7 great animal experiences in Devon - from dolphin spotting to alpaca walks
PUBLISHED: 13:25 29 May 2020 | UPDATED: 14:01 25 June 2020
Photo: Wooley Animals
If you love animals and the great outdoors there are many ways to get closer to nature in Devon
Just looking at an alpaca is enough to lift anyone’s spirits. With their big brown eyes, long necks and the comical appearance of a creature that might have gone slightly wrong in production, they are guaranteed to bring a smile to anyone’s face. “We’ve had big, burly blokes here, all tattoos and arms folded and then they come up to me afterwards, shake my hand and tell me what an amazing experience they’ve had,” says Cathy Darcey. She and partner Stuart Woolley (his actual surname) organise regular alpaca walks through their farmland in the North Devon countryside.
People get to lead one of these beautiful creatures through fields, woodland and along a river, enjoying the views and the company along the way. “We say to people: just forget whatever’s gone on today, tend to these wonderful animals and just chill out,” says Cathy. “Often, the experience is so different from what people are expecting. When they tell us what an incredible time they’ve had, it reminds us why we do it.”
Cathy set up Woolley Animals with Stuart in 2016. Stuart was running a dairy and arable farm in West Sussex when the couple decided to relocate to North Devon. They started out with just six alpacas on a site in Riddlecombe before moving to a farm in Winkleigh last year and adding another 12 alpacas, plus Swiss Valais Blacknose sheep and goats for people to meet and greet.
As well as organised walks, the alpacas have been led out into the community, making appearances at weddings and visiting care homes, before coronavirus hit.
Cathy says she and Stuart have been working hard to try to bring people some cheer during the crisis, posting regular Facebook updates on favourite animals and even sending out video birthday greetings to regular visitors. “We’ve been working out how we can adapt,” says Cathy. “We can do socially distanced walks quite easily because it’s all outdoors. We also planning to launch our holiday business next year.”
Whatever the future holds, Nettie, Demi Bubbles, Calypso Katie and friends are ready to take the lead. See woolleyanimals.co.uk
Why not try walking with llamas on Dartmoor if you love animals and exercise?
Here are six more animal experiences to look out for. Please check the websites for the latest information:
1. Head out on a rock pool ramble: Know your blennies from your gobies?
Experts from Devon Wildlife Trust’s Wembury Marine Centre organise regular rockpool and snorkel safaris on the South Devon beach renowned for its seashore life. See wemburymarinecentre.org
2. Spot some dolphins: There are lots of places along our coastline to at least try to get a glimpse of these playful marine mammals. Berry Head in Torbay is where we usually spot a pod. In North Devon, Watermouth Harbour and Baggy Point, Croyde are good bets, as is Lundy Island. Prawle Point in South Devon is another location to try.
For some expert guidance, Teignmouth-based Devon Sea Safari runs regular marine wildlife trips aboard its ten metre Humber RIB boat. See devonseasafari.com
3. Go batty: Join Bovey Bat Group for an evening bat detecting walk in the grounds of the National Trust’s Parke Estate, where you might be able to glimpse some stunning aerial displays. Bat detectors will be used to listen to and to identify the bats flying around. At dusk, you can look out for pipistrelles and noctules. Once it gets dark, there will be the chance to see the greater horseshoe.
4. Wave to a wader: The River Exe is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) because of its abundance of bird life. Stuart Line Cruises run regular trips along the river and its estuary, providing informative commentary and refreshments along the way. In winter, the family-run firm offers a guided birdwatching tour, hosted by a local ornithologist.
People come from all over the world to see wintering waders and wildfowl here, including avocets, curlews and brent geese. See stuartlinecruises.co.uk
5. Take the plunge and swim with the Lundy Island seals: Even as a reluctant swimmer and boat passenger, I had a great time on this trip with Wild Frontier Charters. You get to see the incredibly agile Lundy seals showing off in their natural environment before heading ashore and spending time exploring Lundy. See wildfrontiercharters.co.uk
6. Visit Wildwood Devon to see wolves, lynx and red squirrels.
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