North Devon: Our guide to secret beaches, beautiful walks, and fantastic food
With many of us spending the summer in the UK, the question is do we head to Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, or Somerset? In truth, I love all of them and would happily spend the holidays exploring all the nooks and crannies that the South West has to offer.
Why North Devon?
North Devon has some of the most beautiful coast line in the UK. Giant towering cliffs and hidden, sandy coves. If you avoid the most popular spots like Woolacombe, Saunton, and Croyde (though we do love a surf here off season!) then you can enjoy the amazing scenery in peace. With much of the UK choosing to have a staycation this year, it’s worth looking at North Devon in closer detail…
Here we share some of our favourite spots. These are the beaches, walks, pubs, and places to stay that we have most enjoyed.
1. Sandy Cove
This small and beautiful beach lies just to the west of Lee Bay along the coast path. It’s steeped in history as both Lee Bay and Sandy Cove had a notorious reputation for smuggling. There’s a long crack in the rocks at Sandy Bay which is said to have acted as a smugglers hide out when the revenue officers came on a raid. We all enjoyed slipping through the crack but only to do a bit of rock pooling!
How to get there
To get to the beach take the coastal path up the road from Lee Bay and along a field or two (a map helps!). You can see the beach from above and reach it via some steps. That whole stretch of coastal path from Lee Bay to Morte Point and beyond to Woolacombe is absolutely beautiful and well worth exploring.
2. Woody Bay
This is one of my favourite beaches. It’s not your average golden, sandy beach but instead has huge boulders that are great to climb. There’s an incredible waterfall and the BEST part of the beach is the large rock pool that acts as a natural plunge pool. I LOVED swimming here and we had the place to ourselves. Admittedly it was April and quite cloudy so Woody Bay was empty but it can get busy in peak season. All around the beach you can see evidence of the pier and holiday resort that the Victorians had planned to build.
How to get there
We walked to the bay from Caffyn’s campsite but there are a few parking spots in a laybay above (signposted Woody Bay). You then need to walk down to the bay
3. Broad sands
This beach is an absolute beauty. Set below steep cliffs covered in moss and ferns, it extends across 3 coves with a double cove at the far end. We paddled the kayak from one side of the cove, around the rocks (through the jellyfish) back to the other side of the cove. We visited on a sunny, summer day and the beach was quite busy but if you aim to arrive as the tide goes out, there’s loads of space to spread out!
How to get there
From the Sandy Cove hotel, above Combe Martin, take the old coast road until you reach the sign for BroadSands. Descend approx. 200 steps to reach the bay.
Summer in England isn’t always sunny…. Luckily there’s one activity that doesn’t need good weather – walking! Walks always feature heavily on our holiday itinerary and North Devon has some great ones.
1. Heddon Valley
This is a really beautiful walk through an ancient valley down to a wild, stony beach at Heddon Mouth. Becks and I once stayed at The Hunters Inn at the top of the valley (where you can usually find somewhere to park) many years ago. My lasting memory, beside the beauty of the place, was having to stop our dad’s dog, Tallulah, from chasing the peacocks.
Once parked, follow the footpath as it meanders down alongside the Heddon River, crossing it on beautiful old stone bridges. It continues down through woodland or beneath fern covered hills until you reach the beach. There are big boulders to climb, beautiful views along the coast, and the ruin of a lime kiln which is a good place to shelter from wind or rain!
2. Valley of Rocks
Just west of Lynton is the Valley of Rocks, an amazing u-shaped valley filled with unusual rock formations and feral goats all around which seem to roam dangerously close to the high cliff edges. We walked through the Valley of Rocks to Lynton and then took the kids on the Cliff Railway down to Lynmouth. They LOVED it! It’s a steep, Victorian railway which is carved into the rocks – pretty touristy but good fun none the less.
3. Morte Point
I love this beautiful stretch of coastline. We started walking from Barricane Beach and followed the coast path up to Morte Point. It’s a bit of a climb at first but levels out from Mortehoe. There are also many secret coves that you can explore along the way at low tide. The views from the top are incredible, occasionally revealing the hidden reef just offshore which has a deadly reputation with sailors and has left many shipwrecks scattered across the seafloor. Having just seen the crowds of people at Woolacombe beach, it was refreshing to have this stretch of the coast pretty much to ourselves.
Time was against us for our walk so we headed back down from Morte Point to Barricane beach for our Sri Lankan curry but you could continue along the coast path to reach Sandy Cove and Lee Bay and maybe even enjoy a pint at the Grampus Inn at Lee.
PUBS & GRUB
Although I do love a good pub and a bit of grub, I only know a few top spots in North Devon (we normally take a picnic out for the day and then eat on the BBQ in a campsite by night). That said, the three listed below are all favourites of mine and well worth a visit if you’re in the area.
For me, the older, creakier, and cosier the pub the better. I like to huddle round a pint with a packet of Scampi Fries after a wet walk in winter, or to enjoy a glass of rose in the sunshine of a good pub garden.
The Grampus Inn is a fantastic spot tucked away in the beautiful little village of Lee. Walk along the coast path, or swim from the bay then head up to the Grampus for a rewarding drink, a tasty lunch or dinner, or treat yourself to a Cream Tea. Great pub for families, plus lots of pub games, and frequent live music.
Though the Glorious Oyster is in a slightly strange place…. a car park…. the bright blue beach shack is well worth a visit on a sunny day because of the amazing food and friendly service. Before lunch we walked along Instow beach which is wonderfully wild, and the kids loved looking at the old wrecked boats.
We then headed to the Glorious Oyster for some lunch.
Firstly, the coffee is amazing. It’s from a brilliant local company called Sabins and I’ve been ordering coffee from them ever since. The food menu at the Glorious Oyster is full of locally sourced seafood and fresh oysters – yum! We ordered a few plates to share and were slightly disappointed that the kids enjoyed it so much, leaving only slim pickings for the grown-ups who were too busy chatting to tuck in quickly enough…. That said, whilst the kids had an ice cream for pudding and played on the dunes, we were able to relax in the sunshine and enjoy some extra oysters.
This is my top recommendation for food in North Devon. On sunny evenings, the beach cafe serves Sri Lankan curry (choice of meat and veg) from 5-7pm on a first come, first served basis. Arrive early and join the queue to make sure you don’t miss out! Bring your own wine or beer and then sit on the beach or the headland benches above to enjoy your dinner.
For us, it was a sunny Sunday evening and we walked down the coast path from Morthoe. As we had the dogs with us, we picked out one of the benches above Barricane Beach as our ‘base’. There are a series of benches set along the headland which are so hidden that they’re very easily missed. They offer lots of space, a good comfy perch, and front row sunset seats.
Between us one went to join the queue and order curry, one to get some beers, one to escort the children to the sea, and the rest were left to sit and enjoy the sun! This was one of my favourite evenings ever; the curry was delicious and perfect to enjoy with family, beer, and sea.
4. Take a picnic!
Given our coasts are completely heaving this summer and places to eat either totally booked up or spoilt by frustratingly long queues, we tend to just take a packed lunch with us wherever we go. Not only is it much cheaper, but also means you can eat wherever you are rather than having to rush to a certain location or stress about finding somewhere before the kids have total meltdowns. Pack a picnic into a backpack and set off along the coast path to see where you end up. Nothing better than a sandwich and a packet of Wotsits I say!
Still thinking about your holiday? Find our favourite campsites in the South West here