10 of the best towns and villages in the South Hams
PUBLISHED: 11:04 28 August 2018 | UPDATED: 12:31 28 August 2018
Encompassing large swathes of Dartmoor and plenty of the county’s most distinctive sections of coastline, it’s no wonder that the South Hams district is home to some of Devon’s prettiest places. We pick out 10 of the best towns and villages the area has to offer
Sitting on the banks of the Kingsbridge Estuary lays the beautiful coastal town of Salcombe. Known for its outstanding views and surrounding countryside, this South Hams location is perfect for a spot of sailing or relaxation by the water.
Allowing you to experience small white sandy beaches all year round is the passenger ferry running from Salcombe’s Jubilee Pier to East Portlemouth. The ferry takes you to the small village where you can unwind or explore the various coves dotted throughout.
If you’re feeling thirsty, take a trip to Salcombe’s famous gin distillery and bar located on Island Street, the traditional boat building quarter. This delicious local gin is handcrafted in front of you, another reason to give it a taste while you visit.
A hidden paradise of subtropical gardens and quirky collections can be found at Salcombe’s National Trust property, Overbeck’s. Situated at Sharpitor, this scenic location boasts breathtaking views of the gardens, estuary and coast.
Perched just behind the harbour you’ll find some of Salcombe’s award-winning ice cream at Salcombe Dairy and to finish the day off, visit the busy shabby chic beach café, The Winking Prawn. Serving everything from breakfast to dinner, beers, coffees, cakes and steaks, this restaurant will not disappoint.
With the picturesque River Dart running alongside, Dartmouth is one of South Devon’s most popular towns perfect for a day visit, short break or holiday.
Holding year-round festivals, events, exhibitions and markets, one of the town’s main attractions is Dartmouth Food Festival. Offering everything from workshops to tastings, as well as over 120 exhibitors, this event welcomes all food lovers and is held every October.
Dartmouth is also home to the Britannia Royal Navy College and transport ferry running to the village of Kingswear, where the South West Coast Path can be met to enjoy some brisk coastal walks. This enchanting town also includes historic streets and scenic river locations, the perfect place for all kinds of water sports.
To complete your Dartmouth to-do list, head to some of the must-see beaches and coves: visit Sugary Cove, Castle Cove and finish off with a day at the popular Blackpool Sands which sits in a bay of outstanding natural beauty.
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If the hustle and bustle of a traditional English market town is your kind of location, then Kingsbridge is a must. This tourist hub offers acres of fresh greenery and countryside perfect for the ambitious walker.
The popular location is also a hit with local sailors and the South West Coast Path can help you appreciate these views for miles. Visit Avon Mill Garden Centre which can be found nestled on the riverside, just off of the Kingsbridge to Loddiswell Road. This is a tranquil centre from where you can shop all things garden and home while a pit-stop cafe will be waiting for you once you’ve got everything you need.
Feeling creative or needing some relaxation on your Kingsbridge trip? Then take a stop at Harbour House centre of arts and yoga. Located on The Promenade, it offers meditation, yoga, art classes and more – along with a vegetarian café.
For the more active, or the ones simply looking for majestic seascapes, Thurlestone Golf Club runs along the stunning coastline of Bigbury Bay. The course’s topography is breathtaking, with cliff-top terrain providing the perfect opportunity for a thrilling game and a spectator’s spot to enjoy views from East to West looking over the legendary Thurlstone Rock, the beautiful estuary and Burgh Island.
Situated at the head of the River Dart Estuary is the eccentric market town of Totnes. This relaxed countryside town is known for its unique and charming ways brought to life by a lively and engaged local community.
Small independent retailers are scattered throughout Totnes, with inspiring art galleries, shops selling alternative therapies and weekly markets adding to the towns fascinating history. As well as its other markets and food stalls, Civil Hall Square holds an Elizabethan market every Tuesday morning. Come along and experience this historic event while each trader is dressed in Elizabethan period costumes.
This diverse little town has so much to offer and one of the most notable attractions is Totnes Castle. The classic motte and bailey castle gives sweeping views over the rooftops to the River Dart. You can also experience an unforgettable journey on the steam train all the way to Buckfastleigh, the next market town in our South Hams round-up.
Buckfastleigh is a small South Devon town offering vibrancy, liveliness and a touch of mystery. It can be found on the edge of Dartmoor National Park and is known as the town dominated by the Benedictine Buckfast Abbey.
This abbey offers a tranquil space leading away from the hectic grind of everyday life. It is a working monastery and the community of Benedictine monks welcome visitors from all walks of life, accepting you as you enjoy the overwhelming sense of peace throughout the surrounding grounds. Another reason to visit the Abbey is the very famous Buckfast Tonic Wine: a caffeinated fortified wine which was originally made at Buckfast Abbey.
For a touch of rural entertainment, Pennywell Farm is the perfect attraction for both adults and children. The farm holds different activities, shows and displays every half an hour, with hundreds of animals to meet, feed and care for throughout your visit.
The wild moorlands and hidden valleys of the town have made it one of the county’s most picturesque as ancient and modern influences weave throughout the town. Keen photographers will also want to find a good vantage point from which you can watch the South Devon Steam Railway as it puffs through the countryside.
This natural, laidback town obtains a rich heritage of traditional industries such as milling and cloth making that are still celebrated today. As well as its fascinating history, Ivybridge offers adventure aplenty: if something unique and off the beaten track is your kind of location, Ivybridge is your place.
The countryside and moorland offer miles of magnificent walking trails out of the town, as well as many interesting finds including the medieval packhorse bridge which still stands today and is well worth the visit. Ivybridge is also the starting point of the famous Two Moors Way that spans 102 miles to Lynmouth on the North Devon Coast.
If your visit is all about the enjoyment of some down time, there are plenty of local pubs and independent shops to browse around. Standing by their true belief, all shops and pubs within Ivybridge sell quality local produce and speciality ales.
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Hidden among the contours of the South Hams is one of the regions smallest towns, Modbury. This town is a necessity for any keen walker or anybody looking for the advantages of countryside and coast.
Like most South Hams town’s, Modbury flaunts spectacular views, walks and scenery all year round. However, this town is also only a short drive from the coast, giving you easy access to beaches such as Banthan, Bigbury on Sea and Thurlestone.
As well as easy, accessible routes and scenic spots, Modbury is known for its strong sense of community and shops’ policy of banning the use of plastic bags in 2007, long before the rest of the UK. Unique, local gifts can be found throughout the creative shops and cafes in Modbury, with shop fronts and houses carved and pillared with porticoes dating from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.
This walker’s paradise is an extraordinary find in the South Hams and should not be missed out. The town comes together every year to celebrate Modbury May Fair – an event which has been running since 1329 – and the day is full of fantastic stalls, performances and entertainment.
The coastal village of Bantham offers everything that sounds perfect in summer, with mouth watering cuisine and one of Devon’s premier beaches.
At the mouth of the little known River Avon, Bantham beach lies in a prime spot for coastal exploring among the long stretch of sand. At low tide, the beach will reveal acres of shallow sandy pools which warm up quickly in summer time while at the South end of the beach, an array of rock pools below the headland will be exposed.
The scenery and panoramic views over Bigbury Bay and Burgh Island are within reasonable walking distance and will present you with an ideal moment to grab the camera. After you’ve absorbed the vistas in Bantham and the surrounding area, you’ll inevitably need somewhere to eat and there are a variety of popular places to choose from in the village and nearby.
The bright blue hut in Bigbury serving oyster, lobster, crab and seafood mains is known as The Oyster Shack. To find the hut, stroll along the tidal road past the estuary if the tide is right, or potter down the winding Devon roads if the water is high and you’ll find the shack tucked into the valley.
The Gastrobus has also been a big hit for visitors to Bantham as they delight in the owner’s mission to bring great street food using local Devon produce to the beach. Fresh cakes, bread, pastries, coffee and signature burgers are handmade right before the Gastrobus parks up in the beach carpark, ready to serve hungry beachgoers.
To explore a fascinating part of the South Hams including Start Bay, the disappeared village of Hallsands and beautiful Slapton Ley, set up base in this former fishing village laid out like few others in the country.
Accommodation and eateries based on Torcross’ Slapton Sands are flanked by water on both sides, creating one of Devon’s most unique places to eat and stay. Its beach formation was so unique in fact that it was used for D-Day landing practice that went horribly wrong and ended in over 1,000 American servicemen losing their lives.
Start Point – only 20 minutes drive or two-hour walk from Torcross - is the most southerly tip of Devon and runs sharply almost a mile into the sea on the South side of Start Bay near Dartmouth, revealing stunning scenery across the bay with lots of wildlife, seabirds and the odd seal.
The dramatic cliffs and landscape surrounding Start Point lighthouse can be viewed from any of the many walking trails going through the area and should not be missed. For determined walkers, the South West Coast Path passes through or next to many of the coastal points of interest near Torcross so leave the car at your hotel and get your walking boots on for some serious exploration.
Burgh Island is a famous tidal island on the coast of South Devon, near the small village of Bigbury on Sea. Mystery shrouds the island as its history is largely unknown, likely a factor that attracted legendary author Agatha Christie and the pirates and smugglers who exploited the area’s unique layout.
The island holds several buildings - the largest being the Art Deco Burgh Island Hotel - and you can visit the island even if you don’t have plans to stay. Unique wildlife which lives on the shores can be discovered with a short walk around the island, and even a few choices for lunch are available.
Burgh Island is separated from the mainland by a stunning sandy tidal beach. To access the island, the only possibilities are on foot across the beach at low tide or via the unique sea tractor when the tide is high. The Bigbury and Burgh Island area is part of the breathtaking South West Coast Path where days can be spent wandering and looking out to sea - the best way to appreciate Devon.