The Most Unusual Things to Do in Devon and Cornwall

The otherworldly Wistman's Wood is one of the most unusual places to visit in Devon
The otherworldly Wistman's Wood is one of the most unusual places to visit in Devon | © Ian G Dagnall / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Lauren Williams
Freelance Travel Journalist3 September 2020

It’s no secret that Devon and Cornwall both have stunning beaches, wild moors and great food. But what about the lesser-known gems? The places where nobody but pagans, eccentrics and explorers go? Devon and Cornwall are filled with weird town traditions, faeries and stone circles. From the Gnome Reserve to St Nectan’s Glen, here are seven of the most unusual things you can see and do in the deepest southwest corner of England.

Gnome Reserve

Park
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Gnome reserve at West Putford, Devon, UK
© Ashley Cooper / Alamy Stock Photo
It isn’t a proper English garden if it doesn’t have a grumpy gnome hopelessly trying to fish out of a muddy puddle, right? Introducing the Gnome Reserve, where over 1,000 gnomes are gathered across beautiful and enchanting gardens. You also have the option of borrowing a gnome outfit and posing with your new-found friends if you so wish. This is a truly kitsch way to spend an afternoon in Devon.

Broomhill Sculpture Gardens

Botanical Garden
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Broomhill  Art Hotel and sculpture park with its sculpture of a giant red stiletto shoe, Muddiford, Barnstaple, Devon, UK
© guy harrop / Alamy Stock Photo
This collection of contemporary sculptures in North Devon is beautiful, fascinating and thought-provoking. Wandering around the pretty Broomhill Sculpture Gardens will reward you with bronze and marble sculptures from a range of award-winning artists from around the globe, with artefacts ranging from sublime to rather sinister. Summer, when the garden is in full bloom, is the best time to visit.

Wistman’s Wood

Forest
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Wistman's Wood, Dartmoor, Devon
© Ian Dagnall / Alamy Stock Photo
With moss-covered boulders and ancient, gnarled trees that twist and tangle all over each other, Wistman’s Wood is a bizarre area of woodland on Dartmoor that seems as though it has come straight out of a fairytale. It is haunted by stories of druids, ghosts and supernatural beings, and although such hokum is merely mythical, it’s unlikely you’ll want to spend the night there.

Totnes Orange Races

Architectural Landmark
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The quirky annual Totnes Orange Races, held on a Summer weekday morning on the High Street in Totnes, Devon, England
© Emma Wood / Alamy Stock Photo
Every August in Totnes, Fore Street is closed down and a race like no other commences: Man vs. Orange. Legend says that when Sir Francis Drake was visiting the town in the 1580s, he bumped into a delivery person who knocked over a cartload of oranges. He then proceeded to run all the way down the hill to collect them all, and thus one of the country’s weirdest traditions was born. Today, participants line up at the top of Fore Street, roll or throw their oranges down the hill and promptly chase after them.

Bodmin Jail

Historical Landmark
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Bodmin Jail, Cornwall, UK. Built in 1779 .These images are of the Naval Prison section. Very atmospheric, apparently haunted!. Image shot 03/2015. Exact date unknown.
© Gogglebox / Alamy Stock Photo
Bodmin Jail is a pretty formidable place, but then again, a prison built by French prisoners of war high up on Bodmin Moor is bound to have a sordid history. Once a prison for the bankrupt and then for the Navy before falling into disrepair, this jail makes for a day out for those who are into the supernatural and the downright horrible. If you are really into scaring yourself, you can take a tour of the jail after dark, when you will join the resident medium in ghost hunting throughout the night until 5am. This is said to be Britain’s most haunted venue, so be prepared to be scared out of your wits!

Men-an-Tol

Historical Landmark
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Mên-an-Tol, UK
© imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo
This is a holed stone within a stone circle that dates back to either the Neolithic period or the Bronze Age (nobody is quite sure). The Men-an-Tol is said to be a gateway to health and fertility and is guarded by a Cornish piskie or faerie. Cornish folklore has it that humans who pass through the stone will be cured of all ailments or illnesses, and women who pass through on a full moon will be blessed with fertility. While on Madron Moor, visit Lanyon Quoit and Boskednan Stone Circle too.

St Nectan’s Glen

Natural Feature
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St.Nectans glen waterfall, Trethevey near Tintagel in Cornwall, England, UK
© Kevin Britland / Alamy Stock Photo
Down a forest pathway just north of Tintagel, you will find an 18m (60ft) waterfall that crashes into a basin and through an arch that has been eroded by the water over thousands of years. St Nectan’s Glen isn’t only beautiful and a place of geological interest, but it was also thought to be a place where faeries and other mythical creatures gathered. When visiting, it is likely that you will find crystals and ribbons festooned on the trees and lining the water.
These recommendations were updated on September 3, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.