North Devon has the perfect mix of amazing coastline, beautiful countryside and activities on the doorstep. It offers a slower pace of life for those who seek it or adrenaline inducing activities such as surfing and coasteering. There are restaurants and coffee shops aplenty and activities for all tastes and generations. Exmoor is on the doorstep along with the South West Coast Path and cycling routes. There are indoor and outdoor activities for all the family including adventure parks, railways, museums, wildlife parks and so on. Whilst we have tried to capture a lot of these on this site it is by no means an exhaustive list and there is plenty more to explore. A lot of the time the fun is finding a new place, a secluded cove, tea room or village.
Below we have included information about Towns and Villages, Local Attractions, Exmoor and the North Devon Coast. Further information can be found on the Visit Devon website, the Devon Guide and the Blue Chip Holidays Guide to North Devon (Blue Chip is a sister company of Cottages.com). England's Coast is also a good resource for the wider region.
North Devon Towns and Villages
There are many pretty towns and villages in North Devon with loads on offer in terms of attractions, history, food and drink. We have provided a few details on some of these below (with specific details on visitor attractions in a separate section).
Appledore is within waking and cycling distance of Westward Ho! It is a quaint village built on the traditions of fishing and shipbuilding which continue today (a large, privately owned indoor shipyard continues to employ many local people). It is a maze of cobbled streets housing an array of independent shops selling antiques, trinkets and local crafts, as well as art galleries, restaurants and pubs. Pictures of Appledore show off its pastel-coloured houses and the quay where you will find information about boat and fishing trips and the foot passenger ferry over to Instow (worth a visit in its own right – see below) where you can then pick up the Tarka Trail. The Appledore and Instow regatta is held annually in the Summer . A great rainy-day option is the North Devon Maritime Museum where you can discover more about the fascinating seafaring history of Appledore – in Elizabethan times Appledore was, along with Bideford, the largest importer of tobacco.
Bideford is the closest town to the apartment for high street shops. There are lots of independent shops and cafés and a covered Pannier Market Hall flanked by Butcher’s Row, a row of 24 shops all under cover with a diversity of shops and art studios often with crafts people at work. Market Place is a row of seven shops alongside one of the main entrances to the Market which have traditional Victorian exteriors with large windows and sell a wide range of products from fishing tackle and collectables. Beyond the main town is an outlet centre called Affinity (formerly Atlantic Village - turn right onto the A39 as you emerge from Westward Ho!). Bideford is about far more than shopping though. It is located on the river Torridge and was once Britain’s third largest port and the 14th century bridge is a focal point of the town. Bideford Quay is beautiful by night with chains of street lights and its Christmas lights are second to none! Victoria Park is a beautifully landscaped park in the centre of town which has an outdoor playing area for young children that includes a paddle pool (summer only). Bideford is also the launch pad for other days out. On the East-the-Water side of the river you can pick up the Tarka Trail and the quay is one of the docking points for the MS Oldenburg which takes passengers over to Lundy Island (see below). Aside from the quay, Bideford was once the site of many mines that specialised Bideford Black which was used to make mascara and other beauty products until the mines closed. You can still see the seam where it emerges from the rocks at Abbotsham Cliffs although today there’s virtually no trace of the mine heads or tunnel openings.
Clovelly is one of the best known, most picturesque and most unusual villages in North Devon as it clings to a 400 foot cliff. Vehicles are not permitted on its steeply cobbled street. Only pedestrians, donkeys and sledges are allowed – all deliveries for people living in Clovelly have to be taken down the hill by sledge. The fishing village is built up of traditional 16th century whitewashed cottages many with beautiful small gardens and hanging baskets. The village is based around a small working harbour and 14th century quay – it is the only safe harbour between Boscastle in Cornwall and Appledore. The harbour once sheltered up to sixty fishing boats that relied on the herring fishing industry. Clovelly can be reached via a challenging 12 mile walk from Westward Ho! or is of course accessible by car or bus.
Croyde is known as the surfing capital of North Devon but is also well set up for families. There are plenty of places to hire equipment and arrange lessons. It’s also a good base for walking trails further north up the coast such as Baggy Point. The village hosts a Deckchair Cinema during the summer months in the village hall which is always very popular so do book in advance.
Mortehoe is a small cliff top village which provides access to a different part of the coastline and walks up to Morte Point and Bull Point. There are a number of local beaches – Grunta Beach and Barricane Beach. The Barricane Beach Café is craned onto the beach in the Summer. In the evenings the café serves authentic Sri Lankan dishes and you are encouraged to bring a bottle of wine and sit and watch the sunset
Combe Martin is in some of the most scenic countryside and claims to have the longest main street of any village in the country the street winds along the valley for more than two miles. It is bordered by Exmoor National Park to the east and the North Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to the west. Combe Martin Bay offers a safe place for many activities and all ages. It has some of the best rock pools in the area and you can hire kayaks and paddle boards in the village. As with most coastal villages the South West Coast Path passes through and you can hike along to Great Hangman, the tallest sea cliff in mainland Britain, or follow the 230 hidden steps down to Golden Cove (2.5 miles North West in Broadsands). Sea fishing is also popular from the bay, with course fishing nearby too. There’s an informative museum highlighting the village’s heritage which also organises children’s craft and Seashore Safaris.
South Molton is known as 'the gateway to Exmoor' and is the hub of an area full of tea shops where you can enjoy a Devon cream tea. It has a lively pannier market and an award-winning museum in the 18th century Guildhall, which reflects the history of the market town and surrounding area. South Molton is also home to the world's largest exhibition of honey bees (see Quince Honey Farm below).
Instow is an old fishing village located on the estuary opposite Appledore. It is more peaceful than Appledore and Westward Ho! and ideal for a spot of relaxation. During the summer, a ferry service operates across the estuary from Appledore to Instow which means that if you are energetic you can walk or cycle to Appledore from the apartment and get the ferry across. The Tarka Trail passes through Instow so you can then pick up the trail for a day out by foot or bike (picking up a picnic along the way in one of Appledore or Instow’s delis such as John’s. Instow has a pretty and sandy beach that tends to get very busy during the summer as the water is protected from swell by sandbanks at the mouth of the Taw estuary although swimming is not advised due to poor water quality. The beach and its rivers are popular with those that like canoeing and kayaking and you can hire both locally. There are shops and café s in the village which is directly behind the beach and the waterfront is lined with cafés and pubs.
Widely thought of as the “capital” of North Devon, and officially the oldest borough in England, Barnstaple lies on the River Taw. It is the closest town with a railway station which connects to Exeter and has a good network of local and national buses. Barnstaple is a wonderful mix of old and new. It has buildings dating back to the 10th century and remnants of Norman history, is a thriving market town and has a modern town centre with high street brands and major stores and entertainment such as cinema, theatre, karting, bowling and soft play. Barnstaple’s traditional Pannier Market, one of Britain's largest indoor markets, lies at the heart of the town. Largely unchanged in over 150 years the historic Pannier Market has a wide range of stalls, with everything from fresh local produce, flowers and crafts, to prints, pictures and fashion. The town has a thriving mix of independent retailers and boutique shops many of which can be found in Butchers Row, just off the high street. Barnstaple is home to the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon and hosts the annual North Devon Beer Festival.
Braunton is said to be the largest village in England and took its name from St Brannock who came from South Wales as a missionary and converted the natives to the Christianity in 550AD. There is a small local museum which tells the stories of the old occupations farming, fishing and sea-faring – Braunton was once a port in its own right. The Braunton Burrows are England’s largest sand dune system and also contain one of only two surviving examples of medieval open strip farming systems in the country. Braunton Burrows is at the heart of the North Devon Biosphere Reserve, the first biosphere reserve to be established in the UK, and reaches out to Lundy Island. The Braunton Burrows lead to Saunton Sands beach, an expansive beach much like Westward Ho! and home to a range of food outlets and beach shops. The beach was apparently used by Robbie Williams in his video for ‘Angels’. The Saunton Sands Hotel, built in the 1930s, looks over the beach and has an amazing terrace. It has some great dining options, not to mention afternoon tea . It can be seen clearly from the apartment as a white sugar cube style building on the coast to the north and lights up beautifully at night.
A visit to Woolacombe is all about the beach where the opportunities are similar to Westward Ho! It offers a three mile beach stretching from Barricane Beach and Morte Point at the most northerly point all the way south to the cliffs of Baggy Point at Putsborough at the southern end (where there is a lovey beach café with a view). In addition to surfing and paddleboarding options there is local kayak hire, horse riding available on the beach and a local tandem hang glider experience. The promenade looks much as it did in 1905 and during the Second World War the town played host to many evacuees as it was deemed one of the safest places in the UK. Local beaches were also used as training grounds for the D-Day landings with lots of American camps set up close to the village and the wider area. There is a memorial to commemorate the American troops who were stationed here and who went on to fight in mainland Europe.
Ilfracombe is a pretty fishing harbour surrounded by towering cliffs. It’s an eclectic town with it’s own strapline ‘curious coastal charm’. Along with the usual beautiful scenery, beaches and walking opportunities Ilfracombe offers a range of attractions. In town discover The Lanes, a mix of sometimes hidden lanes and passageways off the High Street, a nod to Ilfracombe’s smuggling past. The Victorian Tunnels Beaches are a network of hand carved tunnels leading to unique sheltered beaches and a tidal Victorian bathing pool. The Ilfracombe Museum displays artefacts from around the world, you can visit the popular Landmark Theatre on the seafront, and the award-winning Ilfracombe Aquarium, located in the Old Lifeboat House, offers a chance to see beneath the North Devon waves from the safety of dry land. Ilfracombe is also one of the docking points for the MS Oldenburg which takes passengers over to Lundy Island. Ilfracombe hosts lots of events throughout the Summer including beer, maritime and Birdman festivals (the one where people run of the end of the pier attempting to fly). It is also an up and coming cultural hub with art galleries and Damien Hirst’s ‘Verity’ statue at the harbour.
Lynmouth is known as Little Switzerland due to its steep hilly setting characterised by deep woodlands, river gorges and rocky walking trails. However, completely different to Switzerland it has quaint fishing cottages and shops that cluster around the harbour. Lynton perched high above is a vibrant Victorian village. The two villages are connected by the Cliff Railway, the highest and steepest fully water powered Victorian railway in the world. There is a café at the top where we have enjoyed what must be the world’s largest scone with jam and cream the Devon way. From the villages you can walk to Watersmeet and the Valley of Rocks both mentioned in the ‘North Devon Coast’ section. The Lyn and Exmoor Museum has some interesting exhibitions of Exmoor life, including information about the local lifeboat and the Lynton and Barnstaple Railway.
including a handy page of downloadable guides.
We’ve listed below some of the main local attractions but, again, this list is not exhaustive. There are lots of centres that will arrange coasteering, rock climbing, kayaking, hang gliding and so on. We can’t list them all and don’t want to recommend one over another so we haven’t listed any (just like we wouldn’t list all the tea shops in Devon!).
The view below is of Lundy Island.
Lundy Island can be seen from the apartment. It is three miles long and half a mile wide and is owned by the National Trust and managed by the Landmark Trust. You can get there on a day trip on the MS Oldenburg which sails at least three times a week from either Bideford or Ilfracombe and the crossing takes about 2 hours each way, allowing between 4 and 6 hours to explore the island depending on the day you choose to travel.
Combe Martin Wildlife and Dinosaur Park is home to an abundance of exotic and tropical plants and wildlife and the very latest in Dinosaur animatronics. Wildlife includes Lions, Baboons, Lemurs, Sea Lions, Penguins, Meerkats, and rare Hudson Bay Wolves, one of only two collections in the UK where you can see these stunning white wolves. You can also pre-book additional experiences such as feeding an African lion or swimming with a Sea Lion.
Arlington Court and the National Trust Carriage Museum is on the edge of Exmoor and is a family estate held by the Chichester family for over five hundred years. The Carriage Museum in the stables has a vehicle for every occasion. The grounds have over 20 miles of footpaths to explore. There is a formal Victorian garden with a conservatory rebuilt in 2012, planted with exotic species and a walled garden providing for the tea-room and flowers for the house.
Lynton and Barnstaple Railway originally opened in 1898 and what you can see today at Woody Bay is just the beginning of an exciting project to rebuild one of the world’s most famous and picturesque narrow-gauge railways. Take a train ride and stop at the tea rooms and check out the website for special events throughout the year.
Dartington Crystal at Torrington is the UK's only remaining glass factory and a unique visitor experience. It has an exhibition centre and you can watch the glass makers in action on the factory floor. There are a range of glass activities to enjoy as well as factory shopping and a café and restaurant. Only 25 mins from Bideford.
Exmoor Zoo is located on the edge of Exmoor National Park and is home to the only pair of black leopards in the UK. The zoo works hard to suggest that these are similar to the Exmoor Beast, a myth from medieval times.
Tapeley Park sits on a hill overlooking the River Torridge and the North Devon coastline. The estate has been home to the Christie family for two centuries and the grounds are renowned for their beautiful gardens, particularly the Italian terraces, and include a lake, ponds and old woodland. As well as an organic vegetable garden, Tapeley Park has one of the oldest permaculture gardens in the UK – permaculture describes a way of growing which mimics natural ecosystems, where plants stay in the ground rather than being replaced every year.
Quince Honey Farm is a family run honey farm near South Molton which has been producing quality honey since 1949 and is home to the most extensive honeybee exhibition in the world. The mechanically operated observation hives are renowned by beekeepers across the world. There is of course a shop selling honey products, guided tours, beekeeping demonstrations, honey tasting, candle rolling, creepy crawlie encounters and soft play.
The Milky Way Adventure Park near Clovelly is an all-weather day out for the family with rides, interactive experiences, bird of prey displays, a railway, mini golf, a maze, pottery and plenty for babies and toddlers too.
The North Devon Wake Park and Aqua Park is located alongside The Milky Way although it is a separate attraction, with its own fees. The Aqua Park is a floating, inflatable obstacle course where you can race, slide and chase each other around. The Wake Park is a massive set up for cable wakeboarding where an overhead cable pulls you along. The park caters for beginners and those with more experience and includes coaching. There are picnic tables and also a café to either warm up afterwards or for those perfectly happy on dry land to wait for the others.
Exmoor National Park is about a 35-40 min drive from Westward Ho! The National Park is a unique landscape of moorland, woodland, valleys, farmland and coastline with high cliffs. It is perhaps most famous for its wild Exmoor ponies and is also home to a wealth of other wildlife.
Exmoor was designated Europe’s first Dark Sky Reserve in October 2011. The dark skies festival is in late October. There are dark skies experiences that you can attend and the national park will loan out stargazing equipment such as telescopes.
North Devon Coast
The National Trust manages a lot of the coastline around North Devon and their website offers lots of information about areas that are of particular interest. These include the magical Watersmeet near Lynton and Lynmouth, Heddon Valley near Martinhoe, Baggy Point near Croyde, the Hartland Peninsula, Peppercombe Valley and Bucks Mill Cabin on the coast path between Westward Ho! and Clovelly, and Bull Point near Morthoe (including a walk). More information on the lighthouse at Bull Point can be found here.
Hartland Peninsula has a lot to explore. Hartland Quay was once a busy harbour commissioned in 1586, following a parliamentary bill sponsored by some of the great names of the time – Sir Francis Drake, Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir John Hawkins. It became a busy port, shipping coal, granite and various farm produce until it began to break up towards the end of the 19th century. Today, nothing of the original quay remains. The Hartland Quay Museum is close to the original site of the harbour. Hartland Point is a wild headland and you can enjoy a view of some of the most spectacular coastline in the British Isles from here. Some of the filming for the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society took place on the Hartland Peninsula.
The Valley of Rocks is a dry valley that runs parallel to the coast about half a mile west of Lynton. It is famous for its herd of goats, its geology and its stunning views. There are two public car parks in the valley, adjacent to a tea room and a cricket club. If you want you can start from Lynton by the Valley of Rocks Hotel and follow ‘North Walk’, which forms a coastal path leading to the valley and offering stunning views of Lynmouth Bay and the sea.
RSPB reserve, Isley Marsh, is an area of salt marsh and mud flats just a few miles from Westward Ho! on the south bank of the estuary between Appledore and Barnstaple (nearest village Fremington). It’s a haven for overwintering birds and whilst you can’t access the reserve itself there are footpaths around the reserve from which you can spot the wildlife.