The North and South coasts of Devon are very different. The South is gentle, with green cliffs that calmly join beaches and bleed into the sea. The North, however, has wild cliffs coloured in gorse flowers that suddenly drop into a tumultuous sea, with big waves that attract surfers from all over the world. Both coasts have excellent beaches, so you won’t miss out either way!
Dartmoor is Devon’s huge and windswept centre and is raw with unusual beauty. It separates the two coasts and is filled with rock tors, ancient forests and places so devoid of humans that you might feel as if you’re the only person in the world. Walk for days through heather, discover the Devil’s Cauldron, jump into clear freshwater pools, sledge down huge hills on snow in winter and discover cosy pubs to huddle in around the fire when the weather is less than great, as it often is on Dartmoor.
There’s something about Devon which breeds creativity, and the Devon music scene is second to none. Plymouth, especially, is a hub of sultry voices and soaring solos, where bands from all walks of life come out of the woodwork to sing and party. Devon is also home to a whole host of exceptional music festivals, as well as pop-up sessions, acoustic gigs in beautiful churches and rooftop sundowner shows.
The South Hams are a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and it really is what it says on the tin. With rolling green hills, stunning woodland walks, golden beaches, rivers that meander slowly by vineyards and castles, life here goes by at a slower pace. Days in the South Hams are spent lazing in the sun, reclined in pubs and gentling SUPing on still waters.
Each August sees the British Firework Championships come to Plymouth. This sky extravaganza is held over two days and is free for everyone to come and watch. Gather a picnic blanket, a few bottles of wine and some friends, and set up camp on Plymouth Hoe to watch the skies ignite. Friends with boats are highly sought after this time of year; there’s nothing better than floating out at sea under this magnificent show.
If you’re a beer lover, then add Devon to your bucket list, stat. There are independent brewers all over the place, and you can find local ales made on Dartmoor, in fishing villages, in the middle of nowhere and tacked onto pubs. These ales are sold all around the county and in most pubs, so you can be sure whichever one you pop into, you’ll be able to sample a local tipple.
Bonfire Night is a whole different ball game in Ottery Saint Mary, and shooting fireworks into the sky just isn’t enough. Every year, tar barrels are set on fire and carried through the streets. As a visitor, you will need to practice some common sense and get out of the way pretty sharpish; there are no barriers to keep the punters away from the barrel carriers. Beer is sold in plastic cups from all the pubs, and food shops stay open late, so you can eat while watching the danger.
If you’re into camping, you’ll be into Devon. Set up your pitch on top of the cliffs at East Prawle, take a walk with alpacas, or hide away from it all in the woods in central Devon. And then there’s Dartmoor, the only place in England where it is legal to wild camp almost wherever you fancy. You can pitch on top of a tor, if you so wish, next to rivers, or even inside a rocky cave.
Devon offers some of the finest cliff walking in the country. From Hartland Quay in North Devon, where the sheer cliffs plunge from the sky to the sea, to the rolling hills which slip into the surf in the south, every section of the South West Coast Path is a beauty of a stomp. Discover secret beaches, amble through woodland clinging precariously onto the edge of bluffs, end your day in a great pub overlooking the surf or with a barbecue in the sand. Walk for days in Dartmoor, exploring neolithic stone circles, tors and vistas. Exmoor, Devon’s lesser-explored expanse of moorland, is equally pretty and has England’s tallest cliffs to boot.
Clovelly, Appledore, Hope Cove, Croyde, Woolacombe, Dittisham and Salcombe are just a handful of pretty seaside dwellings which are picture-perfect and ever so Instagram-worthy. Wander up and down cobbled streets, shop in village delis and sit with your feet swinging over the sea while enjoying fish and chips.
Exeter and Plymouth offer different experiences. Exeter is polished, pretty and filled with sophisticated bars which trickle out onto the riverfront. You’ll also find great shopping and the lovely Cathedral Green to lounge on with a smoothie or coffee in the summer. Plymouth, on the other hand, is a city of character. It’s a bit grimy, with dark bars, grey buildings and loud nightlife, but the waterfront is a special place. You can jump off walls into the sea, laze around under the red-and-white-striped Smeaton’s Tower and sip cider in the sun.
Food to Devon is what butter is to bread; it goes glove to hand. There’s something in the air in Devon which calls to chefs far and wide and has resulted in a range of Michelin Star chefs and AA Rosette award-winning restaurants popping up everywhere. It’s a foodie’s heaven, and whether you’re after top notch pub grub at The Treby Arms in Sparkwell, or fine dining on the moors at the Two Bridges Hotel, you’re spoilt for choice.
Totnes is an ancient market town in the middle of the South Hams. It has a steep high street with indy galleries and shops, a well-preserved castle and the River Dart. If you knew nothing of Totnes, you would think it had charm, but that’s about it. However, in 2006, Totnes launched as the Transition Town of Totnes, an initiative to bring the whole community together to tackle climate change and to work towards decreasing their environmental impact.
Devonians are a friendly bunch, and a holiday here is a refreshing break from the busyness and hostility of London. The locals will always say “Hello” as you amble down a village street. They’ll offer you a lift if you’re walking in the rain down a country lane, and they’ll always strike up conversation in the pub over a pint.