The South West might be Britain’s premier holiday region full of world-class tourist attractions, unique food and drink and breathtaking scenery, but with it comes overcrowded hotspots as tourists seek alternatives to cancelled overseas trips. As the coronavirus pandemic continues to lurk over just about everything we do, this autumn is the time to explore off the beaten track and see what else the South West has to offer.
Accessible within a three hour driving radius of the major key cities in the South of England (Bristol, Cornwall, London and even Birmingham), East Devon is the ideal spot for a country break in these uncertain times.
The region boasts some of the most scenic, diverse and crucially – rural - landscapes in the UK - rolling hills, picturesque villages, big bold ridges, sizeable forests, clear fast-flowing streams. Not to mention a remarkable coastline lined with beautiful beaches and interesting seaside resorts that has been designated a World Heritage Site.
You can find pockets of peace and quiet in this green and mainly tranquil zone - which contains the world-famous Jurassic Coast as well as two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Co-founder of East Devon Excellence, Ruud Jansen Venneboer, says: “Our pubs, hotels, B&Bs, holiday lets, caravan parks and campsites are open again - but what you will not see in East Devon are vast hordes all crowded into one place. To me this area seems like the obvious place for a holiday if you’ve spent the lockdown period in an urban area with your family with little chance to breathe in scenery and fresh air.”
Here are East Devon Excellence’s tips to travel like a local and enjoy the rural splendor of East Devon.
Take the less travelled path
- Enjoy breathtaking scenes along the South West Coast Path from beautiful Branscombe to Beer, or venture further along the Jurassic Coast to Exmouth. www.southwestcoastpath.org.uk
- Take the short walk from Colyton to Smallicombe Farm, where all manner of rural pursuits are on hand to enjoy. A spokesman for the visitor attraction said: “For those conscious of social distancing the farm trail is perfectly safe to use - there’s no need to socially distance from the Dorset Down sheep, Ruby Devon Cattle or resident fairies!” www.smallicombe.com
- Explore Fire Beacon Hill – one of ten East Devon nature reserves. It’s a ten-minute stroll between Sidmouth and Sidbury and those who make it are rewarded with stunning panoramas from the place where the ridge terminates in a dramatic summit. This was the ideal place to light warning beacons in times of yore. Managed with nature conservation as a priority, the nature reserves are free to visit and explore and range from ancient woodlands to stunning heathland and wetland havens. eastdevon.gov.uk/countryside/wild-east-devon-nature-reserves
- Located inland of Exmouth and neighbouring Budleigh, you’ll find the beautiful and unique East Devon Pebblebed Heaths. These scenic heathlands offer superb walking opportunities - try one of the many way marked walks on Woodbury Common as a taster. www.pebblebedheaths.org.uk
Dining with a view
- Only accessible by boat, River Exe Cafe is a floating oasis, located on a pontoon in the middle of the Exe Estuary. Serving the freshest seafood (with something delicious for all diners), alongside an exceptional wine list the entire experience becomes an unforgettable event. www.riverexecafe.com
- The Pig at Combe is bursting with character and countryside charm. Lose yourself in their 3,500 acre-grounds, and explore the three walled gardens before consuming the best the region has to offer thanks to the chefs’ 25 mile radius menu and “obsessive commitment to home-grown local produce.”www.thepighotel.com/at-combe
- The Hideaway in Seaton is a fabulous seaside cafe tucked - as its name suggests - safely away from the more populated main town. www.thehideawayseaton.com
Where to go
- At the head of the River Exe, lies the quaint and historic estuary port town Topsham. A haven for independent food and drink obsessives with a family-run butcher, cheese shop, wine emporium, green grocers with flowers spilling out onto the pavement, cake crafters, seafood restaurants and excellent coffee houses.
- Pay a visit to Honiton’s Thelma Hulbert Gallery, an award-winning public art space which hosts an acclaimed programme of contemporary art and craft exhibitions. At present the gallery is featuring work by the famous landscape artist and sculptor Richard Long, called Being in the Moment. The exhibition is kick-starting East Devon District Council’s programme of cultural recovery. www.thelmahulbert.com
- Dart’s Farm - one of the best known farm shops in southern England - is less than a mile from Topsham and offers a one-stop destination where there’s something for everyone. www.dartsfarm.co.uk
- Hire traditional wooden self-drive boats and set sail for an hour’s mackerel fishing in Beer – recently named BBC Countryfile’s Best Picnic Spot 2020.
- Seaton Jurassic: Devon Wildlife Trust’s flagship visitor centre is a dynamic new attraction which tells the amazing story of the remarkable coastline. seatonjurassic.org
- Voyage along the Jurassic Coast with Stuart Line Cruises based in Exmouth. The company has been sailing along the coast and up the Exe estuary for more than 50 years. A voyage to Sidmouth and beyond is one of the best maritime experiences available in the entire West Country. www.stuartlinecruises.co.uk
- Seaton’s historic tramway. The narrow gauge line takes the wonderful old trams on a half-hour journey up through the scenic estuarine valley alongside the River Axe and the award-winning Seaton Wetlands Nature Reserve (a must for nature-lovers) to Colyton where a 20 minute stroll to walk off lunch will take you into one of the most picturesque villages in Devon. www.tram.co.uk
- Join Wild East Devon rangers at the spectacular Seaton Wetlands for a family fun-packed houreastdevon.gov.uk/countryside/new-family-activity-sessions-at-seaton-wetlands of exploring, discovering wildlife and getting creative or have a personalised guided trail of discovery, well away from any crowds, to behind-the-scenes places where you can feel completely isolated and at ease.eastdevon.gov.uk/countryside/new-guided-tours-of-seaton-wetlands
Places to stay
- Andrewshayes Holiday Park, near Axminster - an award winning holiday park set in beautiful countryside overlooking the valleys and hills around the pretty village of Dalwood. www.andrewshayes.co.uk
- Mazzard Farm holiday cottages - offers six contemporary and luxury holiday cottages, situated around a pretty, cobbled courtyard near Ottery St Mary. www.mazzardfarm.com
- Higher Wiscombe, luxury self-catering accommodation near Colyton, for parties from 6-32.www.higherwiscombe.com
- Cadhay House historic Tudor manor house offers luxurious self-catering accommodation for up to 22 people, with three holiday cottages on-site providing additional accommodation for 12 – 14. cadhay.org.uk
- Ladram Bay - multi-award winning holiday park nestled on the Jurassic Coast between Sidmouth and Budleigh Salterton. www.ladrambay.co.uk
- Deer Park Country House - the ultimate destination for large family groups (and weddings) - book the entire Georgian house, or spend a night in their luxury tree house! www.deerpark.co.uk
For further information on East Devon Excellence, please visit www.eastdevonexcellence.co.uk.
For further information on the East Devon AONB, please visit www.eastdevonaonb.org.uk