England’s West Country is renowned for being absolutely beautiful; the land of sweeping moors, genteel seaside towns and rugged clifftops, Devon’s landscape has inspired a whole collection of writers to write a whole collection of books set within its boundaries; Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie being the most renowned. (By the way, I recently discovered Agatha was a keen surfer; who knew!?) With two separate stretches of coastline, the county is unofficially divided into North and South, and though I have childhood memories of holidaying in the North at Ilfracombe, chipping away at rocks on the beach in an attempt to find fossils, it wasn’t until recently that I was able to return for a few days as a fully fledged adult to the South East part of Devon. Here the things I think you absolutely MUST do in the South Devon area.
There’s no denying the impressiveness of this medieval wonder. Exeter Cathedral, in classic cathedral-building tradition, took several hundreds of years to be completely constructed, but it was finally finished around the year 1400. I can often be quite overcome with Cathedral Fatigue when exploring Europe- there does seem to be cathedrals around every corner you turn- but this bad boy really is worth a visit. The vaulted ceiling alone is incredible, and there is many a hidden gem to be found inside and out, from the astronomical clock to the gigantic Bishops Throne that sits inside like a tree wizard’s chair.
Exeter Cathedral; outside of church services the cathedral is open 9-5 Monday to Saturday and 11.30am-5pm Sundays. Admission £7.50, free for under 18s.
The Sand Man of Torquay
When I put a photo on Instagram of the ‘Sand Man’ at work on Torquay beach, it didn’t take long before people started to inform me that this guy is Kind of a Big Deal. The artist’s name is Geoff, and he’s been creating sand pictures in the style of a Big Art Attack around these parts for donkeys years. I am ALL ABOUT people like Geoff, let me tell you.
Torquay itself is part of the area commonly known as ‘The English Riviera’ and on the day in question it was easy to see why. This is a classic English seaside town, straight from the front of a postcard; grab an ice cream (obv in a cone), a selection of inflatable paraphernalia, and a deckchair, and you’ll fit right in. Bonus points if you catch a few too many rays and return home with a mild case of sunburn. (Obviously not the most comfortable of experiences, but it’s the English seaside way. Trust me, I’m from Eastbourne)
Try a Devon Cream Tea
Right guys; I’m a true fan of traditional English food, and like to spread the word to whoever will listen that our home fare can actually be downright delicious. And aside from Marmite and Yorkshire puddings (not together), what is more English than a cream tea? Head to a tea room and get yourself some scones, jam and clotted cream, consumed side by side with a cup of tea. And that’s tea with milk, before you start getting any funny ideas.
Cream tea originated in Devon and its neighbouring county of Cornwall, but the key difference between a Devon cream tea and a Cornish cream tea is in the method. When in Devon, the scone should be split in two, and then each half spread with cream and topped with jam. In Cornwall, it’s jam first then cream. So now you know.
Beach life at Budleigh Salterton
I’ll be honest, the tiny town of Budleigh Salterton isn’t a hip and happening location by even a long shot, but I’m putting it here anyway as it’s where I stayed with my family and I thought it was just lovely. A quiet pebble beach that seemed to be somehow tinged with pink, and pastel coloured houses adorned with bunting, gave the little town a very quaint vibe. Little beach huts run all along the seafront, making it the perfect place to hang out in the English way with a thermos of tea and a bacon sarnie. Rather randomly, it’s also home to the cheeriest shop owner I ever met- who subsequently owns a very nice shop, Days of Grace Vintage. Primarily this place specialises in vintage bridal wear, but even if you’re not planning on getting married anytime soon, if you like pretty vintage things I suggest you visit anyway.
The Jurassic Coast
The most brilliant thing about this part of England in my very humble opinion, is its stunning nature. We didn’t get out onto the wide expanses of Exmoor or Dartmoor (two very beautiful National parks in Devon), but the Jurassic Coast which runs from Exmouth to Studland Bay in Dorset, is a very different kind of natural beauty. The rugged red cliffs are full to the brim with fossils of the creatures and plants that lived here millions of years ago, and as these gradually erode over time, more and more is being discovered about the way the land has changed. Scientists believe that in the Triassic period the area was desert, in the Jurassic period it was a tropical sea, and by the Cretaceous period it was covered with swampland. Intense.
Nowadays, the area along the cliffs is filled with fields and trees, with well-trodden footpaths running throughout. Given the name ‘Jurassic Coast,’ you might want to consider humming the Jurassic Park theme tune throughout any adventures in the area like I did. Just a thought.
Girl Power at A La Ronde
There are a fair few National Trust properties in Devon, but over in East Devon where I was staying, we were particularly close to A La Ronde, a sixteen-sided house built for two cousins- Mary and Jane Parminter- in the 1790s. The cousins were clearly feminists before feminism was a thing; they were far more concerned with travelling and getting on with their own lives than getting married, and this was in the days when being a ‘spinster’ earned you more than a few pity parties. This beautiful little house is filled with souvenirs from across the world, plus a ‘shell gallery’ right at the top of the building, decorated with a mosaic of shells glimmering like Ariel’s grotto, and upon closer inspection of the walls of some of the downstairs rooms, it appears they weren’t averse to decorating with feathers either. The whole place is quite surreal and feels like something straight out of the pages of Harry Potter or Alice in Wonderland. The cousins stipulated that the house could only be left to single, female relatives. Quite the quirky one, and I loved it.
A La Ronde , open 11am-5pm Monday to Sunday. Entry price £10 for adults, £5 for children. (Unless you’re a National Trust Member, in which case obviously job’s a good’n)
So there you have it, my fine friends. Six must-do activities in the East Devon area. My visit was a fleeting one, and I’m sure there are million and one things I could add to this list had I had the time to do them all, but for now it’s back to my own little seaside town in Sussex and on to the rest of this big old world. Good on you, Devon. You’re well alright.
What to Know Before You Go
- It’s fully 100% possible to get the train from London to the East Devon area, and pretty speedily too, in about 3 hours and 15 minutes. They run regularly between Paddington station and Exeter St David’s. National Rail is extortionately overpriced, though, so make sure you book your train as far in advance as possible if that’s the way you’re opting for.
- The driving time between London and Exeter should also be around three hours- depending on the amount of traffic you encounter on the M3.
- If you’re from outside of England and fancy visiting a few National Trust properties while you’re here- castles, palaces and houses galore are spread across the entire country- it’s worth getting a National Trust Touring Pass which will cover the cost of your ticket to every single National Trust place. A seven day pass for one adult is £33, a fourteen day pass is £38, and couples and family passes are also available.
- When walking on the Jurassic Cliffs, bear in mind that they are still eroding; rock falls can happen at any time without warning. Danger danger, high voltage.