Bampton & beyond: BBC’s Caroline Cook on her favourite places
Wondering where you can let your pack off the leash? Caroline Cook shares her fave dog and child-friendly places. Plus, why Bampton is the best place to live in her book.
Did you hear me on the radio last weekend (did you, did you?). I was totally cockahoop to be invited as a guest on Caroline Cook’s BBC Radio Devon show to ramble on about Devon and writing for Muddy.
Afterwards, I got chatting to Caroline and, as you’d expect with her being a roving radio presenter, I discovered she’s a mine of local intel. If Bampton where she lives is even half as good as she says, we should all pack our bags and put up a for sale sign pronto. (Unless you already live there, obvs.)
Caroline knows loads of cool child and dog-friendly walks and eateries as she loves to stay and camp around North Devon and on Exmoor with husband Giuseppe, six year-old son Jack and cute chocolate lab, Ambrose.
Plus, she is the Ultimate Picnic Queen as she never knowingly likes to be without a snack, and Muddy can totally relate to that.
Spare us a bit of your Kendal Mint Cake, Caroline?
Exmouth beach is long and sandy, a real favourite dog walking spot of ours in normal times. Even though I love summer, part of me is always secretly happy when October rolls around and there’s more freedom to explore beaches with the hounds. (Dogs are allowed from 30 Sept to 1 May and on the last stretch of beach at the end of Queens Drive all year round.)
This spot on Exmoor, also known as The Ridgeway, has spectacular views and drops down into beautiful dells and rivers. The light is always pretty even when the weather is bad. There’s a real prehistoric quality to it, like the woodland could be thousands, if not millions, of years old. We take a picnic and just follow the stream until we find a nice spot then chuck down a blanket.
The Braunton Burrows sand dunes behind Saunton Sands (pictured) are other-worldly, like landing in the middle of a Star Wars set. We avoid the crowds and arrive via Sandy Lane rather than the beach car park. So quiet, it’s perfect for lockdown isolation. You can hunker down for a family picnic hidden in a giant sand dune. Jack thinks it’s amazing, and it is.
We’re keen campers and love to camp at North Morte Farm – the sea views are stunning and it’s a cracking walk down to Putsborough Bay where we all like to body-board, including the dog (without the board, obviously!)
If we can get babysitting, we stay at Woolacombe Bay Hotel right on the beach. I’d recommend you get a balcony room overlooking the sea, where you can sit with a drink and watch the sun go down. It’s family and dog-friendly so sometimes we take Jack and Ambrose and then we like to sit in the Atrium, where it’s totally chilled. You can spread out with kids, dogs etc and no-one minds.
It’s also got two lovely pools, one indoors and one out, and when the sun shines on the outdoor pool, it’s like being in Spain.
Bampton is an undiscovered gem, a lovely mix of architecture that goes from Victorian right through to Medieval times. We moved here because of its great travel connections for work and seeing friends in London and Bristol. It’s close to Somerset, Exmoor and the M5 and the train station at Tiverton Parkway – plus it’s only an hour to the beaches in North Devon and I have always wanted to live in North Devon.
The high street is excellent – there’s a brilliant family-run grocers, Bampton Fresh, the local deli, Bampton Game, which does fresh ready meals including a fabulous duck stir fry, plus a doctors, a library, a bakery and a zero waste shop. And a local dads’ group have raised money to build a wonderful playground on the site of the old motte and bailey.
The Swan, Bampton
Luckily for us, our local is The Swan, an award-wining gastropub owned by husband and wife chefs, Paul and Donna Berry. The Swan is Paul’s baby, and just down the road is Donna’s newish baby, Spelt, which does a lovely brunch, all sharing plates and tapas-style dishes. It’s child and dog friendly which – you’ve probably guessed! – is important to me.
When we go to The Swan, Giuseppe and I usually share a crab terrine and some chicken liver parfait, followed by beautifully aged steak or local pork belly. If Jack comes too he gets perfectly battered fish with triple cooked chips and honeycomb ice cram, a massive treat!
Clovelly and Clovelly Court Gardens
We adore the cobbled walk down to the harbour (greeting the donkeys on the way obviously) but I also absolutely love Clovelly Court Gardens. We often walk in the grounds of the estate there and have picnics overlooking the sea.
We tend to go here in winter when it’s quiet, parking down by the river then walking along to the town. The faded Victorian grandeur feels like stepping back in time but in a really authentic way, it’s not Disney-fied. We go to The Rising Sun (above) on the harbourside for really good steak or fish and chips, and for a coffee, The Pavilion Dining Room, it’s wonderfully old fashioned with a definite Lemony Snicket vibe.
Quince Honey Farm, Aller Cross, South Molton
It’s all about the bees here, with hives you can open up and look into and a great big soft play area which is much more chilled out than most. It’s in a great big barn, surrounded by creepy crawlies (behind glass of course) so it makes it feel more like a cross between soft play and a zoo. Jack loves it and it’s really fairly priced so it’s good for the mums and dads too.
I love to get a coffee here in the stable yard. We tend to go more for the walks in the sweeping parkland and around Impey Woods than the house. We’ll park up near the cricket club end and have a picnic, sit there with that lovely crack of leather on willow. There are always lots of dog walkers, and Jack always loves to stop and pet every single one. Fortunately, dog walkers are a friendly bunch and don’t mind!