, Newton Abbot, Totnes, and Torquay.
Devon has no “best” side – every corner is absolutely glorious. We could simplify it and say head for North Devon if you’re the active sort, mid Devon if you like to eat well, and South Devon for a postcard perfect beach holiday, however that would be an unfair generalisation as all parts of Devon can give you the relaxing and reviving break you’re searching for.