North Devon's Best Coastal Walks
North Devon boasts some of the best beaches and most impressive stretches of coastline not just in Britain, but in northern Europe. Resplendent nature, epic landscape, a rich history and a whole collection of friendly seaside communities combine here to serve up a unique experience for visitors and, importantly, their dogs.
The dramatic Devonian coast has been sculpted by the restless hands of the Atlantic Ocean for many millennia. Trace this shore by foot and you'll discover world-class clifftop walking trails, punctuated regularly by curvaceous little coves, sandy pockets of tranquillity and secret seaside hideaways, complete with crafty caves once used by the smugglers who discovered the joys of this wonderfully wild corner of the county long before holidaymakers cottoned on. Best of all, though, is the fact that this is an overwhelmingly dog-friendly part of the country, where your best friend is often free to run along endless golden beaches and is usually as welcome to explore the tracks and trails of the countryside as you are.
Many of the best walks here are bite-sized highlights of the epic South West Coast Path, which in its entirely stretches 630 miles from Dorset to Somerset, via Land's End. That's quite a walk to bite off in one go, but in North Devon you and your dog can taste the best bits of the route, and still be back in time for a beer by the fire. You can wander along wild and windblown clifftops and stare out across the rearing heads of onrushing white horses, contemplating the fact that they are all that stands between you and North America. It's a dreamscape, a place to be at one with your dog as you drink in the vista and your trusty hound follows the scent of rabbits with a wag in its tail and the wind in its ears.
In one morning stroll or afternoon amble, it is possible for you and your walking buddy to set off along various rugged clifftop paths that link any number of quiet coves. Most cafés here provide bowls of water for thirsty dogs to rinse the sand from their jowls, and it's not at all unusual to discover happily walked dogs stretched out in front of glowing open fires in the pub while their owners enjoy a well-earned pint. Many venues – including some shops and restaurants – even have jars of doggy treats at the ready behind the counter.
There are a whole host of dog-friendly trails along the South West Coast Path in North Devon, but as an overview, we recommend that you definitely explore the following routes.
Ilfracombe to the Elephant
Start this short walk at low tide, and depart from the impressive feet of Damien Hirst's 66-feet-high statue of Verity. Wander across the sands of The Quay, through the heads of Ilfracombe harbour and cross Larkstone Beach towards the Hillsborough headland. Ascend the flanks of the hillside, known locally as 'The Sleeping Elephant' and climb to the top, where you'll score fantastic views out over Beacon Point and also back towards Ilfracombe. From here you can explore myriad paths, where points of interest include the remains of Iron Age ramparts.
A particularly beautiful walk in the spring, when the wildflowers and heather explode into a kaleidoscopic display of colour, this medium-length stroll across coastal heathland – out and back from gorgeous Mortehoe, a village with several sensational dog-friendly pubs – is brilliant any time of year. Highlights include possible dolphin- and seal-sightings offshore, and a wealth of wild birds and butterflies.
Featuring whale bones and the old wreck post, this medium-length stroll from just south of Woolacombe climbs up a gently inclining slope to an impressive headland, and is a real winner for people with children and dogs. The wild flowers will keep the adults enthralled, and everyone gets a kick out of seeing a bird of prey in action – merlin and peregrine patrol the skies here.
Steeped in history, this seven-mile saunter starts in Charles Kingsley's 'Little White Fishing Village' of Appledore. As you head out to explore the Taw-Torridge estuary and Westward Ho!'s pebble ridge, you'll pass Europe's largest covered shipyard (birthplace of over 200 boats) and an ancient battleground where 1000 Vikings met a sticky end.
Close to Croyde, this enormous golden avenue of sensational seaside is rated the best beach in Britain by many. You can't take your dog along the whole beach during summer months, but in winter and large parts of autumn and spring you and your hound will have the dunes and the ocean-fronting desertscape all to yourself – save for the surfers braving the wild waves – and the rets of the time the dines of Braunton Burrows make for marvellous, otherworldly walking through a Lawrence of Arabia-type landscape of sandy peaks and valleys.
Best accessed from Braunton, this walk takes you along the Taw Estuary, past bobbing boats and wild flowers such as samphire. You'll see the wreck of an old trawler (a guaranteed kid pleaser) and then turn the corner to climb to Crow Point, complete with lighthouse and views out to Instow and Appledore. This walk can be done as a stand-alone stroll – returning to the car park via the dunes and a boardwalk – or, if you and your dog need to burn off extra energy, stretch it out and continue to Saunton Sands to complete a beachy epic.
At the southern end of Woolacombe's wonderful beach, Putsborough Sands offers two and half miles of gorgeous, golden beach for dogs and people to race along to their hearts content. Once you've had your fill of sand, explore the dunescape behind the beach, where myriad paths link together and lead to various sections of the South West Coast Path.
From Mortehoe, wander through wildflowers along a lovely wild path for around a mile and half until you reach the welcoming sands of Rockham Bay, one of those beaches kept pristine by the fact that it isn't next to a road and therefore only those who are prepared to do the walk can enjoy it. The beach is dog-friendly all year round and is famous for its hidden rock pools, teaming with life and brilliant for those with children as well as dogs to keep exercised and entertained.
Lee Bay and Bull Point Lighthouse
This walk provides a glimpse of everything that's great about the South West Coast Path in a little snack-sized 4-mile portion. Starting and finishing in the lovely little village of Lee, for your energy investment here you and your dog get to enjoy coastal heathlands, ancient farms, a lighthouse and some gorgeous sea views.
The Combe Martin Hangmen
There are numerous walks of various lengths and difficulty levels around Combe Martin, many taking in stretches of the South West Coast Path. From the prehistoric hill fort of Hillsborough, you and your dog can explore a coast famous for smuggling and shipwrecks, ascending right up to Great Hangman, the tallest cliff in mainland Britain.