Saltee’s Guide to Devon with Muddy Stilettos
Hello Devon! Home to awesome coastlines, stunning moors and waist-expanding cream teas. For some, Devon is the county you travel through to get to Cornwall, but that would be missing out on more than 200 miles of South West Coast Path, two vibrant cities and some pretty amazing beaches.
Like all seaside counties we also have our fair share of souvenir shops and yep, it was a Torquay hotel (though thankfully long-gone) which inspired Fawlty Towers. But never fear, Saltee and Muddy are here to steer you to the best bits and Devon has bucket-loads. Shall we? We have teamed up with Muddy Stilettos, the urban guide to the countryside. Experts in witty, super-useful insider guides to the very best food, walks, boutiques, day trips, hotels, interiors and events.
It’s a big county, the UK’s fourth largest, so we’d recommend you set your compass for one of five areas: the South Hams for golden sandy beaches and the upmarket harbour towns of Salcombe and Dartmouth (above); the wilder and less busy North Devon coast – a mecca for surfers which stretches from dramatic Hartland Quay to Lynton and Lynmouth; the cathedral city of Exeter and finally, Dartmoor, a National Park the size of London for dark star-filled skies, wild ponies and its famous granite tors.
If you’re a city gal, hotfoot it to Exeter’s only boutique indie Southernhay House (they’re taking bookings from 6 Aug) – it’s a five-minute trot to the cathedral green and shopping hub. For a zhuzhy gastro stay just nine miles out, Michelin-starred chef Michael Caines’ Lympstone Manor (pictured above) is tentatively taking bookings from 4 July.
Want to wake up to sea views? Book into a luxe beach hut at award-winning Cary Arms & Spa at Babbacombe or the uber-cool yet family and dog-friendly Gara Rock (above) on the cliffs near Salcombe. If it’s windswept beaches and surfer waves you crave, go North to Saunton Sands Hotel & Spa (and there’s two hours free child care a day, just saying).
Take your pick of self-catering beauties across the county with Toad Hall Cottages, or book in a family beach stay for up to 8 at Beam Ends at Beesands (it has a great pub and takeaway fish and chips a two-minute walk down the sand-strewn road). Want the best of both worlds? The Pig at Combe (opening for lunch and stays 6 July) has three self-catering cottages with kitchenettes and the option of tucking into the hotel’s home-grown fayre.
Fancy living the Devon dream? Check out Adam’s Orchard, a thatched cottage for four in the uber-charming village of Stoke Gabriel – where Muddy wants to live and not just because it has two pubs (honest).
Get off grid
Keeping yourself to yourself? You can’t get more remote than a tiny stone bolthole in your own private cove, one of six holiday cottages off the beaten track near Plymouth at Carswell Farm.
For high-flung adventures in the woods, Pickwell Manor near Braunton has just launched its third eco-treehouse (above), and this one is family-friendly with two bedrooms including a king-sized double (yep, you heard right) and a set of bunks. Nestled into picturesque fields in East Devon is Lower Keats Glamping: six safari tents complete with loos, power showers and gas hobs. Sooocivilised.
So many to choose from! You have to visit Dartmoor– it’s breathtaking, steeped in folklore and legend, a green playground dotted with wild ponies and its iconic granite tors, each with its own evocative name and unique shape. Muddy loves Haytor near Bovey Tracey for the views from the top and Hound Tor, for its spooky Baskerville associations and deserted Medieval village which dates back to the Domesday Book. But there are more than 160 others to see. We usually park just up the road from Haytor and head to Saddle Tor to avoid the crowds – the views are just as awesome.
Go to Bigbury on Sea if only to check out Burgh Island and its Art Deco hotel which gets cut off by the sea at high tide. Even better, book a stay in one of its 25 luxe suites when it re-opens in July, all uniquely decorated in period style. Residents get to hitch a ride on the sea tractor which is the only way from mainland to the island when the tide is in. Get it on your birthday bucket list pronto.
Plymouth is celebrating 400 years since the Pilgrim Fathers left for the Americas this year so how about an amble round the Hoe to the Barbican with its bars and indie shops, past stripy Smeaton’s Tower which once saved sailors from the treacherous Eddystone Reef.
Post-lockdown, Muddy is planning to be the first through the doors of the city’s new £46m cultural hub, The Box, a mix of museum, gallery and archive celebrating the city’s cultural heritage, if only to check out the life-size replica of the wooly mammoth. (They used to roam Plymouth Sound, you see.)
Touristy (so go out of season if you can) the still-working and inhabited 16th century fishing village of Clovelly clings to a cliffside of North Devon. It used to be donkeys but now inhabitants use sledges to tote their shopping up and down the steep cobbled streets.
Head away from Exeter’s chain-filled high street for the Gothic Cathedral and its green, and Gandy Street (pictured above – reputedly the inspiration for JK Rowling’s Diagon Alley) with its indie gift shops and bars. It’s just a 15 minute walk downhill to the city’s buzzing quayside where you can hire a bike or kayak from Saddles and Paddles or grab a flat white and ready-made picnic box from Mangos.
SCOFF & QUAFF
Devon’ers are big foodies and food producers, and although many restaurants are obviously still locked down, many are offering takeaway and delivery.
Restaurants, cafes and farm shops
For a totally unique foodie experience, take a water taxi from Exmouth Marina and eat on the water at The River Exe Cafe (pictured above). It gets booked up for the short summer season its open (even shorter this year) so get in there quick.
If all that sea air gives you an appetite only fish and chips on a sea wall can sate, get down to Britannia at the Beach (above) better known to Beesands’ locals as The Shack, open every afternoon/evening except Tuesday, or award-winning Krispies in Exmouth (pre-book only), or go click and collect from Hanburys in Babbacombe.
For upmarket seafood, we love Mitch Tonks’ The Seahorse at Dartmouth for a special occasion, and his Rockfish restaurants around Devon, (hopefully all re-opening soon) including a new one planned for Sidmouth (fingers crossed).
Steering kids away from the dreaded McD’s? They do a quality takeaway burger bap and veggie options at Darts Farm Shack. Hungry for a West Country slap-up breakfast to go (as well as local gin and amazing cakes)? Head to award-winning John’s Deli in Appledore and Instow (they won a Muddy award in 2019).
Got a sweet tooth? For the best savoury takeaway galettes (and yummy chocolate and strawberry crepes), it’s got to be The Boathouse Topsham, or legendary home-made doughnuts (but only on weekends at the mo) The Curious Kitchen in Brixham though you can order their breakfast burritos and takeaway goodies online Weds – Sunday. And yay! Jacka’s Bakery at Plymouth’s Barbican, the oldest, cutest bakery in the UK and baker of amazing cinnamon whirls and sourdough is serving coffee and cake to go..
Muddy is desperate for something chilled in a beer garden and any of these will hit the spot once they’re open: The Anchor at Beer, The Turf on the River Exe (only accessible by bike or a 15 minute walk), The Royal George at Appledore (it’s a deck overlooking the estuary but boy, will it do), The Ferry Boat Inn (aka FBI) at Ditisham where a pint is normally accompanied by a swan or two and Salcombe’s Ferry Inn (fab estuary views even on a dull day, pictured above).
It’s our middle name! Try home-grown wine, fizz and cheese from Sharpham (now open except for vineyard tours) near Totnes, or how about a Salcombe Gin– they’ve just started a virtual gin school where you can enjoy some live distilling from home with an expert. And it would be rude not to have a Devon pasty while you’re here so get your chops round anything from 2019 Winner of Britain’s Best Pasty Chunk of Devon (available by post).
Cream teas and ice-cream
You have to have a cream tea, it’s the rule! For takeaway, head to the Horsebox at Otterton Mill near Budleigh Salterton or get a Cream Tea Picnic Hamper delivered from Devon Heaven, all made with the best local goodies. And when hotels open back up, go pinky-posh with an afternoon cream tea at Boringdon Hall, in their stunning Great Hall or take tea overlooking the awesome Humphry Repton landscape in the library at Hotel Endsleigh.
Muddy loves any ice-cream from Salcombe Dairy (but I’ll have the cocoa and shortbread-filled Salcombe Mud if you’re buying) or any of the 40 creamy flavours but especially Blackcurrant and Cream from Langage Farm. In-the-know North Devoners swear by family-run Hockings and the good news is the vans have been unleashed from lockdown and are at Appledore Quay, Westward Ho!, Bideford Quay and Torrington.
Get on the water
Theme parks shut? No problemo! Buy a bucket and line (most newsagents in coastal towns sell them) and go crabbing off the pontoon at Dittisham (Dartmouth and Kingsbridge are good spots too). And don’t forget to put the little fellas back when you finish.
Hot in the city? Exeter-based Exe Adventures will pick you up in the minibus and take you to the canal for the afternoon for a hassle-free kayak and a paddle board down the canal.
If you’re in Salcombe, don’t miss (it’s bright pink so you can’t), Devon’s oldest sweet shop Cranch’s for the best retro candies and amazing fudge.
If you’re toddling round with littlies and desperate to stretch your legs there are over 150 miles of National Cycle Network running through the county and you can hire bikes for the day along the trailer-friendly and mostly traffic-free 11 miles of the Granite Way, which links Okehampton and Lydford on the edge of Dartmoor. Just a short detour off the Way at Sourton Lake Muddy-approved Bearslake Inn are running a takeaway chippy on Friday and Saturday evenings.
When lockdown unlocks pack your kids’ wetsuits for a day at River Dart Country Park, a 90-acre natural playground with zip wires and a beautiful shallow lake with little beaches and shady areas, and an exciting pirate ship for the kids to dive off. For rainy days, there’s Quay Climbing’s Clip ‘n Climb on Exeter’s Quayside – you have to help clip them on but you get a scramble up the walls too.
There are zoos at Paignton and Dartmoor Zoo at Sparkeswell and Muddy’s local, the bijou Shaldon Zoo. After you’ve ogled their noisy lemurs, grab a bite from award-winning eco caff Ode and head down the spooky Smugglers Tunnel to Ness Cove. It’s a secluded local’s beach (but no loos). We also love Donkey Sanctuary for cute rescue donks (free to visit but donations welcome), saved from around the globe – they’re so friendly you can stroke their furry noses over the fence.
For inexperienced little horse lovers (3-10), The Miniature Pony Centre is a good introduction, or you can trot straight out of the stables and onto Dartmoor for a one or two-hour hack with family-run Cholwell Riding Stables though due to the current restrictions it’s more experienced riders in groups of up to six only for now.
Want to see dolphins, porpoise and seals? It’s not guaranteed, but Teignmouth’s new Devon Sea Safari is getting kudos for its wildlife-finding prowess – cue lots of happy locals.
Every day’s a school day at Morwhellam Quay. This 200 year-old working mine and once the busiest port in Britain is where BBC’s Edwardian Farmwas filmed, where you can take an underground train to the copper mine and dress up (and bake) like a Victorian. The Muddy kids rate the prehistoric caves at Kents Cavern near Torquay – the best bit is when they turn out the lights so you can see what ‘being in the dark’ really means.
In North Devon’s surfer paradise, you’re spoilt for choice: the dune-backed beaches at Croyde (above), or Woolacombe or the gentler Saunton Sands– all large sandy beaches with good waves and rock pools. Off the beaten track, locals love Putsborough between Croyde and Woolacombe, and if you don’t mind a bit of walk and climb down the beach, the secluded Bucks Mill or Lee Bay.
Among South Devon’s 50 beaches, family-friendly faves include the golden sands of Bantham (good for surfers) which has all the facilities you need but big enough to spread a socially-distanced towel and you can take a SUP or surf lesson here too. Beautiful Blackpool Sands has the added bonus of the fab Venus Café, and Muddy loves a swim (in a wetsuit of course) at gentle Hope Cove (above) – no steps to climb and three good eateries to warm up in afterwards.
Beer (the South Devon village not the bevy, above) on the Jurassic Coast could easily be in our Unmissables section, for its working fishing boats seen in many an insta-feed. Some good galleries too.
Not only do we have Dartmoor’s granite tors, and the highest point in England and Wales, High Willhays, if you’re feeling energetic, the jagged cliffs at Hartland in North Devon are fascinating thanks to a prehistoric underground surge which pushed the strata on its end. To the north east is moonscape of the Valley of Rocks, with its feral goats and occasional open air theatre. And don’t forget, one-third of Exmoor is in Devon (the rest is Somerset) where unlike Dartmoor, you have the bonus of a stonking coastline, as well as roaming deer and birdlife so twitchers, pack your binoculars.
We’re spoilt for choice with over 200 miles of South West Coast Path. Muddy’s *not-very* scientific straw poll of friends gave the top spot to the National Trust circular walk at Bolt Head near Salcombe- rugged and dramatic with top-notch sea views. For wildflowers you can’t beat the Heddon Valley– Muddy loves the nearby Swiss chalet-style Hunters Inn for a snifter or if you need it toddler-friendly, the short trails at Wembury have 12 rubbings plaques and loos to keep the little ‘uns happy.
You can’t get more woodsy and atmospheric than Wistman’s Wood, filled with ancient stunted oak trees and moss-covered boulders.
Top spot goes to Ottery St Mary’s November 5th Tar Barrels where brave locals run though the town carrying fiery barrels while onlookers cheer them on. (We laugh in the face of danger, hoohaha!) Devon also does a good line (‘scuse the pun) in cliff railways – the one that connects the villages of Lynton and Lynmouth (above) is powered by water from the river Lyn which weighs one carriage down the cliff then splashes out to let it back up again, or if you’re in South Devon, hop on Babbacombe’s cliffside rail to get to lovely Oddicombe Beach.
For folklore, head to Dartmoor and Kitty Jay’s grave, the 19th century burial site of a young woman who committed suicide after being betrayed by her lover – whenever you go there are always fresh flowers there. And while you’re on the moors, how about a guided llama walk? They’re great walking companions and, bonus – they can carry your cream tea while you hear about the history and landscape of the moors from your tour guide.
Hoping to see a giant, naked and pregnant woman brandishing a sword? You got it! Head to the pier at Ilfracombe for Damian Hirst’s Verity, a 20m tall stainless steel and bronze sculpture. She’s Marmite to the locals but love her or hate her, she’s a sight worth seeing.
Totnes is offbeat in all the right ways – eco-friendly, and so independent up until recently it had its own currency. It’s chocka with indie boutiques and brilliant homewares shops which – hallelujah! – are open again at last. Go, go, go!
Wherever you’re planning your staycation this year, ensure you have Saltee by your side to protect your skin and it’s great for the whole family. Here’s to memorable Saltee adventures, a little closer to home.