Braunton, Croyde Beach, Ilfracombe, Saunton Beach. Throw in Exeter and I have been to places I never would have heard of, nonetheless seen, unless I had the opportunity to explore North Devon, England. North Devon is what I would term a true surfer’s mecca and thus a totally funky and unexpected part of the country; I totally dig it.
Before we headed to North Devon for the week (Ger for work, me for play), we stopped into Exeter for lunch and a wander around. We stumbled upon the Exeter Cathedral which is a beautiful building constructed in 1400. It’s known for having the longest, continuous stretch of Gothic vaulting in a cathedral. When the bells ring, it sounds lovely. And, the statue in the picture below (located just outside the cathedral) is said to have inspired the character Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series! Can you see it? We also popped into a pub that has been around since 1596. Very cool.
From Exeter, we headed to Braunton, our home base for the week. On the train, we were greeted by surfboards and surfers galore. I was totally surprised. I didn’t expect to see this in England. I started to get a feeling that I was in for quite a unique week.
Upon getting to Braunton, we checked into Holmsleigh B&B Braunton, and headed for dinner in the Williams Arms – a 16th century thatched roof pub. It was cozy and the food was tasty; just what we needed after a day of travel.
In the morning, we were greeted with a full English breakfast made by Jules (the Manager at the B&B). A breakfast like this would have anybody fueled and ready to take on the day. So, I headed to the beach. I took the local bus. It was covered with pictures of waves and called The North Devon Wave; this was when I started to get the feeling that I was in a surfer’s town.
Saunton Beach is where I was headed. It’s known as a longboarding location for surfers and the surf stoke is palpable. It’s also at the center of the UNESCO-designated North Devon’s Biosphere Reserve. The sand dunes are beautiful and the beach is enormous. I enjoyed sunning on the beach and reading a book that Jules lent me for most of the day. One new thing I was introduced to at Saunton was the concept of renting beach huts. I have never seen such a thing before, but, it seems like it would be great fun to rent one for the day if you were there with friends or a family.
Post beach day, I met Ger for a lovely dinner at SQ Bar and Restaurant in Braunton. He enjoyed shepherds pie and veggies for dinner while I had a potato-crusted cod on top of a bed of mushy peas. So good. We also got enjoyment out of counting how many old Volkswagen camper vans passed during dinner and reached a total of nine before dinner was done. This place was really growing on me.
The next day I headed to Croyde Beach for a long walk along the Tarka Trail – a seaside hiking trail. The views from the trail were breathtaking and the solace was lovely. When I finished my hike, I got a ham and cheese sandwich and Sanpellegrino from the food hut known as The Drop In at Croyde. I found a little sea cove and settled in to enjoy lunch and more of the book that Jules (the B&B Manager) lent me.
After a good hour or so of reading, I went to explore the rocks on Croyde Beach. They are known for catching the crabs when the tide comes in, so crabbing on Croyde is a big thing. As you can see from the pictures, the rocks are massive and filled with sea life. The views of the surfers from the rocks are great too. Croyde Surf Academy is located on this beach, so lines of stoked surfing beginners walking to and from the surf school and the beach was real fun to watch. There were some brave beginners out there.
Post-beach, I headed back to Braunton to meet Ger for dinner at Squires – famous for their fish and chips. There was a line outside the restaurant which was typical for the place according to the locals. When we finally got to eat, the food was really satisfying and totally worth the wait.
The next day, I headed down the coast to Ilfracombe via the North Devon Wave bus. I booked a Smugglers Caves, Seals & Lighthouse Sea Safari and was really looking forward to being on the ocean. I had a nice walk ’round the town before the sea safari and was impressed – it was totally charming. I stumbled upon the Ilfracombe Lighthouse too. It is part of the small Chapel of St. Nicholas on top of lantern hill – the chapel was built in 1320 and a light has been shown from the building since 1650. Gorgeous.
Post-town exploration, I headed to the sea safari. That’s when the fun really began. We pushed out of Ilfracombe Harbor and set off on a high-speed rib boat to explore the North Devon coastline. The speed the rib boat is capable of was truly amazing, and so much friggin’ fun. I would go again in a heartbeat. Along the way, we stopped to see Bull Point Lighthouse, Woolacombe Beach, a lovely waterfall near the smuggler’s caves, and “Little Thailand” as the locals call it. We got hit by a bit of heavy rain along the way as well, and I won’t lie; being on a rib boat, in the rain, in the middle of the ocean felt a bit surreal. But, it was an awesome few hours spent rib boating!
After my exhilarating afternoon, Ger and I headed for a romantic french dinner at Bistro du Coin in Braunton. Ger had frog legs for a starter, I was highly impressed. The main course was mouth-watering; I had lamb and Ger had beef. We split a chocolate tarte for dessert and left the bistro stuffed and very content.
The next day was our final full day in Braunton. I decided to check out the British Museum of Surfing in town. The museum is a national UK charity that celebrates and preserves the country’s surf heritage and is known as the home of UK surf history. It was an impressive little place with tons of information. I couldn’t get enough of the surfer vibes in North Devon, so I picked up a lovely “surf-esk” print at a cute little shop in town as well (pictured below).
After visiting the museum, I headed to Saunton Beach for a long, long walk. I was hit with creative inspiration while on my beach walk and ended up taking lots of photos of seashells (like so many). The sand on the beach was lovely and it was a balmy day, so I took my time walking up and down the coastline (about seven miles in total). I climbed up and down the massive sand dunes and savored the view of the coastline too – it was sick.
Ger met me at Saunton Beach for dinner at Beachside Grill when he was done with work. We had a nice meal and headed for a sunset beach walk post-dinner. The sunset beach ambiance was beautiful. I think the surfers were loving it as much, if not more, then we were. While waiting for the bus back to town, a friendly local offered to give a ride back in his old Volkswagen van and we couldn’t say no – we had wanted to ride in one all week! He had his two little kiddos in the back (they had all just been sunset surfing at the beach) and it was really a pleasant ride back. We learned a bit about the local lifestyle as well. Nice way to top off a Braunton visit.
The next morning we took the train back to Exeter to catch our flight out. University of Exeter is where J.K. Rowling attended university and it is alleged that famous characters and sites in the Harry Potter series are inspired from people and places in the city. We saw some of them on our wander ’round town before heading to the airport. The Vaults pictured below is the inspiration for Gringott’s Bank and the street to the right of The Vaults (Gandy Street) is the inspiration for Diagon Alley. Pretty sweet, huh? We also walked up to have a look at the remains of Exeter Castle built in 1068. What’s left is in good shape, all things considered.
That about sums up our North Devon visit. It was a lovely and surprising week near the ocean. The surf stoke was everywhere and I would love to go back and partake in some longboarding. I’d also like to try coasteering and have Thai food at Barricane Beach during sunset (a great recommendation from a local). Hopefully we will make it happen! Til’ next time, later brah.