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Exploring Devon: A Journey Through the South West

12 October 2023

Carnewas and Bedruthan Steps is a stretch of coastline located on the north Cornish coast between Padstow and Newquay, in Cornwall, England, United Kingdom

Author: Rebecca Searle

After the success of finding County Champions for both Scotland and Yorkshire earlier in the year, we turned our attention to the south of the country for our next county aficionado.

Introducing Rebecca Searle – a passionate advocate for all things South West, from wild moorlands to glittering golden beaches, and quaint villages to the buzzing cities. 

I grew up in Devon but moved away when I was a young adult. In part, this decision was made because Devon felt a bit too small-town for me as a youth; I wanted to see the world. Having done quite a bit of travelling and living in several different parts of the country and the globe, I returned to Devon.

My kids are growing up with the distinct privilege of having all that this part of the world has to offer at their doorstep – and I intend to make sure they know how lucky they are. I can honestly say I’ve never found anywhere so perfect.

Haytor Rocks and Hidden Gems: A South West Adventure, Dartmoor

One of my favourite spots for a good view and a good walk is Haytor Rocks and Haytor Quarry. Haytor Rocks is quite a well-known tourist spot, with thousands flocking to rocky outcrops every year to witness the views of the moor and coast. It’s relatively easy to climb, too, with steps roughly hewn into the rock and well-worn by visitors. It does, however, include a slight leap of faith in the middle to access the very top. It’s recommended that if you would like to try this, you wear sensible shoes that have a good grip. Don’t worry too much,  though – my 6-year-old can manage it, and there are usually a few people around to offer you encouragement! 

As a special treat for completing the ascent, we head down to the much less-known Haytor Quarry. This beautiful little disused quarry is now home to a very picturesque pond which is full of tadpoles and newts in spring and bursting with water lilies in August. If you’re looking for a nice short walk with some views, Haytor Rocks to Haytor Quarry and back is perfect.

I highly recommend going on a warm evening when it’s a little quieter, with a blanket and a couple of beers. The evening light in late summer really brings out the yellow of the gorse and the purple of the heather.

Exploring Cornwall’s Roseland Peninsula and Beyond

Cornwall is an easy holiday destination for my family and for so many others too. Our favourite place in Cornwall is the Roseland peninsula with its Mediterranean feel, wild coast, white-washed villages, and unique microclimate. St Mawes is the main town in Roseland and another popular spot. One of our favourite day trips is to take the ferry over to Falmouth from St Mawes. It’s an inexpensive way to get out “to sea,” and there’s plenty to do at both ends of the trip.

Falmouth is a bustling town with plenty of shops, cafés, and restaurants, including the famous Rick Stein’s restaurant, which is perfect for something a little bit more special.

St Mawes is home to St Mawes Castle, an impressive (and a bit creepy) castle built by Henry VII but very well preserved. If you want to feel like a local, you can pull on a wetsuit and jump into the harbour in the late afternoon. Or grab an ice cream and watch others do it! Da Barra Bakery also has a café in St Mawes, and their cinnamon buns are a must-try.

Gwithian Beach and Towans Beach are on the other side of St Ives Bay and offer the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of St Ives. It’s a great spot for a barbecue to watch the sun go down, and when the conditions are right, it’s also brilliant for body boarding if you’re feeling adventurous. In Devon, Woolacombe and Croyde are the places to go for water sports.

If you’re heading to Woolacombe, be sure to stay for sunset. The angle is just right in late summer for the sun to set over the sea, and the views are superb.

Forest and River Walks, Devon

For a bit of tranquillity and a rest from the surf, there are plenty of beautiful forest and river walks to enjoy in Devon. One of my favourites is Fingle Bridge. This is home to a beautiful example of one of Britain’s temperate rainforests. Trees dripping with moss and ferns line the sparkling river Teign. It is quite a popular spot with locals, and parking is limited, so be sure to get there early, it’s a great place for a shady walk on a particularly hot day.

If you want to try your hand at wild swimming, follow the path on the same side of the river as the pub until you reach a bare patch of ground that is just upstream from a set of mini-waterfalls. 

This is the perfect spot for a bit of swimming. The rocks can be slippery, and the water is very cold, so I recommend wearing suitable footwear and bracing yourself! Wetsuits are not really the done thing around here, but we’ll forgive you if you want to wear one. If you have young children who just want to paddle, let them have a go on the opposite side of the river from the pub, near the bridge. There is a small sandy beach where they can enter the water safely.

If walking is more your thing, follow the path past the swimming spot for about another mile or so until you reach a small bridge where you can cross the river and walk back to the pub on the other bank. If you’re particularly adventurous, you can do Hunter’s Path, which takes you up the side of the valley with spectacular views. You then descend down towards the river and follow the river back to the pub.

All the best walks end with a pub! Each of these walks is rocky and uneven underfoot, so make sure you’re well-equipped. Hunter’s path requires a reasonable level of fitness, too – consider yourself warned! If you’re into walks and hikes, the “Outstanding Circular Walk” series of books has never let us down.

Through these books, we have found plenty of places we never knew existed and experienced some breathtaking views and climbs. 

Paddleboarding Paradise: Exploring South Devon’s Tranquil Waters

South Devon is known for its beautiful sandy beaches and its calm waters. This makes it a hotspot for paddle boarding. Devon and Cornwall are often best observed from the sea, and paddle boarding is one of the easiest and most accessible ways to make this happen. There are plenty of places to hire paddle boards around Devon, or you can bring your own. 

It’s an easy and fun way to get out on the water, and it’s super relaxing. Don’t feel you have to stand if you feel nervous; simply sitting or kneeling on a board will give you the lovely experience of being afloat, with less risk of falling in! There are plenty of places around Devon and Cornwall that will teach paddle boarding, too, if you are new to it and not sure where to begin. 

One of my favourite places to go is Babbacombe — the bay is wonderfully sheltered, and there are a few other little beaches you can paddle out to for a bit of quiet. It’s also great for a swim if you’re feeling the need to cool off. The views from the cliffs in the town are also really beautiful, and there are plenty of bars and restaurants to treat yourself after your paddle.

What to Do On a Rainy Day?

Occasionally, the weather doesn’t quite work out when you’re here in the South West. The weather forecasts find it difficult to predict what the weather will be due to the topography and the proximity to the Atlantic, so don’t be downhearted if the forecast says rain. It’s definitely worth waiting to see what the weather is doing – and take a coat with you just in case!

But if you’re looking for things to do on a particularly wet day, there are a few great options. The National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth is a fabulous place, and there are plenty of spots to have a picnic while watching the fish. They also give you a year’s membership when you pay to get in, so you can return anytime within the year without having to pay again. The Eden Project has a similar system, so you only need to pay once, and you can keep coming back. 

Alternatively, you may wish to go somewhere sheltered, such as Trelissick or Glendurgan National Trust Gardens, where you can find cosy coffee shops and plenty of lush vegetation to dodge showers.

There are very few places on earth where you could visit moorland, forest and beach all in the same day, but Devon and Cornwall boast plenty of both. My family and I intend to go on exploring this beautiful place, and we would love it if you felt as lucky to be here as we do.

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