by Suzy Bennett from The Telegraph, April 12, 2017
An insider's guide to the best things to do and attractions in Devon, including visiting Salcombe, Dartmoor and Exeter. By Suzy Bennett, Telegraph Travel's Devon expert.
The pastel-coloured houses, steep streets and sandy coves of this undeniably pretty boating town attract “up country” yachtie visitors in their hundreds in the summer.
Agatha Christie’s private holiday home on the River Dart is much as it was when the crime-writer stayed here seeking inspiration for her books. First editions line the shelves, along with family photos and collections of botanical china and archaeological finds. Even if you’re not a fan, the house is worth a visit for its beautiful setting and gardens: don’t miss the peach-house, winery and fernery.
Address: Greenway Rd, Kingswear, Brixham TQ5 0ES
Contact: 01083 842382; nationaltrust.org.uk
Opening times: daily 10.30am-5pm
Admission: adults £11; children £5.50
South West Coast 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 peaceful hamlets. There are plenty of pit-stops on route, and the regular bus network means you can dip in and out as you please. The walk from Clovelly to Hartland Point is the most dramatic section on the north coast. On the south, Bantham to Salcombe has perfect beaches and jagged headlands (southwestcoastpath.org.uk).
Boat it, kayak, canoe or take the railway – the River Dart, the setting for Charles Kingsley’s fairy tale, The Water Babies, is a grown-up’s playground too. Upstream, near Ashburton, River Dart Country Park offers canoeing and kayaking through beautiful Dartmoor scenery (riverdart.co.uk).
Great for blowing away cobwebs, this 365 square-mile wilderness takes you into a world of wooded glades, open moorland, 13th-century hamlets, stone-age ruins and snug, country pubs. There’s the chance of spotting wild ponies, birds of prey, kingfishers, otters and rare butterflies. The new Dartmoor Artisan Trail takes in visits to local artisans, including beekeepers, blacksmiths and cider makers (visitdartmoor.co.uk).
Dubbed Britain’s Galapagos, this three-mile long granite outcrop off Hartland Point in north Devon is a marine reserve where divers and snorkellers can get up close and personal with seals, puffins and basking sharks. It’s also home to a great variety of resident seabirds. The MS Oldenburg sails several times a week from Bideford and Ilfracombe (lundyisland.co.uk).
Following a disused railway line, Britain’s longest traffic-free cycle route still has colourful Thomas the Tank Engine-style signal boxes and carriages on the sidings. Many areas feature in Henry Williamson’s novel, Tarka the Otter. A day-trip between Meeth and Barnstaple (26 miles) or Great Torrington (16 miles) gives a good taster, with a bus service to take you back (devon.gov.uk/tarkatrail).
Devon’s congenial capital has a fine Norman cathedral, a flourishing university, some pretty Georgian streets, a few Roman ruins and a 14th-century network of underground passages. The quayside has been attractively renovated, with antique and craft shops, cafés and pubs (visitexeter.com).
One of the oldest family seats in Devon, this imposing edifice, added to and altered repeatedly over its 600-year history, belongs to the Earl of Devon and is set in its own deer park. Tours take in the medieval core, neo-classical areas and the Victorian kitchen.
A 20-mile drive west of Salcombe, Noss Mayo could be its disinherited, but quieter, sibling, with pretty estuary views, narrow streets and the same boaty culture.
Murder-mystery fans will love the story attached to these castle ruins, where “Wicked” Lady Howard is alleged to have murdered all four of her husbands, then built a coach from their bones. Built on a precipitous hillside, the motte and bailey castle is indeed the perfect setting for a grisly crime story. Ask the staff about ghostly goings-on.
Address: Castle Lodge, Okehampton, Devon, EX20 1JA
Contact: 03703 331181; english-heritage.org.uk
Opening times: April 1-30 June, daily 10am-5pm; July 1-August 31, daily 10am-6pm; September 1-October 31, daily 10am-5pm; November 1-March 29, closed
Admission: adults £4.80; children £2.90; members free
Two Moors Way
Linking Dartmoor and Exmoor, this long-distance hike takes in Devon’s most dramatic inland scenery. Much of the trail follows a disused railway, and then switches to the Abbot’s Way, the ancient path between Buckfast and Tavistock Abbeys.
Forming a natural boundary between Devon and Cornwall, the 50-mile long Tamar is great for wildlife-orientated canoe and boat trips as its intertidal systems and ancient woodlands are home to rare birds and butterflies as well as rare lichen and orchids. There are magnificent medieval stone-arched bridges – some of which are more than 500 years old – as well as Brunel’s Royal Albert Bridge.
A coastal version of Dartmoor, and even quieter, this former royal hunting ground has heather-covered moorland, ancient woodlands and craggy shores. It has inspired artists and writers alike: RD Blackmore wrote Lorna Doone, the West Country classic, here (visit-exmoor.co.uk).
Living Coasts, Torquay
If you prefer to see your sealife without donning rubber, this giant netted aviary on the coast is home to puffins, wading birds, sea ducks and free-roaming penguins that peck at your toes. An underwater viewing gallery allows visitors to play with seals, using colourful ribbons.
Address: Torquay Harbourside, Beacon Quay, Torquay, TQ1 2BG
Contact: 01803 202470; livingcoasts.org.uk
Opening times: daily 10am-4pm
Admission: adults £13; children £9.80
Skirting the edge of Dartmoor, this 11-mile, traffic-free track from Okehampton to Lydford gives views of Okehampton Castle, Meldon Viaduct, Meldon Lake, Exmoor, Bodmin Moor and, of course, Dartmoor. You can walk or cycle it, and the Dartmoor Inn, a wonderful gastro-pub, is perfectly sited at the end of the trail (visitdartmoor.co.uk).
Known for its laid-back, hippie scene, Totnes is a smaller, more manageable centre than Exeter. A fantastic cheese shop, Riverford Organic farm shop and a bevy of tea-rooms are among the bonuses for shoppers, while the town’s castle ruins and city ramparts will satisfy history-lovers. Pretty Topsham is another option (totnesinformation.co.uk).
This National Trust property may look familiar: it was used as the Dashwoods’ pad in Ang Lee’s film of Sense and Sensibility. The seat of the earls of Morley has a grand Georgian façade and a Robert Adam interior with original Chippendale furniture, Wedgwood china and portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds.
Address: Plymouth PL7 1UH
Contact: 01752 333500; nationaltrust.org.uk
Opening times: daily 11am-4.30pm
Admission: adults £11; children £5.50
10 great Devonshire experiences
- Eat a traditional cream-tea (the cream goes on first)
- Learn to surf at Croyde (surfsouthwest.co.uk)
- Walk on the South West Coastal Path
- Sample a local ale or glass of cider, or taste some Devonshire wine (sharpham.com)
- Go letterboxing – grown-up treasure-trailing – on Dartmoor
- Cruise, canoe or catch a train along the River Dart
- Learn fly fishing (arundellarms.com)
- Go grazing at a farm shop or farmers’ market
- Eat fish and chips by the sea
- Jig along to a folk night
Expert guide to Devon