Britain’s glorious southwest has everything you need for a nature break. Try horseriding, wakeboarding, sailing, bushcraft and more at these fantastic Great Western Railway destinations.
Think you know Devon and Somerset? Think again. Beyond the clichés of clotted-cream teas, scrumpy, tractors and thatched cottages lies a region with rolling hills, rugged moorlands, dramatic coastline and crystal clear waters that offer a wealth of activities for outdoor adventurers. Speed around the region by Great Western Railway instead of crawling along congested lanes, and you’ll have the time of your life discovering exhilarating things to do in these seven destinations.
The perfect crescent of Torbay, with its lovely seaside trio of towns, Torquay, Paignton and Brixham, gained its English Riviera moniker more than a century ago for the warm climate, palm-tree-lined promenades and azure blue waters that genuinely do make you feel as if you’re on the Côte d’Azur. The waters offer some great fishing excursions, particularly in Paignton, where you can charter a boat to go deep-wreck fishing in and around Torbay, take a mackerel-fishing trip, or simply do a spot of dolphin-spotting on a seafari. And when you’re done, swap your Jaws-style seafaring yarns with other anglers at the Paignton Sea Anglers Association clubhouse.
The Somerset county town of Taunton is the place to disembark for two very different outdoor activities in north Somerset and Devon. Some 12mi (19km) northwest of Taunton, you can go mountain biking on one of the many bridleways . There are some stiff climbs – and of course exhilarating descents – through a landscape that takes in heathland, ancient parklands and oak woodlands. In Greensand Wood, 6mi (10km) outside Taunton, don’t be surprised if you find an enclave of axe-wielding rabbit BBQers; the bushcraft experience offered by Somerset Adventures takes in activities such as skinning a rabbit to make stew, lighting a fire with a flint, rope-making and, for the faint-hearted, pizza making in a wood-fired pizza oven.
South Devon’s neighbouring towns of Exeter and Newton Abbot are perfect gateways for horse riding on Dartmoor, 15mi (24km) to the west, and the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), 9mi (14.4km) to the east from Exmouth, also on the GWR rail map. In the former, granite outcrops such as Hay Tor and Hound Tor make for dramatic riding terrain, while woodland trails, bridleways and historic byways across the gentler slopes and valleys of the southeast moorland mean you can see different scenery every day. In the East Devon AONB, the 40mi-long (64km) East Devon Way takes in picture-postcard scenes of hills, woods, rivers and rural villages across well-marked bridleways and quiet country lanes.
The south Devon market town of Totnes has been in existence for more than a millennium, in which time it’s been a centre for coin-minting, an important medieval economic hub, and, these days, an independently minded bohemian community that makes it a great base for adventure. Caving, rock-climbing and abseiling the ancient woodlands, limestone rock faces and rugged terrain around Dartington, 2mi (3.2km) from town, are just some of the land-based activities on offer, while the nearby River Dart is the perfect spot on which to learn how to paddleboard, kayak or canoe, stopping to enjoy dips in swimming holes, jumps from rope swings and idyllic picnic spots. Not sure where to start? We’d suggest the Totnes-based Dynamic Adventures CIC.
A skilful blend of skateboarding, snowboarding and surfing techniques, wakeboarding isn’t called wakeboarding because it wakes you up – though the addictive adrenaline rush you get while doing it definitely does that. Set on the south Devon coast at the estuary of the river Exe, Exmouth, the gateway to the Jurassic Coast, isn’t just a perfect seaside town, it’s also the perfect jumping-off spot for learning or practising this high-energy sport; from calm waters you can admire the long sandy beaches and dramatic orange cliffs, with companies such as Exe Wake offering tows and lessons across all levels.
The largest of Torbay’s coastal towns is a great base from which you can explore the whole Torbay area, and particularly the marine-rich waters of the Unesco Global Geopark, which stretches for the entire 22mi (35km) coastline of the English Riviera. Take a sailing trip from the marina, either just out into the glorious bay, across to one of its other towns, or further south to Dartmouth, and you’re likely to spot seals, porpoises and dolphins in the water, and wheeling over it, a huge variety of seabirds.
Save a third with a railcard. Find out more and book your next adventure at GWR.com, on the GWR app, or at a train station.