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Look north in the two coast county

Costa Rica

Devon, with its two massive moors and double coastline, is too much for any one holiday. You'll just have to go again. I look at the top half of this great West Country draw, from the wild breakers at Bude to the heights of Exmoor, and all those patchwork-quilt farms, rolling hills, narrow flower-filled lanes, fishing villages and cream teas in between.

Awake to the tide

Our wake-up call in the Woolacombe Bay Hotel was the frothy tumult of crashing waves on the full-in tide. That meant a full day of golden opportunity to come. Because by the time breakfast was over, the sea was in full retreat down one of the widest, longest beaches in the west. We sauntered the three mile sweep of sand, climbed Baggy Point , collapsed into the springy turf among blue harebells and watched lazy lines of surf on the beach far below. Then back for a sundowner on our due-west facing balcony. This rambling, welcoming 120 year old hotel, full of quiet, comfy corners, has a health and fitness centre and a new restaurant. They dumped staid and safe seaside cuisine for an adventurous menu– I enjoyed my shark and grilled vegetables. /

Gem in grey granite

Deep in greenest Devon, down high-hedged lanes, among the tucks and folds of steep and sudden hillsides, there are hide- away houses you might never know existed. Fortunately the National Trust own some of the best, so they are open to us all. One of the trust’s inviting brown signs led us to a gem in grey granite, Regency mansion Arlington Court. Millions know the work of its architect, Thomas Lee. His Wellington Monument is unmissable from the M5 in Somerset. It is just as Miss Rosalie Chichester (aunt of globe circling yachtsman Francis Chichester) left it in 1948, richly furnished and scattered with delightful oddities. An amber elephant from China. A forgotten watercolour by William Blake. And umpteen model boats and ship paintings. In the grounds for a restored walled garden, there’s a “wilderness walk” and a splendid collection of old carriages. A fine example of the delights our countryside still serves up. 01271 850296. Appledore’s Maritime Musem is another marvel.

Savour the cream of Devon

It’s one of the great culinary exports, now a teatime institution from New York to Singapore. But nobody bakes a fresher scone, clots a richer cream and stirs a sweeter jam than Devon, where it all started. Some say the monks at Tiverton first served Devon cream tea to workers clearing up after a Viking rampage. Only the West Country has the right combination of soil, climate and dairy cattle, and there is scarcely a cafe in the county where it isn't served. Look away from your waist-line now if you don’t want to know the result of a cream of at least 55 per cent butter fat. They 'clot' the rich, unpasteurized milk over a gentle heat. A layer of cream forms, the consistency of soft butter, the colour of pale primroses. Devon’s rule is: cream first, then jam. You know you reached Cornwall, because they put cream on top of jam.

Reserved for nature

It sits alongside top-slot locations such as the Amazonian rainforest and Ayres Rock. The North Devon Biosphere Reserve is one of only 507such reserves in the world, and the first in the UK so designated.. These “special places for people and nature,” are chosen because of the big strides taken to conserve them. Devon’s Biosphere reserve (30 miles by 20) stretches from Exmore almost to Dartmoor, and out to sea to Lundy Island. It takes in the Taw and Torridge rivers and streams, and Braunton Burrows, one of the northern hemisphere’s best dune systems. Most of it is open to the public. One good way to absorb the poetry of this special place is on the 30 mile cycleway from Braunton and Meeth.

Jazz up the line

Not since Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon joined Marilyn Monroe in an all-woman band on the train in “Some Like It Hot, has there been so much musical fun on a rail trip. You’ll have to go far to find more Boogie Woogie on your Choo Choo than on the 20.55 from Exeter The band’s aboard (there’s a bar too) the entire 39 miles to Barnstable. Other nights a train takes you and the band from Barnstable to Eggesford, where you all walk on to the pub. And dat band gonna keep on stompin’ on the train back. (From June 13). This is the Tarka Line, a precious piece of railroad swinging to every sinuous curve of the rivers Yeo and Taw. Trains run all year (web site.) It’s the original scampering ground of Henry Williamson's famous otter, now returning to rivers throughout Britain. www.carfreedaysout.com ; www.thetrainline.com

Hello campers

Tie on your red bandanna, and string up those love beads. You too can ride the original classic Volkswagen Camper down the Atlantic Highway to Bude (or to any quiet cove that takes your fancy). [Op cut: No need to join a rock band, or take up surfing to relive the summer of 1967] Several companies now hire out the best of all mobile homes. (Strictly speaking it’s the 1950 to 1967 VW Type 2; “Camper” and “Dormobile” are versions of it.). Stop often. The retro cream, turquoise, apple green and primrose yellow hues are sure to turn heads. These stout troopers for the open road may lack the ultimate purist details of split-screen windshield, white band tyres and concertina poptop roof. But they have JVC tuner and CD player instead. ( 01392 811931) hire from Exeter. To hire in London (01767 600440)
* The writer stayed at the Woolacombe Bay Hotel, 01271 870388 - see entry (1) for web link.

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