The beautiful county of Devon lies in south west England. Bordered by the counties of Cornwall, Somerset and Dorset, it stretches from the Bristol Channel in the north to the English Channel in the south.
Straddling a peninsula, Devon is unique in having not just one but two separate stretches of stunning coastline, over 65% of which is named as Heritage Coast. The county is famed for its beautiful long beaches with golden sands, many of which regularly top the polls for the best beaches in Europe.
The two coastlines of Devon couldn’t be more different from each other. The northern coast is typified by towering rocky cliffs sheltering quaint fishing villages unchanged for centuries, while the so-called ‘English Riviera’ on the south coast has award-winning family beaches and a wealth of visitor attractions, with everything you might want for a traditional family seaside holiday.
Devon is wonderfully diverse inland too, with two National Parks and several Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. In parts it’s a picture-perfect gem of rolling green hills and twisting country lanes, and in parts wild open moorland, with a windswept, desolate beauty. The rural market towns are a delight to explore, as are the quaint villages with thatched cottages.
Devon even has the best weather in Britain too! The area around Saunton on the north coast often records among the highest temperatures in Britain, and the south east coast from Salcombe to Exmouth is one of the sunniest parts of the UK.
Devon’s National Parks : Exmoor and Dartmoor
Devon is blessed with two National Parks: Exmoor and Dartmoor.
Exmoor in North Devon lies partly in Devon and partly in neighbouring Somerset. Extending from the moors right up to the northern coast, it’s a stunning place to visit. Try out coasteering here, which involves traversing the coastline on foot or by swimming, without the aid of boats, surfboards or other craft. The Exmoor coast has the highest cliffs in southern Britain, culminating in the Great Hangman near Combe Martin Bay, with a 250m high cliff face.
The moors, hills and woods of Exmoor are a haven for wildlife enthusiasts too, with the highest number of wild red deer in England. Wild ponies graze the moorland and the domed heads of seals are a familiar sight along the coast.
Devon’s second National Park, Dartmoor, is vast. At 368 square miles it’s the largest open space in southern England, with fantastic areas of open moorland, steep hills and wooded valleys.
The wild moorland of Dartmoor has a haunting, harsh beauty all of its own, the inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. You can drive for miles here without seeing another soul, apart from the hardy wild moorland ponies.
The landscape of Dartmoor is not all dramatic and unforgiving, however. Dartmoor offers the perfect countryside for walking and exploring, whether you’re wanting a gentle stroll on country lanes, a white-knuckle mountain bike ride along woodland trails, or a few days wandering around the area’s characterful towns and villages.
Be sure to visit the medieval town of Ashburton, home to an annual food festival and full of artisan food shops and restaurants. Or lively Tavistock on the western edge of Dartmoor, the birthplace of Sir Francis Drake and famed for its independent shops and award-winning markets.
In North Devon you’ll find gently rolling hills with sleepy towns and villages, as well as miles and miles of sublime beaches perfect for rock-pooling, swimming and surfing. Part of the North Devon coast faces out onto the Atlantic, and the swells produce waves that make this area one of the favourite surfing spots in Britain.
North Devon is predominantly rural. The former river port of Barnstaple is the area’s largest town and also the oldest; in fact it claims to be the oldest borough in England. Don’t miss out on visits to Great Torrington and Ilfracombe either. Great Torrington was built on the site of an ancient settlement high on a hill above the River Torridge, and the town boasts impressive views across the surrounding countryside. The pretty resort town of Ilfracombe is an attractive place to while away the hours, with golden beaches and beautiful historic buildings.
The Tarka Trail, named after the otter in the famous books by Henry Williamson, is a wonderful Figure of 8 Long Distance Trail that stretches for 180 miles from the coast of North Devon to the edge of Dartmoor, with the town of Barnstaple at the centre of the ‘8’. It passes through stunning countryside, over dramatic sea cliffs and alongside beautiful beaches. The Tarka Trail also incorporates the longest continuous off-road cycle path in the UK, allowing 30 miles of traffic-free cycling.
Stunning South Devon offers the best of both worlds too, with beautiful rolling countryside as well as a huge expanse of amazing coastline. The pretty market towns of Dartmouth, Salcombe, Teignmouth and Dawlish all offer fabulous days out, while the larger seaside resorts of Torquay and Exmouth are lively towns with all the traditional seaside attractions perfect for unforgettable family holidays.
The coastline of South Devon stretches for more than 125 miles and offers some of the UK’s best beaches, with huge expanses of golden sand, secluded coves and rugged cliffs.
The areas around Torquay, Babbacombe, Paignton and Brixham make up the region known as the English Riviera, with palm trees lining wide seaside avenues. It’s a 22 mile stretch of South Devon coastline with beautiful beaches, rocky coves and picturesque towns and villages, renowned for its warm climate.
The area has a fascinating maritime history too; at Torre Abbey on Torquay’s seafront you can visit the Spanish Barn, once used to house prisoners captured from the Spanish Armada, while Brixham is home to a number of Napoleonic forts.
In beautiful Babbacombe you’ll find the highest cliff-top promenade in England, with unrivalled views across the whole of the area. Watch out for dolphins in the clear waters here too!
Just outside Torquay you’ll find the lovely village of Cockington. It’s the essence of quintessential Englishness, with pretty thatched houses on narrow lanes, a water mill and a village cricket pitch.
Also close to Torquay is Meadfoot, a wonderful beach that’s a favourite with locals, who enjoy diving, swimming, kayaking and paddle-boarding in the clear waters.
Exmouth marks the start of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site, which runs all the way to Lyme Regis in Dorset, past Budleigh Salterton. It’s a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its huge historical significance, as it reveals an incredible ‘portrait’ of 185 million years of the Earth’s geological history. The coastline changes as you walk along, with the rocks, cliffs, beaches and caves creating a timeline that illustrates the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous Periods.
The county seat of Devon is Exeter, a historic city that dates back to Roman times, with much of the old Roman wall still intact. As the name suggests it stands on the River Exe, and the remains of a medieval bridge over the river, dating from around 1200, can still be seen in the city today. Exeter also has a fine cathedral founded in 1050, from which visitors can enjoy fabulous views over the surrounding area. Exeter has a wealth of lovely independent shops as well as High Street favourites, and it’s a lively, bustling place to explore.