Ignore the cynics who sneer at the ‘English Riviera’ marketing tag. When the wind drops and the skies clear to a beautiful blue, glorious Devon has a coastline to match any in the world for sheer beauty. Head inland and its just as gorgeous,
Britain’s second largest county is doubly blessed in having equally famed north and south coasts but it was to quieter East Devon that we headed for a blissful week of Wessex sunshine on the border between Devon and neighbouring Dorset.
This is the stretch of the English Channel that was dubbed The Jurassic Coast when it gained UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 2001. It is 95 miles of truly stunning shoreline studded with fossils and recording more than 185-million years of the Earth’s geological history.
Sweeping pebble beaches, towering chalk or red clay beaches and wonderful cliff-top walks, with an ever-changing panorama. Backing on to lush green countryside and a giddyingly steep succession of short, sharp hills, criss-crossed by scarily narrow single-track roads that create a true drama out of oncoming traffic.
Consult your map or GPS, calculate the length of your journey, think on how long it would normally take you to cover such a distance – then double your estimate!
But this is not a destination for people in a hurry. It’s a quiet place in the country, somewhere to slow the clock, relax, take things easy. Perfect then for a self-catering cottage holiday.
We took our choice from the 700 idyllic properties on offer through Classic Cottages (01326 555555, classic.co.uk), 154 of them in Devon, 30 in Dorset, and we chose well.
Bettys Ground is a light and airy modern property set amid immaculately maintained shrubbery down a sweeping gravel drive and attached to an imposing 19th Century mansion that’s occupied by the charmingly attentive but unobtrusive owners, Richard Lowe and Andrew Griffith. It’s a perfect retreat from the cares of big city life.
The stylishly modern open-plan living room, kitchen and living room opens through French windows onto a terrace, barbeque area, with sweeping views over the garden to the tranquil Axe Valley beyond. This lovely, fully equipped house comfortably sleeps six.
Close by are the little market town of Axminster – known worldwide for its high-quality carpets – as well as the pretty seaside towns of Seaton and Lyme Regis and the fishing village of Beer.
Fresh fish straight from the boats is one of many local culinary delights, to which can be added ubiquitous Devon clotted cream teas and pasties as good and filling as any you’ll find in Cornwall.
There’s a good choice of restaurants and gastro pubs locally. A stand-out is TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall’s River Cottage Store and Canteen (01297 630302, www.rivercottage.net), in Axminster. It’s an informal and airy warehouse-like bistro establishment where ethically farmed local produce is the emphasis.
You can buy ingredients to take away and tastings and special events are a regular feature, many of them held at River Cottage HQ at Nearby Park Farm.
Since we were self-catering most of the time, our key port of call was at Millers Farm Shop (01297 35390, millersfarmshop.co), just off the A35 at Kilmington and just a mile from Bettys Ground.
This family-run enterprise offers a kaleidoscopic choice. Veg produced on-site, Colyton butcher pies, fresh fish from The Old Watch House in Lyme Regis, beef, pork and lamb from the best local farms, daily deliveries of local milk, filtered scrumpy cider from Lyme Bay Winery and Perrys Cider Mill, local cheeses and many other locally sourced items are joined by a cornucopia of French gourmet items personally imported by the family on a weekly basis: “On these trips we usually spend around €10,000 a time on securing the finest gourmet produce for sale on to our customers,” I was told.
Besides the seaside, there’s a wealth of attractions to help pass the time. Take a horse-drawn 75-seat narrow-boat cruise on Tiverton’s re-born Great Western Canal (01884 253345), a delightful waterway that was built in1814 for the lime trade. Or how about taking an historic open-top train ride on the Seaton Tramway (01297 20375, tram.co.uk) or going on a shopping spree in the cathedral town of Exeter?
One of the largest family theme parks in the South West, Woodlands (01803, woodlandspark.com), near Totnes, features the UK’s biggest indoor venture centre, an exciting 500 metre toboggan ride, a Marines’ Commando Course, a falconry centre and lots more, for kids of all ages.
Just outside Sir Walter Raleigh’s seaside hometown of Budleigh Salterton stands the spectacular Bicton Park Botanical Gardens (01395 568465, bictongardens.co.uk,) where you’ll find a woodland railway, a massive palm house featuring 18,000 small glass pains and a renowned arboretum containing more than 1,000 trees, including 25 which have been designated as champions of their kind in the British Isles.
But then again you might be content with simple country and coastal walks in one of Devon less crowded corners.
Why should I visit east Devon?
Less crowded than other parts of Glorious Devon and, who knows? – on this Jurassic Coast you might even stumble across a dinosaur bone!
Luxury self-catering cottage holidays are becoming increasingly popular, especially in England’s sunny southwest corner. Classic Cottages ((01326 555555, classic.co.uk) can offer everything from a former dairy near Exeter, a one-time Forge close to Lyme Regis, a charming thatched cottage four-miles from Sturminster Newton and the appropriately named Well-Beloved, near to Weymouth.
Road access has been vastly improved. It’s now motorway (M3) or fast double-carriageway (A303) virtually all the way from London into East Devon.
For a comprehensive guide to eating out in the region, grab a copy of ‘Food & Drink Devon 2011’ (0117 927 7167, foodanddrinkguides.com.
For further information on East Devon go to visitdevon.co.uk.