Let's go to North Devon
PUBLISHED: 12:49 16 January 2017 | UPDATED: 12:50 16 January 2017
There’s no beach quite like a North Devon beach – even in the middle of winter. Chrissy Harris talks to the people who live and love this coast, whatever the weather
Even if it’s a cold, windy January day, one thing you can be sure of is that there will be some hardy souls out on Croyde beach.
Whether they’re surfing those world-famous waves, wildlife watching or simply taking the dog for a bracing walk, the award-winning coastline here is as spectacular in the depth of winter as it is in the height of summer.
“We get some of the best days down here at this time of year,” says beach ranger Rose Roberts, who works for Ruda Holiday Park in Croyde Bay.
Rose is busy preparing an army of volunteers to help ‘plant’ dead Christmas trees in the area’s sand dunes to make hedges that act as a wind barrier.
It helps to build up the dunes and protect the roots of new plants.
“We get such a lot of sunshine here most of the time,” says Rose. “If the wind speed is low, it’s lovely, if it’s not, it’s like being sandblasted! If you’re on the beach looking across to Hartland Point, there’s just you, the Atlantic with nothing else in between.”
They’re made of pretty stern stuff around here, though.
“It’s amazing. I absolutely love North Devon,” says local surfer Gary Clay, 55, who lives just a five-minute walk away from Croyde beach.
“It’s always busy here, even at this time of year. If Croyde is ‘on’, (as in, the waves are good) there can be anything up to 200 people in the water all day.
“I live here because of the sheer quality of the waves. We have conditions that are quite exceptional. You’ve got the open Atlantic and that west-facing coastline. I’ve been surfing all my life and we have waves here that are superior quality to any I’ve found.”
Like many of his fellow surfers, Gary is out here in all weathers. If it’s really stormy, he just heads to slightly more sheltered spots, such as Clovelly or Lynmouth.
These clifftop towns enjoy access to some of the best beaches in the region - not that the locals are biased.
“It’s just so unspoilt,” says Lynton and Lynmouth Town Clerk Kevin Harris.
“It’s special all year round but the reason it’s so good here in the winter is because it’s still, clear and there’s spectacular scenery which generally coincides with taking a lovely walk and enjoying good food.
“We get different types of people visiting us here in the winter because right by the beach is the South West Coast Path and we’ve got the Two Moors Way. We tend to get a lot of walkers.”
Life ticks along here when the thousands of summer visitors have long since gone home.
Dog walker Emma Lord, from Pet Care North Devon can regularly be seen strolling across the sand at Instow.
“I love our beaches more in the winter time than the summer,” she says.
“They are quieter but there are still enough people to stop and chat -usually about our dogs!
“The seas can be wild and impressive. And it’s always nice to pop to the pub for a warming drink!”
Further along the coast is the award-winning Woolacombe, recently crowned best beach in the UK by TripAdviser.
The three-mile long stretch of golden sand is renowned for its cleanliness, water quality and ability to blow the cobwebs away.
“If you get reasonable winter weather, it’s just a stunning place to be,” says Rachel Zeale from Woolacombe’s Tourist Information Centre.
“We had some absolutely gorgeous days recently and there was a real buzz about the village with lots of people out walking their dogs or on the coastal path.”
Rachel works in partnership with the National Trust, which looks after this stretch of coast. They recently joined forces to by an ‘all-terrain tramper’ mobility scooter to allow disabled people access to the beach.
“It’s proving really popular and it means everybody can enjoy Woolacombe,” says Rachel. “It’s our little corner of North Devon.”
Five things you should know about North Devon:
More than two million people a year visit the region, drawn here by the stunning beaches and dramatic coastlines.
The Tarka Trail is one of the country’s longest continuous traffic-free walking and cycling paths and forms part of the Devon Coast to Coast Cycle Route. tarkatrailguide.co.uk
Braunton Burrows has a spectacular dune system with over 400 plant species and is the heart of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
Artist Damien Hirst’s statue Verity can be seen at the entrance to Ilfracombe harbour. She stands at 20.25 metres (66.43 feet) tall and is on long-term loan to North Devon Council as a gift from Hirst.
One of Britain’s rarest breeding butterflies, the heath fritillary butterfly, can be found on Exmoor.
From the streets: local residents reveal where they like to eat, drink and visit in North Devon:
“We just love Weirmarsh farm restaurant in High Bickington. It’s quirky and different. To visit, my favourite is Rosemoor RHS gardens.” Bob Boothby.
“The Tarka Trail is the best cycle and walking trail around. I also like the Joiners Arms, in Bideford – great atmosphere and live local music. The Milky Way is a great adventure park and has a fantastic play area for small children too. My four-year-old granddaughter loves it. Also, Bideford Pannier Market is good for local crafts and fresh produce.” Gigha Klinkenborg.
“Giovanni’s in Barnstaple is a really nice Italian and Lilico’s is a great place to drink.” Bob Collins.
“My favourite places to eat in the winter are either The Stores in Croyde - a sleek and stylish new cafe in the centre of Croyde, which combines sophistication with natural local produce or La Gendarmerie restaurant in Ilfracombe - nouvelle cuisine.” Michael Morris
“Clovelly is one of the magical places on the planet. Park at the top of the village and follow the coast path towards Hartland. There are beautiful rhododendrons, when in bloom.” Rick Turner
Coming up in North Devon:
3 February: A View from the Edge, at the Landmark Theatre is an original theatre-noir “where the search for the truth provokes a mind-bending journey through dreams, imagination and real life. See northdevontheatres.org.uk
11 Feb: See the North Devon Sinfonia at the Landmark Theatre in Ilfracombe.
26 Feb: Lentsherd (pronounced ‘Lanshard’) is an old Clovelly Shrove Tuesday custom. The aim is to chase bad spirits away and drive the devil into the sea before Lent. Clovelly.co.uk
February: Snowdrop Valley, close to Wheddon Cross on Exmoor. This remote valley boasts a magnificent blanket of these beautiful flowers. Visitors can stroll among them, while local charities provide refreshments in the Snowdrop Café. See wheddoncross.org.uk
4 March: The Star Trek Challenge is a walk undertaken at night the first weekend in March each year, organised by the Rotary Clubs of Ilfracombe. See visitilfracombe.co.uk
2 July: Get in training for the Croyde Ocean Triathlon, based at Putsborough Beach. See croydeocean.co.uk