Here’s an itinerary for one way to spend a week’s holiday in North Devon. Of course, there’s lot’s more to see and do in the area but this should ensure you arrive home with a host of memories and a desire to return to this unspoiled corner of England.
Assuming the itinerary is sufficient to lure you, it also includes recommended holiday cottages in the area for you to consider. Of course, you can only choose one so please accept our apologies for spoiling you for choice!
Sunday: Buckets, spades and culture.
Start your day in the Victorian bucket and spade resort of Ilfracombe. You’ll find plenty of shops piled high with beach equipment – pick up a windbreak while you’re at it. Wander down to the town’s harbourside to visit ‘Verity’, Damien Hirst’s towering statue of a sword-bearing pregnant woman (taller than the Angel of the North) who stands guard at the pier head. Stop off for a snack or full-blown lunch at the Bistro on the Quayside – another Damien Hirst establishment.
Bonus Beaches: Just around the corner to the east of Combe Ilfracombe is Combe Martin with three lovely beaches: the town beach (superb rock pooling), Wild Pear and Broadsands - the latter two incurring the burning of a few calories to gain access.
Then, with your beach equipment at the ready, choose between an afternoon on the Tunnels Beaches in Ilfracombe, or jump in the car for ten minutes and head for the long sandy beach at Woolacombe.
The Tunnels Beach is accessed, as the name implies, by tunnels hewn through the hillside by Victorian engineers to reach a sandy cove with sea water pools refreshed daily by the incoming tide.
Woolacombe Beach is a 3-mile long sandy beach just perfect for sandcastle building, beach cricket, surfing and bodyboarding. Woolacombe itself is a lively village, popular with surfers and consequently bristling with trendy surf-clothing shops, bars and restaurants.
If the beach isn’t your thing today, then head inland to the Broomhill Arts Hotel and Sculpture Gardens near Muddiford. The sculpture gardens comprise an eclectic and ever-changing exhibition of contemporary sculptures set in beautifully landscaped gardens in a wooded riverside valley. The food and the restaurant are equally inspiring, giving added appeal to visits around lunch and dinnertimes.
Monday: Lose Your Shirt on a Sheep: The Big Sheep
The Big Sheep in Abbotsham just outside Bideford is a great place to spend half a day. A family theme park, it’s all about sheep. In the spring you can watch the lambing, marvel at the sheepdog demonstrations, go wild in ‘Ewetopia’, a huge indoor playpark, or place a bet on the sheep racing where very fit sheep with woolly jockeys strapped to their backs race around a short course. An each-way bet on Red Ram or Sheargar should reward you with enough money to stand the family an ice cream.
Combine a trip to The Big Sheep with an hour or two bodyboarding at Northam Burrows or go rock-pooling followed by a dip in the seawater pool or play a round of crazy golf at nearby Westward Ho!
Recommended Place to stay: Southclay in Abbotsham
Tuesday: Walkies: The South West Coastal Footpath
No visit to North Devon is complete without spending a day sauntering the South West Coastal Footpath, a 500-mile long trail from Minehead to Poole. The North Devon section offers stunning clifftop views across the channel to the Welsh Coast.
Locals like to start their walks from a pub car park, a long cool drink and hefty portions of home-cooked pub food giving added incentive to the return leg of your perambulation. This being the case, here are a few good pubs from which to start your journey:
The Grampus – a pet and family friendly pub in Lee Bay. Walk from here to the lighthouse at Mortehoe and back.
The Blue Ball Inn. Situated at the top of Countisbury Hill above Lynmouth, take a tour of the Foreland Peninsula.
The Rising Sun at Lynmouth. (Using the town car park). Cheat a little to start with and take the imfamous cliff-railway to Lynton and walk west from there along the coast path through the Valley of the Rocks to Lee Abbey Beach.
Recommended place to stay: Seascape - Woolacombe
Wednesday: A Day Trip to Lundy Island
Actually, sailings to Lundy Island from Ilfracombe or Bideford are not necessarily tied to a Wednesday, so you may need to alter your itinerary around sailing days. That being said, it’ll be worth the effort. For most of the year the MS Oldenburg (affectionately known to its regular passengers as the much-loved ‘Old n’ buggered’) will convey you serenely down the coast to where Lundy Island stands at the gateway to the Bristol Channel. During the summer one or two historic sailing vessels, such as The Balmoral or The Waverley, a Victorian paddle steamer, join the Oldenburg.
It’s about a two-hour cruise to Lundy. Once there, you’ll have ample time for lunch in the Island’s pub and a bracing stroll around the perimeter taking in a couple of lighthouses and various Georgian, Victorian and World War military fortifications. If you’re lucky you may even find debris from a German Heinkel that crash-landed in 1941. Lundy is awash with a wide range of seabirds, but look out for the puffins in particular with their colourful beaks. Lundy even has a shop. It supplies provisions to the number of holiday homes on the Island and essential souvenirs for lovers of Lundy, which you surely will be when it’s time to walk back to the slipway and your ship back to the mainland.
Recommended place to stay: Dolly’s Barn @ Higher Mullacott Farm
Thursday: Hit the Tarka Trail
A day to re-discover the joys of cycling - or long walks without hill climbs. The Tarka Trail is an estuary and riverside foot and cycle path running from Braunton along the Taw estuary to Barnstaple, thence to the other side of the Taw and along the Torridge estuary to Bideford. From Bideford the Tarka Trail follows the River Torridge through idyllic countryside passing Great Torrington (see Saturday) all the way to Meeth. The good news is that, although the route is some 30-40 miles long each way, you don’t have to cycle all of it! You don’t even need to bring your own bikes, as there are very reasonably priced cycle hire establishments to be found in Braunton, Barnstaple, Bideford and Torrington.
A favourite trip by locals is from Barnstaple to Instow. Stop at Fremington Quay where the café serves the most wicked hot chocolates with marshmallows and whipped cream. At Instow, take a beach picnic, or lunch at The Wayfarer or The Boathouse. You can even take a ferryboat across the water to the fishing port of Appledore and lose yourself in the maze of tiny streets discovering little arts and craft galleries. But, whatever you do, ensure you leave time enough to enjoy a large cornet of Hockings ice cream sold from a 1950’s van on the Quays at Instow and Appledore. It’s simply the best ice cream in Devon. If you’re really in need of extra calories ask for a ‘girt dollop’ of local clotted cream to go with it. At least you can work it off when cycling the return leg of your journey.
Recommended Place to Stay: North Yeo, Instow
Friday: Timeless, Wild and Wonderful: Clovelly and Hartland Quay
Head for the furthermost corner of North Devon today to discover the delightful fishing village of Clovelly and the wildest of coastlines at Hartland Quay where massive Atlantic rollers crash into England in huge plumes of spray.
Clovelly, it has to be said, is a popular tourist attraction so avoid the busier times of the day. It’s a timeless village of ancient white-painted cottages clinging to a steep hillside leading down to a small fishing harbour and shingle beach. The writer, Charles Kingsley, wrote ‘The Water Babies’ while staying here. No cars run through the village – only people and donkeys. However, there is a side road on which runs a Landrover passenger service for those too daunted by the journey back up to the car park. For those that reach what must be one of the most photographed harbours in the UK, the Red Lion pub stands ready to welcome those in need of sustenance.
After Clovelly, head further west through the village of Hartland to Hartland Quay to spend a contemplative hour or so, just watching the angry sea crashing over the rocks on this wild and dramatic corner of Devon. Storm-bent iron bones of long-distant shipwrecks can still be seen scattered across this part of the coastland. If the weather isn’t so good (often the best time for wave-watching) then retire indoors to the Hartland Quay Inn (there’s always a pub handy in Devon when you need one), which offers a good range of local ales and food for hungry visitors. If you’ve still time, take in a visit to enjoy the house and gardens at historic Hartland Abbey. You’ll be following in the footsteps of Prince William who enjoyed his stag weekend here.
Recommended Cottage: Crooked Lake, Parkham
Saturday: Souvenir Shopping in Style.
If it’s a Saturday it’s probably time to return home. However, don’t waste the day in traffic. Enjoy a little more of North Devon until the afternoon when the outgoing rush has subsided. Instead, visit Great Torrington to acquire some quality souvenirs of your visit. Great Torrington is a lively hillside town, steeped in history. The town square still has some delightful local shops and the view from the castle ramparts of the Taw Valley (where maybe you puffed your way along by bicycle on Thursday) is simply stunning. Once you’ve explored the town, head for Dartington Glass. This is the factory where all the famously fabulous crystal glassware is produced. Watch the glass blowers in action on the factory floor and then head for the factory shop to pick up some Dartington Crystal bargains.
Next stop is the Royal Horticultural Society’s Rosemoor Gardens, 65 acres of intoxicating beauty set against the backdrop of a wooded valley. Woodland walks, formal gardens, herbaceous borders, water features and play areas will appeal to all the members of your family. Enjoy a fine al fresco lunch here and the opportunity to pick up a shrub or plant or two from the nursery.
These are just a few of the many things you can enjoy or experience in North Devon. Actually, there’d still have to be some omissions if you came to stay for a month at any time of the year. Equally, if you’re tempted to visit, but would like to be even more spoiled for choice when it comes to choosing a holiday cottage, check out the list of Devon cottages on My Favourite Holiday Cottages’s Devon page
Recommended Place to Stay: The Garden Cottage, Great Torrington