A local’s guide to North Devon

Days out

Posted by Ed on 25th May 2019

North Devon

For those of you longing to fit in, avoid the crowds and dig out North Devon's true gems – read on. This is the ultimate guide for experiencing this magical part of the UK coastline with tips and tricks from a true Devonian.

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 3 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 shipwrecking 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. Read on to discover all you need to know so you can holiday in North Devon like a local.

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Our favourite walks in North Devon

South West Coast path

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. 

Here are two of our favourite walks that are a little off the beaten track:

River Caen to Crow Point 

6 miles - easy to moderate

Crow Point

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 Museum of British Surfing and heading south along the elevated towpath, 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 Sands Hotel in the north. There are some gorgeous views along the shoreline, and across the 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 towpath to Crow Point with stone stiles in place too. Public toilets and refreshments can be found in Braunton make sure you 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

Clovelly

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 roadway. 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.

Driving North Devon's best roads

A39

Travelling a mile in the West Country is an altogether different proposition than in most other places in England. A 10-mile drive anywhere else would include dual-carriageways 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, 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.

Our favourite hidden places to eat in North Devon

Local delicacies

Hocking's
Hocking's credit: Instagram @hockingsicecreamofficial

 

Beware the Jemmy Twitcher. You’ve not had the pleasure of eating the notorious delicacy 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 Hocking’s. Hockings is 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 local wonder is 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.

Squires
Squires credit: Instagram @way2khul

 

There are lots of chip shops in North Devon, but which ones do the locals love? Well, Braunton is home to two beloved chippies: Squires, and South 16, a lesser-known chippy that is every bit as good as its high-profile competitor. If you’re in Great Torrington, the chippy, Taffs, in the square is also worth a try.

If you’re after something incredibly unique, Johns 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.

Places to eat

NC credit: Instagram @mariemaso

 

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 sitting 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 tablecloths and spaghetti hoops here. This is the real thing – with ingredients and recipes sourced from Italy. The restaurant's origin story is illustrated on the walls inside. Located in central Bideford, this is the true ‘don’ of North Devon eating. 

Want to try some surf-inspired street food? Biffen's Kitchen serves up a different delicacy every night from burritos to a katsu curry that has become a favourite with the locals. Only open during the summer season, this is the perfect pit-stop after a day on Croyde beach.

Pizza on the Pebbles
Pizza on the pebbles credit: Instagram @eat_pigandolive

 

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 one of the best budget options in North Devon where you can still enjoy a quality feed.

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).

Talk like a local

Lundy

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 abattoir.

“Dreckly...” means “Right 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 woodlouse 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!)

Weird and wonderful events in North Devon

Oceanfest
GoldCoast Oceanfest credit: Instagram @thecubanbrothers

 

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 it’s more of an ale festival and family day for locals. Highly recommended.

Why not look into attending the seriously bonkers South West Birdman Competition? 2020 is its 12th 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

The Big Sheep
The Big Sheep credit: Instagram @thebigsheepfamilyattraction


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. Plus, there is an on-site café and gift shop.

Tarka Pottery

Tarka Pottery
Tarka Pottery credit: Instagram @tarkapottery


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. Take up a pottery class at the wonderful Tarka Pottery in Little Torrington. Guests of all abilities are encouraged to come and get involved, so it’s also a great experience for young families and people aged 5 upwards!   

Lundy

Take a boat trip on MS Oldenburg to the North Devon craggy enclave, 10 miles offshore, called Lundy.  With no alpha predators on the food chain, you can see relatively tame wildlife 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.

For more inspiration, take a look at our guide to the 10 best things to do in Devon, and 10 things to do with kids on a rainy day in Devon.

Arts and culture in North Devon

Burton Art Gallery
Burton Art Gallery credit: Instagram @cudmorejane

 

The Burton Art 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 lifeline 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, or inspired by, 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.

Stay in our cottages and experience the real North Devon

Now you know what to do, where to go and how to talk, the last thing you need to do is get down 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 and come and experience this unique destination for yourself?

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.