One of the great joys of driving in the Devon countryside is that it’s a completely different experience to driving in other parts of the UK. The geography is amazing, dominated by the hedgerow and field, and the roads away from the main motorways consist of a labyrinth of narrow, winding tracks, well-surfaced and with regular places to pull over and let oncoming vehicles pass. It’s like driving through leafy green wormholes, and you never know what’s around the next corner. And with affordable car hire so widely available nowadays, it makes sense to pick up a car for a few days and explore some of the natural treasures of England that lie on the doorstep.
Ilfracombe is North Devon’s major holiday resort, full of things to see and do for all the family. Its natural beauty, with a stunning coastline and the exceptional scenery of Exmoor, make it stand out from the crowd and draw appreciative visitors here in their droves each year. It makes the perfect destination for main holidays or short breaks, and the roads of Devon are a joy to drive on.
The picturesque town of Ilfracombe snuggles in a niche in the cliffs and hills of Hillsborough and Capstone, and overlooks its own bustling little harbour. For walking, there can be few better coastal or other settings, with famous Torrs Walks and a wonderful coastal path with great views across the sea and the surrounding landscape. The beaches of Croyde and Woolacombe are award-winning, extensive stretches of sparkling white sand, and farther along the shore the shingle and pebble beach of Wildersmouth is also very popular.
The famous Tunnel Beaches were first developed by the Victorians and have been wildly popular ever since. These are tunnels carved by hand into the sheer cliffs to provide access to the beaches, as it was and is impossible to reach them in any other way.
For those who fancy venturing farther from the shore there are regular boat trips to watch the falcons and seals close up. Visitors can also take a trip by boat out to the Isle of Lundy, a haunting spot shrouded in myth and legend and possessing a uniquely calming atmosphere, like Holy Island in the north of the country.
On the cultural side, Ilfracombe plays host to a number of festivals and competitions throughout the year, such as Victorian Week in mid-June where everyone dresses up like characters from a Dickens novel and eats mince tarts, and the colourful and exciting annual Ilfracombe Carnival Procession. There’s also the Ilfracombe Beer Festival in May, the Exmoor Food Festival in October and the entertaining Bird Man Competition in August, to mention just a few of the events that take place here.
There are also plenty of stately homes and National Trust properties to visit in the area, well signposted and easy to get to on North Devon’s excellent roads. They include such imposing and beautifully landscaped mansions as Rosemoor and Marwood Hill, ideal spots for a stroll in extensive gardens followed by a picnic or pub lunch.
David Elliott is a freelance writer who loves to travel, especially in Europe and Turkey. He’s spent most of his adult life in a state of restless excitement but recently decided to settle in North London. He gets away whenever he can to immerse himself in foreign cultures and lap up the history of great cities.