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South Devon & Dartmoor - When and where to visit
Dartmouth is rich in maritime history © jennyt, Shutterstock
The places listed below make ideal bases for exploring South Devon & Dartmoor.
The place for grand hotels, with some surprisingly quick escapes into the countryside and coastal walks. Don’t miss Living Coasts.
A unique town, full of character, with a variety of accommodation and eateries; the many nearby attractions include Dartington Hall.
The River Dart
The Dart river valley caters for adventurous visitors of all ages, with crabbing for kids, boating or kayaking for teenagers and adults, and walking for everyone. Or enjoy its tranquil hideaways and picture-perfect views.
To the east and west of this appealing town with its rich maritime heritage are some of the coast path’s nest stretches.
Its dramatic 11th-century castle overlooks the Okement River. Nearby are unspoilt villages and the nostalgic Dartmoor Railway.
The perfect base for exploring northern Dartmoor, with its rich prehistory and scenic mix of wooded valleys and high moor.
This gracious town with its historic market is at one end of Drake’s Trail for cyclists (Plymouth is the other end) and is the western gateway to Dartmoor.
Handy for Plymouth but very unspoilt, this is one of the best beaches in the region; it has excellent rock pools as well as sand, good coastal walks and surfing.
This very pleasant small town, only a short ferry trip from Salcombe, has a wide selection of inland footpaths and easy access to the coast path.
The best combination of sandy beach, pretty villages and the coast path. You can surf at nearby Bantham, or take the ‘sea tractor’ to Burgh Island.
Steam train in Totnes © sue120502, Shutterstock
It goes without saying that Slow Travel favours public transport above the car, and in Devon this isn’t just because it’s better for the environment. Although Devon actually has more miles of road than the whole of Belgium, its roads are mostly car-unfriendly, many being single-track lanes with high banks and hedges so you rely on intuition rather than eyesight where oncoming cars are concerned. S P B Mais recognised the problem for drivers: ‘If you keep to the road you will not see Devon at all, only a succession of whitewashed thatched cottages red with fuchsia clustered round a tall grey granite church tower at three- or five-mile intervals as you bore your way through green tunnel after green tunnel.’
It is entirely possible to enjoy a holiday in Devon without a car. Transport to the area is good, and there are usually local buses to get you to the places of interest and to allow you to sit back and enjoy the scenery without wondering what’s around the next bend. A useful organisation for planning journeys by bus or train, or a combination of the two, is Traveline (0871 200 2233; www.traveline.info). It’s particularly helpful if you are stuck at a bus stop with no bus and only an unsmart mobile phone. You can phone the number, bleat out your predicament, and the helpful staff will tell you where your bus has got to.
Local buses are a boon for bus-pass holders, but even for paying passengers there are often special deals. Bus stations are a good source of such information. For planning local bus journeys and checking the timetable, use www.journeydevon.info and click on to the interactive map. This allows you to see the bus routes in Devon and select the bus number to view the timetable. Very efficient. Devon County Council publishes a series of regional bus timetables as well as a bus map of the county.
This part of Devon has a good range of dedicated cycle paths as well as 150 miles of the National Cycle Network being developed by the sustainable transport charity Sustrans (www.sustrans.org.uk), along with local organisations. All these are listed and described in the booklet Cycling Trails in Devon, available from TICs. Among the most popular cycle trails are Drake’s Trail, the Dart Valley Cycle Way, the Granite Way and the Dartmoor Way. A useful website is www.cycledevon.info.
Most of Devon’s lanes are narrow with high hedges. I asked Mike Harrison (www.croydecycle.co.uk) for his tips on safe cycling. His best advice is to make sure you can hear. Then if a vehicle is approaching you have time to pull in to the edge or be more visible. Lanes may be narrow but there is usually space for a slow-moving car to pass a stationary cyclist or pedestrian – after all, the lanes can cope with trucks and tractors. The back lanes carry very little traffic, but coastal roads can be busy.
The scope of this book encompasses the South West Coast Path from Starcross to Plymouth, a distance of almost exactly 100 miles. Some of the best walks in all of Devon are here, with the most rewarding short stretches described in each relevant chapter. Those tackling the whole trail, or planning to walk for several days, would do well to use the services of a luggage transfer company so they can walk unencumbered. Luggage Transfers (www.luggagetransfers.co.uk) will also arrange walker-friendly accommodation for you. Likewise, Dartmoor is the starting/finishing point for the Two Moors Way, a stiff but hugely rewarding challenge linking Dartmoor and Exmoor.