A local’s guide to North Devon

Beaches, Coastal, Days out, Family, Festivals, Food and Drink, Picnics, Rural, Trends, Walking, Educational, Nature, Glamping

Why not live like a local during your North Devon holiday? Well, here’s our guide to experiencing how life is lived, so you can live life in you holiday cottage the North Devon way.

In this helpful, explicit guide we will be including off-the-beaten track places to go for a walk, or sunbathe, interesting places to eat, things to eat, local sayings, and highlighting some fun and lesser known facts about this wonderful ‘bit’ of the West Country.

With some of the best open beaches and surf breaks in the country, all within three hours drive of the capital, resorts like Croyde and Woolacombe have been on the surfers’ map for decades. Lighthouses gild the coast at Hartland and Mortehoe, providing safe passage along some of the most notorious ship wrecking coast in Europe. This is where the Atlantic Ocean meets the coast, generating tempestuous swells and boiling seas that fishermen fear and surfers worship. There are a few secret spots along the wilder coast to the west, but if you’re a serious surfer you already know where they are, and if you’re not then we won’t be the ones to blurt out those ‘type’ of well-guarded secrets. However, we won’t be so tight-lipped in other departments.

Walking

Everybody loves the Tarka Trail and the South West Coast Path. The Tarka Trail passes along the former pathway of a railway track that ran between Lee Bay and Meeth via Braunton, Barnstaple, Instow, Bideford, Great Torrington and many other North Devon villages.  Our section of coast path takes in some stark scenery along the heritage coast by Hartland which has some of the longest stretches of unspoilt coastline in England. Some stints are wooded, some with bare cliff faces and secluded coves, all memorably beautiful.  

River Caen to Crow Point  

  • 6 miles - easy to moderate

 

You can pick up this wonderful trail from the outskirts of Braunton. Following the course of the narrow River Caen out of the village, past the rear of the Surfing Museum south along the elevated tow path, you will take in the wildness and serenity of this quiet area. Take a picnic and sit on the benches by the tumbledown fishing huts at the confluence of the Caen and the larger River Taw.  Within a few miles you are at Crow Point which lies at the furthest end of the colossal sand dune system that begins at Saunton Hotel in the north. There are some gorgeous views along the shore line, and across a second confluence of rivers; the Torridge and the Taw, to Instow and Appledore. Travel back along the narrow Boundary Road from Crow Point to Braunton for a different perspective of the walk you’ve just done. The walk is level, but unpaved for a long section of the tow path to Crow Point with stone stiles in place too. Public toilets and refreshments can be found in Braunton, wear a hat as there is no shade on a sunny day and carry drinking water as there is nowhere to replenish it on this circuit.

The Hobby Drive – Bideford Bay to Clovelly

  • 4 miles (each way) - easy
 

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The majority of the section of South West Coast Path that links Bideford Bay and Clovelly consists of a shingle road called The Hobby Drive. Visit the convenience shop in Bideford Bay Park, then pick up an intersecting path to the national trail and head west with the sea on your right. After tripping through some lovely shady ancient woodlands, and three small farm fields you will come upon the narrow road way. Turn right and follow its course as it winds around the cliff tops high above the Atlantic Ocean. Elevated views down to the village of Clovelly await and there’s a tiny history lesson about the road’s origins on a commemorative stone bench up there. The Hobby Drive ends at the Clovelly Visitor Centre which has a shop and café to refresh. This walk is largely shaded and cool even on the hottest of days.

Also, take a look at our walking in North Devon walking guides. These two aren’t in there though.

If you are planning a walking holiday in North Devon we have some lovely holiday accommodation in and around Clovelly and Braunton.

Driving

 

#devonroads#iphone6s#ukpotd

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Travelling one mile in the West Country is an altogether different proposition than in most other places in England.   A ten-mile drive anywhere else would include dual-carriage ways and clearly waymarked, wide roads, however here in the west, even the A-roads (which you’ll hear referred to as ‘the motorway’) wiggle and wind themselves through valley bases and over the remotest moorlands and tracts of forest woodland. They aren’t even that wide. So, beyond the wonderful A39 also known as the Atlantic Highway, also known as the Atlantic Highway, you’ll be glad to hear that the whole area is wonderfully unspoilt, bucolic, inviting and striking in beauty. Essentially, an early right turn off the M5 south at Tiverton over this way is a journey worth making. The road network and our geography essentially mean that you don’t come to North Devon by accident or even pass through it on the way to other places unless you’re on the 'slow road' to Cornwall. You come because you love it.

Delicacies & Eateries

Beware the Jemmy Twitcher.  You’ve not had the pleasure of eating the notorious Jemmy Twitcher until you’ve enjoyed a night out in Barnstaple, but more on this gourmet-threat later. Aside from gloriously monikered mysteries, North Devon is home to not one, but two excellent ice cream vendors; Tennacott’s and Hockings.  Hockings are everywhere but if you want to be truly local, seek out Tennacott’s ice cream van and/or a punnet from a stockist. Another delicious wonder are Blackwell’s Pies and Pasties.  If you buy from their shop in Meddon Street, Bideford you will get to enjoy one of their treats fresh from the oven that day. 

There are lots of chip shops in North Devon, but which ones do the locals love? Well Bideford’s is well hidden – seek out Captain Cod’s in Sentry Corner – he’s only open two hours a day, five days a week, so his craft is well honed.  Behind Squires in Braunton is a lesser known chippy that is every bit as good as its high-profile competitor. If you don’t like queues, head to South 16 on South Street for a decent alternative. If you’re in Great Torrington, the chippy, Taffs, in the square is also worth a try.  John’s Deli in both Appledore and Instow sells a divine invention known as a brunchy which is a variety of ‘fry up’ entombed in puff pastry! As for the Jemmy Twitcher – well, you’re on your own. Google it at your peril, none of us have been brave enough to try one (or have survived to tell the tale).

Café Collective on Bideford High Street is one of the very best spots for a quality breakfast or lunch. You’ll be made to feel at home in its welcoming light and airy restaurant and the bespoke menu is the stuff of legend. No exaggeration needed – for light lunches and breakfasts, this is where the high bar stands. 

NC, Noel Corston’s establishment in Woolacombe is something truly special if you like fine dining. Sourcing local produce and specialising in seafood, booking in advance is essential for this wonderful experience. There is one seating per evening in its diminutive restaurant. Exceptional personal service makes this one of the best kept gourmet experiences in North Devon. 

The Italian Kitchen is the place to go if you are looking for a flawless authentic Italian meal. We’re not talking chequered table cloths and spaghetti hoops here. This is the real thing – with ingredients and recipes sourced from Italy. The restaurants origin story is illustrated on the walls inside. Located in central Bideford, this is the true ‘don’ of North Devon eating.  

Curry on the Beach. Yes, it’s true, you can have a curry on the sands as the sun sinks below the horizon at Barricane Beach Café, in Woolacombe, a truly amazing experience. Take a beach blanket, your own alcohol, and cash! This is one of the best kept local secrets for a cool evening meal (No booking necessary. Times 4-7pm). 

Pizza on the Pebbles at The Ridge Café in Westward Ho! is a brilliant spot to get pizza by the ocean. It’s a great experience if you’re pizza repertoire begins in a supermarket deep freeze and extends to the local Domino’s. This is a one of the best budget options in North Devon where you can still enjoy a quality feed. 

Talk like a local

There’s a whole lexicon of sayings used by North Devon folk, some are frequent turns of phrase, so if infiltration is your game, try a few of these on for size.

“What do you know?” means “Hello!”

“Where’s it to?” means “Where is it?” “Where did it go?” or “Where do I put it?”

“Pasty diddy?” means “Got in front of you did he?”

“Get on!” means “You jest!”

“Crabby Dicks…” isn't a saying or an insult. It's the name of a local pub in Bideford situated in a former abbattoir.

“Dreckly...” meansRight away” or “Soon” or “Never.” You can never tell.

“Look it’s a chiggy pig / chucky pig / chuggy pig…” means “Look I’ve found a wood louse everybody.”

Also, Lundy is just called Lundy and not Lundy Island. This is because when translated from the Norse language, Lundy means puffin island. So, when you say Lundy Island in English, you’re really saying Puffin Island Island which makes the more intelligent locals chuckle. (Mind you, even the island's official website calls it Lundy Island - so maybe times have changed!)

Events

 

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It’s not like in that film The Wicker Man down here in North Devon. Honest. Besides, that famous shocker was set in Scotland. Most of our events and parties these days are relatively safe and inclusive. We really know how to throw a shindig down in the West Country.  North Devon even hosts a great music festival which draws in several heavyweight bands and solo artists each June. All roads lead to GoldCoast Oceanfest in Croyde. 

If you want to try something alternative, venture to Pigstock – which usually snares a well-known headliner, but its more of an ale festival and family day for locals. Highly recommended.

Why not look into attending the seriously bonkers Southwest Birdman Competition? 2018 is its 10th year and its following is rapidly on the increase. So why not come and watch the locals launch themselves off the end of Ilfracombe Pier attached to a homemade flying machine!? Sheer madness, but an infectious, fun day out for all the family.

Perhaps the weirdest public festival event is the Worm Charming Festival. Have you ever stood over a patch of ground and tried to entice worms out into the daylight? Didn’t think so, but the competitors in the International Worm Charming Festival do, they love it! Teams gather together to ‘charm’ worms out of the ground without digging! The winning team is whoever has ‘charmed’ the most worms out of the ground in 15 minutes. (this takes place in South Devon though!) 

Days out with kids

Only North Devon has a theme park devoted to sheep – The Big Sheep. I don’t even think New Zealand has dreamt one up and there’s more sheep than humans there. It’s one of the biggest draws for a family day out, and so is The Milky Way a bit further along the A39. However, there are some lesser known all-weather attractions for everybody to enjoy that we’d like to recommend.

Ilfracombe Aquarium

This award-winning family attraction is a sure-fire hit and really does enhance the seaside holiday experience. Mind you, it’s popular all year round and is an affordable choice for local families too. This works well as a gateway to rock pooling at the local beaches, as well as introducing children to the marine creatures and fish they may find there, alongside some exotic specimens too.  There is an on-site café and gift shop.  There are some great museums, galleries and live event venues across the area, but these are some of our favourites. It’s also a great experience for young families!

Tarka Pottery

High above RHS Rosemoor, and a few miles south of the Cavalier town Great Torrington is a true North Devon gem of an activity centre for family days out. You can also take up a pottery class at the wonderful Tarka Pottery in Little Torrington. Guests of all abilities are encouraged to come and get involved. It’s also a great experience for young families and people aged five upwards!    

Lundy

Take a boat trip on the MS Oldenburg to the North Devon craggy enclave ten miles off shore called Lundy.  With no alpha predators on the food chain, you can see relatively tame wild life on the island like goats, deer, seals, rabbits, and mice.  There are some wonderful walks about the island and there are some amazing beauty spots from which to observe the prolific seabirds like puffins, razorbills, and guillemots.

The arts

The Burton Gallery in Bideford may be small, but the curators have been able to exhibit an excellent range of artists and photographers with world class names like 20th century photographer Diane Arbus, Smallfilms Company (Bagpuss / Ivor the Engine), Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, and Andy Warhol, amongst others.  For live entertainment with a twist head to The Plough Arts Centre in Great Torrington which really offers a life-line for those who love the creative arts. Bands, stand-up comedians, poetry recitals, concerts, live-air theatre and a rolling season of off-mainstream feature films from around the world keep the locals happy and entertained. There is also the opportunity to learn a craft here too in one of their classes as well as the aforementioned Tarka Pottery. 

Several books and films have been made in the area too including: The Water Babies, Tarka the Otter by Charles Kingsley, as well as Pink Floyd’s The Wall, The Shout, Lost City of Z, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, The War Zone, and A Very English Scandal to highlight the main ones.

Please visit our blogs for the best beach guides, pubs and dog friendly spots in North Devon too to get the best out of your North Devon holiday.

If you have any local tips that you’d like us to add to this guide, please contact us here.

We have some amazing holiday cottages, apartments, and houses to suit families and groups of all sizes. Why not take a look at our collection of North Devon Holiday Accommodation to feel inspired?

Posted by Ed on 25th May 2018