A week camping in... North Devon
Gently undulating countryside leads down to craggy coves, while unspoilt, sandy beaches border pretty seaside towns. North Devon truly is a dream holiday destination for a camping trip.
Ilfracombe, the area’s best-known coastal town, is a resort in the subdued, sedate sense. There are gardens and a promenade to stroll, a theatre by the sea, and Victorian architecture to gently ease you back into a time gone by. And whatever your opinion on modern art, you can’t fail to be impressed by Damien Hirst’s controversial 66ft-tall sculpture, Verity.
On overcast days there are plenty of indoor attractions to explore around the area. Then, when the sun appears head to one of the lovely local beaches.
The village of Woolacombe describes itself as a jewel in the North Devon crown. It’s a small resort, with lots of beach shops and cafés. But it is the beautiful, curving, sheltered beach that’s a favourite for swimming and surfing that makes this place so popular. The beach was recently voted the best in Britain and one of Europe’s top five and it’s easy to see why. With its vast expanse of sand and rolling waves it’s a great place to spend a day or two.
And when the crowds have gone for the day, it’s hard to beat a walk on the beach as the setting sun casts a golden glow over the water.
You could even take a metal detector out onto the sand and try a spot of beachcombing.
The Big Sheep theme park, near Bideford, is a farm-based attraction famous for its sheep racing and the Milky Way Adventure Park is another great family day out.
A day trip to remote and rugged Lundy Island is unforgettable and you should definitely visit Clovelly, North Devon’s unique traffic-free, cobble-paved fishing village. And if you visit this area, whatever else you do, you simply must make time for a visit to quirky Watermouth Castle.
Day 1: Visit Woolacombe Beach
Woolacombe Beach is one of the best in Britain. Dunes and cliffs provide shelter – and also give you the chance to take a walk and stand back, elevated above the beach, to appreciate its beauty. The vast expanse of sand means it never feels crowded, no matter how busy it gets, and the sea is welcoming for all ages, especially on a hot day. Spend a day here, have a relaxing meal and drink in one of the village’s numerous pubs and then catch one of the glorious sunsets. Sheer bliss.
Day 2: Exploring Ilfracombe
Start your holiday with a visit to Ilfracombe’s small-but-perfectly-formed aquarium, where a wide range of aquatic life is well presented. The rays seem to be a favourite here, and its size is reflected in the admission price. Likewise, Ilfracombe Museum presents an eclectic mix of local curiosities to intrigue old and young visitors for an hour or two.
Created out of stainless steel and bronze, Verity stands on the harbour looking out to sea, holding aloft a huge sword and carrying the scales of justice. The statue depicts a pregnant woman and half of the sculpture shows the internal anatomy of the pregnant woman, with the unborn baby clearly visible. It would be fair to say, opinions among locals and visitors are divided about the sculpture but there’s no denying it catches your attention and it’s well worth seeing.
Day 3: Down on the Farm: the Big Sheep in Bideford
The Big Sheep, near Bideford, is a farm-based attraction famous for its sheep racing but with lots of other stuff going on, indoors and outdoors. Built around one of the county’s farming traditions, it turns sheep into entertainment. Education on rare breeds is mixed in with the stagecraft of training sheep to behave for food reward. It’s great fun to watch.
The Big Sheep is still a working farm, although family entertainment is the main thing here. Ducks being rounded up by sheepdogs, through courses that involve a helter-skelter and sliding into a pond; lamb feeding and sheep shearing demonstrations are among programmes of events that run daily during school holidays. It’s not all for the kids, though – you can also visit the craft beer microbrewery and gin distiller, and take home a few samples!
Day 4: Take a trip back in time to Clovelly
North Devon’s unique traffic-free, cobble-paved fishing village, Clovelly (pictured above, image courtesy of Pixabay) is privately owned. There’s an admission charge to the visitor’s centre but it is free to walk down the cobbled street to the harbour. Clovelly has one steep main street and no cars are allowed, so the 200 residents use sledges made of robust plastic boxes lashed to wooden frames to drag everything from the top of the hill where they park their cars.
You leave with a clear idea of what life was once like here. If you’re looking for something to do with kids, take a trip to the Milky Way Adventure Park near Clovelly. It’s a fun family theme park with lots going on, including what is billed as the “longest, tallest and fastest roller coaster in Devon”. There also play areas for little kids and live shows throughout the day.
Day 5: Take a boat trip to the island of Lundy
For a real chance to get away from it all, take a boat trip out to Lundy, a tiny, tranquil island in the Bristol Channel, off the Devon coast, owned by the National Trust. It has its own campsite and various other places to stay but you can visit for the day on the MS Oldenburg, which departs from Bideford or Ilfracombe at least three times a week. Birdwatching and walking are the number one activities here – and to be honest there’s not a lot else on the island. But it’s a truly memorable day out nonetheless.
Day 6: Watermouth Castle
Watermouth Castle has been described as a theme park but that barely touches on what’s going on here. The indoor section is packed full of quirky treasures, nostalgic displays and curios, including a life-sized animatronic robot band playing oompah versions of classic pop tunes.
Outside, there are more animatronics and a room full of vintage amusement arcade games, before you reach the main theme park. It includes rides, play areas, old funfair attractions and beautiful landscaped gardens. Not forgetting Gnome Land – the secret world of little people. It all adds up to a strange but wonderful day out.
Day 7: Walk the coast of Devon
For ramblers, photographers and birdwatchers, a brilliant section of the South West Coast Path starts three miles to the east of Ilfracombe at Combe Martin and winds its way past Wild Pear Beach, on a 14-mile route to Lynmouth. The coastal views it offers are staggering, but it does include some challenging climbs including the summit of Great Hangman, which, at 1,043ft, is the highest point on the entire path.
Where to visit in North Devon
Near Bideford, Devon EX39 5TA
The Big Sheep
Bideford, Devon, EX39 5AP
The Milky Way Adventure Park
Clovelly, Bideford, Devon EX39 5RY
The Pier, Ilfracombe, Devon EX34 9EQ
Wilder Road, Ilfracombe, Devon EX34 8AF
Watermouth Castle Theme Park
Berrynabor, Ilfracombe, Devon EX34 9SL
Where to eat in North Devon
The Captain’s Table
7 West Road, Woolacombe, Devon EX34 7BW
The Captain's Table is a family-friendly restaurant in the heart of Woolacombe village, with tremendous views from the upstairs seating area.
It serves all-day breakfasts, light lunches and hearty evening meals and if you love fish then the Catch of The Day is a must – locally landed seafood including haddock, cod, sea bass, hake, crab, lobster and mussels.
One to visit in North Devon - the Lynton & Lynmouth Cliff Railway
The Lynton & Lynmouth Cliff Railway is one of Devon’s best attractions. Opened in 1890, this working heritage railway is Grade II listed, the UK’s only fully water powered railway and one of just three examples left in the world.
After reaching the top, some 500ft above the lower station, you can enjoy a cream tea at the Cliff Top Café and take in the stunning views.
Read more great features in every issue of Camping magazine – available to buy here from our digital store