Winter walks to blow away the cobwebs
Wrap up warm and go in search of your own winter wonderland! Here's our pick of the best Devon spots to burn off those mince pies.
Community Orchard, Lustleigh, Easy-peasy
Can’t manage much more than a quick wobble from the car to a view and back. Lustleigh is where I take friends from afar, as it’s known as the prettiest village on Dartmoor, has a pretty tearoom, a quirky orchard filled with curious sheep and even curiouser May Day throne made of granite. For vittles it has The Cleave, a traditional 15th century dog-friendly pub which serves really good food, open from midday until 6pm on New Year’s Day (12-3pm for lunch). If you’re feeling up to it (go you!), there’s the longer Lustleigh Cleave walk which takes in good views but it’s hilly.
Braunton Burrows, Easy, up to 3 miles
The sand dunes behind Saunton Sands are other-worldly, like landing in the middle of a Star Wars set. A North Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) it is a UNESCO designated Biosphere reserve and huge – the size of 100 football pitches. It’s dog friendly (on leads around livestock) and a paradise for twitchers and wildlife-lovers, as it teems with birds, bees, bunnies and butterflies as well as things that don’t begin with B. Park at Sandy Lane to avoid the car park crowds, then head to either Saunton Sands Hotel for a bite in Art Deco surrounds (check out the award winning spa while there) or for less of a trek uphill the Beachside Grill – both have amazing views of the beach.
Orcombe Point Geoneedle, Exmouth, Easy/Moderate
Up the zigzag steps from the golden sands of dog-friendly side of Exmouth Beach you’ll find the Geoneedle which marks the Western end of the Jurassic Coast, an ancient stretch of coastline. The needle details how the landscape changing over six million years is shown in the cliffs between here and Studland Bay in Dorset, from the Triassic period when here was a desert, through the giant marine animals of the Jurassic to the Cretaceous period when here was a vast shallow sea and mudflats. For a takeaway coffee and cakes, head back to Hangtime on the front or to sit in and watch the waves, and maybe some brave kite-surfers, Mickey’s Beach.
The Dartmoor Way, Teign Valley, nr Chagford, Easy/Moderate
Dartmoor is full of mystery and magic, especially this riverside walk which takes you via mossy oaks and stunning tor and moorland views to ‘Passage’, a whimsical granite sculpture carved by Peter Randall Page (above). Park at Castle Drogo and follow the River Teign towards Chagford (about an hour or so). If you can only face a quick jaunt, park on the road by the Mill End Hotel and meander 15 minutes along the riverside (with the hotel on your left). The sculpture is just beyond the weir, and before the wooden gate, on a small island in the middle of the water.
The ‘Secret Beach’, Instow, Easy 3 miles
Everyone knows Appledore but Instow, on the opposite of the estuary is quieter. Park up and set off along the beach (winter dog friendly) and you’ll be treated to a flat three-mile stroll which takes you around the most perfectly placed cricket ground in the country to a secret beach favoured by locals where you’ll find an abandoned boat on the sands covered in painted graffiti and an old disused jetty. Stay long enough and you might be treated to an amazing sunset too. Grab a takeaway bite from the Muddy Award winning deli, John’s of Instow or book The Boathouse with its upper estuary-facing deck and locals fave The Instow Arms.
Nine Maidens and Belstone Tor, North Dartmoor, Moderate, 4.2 miles
Steer clear of the NY Day crowds at Haytor and head to this lesser-known Tor in the pretty village of Belstone. Legend has it the nine rocks were created when nine maidens were turned to stone for dancing on a Sunday. No such superpowers for you, though there is the option of an old stocks the kids in when you can’t take any more of their squabbling. The village pub is closed on the 26th but The Three Crowns at nearby Chagford is open, and so prettily dressed for the festive season. Find more great Dartmoor Walks here.
South Milton Sands & The Beachhouse , Easy amble
A National Trust beach visit with golden sands, rock pools and Thurlestone Rock, a beautiful natural sea arch. The beaches around the parts were once used by smugglers’ for bringing in rum, though these days it’s easier to order one at the family-owned spa hotel, Thurlestone Hotel. It’s also an excuse to check out a great foodie destination of The Beachhouse, not NT-owned but UK-renowned as one of the best beach shacks around, specialising in freshly caught fish. Best to book as competition for tables and parking is hot-hot-hot.
Exeter City Wall Trail, Easy, 3.2km
With Exeter badly bombed in WW2, you might be surprised to discover 70% of its ancient city walls still remain. This curated trail takes you around the city’s 2000 year history, from Castle Street to the Norman gatehouse and the sites of the various city gates. When you’ve walked the route (here) head over to Southernhay House Hotel on Southernhay for a light bite and a hair of the dog.
Grand Western Canal, Sampford Peverill to Tiverton, 6 miles, Easy
A sedate waterside stroll along the canal to Tiverton, the site of one of only three horse-drawn barge companies left in the UK, Tiverton Canal Company. Though they’re summer-only, you can enjoy a relatively mud-free peramble with plenty of urban options in the town for scoffing and quaffing and idyllic barges to daydream about living in and handsome Shire horses chewing in the fields.
Brownsham Wood to Mouthmill, Hartland, Challenging, 2 miles
After a head clearer? This South West Coast path walk on the jagged Hartland peninsula will blow away any fluffiness as will the windswept views. Don’t be deceived by the short distance, the zigzag slope will get your heart pumping as will the views of the seagull-filled skies across Bideford Bay. Your reward is a selfie with the iconic Black Church Rock (pictured) at Mouthmill beach.