Superb eateries, hidden coves and creeks, wildlife-spotting
galore and excellent surfing are just a few of the many reasons to visit this
The Unesco Biosphere Reserve in north Devon, Braunton Burrows, is the UK’s
largest dune system. Paths wind past sandy hummocks, saltmarshes and rich plant
life. It was also the main training area for American troops before D-Day and
mock landing craft are still hidden in the dunes near the car park at its
southern tip (open year round; free).
Slapton Sands, a two-mile pebble beach in south Devon, is
backed by Slapton Ley National Nature
Reserve, the largest natural lake in the southwest – the narrow strip of
road between the two makes for some superb walking. Fringed by reed beds and
woods, the ley is alive with flora and fauna – look out for yellow iris, tufted
ducks, great crested grebes, pochards and, if you’re lucky, otters (open year
Twelve miles off the north coast, tranquil Lundy Island, thought to mean “Puffin
Island” in Old Norse, is renowned for just that. In May and June, puffins nest
on the island’s 400ft cliffs, but other wildlife on the little island includes
Lundy ponies, sika deer and Soay sheep, while basking sharks float by offshore.
Pack a swimsuit because wardens lead snorkelling safaris (ferry day return from
Bideford or Ilfracombe £35).
Culture and sights
By the River Dart, Greenway
was Agatha Christie’s holiday home between 1938–76. It opened to visitors in
2009 and part-guided tours allow you to wander between rooms where the
furnishings and knick-knacks are much as she left them. The boathouse made an
appearance as a murder scene in Dead Man’s Folly (Greenway Road; entrance £9).
Cobbles are everywhere in the fishing village of Clovelly: they smother houses, garden
walls and the steep lanes, giving the village the feel of flowing down the hill
to the sea. It’s privately owned and you have to pay to get in at the visitor
centre, which leads to a cobbled lane too steep for cars. Fisherman’s Cottage
recreates the interior of a 1930s village house and Kingsley Museum pays
tribute to The Water Babies author (£6.50, includes entrance to museums).
Take an art tour at the Barbican,
Plymouth’s old harbour, which has provided inspiration for artists for decades
and has a scattering of galleries that line the streets. The murals of painter
Robert Lenkiewicz (1941-2002) still dot the Barbican, while his huge The Last
Judgement is outside Pannier Market. Plymouth-based Beryl Cook (1926-2008) is
famed for her cheerful depictions of large brash ladies in a variety of
Barbican scenes – head to the Dolphin Hotel pub, which she immortalised in several
Eating and drinking
Tucked into a deep fissure of rock, ancient Beer is a picturesque fishing village.
Multicoloured, snub-nose boats line its sloping pebble beach and piles of crab
and lobster pots lie scattered around. Beside the Sea Hill slipway a
fishmonger’s shack, Beer Fish, sells the catch, allowing you to enjoy
handpicked crab (£5 a tub) for a picnic on the beach where it was landed.
Twenty miles from Barnstable, the 13th-century thatched pub The Masons Arms – Knowstone, isn’t
your standard rural boozer – it comes with a Michelin star. Dishes include duo
of brill fillet with potato crust, and red mullet with salmon mousse sausage.
Despite that star and the cookery masterclasses (£52.50), it’s still a village
local at heart (Knowstone; closed Mon; mains from £17.50).
Just off the seafront, The Orange Tree, Torquay, is
award-winning brasserie that takes the best local fish, meat and game, and
gives it the continental treatment. Expect dishes such as Brixham crab bisque
with king scallops and rump of West Country lamb with cherry vine tomatoes and
black olive tapenade jus (14-16 Parkhill Road; closed Sun & Mon; mains from
Exeter is Devon’s main transport hub, with flights
into its airport from Aberdeen, Belfast, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester,
Newcastle and Norwich (from £88). Trains
and buses connect Exeter with the rest of the UK – trains from London take
from 2¼ hours (from £28), while buses take from four hours
(from £11). Most visitors come to the southwest by car and it’s certainly the
best way to get around, although traffic can be heavy in high season. For
details of public transport options, see Traveline
for local bus, coach and train timetables.
Where to stay
The laidback Durham House sits in the
centre of the village of Beer. The eight rooms are decorated with reclaimed
pine furniture, while the rest of the b&b is full of turn-of-the-century
charm (Fore Street; from £74).
Not so much a room with a view, more a view with a room. Set
on Clovelly Quay, the Red Lion Hotel
dates from the 18th century and each of the 11 rooms has a nautical theme, with
Lloyd Loom-style furniture (The Quay; from £136).
At the Cary Arms in
Torquay, the neutral tones are jazzed up with candy-striped cushions, balconies
overlook the beach and children are given a fishing net on arrival.
Self-catering cottages are also available (Babbacombe Beach; from £175).
The article 'Mini guide to coastal Devon' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Traveller.