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20 things to do in Devon – for FREE!

Whether you're watching the pennies or doing #nospendjanuary, we've found all the fun around the county where you won't be splashing the cash.

Face up to a woolly mammoth…at The Box in Plymouth (or a full-size replica at any rate). And then go…marvel at the sight of 1,000 pickled marine creatures in the gleaming glass cases behind.

Marvel at a 2000-year old Greek helmet… in the Ancient Citizens Gallery (above) at Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Gallery (RAMM to its friends). Here’s a family-friendly mix of fascinating collections, modern art and forward-thinking exhibitions. And then go… see the Local Art Show – everything is for sale, brilliant quality and very affordable.

Never mind the Witches of Eastwick, meet the Witches of Bideford… at Bideford’s riverside gallery and museum, Burton at Bideford, where along with an impressive collection of North Devon paintings and ceramics, you’ll learn about the infamous 1682 Bideford witch trial which resulted in the hangings of three poor ‘witches’. And then go… see artist-in-residence Michelle Shields’ re-imagining of some of their 17th century ceramics collection in modern 3-D printing.

Watch a glass-blower at work…at Cockington Court‘s Stable Yard Studios where the catchily-named Our Glass make glass year round. And then go…grab a coffee and a bite (hello, Yarde Ice Cream) for a nosey around the walled sculpture gardens.

See a Tate artist for free…aka 20th century female artist, Thelma Hulbert, known for her still lives and her award-winning, legacy Honiton’s Thelma Hulbert Gallery which hosts contemporary art and craft exhibitions as well as a permanent collection of her art. And then go… book in for a new talk series there with art historian, John Francis, including Diego and Frida on 1 Feb (£8).

Climb a floating staircase…at Royal William Yard you can climb to Devil’s Point for fabulous views over to Drake’s Island and Plymouth Sound. And then go… back to RWY to grab a coffee and homemade chocolate from Domeafavour.

Spend a lazy Sunday at…Exeter Quayside walking along the river, mooching around the shops under the arches, watching the swans, paddle-boarders and rowers being shouted at by the coxes. And then go… to the historic Custom House Visitor Centre for the lowdown on Exeter’s rich and varied history, also free.

Discover a hidden sculpture in the wild… Peter Randall Page’s ‘Passage’ to be precise, hidden away on a riverside walk on Dartmoor. Park by Mill End Hotel and meander 15 minutes along the riverside (with the hotel on your left). It’s on a small island in the river, and you’re looking for what looks like two halves of a walnut. And then drive to nearby Chagford…for a pastry from Beachwood Bakery, named by the Financial Times as one of the best food shops in the world.

donkey children

Pat a rescue donkey…at The Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth, a Muddy Award winner and still the best free animal attraction in Devon. Then go… for a run around the maze and enjoy the amazing hilltop views.

Pic credit: Joseph C Boone

See the famous black swans at Dawlish… gliding elegantly along the town’s brook and wandering the Lawn throughout the year. The swans originally were gifted by Australia but they’ve lived here for centuries. Then go…to the waterfowl compound for a laugh at Muddy’s favourite bird ever, the crested ducks which look they’ve got a roller on their heads. Ooh, and then the beach for a quick paddle.

Find a house that moved…head down the the cobbles of Stepcote Hill (step is Old English for ‘steep’ and it is), passing medieval buildings, down to Exeter’s most photographed building, The House That Moved – on a lorry back in the 1960s to make way for the bypass. Then go… for a mosey around Exeter’s Indie Quarter and the cool shops on Fore Street just up the road.

Do look up in Dartmouth …peel your eyes off the harbour town’s tempting shop windows for a moment and you’ll be rewarded with views of stunning historic frontages dating back to Tudor times and beyond. Then go… download the self-guided tour of the Mayflower Heritage Trail which explains the town as it was when the Pilgrims sailed into the harbour in 1620 on their way to the New World.

Wander around Lynmouth…even without spending a penny (if you see what I mean) there’s loads to see, from the cliff railway to the jet of water over the gorge, to the curious geology of the beach. It’s a fascinating, charming place. Then go…to Woolacombe beach for miles of golden sands or stay put and go to Lynmouth Model Railway for an Old Curiosity Shop vibe and to watch the model trains run around the track. Toot toot!


children playing dress up

Grab a bucket, spade and hammer and go fossilising for ammonites and at Seaton.

Head to The House of Marbles at Bovey Tracey and let them loose on the marble runs, animated animals and fairground mirrors.

Park up at Tiverton Grand Western Canal for a mess about on the canal-themed playpark, then go in search of a horse-drawn barge.

Don the wellies and strike out for Stover Country Park near Newton Abbot to wander the Children’s Poetry route illustrated by Snowman author, Raymond Briggs.

Do the Veitch Lampost Trail in Exeter’s St James and St David’s area looking for 17 lampposts, each painted with a flower brought back to the city by the Victorian plant hunter.

Budding Fearne Cotton’s can try at their talents at being a TV presenter in the mock television studio in the Media Lab Gallery at The Box, Plymouth.

Want more things to do? Cor, you’re a busy bee! Check out our curated guide to Devon Walks, plus What’s on This Month around the county.

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