North Devon Countryside Cottages
The North Devon Counrtyside covers most of Mid Devon, an are that is known as the heart of the county... and for good reason. It’s not just its geographical position. It’s also because this swathe of green and very fertile countryside sums up why Devon is so loved by visitors year after year. Valleys punctuated by hedgerows, mature woodland rich in native species, old villages and hamlets hidden down narrow lanes bordered by high banks, and wildlife in abundance.
It’s a place to slow down, to enjoy a distinctly Devon pace of life. Go for a short walks or lengthy hike over the rolling hills and valleys, take a trip on a horse-drawn barge, visit an old-fashioned market town, and down a pint (or two) in one of our traditional thatched-roof pubs.
What are the best places to visit in mid Devon?
Mid Devon boasts market towns that offer a distinctly different atmosphere when compared to the generic high streets of the rest of Britain. Take Crediton, for example. Once a wealthy wool town, it still has a feel of former glory. It boasts an imposing red-stone parish church – large enough to appear like a cathedral – which is named after St Boniface (who was born in the town in 680AD), a high street packed with independent retailers, and a lively farmers’ market.
Bampton is another former wool town, and its wealth is most evident in its many Georgian homes, which are built of local quarried stone. The whole town centre is a conservation area and is jammed with over 100 listed structures – including two telephone boxes! But this is no museum. Every October the town holds the Bampton Charter Fair. It’s an ancient fair which dates back over 750 years. Exmoor ponies are traded and, for the three days that follow the fair, the town lays on fun and entertainment for all ages.
Chulmleigh is another gem, a remote Saxon town set on the crown of a hill. It’s a place of cob and thatched cottages, three welcoming pubs and a lovely parish church. Each July, just as the school holidays start, the town puts on the Chulmleigh Fair, which has been held each year under Royal Charter (signed by King Henry III, no less, in 1253). Five days of celebrations follow and visitors can expect to see flower displays, vintage vehicles, pavement artists, sheep shows, dog shows, gymkhanas, fancy dress competitions and six-a-side football! Something for everyone.
What about activities?
Mid Devon offers visitors an excellent range of activities. There’s the distinctly gentle pleasures of the Great Western Canal, which was opened in 1814 to transport limestone and now meanders for eleven miles, treating visitors to a visual feast of wildlife and slowly revealed countryside.
The towpath is a right of way in its entirety and there are a number of circular walks on offer which take advantage of the 24 bridges along the canal’s route. You can explore the canal itself by rowing boat, Canadian canoe and self-drive motor boat, all of which can be hired at the Canal Basin in Tiverton. Alternatively, travel in some style by taking a trip aboard the last horse-drawn barge in the West Country. As for refreshments, try The Canal Tea Rooms and Garden, and Duck’s Ditty floating café-bar. Permanently moored on the canal, this is a genuine artisan coffee house with trained baristas who serve a delicious range of coffees as well as tempting sweet and savoury treats.
For those who enjoy watching – or even getting up close and personal to – exotic wildlife, Exmoor Zoo is the place to head. Situated between Combe Martin and South Molton, the zoo is a wonderful day out for the whole family, taking visitors on an amazing journey of adventure. Stroll along winding paths of shrubs and trees and look carefully, because these habitats are home to an incredible range of animals – from wallabies to the famous Exmoor Beast! The zoo actively encourages you to get close to some animals, so you may find yourself stroking an alpaca’s soft fleece, or even handling a snake!
More wildlife treats are in store at Ilfracombe Aquarium, an all-weather educational attraction located in the Old Lifeboat House alongside Ilfracombe’s historic harbour. The aquarium offers visitors an intriguing insight into the aquatic world found around North Devon. The exhibits on display are painstaking recreations of natural habitats found locally. Visitors are taken on a zoned ‘journey’ experience, starting from the source of an Exmoor stream, down river to the estuary, local rockpool, Ilfracombe Harbour, coast and to Lundy. The zones are home to over 75 species, some of which visitors will never have seen before.
Where can we eat and drink in mid Devon?
As you’d expect of Devon’s heartland, the area is packed with old thatched inns, cosy pubs that serve up traditional grub as well as a more sophisticated gastro offering.
In the latter camp is The Lamb Inn in Sandford, a 16th century pub dishing up a mix of roaring fire, chalked-up menu board, cobbled terrace, walled garden and even cinema evenings at the weekend! Food includes dishes like whole baked trout with almond butter and a fantastic tarte tatin. The back bar is the place to head for four hand-pumped ales but the bar staff have also been known to mix up the occasional cocktail!
If you’ve made it to Chulmleigh, arguably the heart of the heart of Devon, but not the easiest place to get to, you deserve a reward. The Red Lion Hotel is it. With its blazing log fires and comfortable old wooden and leather furniture, this is a place to kick back with a pint of Tribute or a local cider. Next door, the painted stone walls and artwork of the restaurant offer a more sophisticated venue, where diners can tuck into a mix of handmade pizzas cooked in a stone-based oven, pasta specials, gourmet beef burgers and pies – all made with locally sourced produce.
A final mention should go to a pub with its own very unique credentials. The Duke of York in Iddesleigh is said to be the boozer where Michael Morpurgo was inspired to write War Horse. He’s not the first literary type to have enjoyed a pint or two here. It was formally owned by poet Sean Rafferty and was also Ted Hughes’s local. If that doesn’t impress you, then rest assured, the pub will. It’s set in a very pretty hamlet and serves up a legendary steak & kidney pie and delicious Tawny Owl from the Cotleigh Brewery.