A couple of years ago we went to North Devon and stayed in a National Trust Cottage near the pebbly Peppercombe Beach.
The cottages were traditionally built out of cob in the late eighteenth century, to house the officers of what was then called the Preventive Service – tasked with policing this wild stretch of coast to prevent smuggling – and later evolved into the life saving Coastguard Service
There are three coastguard cottages down the remote track in a secluded wooded valley. No Wi-Fi . No mobile signal and only outgoing calls can be made from the payphone. It sounded ideal for a restful vacation, although I was slightly worried about the warning that low slung vehicles should ‘exercise particular care’ as I have a fairly low-slung vehicle. A 3/4 mile drive down a very narrow, unpaved road is not for the faint-hearted, but worth it to stay in one of the most relaxing spots I have been to. The road is pretty rocky and steep in places; I am so glad that the only time I met another car coming in the opposite direction it was a jeep which could move off the road for me!
(click on a photo to enlarge)
The cottage was all we had expected. The remoteness was wonderful even if the road to it was a little tricky. The only sounds we heard were those of the song birds with their dawn chorus and owls at night. We went to bed with the window open listening to the gurgle of the little stream running along our small patch of garden before drifting into a deep sleep. We could have spent the entire week here, but we didn’t.
North Devon is a wonderful area of the country, unfortunately outshone by its gentler and warmer south where the English Riviera is to be found, but the north is my favourite. It has an outstanding coastline and vast moorland with steep wooded valleys (coombes) plunging to the coast. Exmoor National Park is also partly in Devon with its lovely winding rivers and walking trails across the remote landscape and then there is the extraordinary Valley of the Rocks near Lynton and Lynmouth – two halves of a town joined by a funicular railway.
There are two large towns in North Devon, Barnstaple with its pannier market and Tarka Trail and Bideford, though we didn’t spend much time in either. Close to Bideford on the side of the River Torridge is the lovely Appledore, a delightful fishing village, Charles Kingsley’s ‘Little White Fishing Village,’ with water on three sides and pretty whitewashed cottages tumbling down to the sea and on the opposite bank you find Instow, an attractive area with an easily accessible sandy beach that has always been popular with artists. Further north are the famous surfing beaches of Saunton Sands, Croyde and Woolacombe. And of course here you find the only town in Britain to end with an exclamation mark – Westward Ho! I know nothing about Westward Ho! apart from it does boast a Blue Flag beach, and the aforementioned Charles Kingsley wrote a novel with that name, but my interests are no longer with the English seaside resorts and the bucket and spade brigade.
Instead I encourage you to go west and explore the wilderness of Hartland Peninsula – it is a lost world of narrow roads winding their way to the coast. Visit Hartland Point, the Quay, Speke’s Mill Mouth and the glorious Hartland Abbey where paths around the estate lead to the beach and Blackpool Mill Cottage where ‘Sense and Sensibility’ was filmed. Nearby St Nectan’s Church has been a landmark for sailors for generations with its tower believed to be the highest in Devon. Take a walk along the coastal path here for wonderful views of the rugged coastline, astonishing folds and rock formations and waterfalls and inland moorland, heath and wooded valleys. Be warned though, the path can be quite steep in places with lots of ‘ups and downs’. This was a very peaceful holiday in a very beautiful and unique landscape, with wild coastal walks, secluded beaches, and surrounded by nature.