As we’re still firmly in the grip of winter, enduring lashing rain, sleet and frost, it’s no wonder so many people book their summer vacations during the beginning of the year – so they have something to look forward to as temperatures continue to dip.
And, when the weather is good, there’s no better place to enjoy a British summer than in Devon, in the south-west of England, with its picture-postcard pretty villages, stunning beaches, get-away-from-it-all countryside and ancient historical sites.
Torquay is part of the stretch of coastline called the English Riviera and it does have lots in common with its French counterpart. You’ll find sub-tropical plants, colourful boats bobbing in the harbour and summer temperatures that are perfect for some sight-seeing.
Walking in the footsteps of cavemen (and donkeys)
Kents Cavern, just a mile from Torquay harbour, is believed to be the earliest known human settlement in Europe. Here, a human jawbone, some 44,000 years old was found in 1927. There’s a free exhibition which tells the story of the find, or you can join a guided tour. Or you might even be lucky enough to catch a Shakespeare performance in the cave – the Butterfly production company puts on regular plays here.
You could then spend time soaking up the history of the cute village of Clovelly where the cobbled lane into the village is so steep cars can’t get down. One of the houses here is open to visitors and looks just as it would have in the 1930s. While donkeys no longer carry goods up and down to the seafront as they would have done in years gone by, their descendants are still here, offering pleasure rides.
Where to stay
Parkdean’s Torquay site sits just outside the town itself. You can take morning dips in the indoor pool before heading out for some sightseeing. It makes a perfect base, within striking distance of Exeter with its Roman origins, Dartmouth’s wild beauty and Paignton’s traditional seaside attractions, including the quaint painted beach huts, and its zoo where you can while away hours watching the animals in habitats created to be as natural as possible.
Where to eat
Padstow in neighbouring Cornwall may be better known as a foodie destination, but Devon has more than its fair share of gastronomic delights. In Torquay itself, The Elephant holds a very well-deserved Michelin star. Chef Simon Hulstone serves up such delights as sea salt and pepper squid with chilli jam and Southdown Farm pork. For less formal dining, the quaint Mason’s Arms in Knowestowe, is a 13th century thatched inn where you have to duck to get through the doorways. Steamed mussels from the nearby River Exe, are served with crusty rustic bread. For special occasions, there’s the stunning two-Michelin starred Gidleigh Park, where the Grand Marnier soufflé is a signature dish.
A spot of food shopping
Choosing a caravan rather than a hotel room means you get more space. That means you’re able to buy beautiful local produce and prepare it back at your holiday home, before putting out picnic blankets outside or on one of the nearby beaches. You could make up a basket with freshly baked bread from the Real Food store in Exeter, strong and sweet Harbourne Blue cheese from Country Cheeses in Tavistock and with the local produce at the Sunday market in Totnes, where you can purchase organic meats, chutneys, pies and cakes.
Exploring the countryside
Unless you want to add some extra notches to your belts, you may want to get some exercise after all that tempting food, so you could pull on your walking boots and set off for the two-hour walk from Kents Cavern to Meadfoot beach and back. You could also opt to head into Dartmoor National Park for a more strenuous 10km circular stretch starting at the Postbridge Information Centre, where you can pick up a choice of audio tours to guide you on your way while telling you about the scenery you pass. The Bellever walk takes you through woodland and moorland and along rivers. You might even be lucky enough to see some of the Dartmoor ponies which roam free here.
So, by all means visit England’s many other attractions, but don’t miss out Devon on your way from London to Cornwall. It’s a county that’s worth a visit of its own.
Photo 1: via Flickr by warcon; Photo 2: via parkdeanholidays.co.uk; Photo 3: via Flickr by chodhound; Photo 4: via Flickr by osde-info; Photo 5: via Flickr by avail
This post is written by Katie, a passionate traveler and foodie. Check out more of her work at her website, Delightso.me