Coast editor Alex Fisher escapes to this tucked away location, where quiet, sandy beaches, abundant local produce and wonderful coastal walking makes for a fantastic getaway by the sea…
Soft sand squishes between my toes as I head towards the gently rolling waves. The sea is as clear as glass and, due to the gentle graduation of the sea shelf, the shallows have been warmed by the sun. Silver fish flicker around my ankles and sunlight dances on the rippling water. I wade in further and sink beneath the cool water, taking my first strokes towards Burgh Island, before rolling onto my back and looking up at the sky. I feel awash with the utter beauty of my experience; this is the kind of holiday I love, immersed in the natural world.
This little area of South Hams, serviced mainly by winding country lanes lined with dry-stone walls overflowing with wild flowers, has a certain magic. If one sandy beach is busy, there’s always another just around the corner that’s empty. Here, you’ll easily find local lobster just pulled out of the sea, crab and oysters in abundance, often served with samphire picked from the estuaries and a fantastic array of local produce, ranging from fudge, cream and scones to wine and gin, made within a few miles from where you’re staying. It’s the kind of place you can take a wrong turning, find yourself driving along a river bed, and end up discovering a hidden shack at the end of a tidal road, serving the best local wine and oysters on gingham table cloths under a makeshift awning. Yes, those places still exist. And I found them.
The sun’s shining as we wind our way through fields and forest, heading towards our holiday home just outside Kingston. It’s been a long drive, so once we are in the vicinity we pop into the local pub for a spot of lunch whilst Great Torr Barn is being readied. Craig and Leah, the friendly owners at The Dolphin Inn, make us feel very welcome and quickly whip up a nice cold glass of wine and a delicious filet of local seabass, served with lime, black pepper and new potatoes and great fish and chips. Priced at a reasonable £12, these filling main courses replenish our energy, and we head over to the barn, just five minutes’ drive away, to get settled in (01548 810314, dolphininnkingston.co.uk).
With its own enclosed garden and indoor pool, Great Torr Barn is an impressive location for a holiday. Having lots of kids in tow, the advantage of a pool is huge, and shared between a couple of families, who will fit in this large five-bedroom house, it’s surprisingly economical. We head upstairs to the dining room and are greeted with a host of pre-ordered local produce. As well as the welcome box from Pretty Local (07803 374070, kingsbridge.prettylocal.co.uk), which is brimming with seasonal goodies ranging from fruit and vegetables to cakes, jam and fish, we also have a bottle of the wonderful Salcombe Gin, made just a couple of miles away, best enjoyed apparently, with Fever Tree tonic, and a slice of pink grapefruit (salcombegin.com). Along with wine from Sharpham Vineyard, a few miles inland (sharpham.com), we seem to have everything we need. Decorated in a relaxed, but luxurious fashion, with nautical touches here and there it’s the perfect based for a group holiday. There’s a large kitchen, huge dining table and plenty of games for the kids to play in the evenings. Its décor is enhanced by beautiful flowers from Studio Flowers (01548 854546) and I begin to wonder if we actually need to leave the barn at all.
However, I’ve had a tip off that the food at a nearby pub, The Journeys End Inn, is superb, so, having swum and then run around the garden for a few hours, we head to Ringmore. The unassuming tavern in this pretty village is bustling with locals and, browsing the menu, I suspect we’re in for a treat. I order sweet figs with goats curd, hazelnut and maple salad, which is melt in the mouth divine. The kids tuck into a huge portion of outstanding crispy duck and pancakes, beautifully presented and delicious. Then comes the ricotta pillows with tenderstem and Paneratto for the vegetarians and pan fried hake with samphire prawns for the fish eaters. To say The Journey’s End is a gastro pub would be an insult. The food here is fantastic and I’m not surprised to learn that the chef has worked in some of the top hotels in the region. This place is a hidden gem. Starters from £6.50, mains from £14.50 (01548 810205, thejourneysendinn.co.uk).
Time to work off some of those extra calories we loaded up with the previous day. We head to Bigbury-on-Sea for a yoga session on the beach. Donna McCheyne of Simply Soulful Yoga offers private family yoga sessions either at home or on the beach, weather dependent. She’s warm and welcoming and takes us all at a gentle, relaxing pace. The kids love that she also offers goat yoga, cream tea yoga and party yoga and we vow to discover more about these activities next time we visit. (07941 508 004, simplysoulful.co.uk).
After yoga we walk across the sand to Burgh Island. When the tide is in, the sea separates the island from the mainland, and a ‘sea tractor’ (basically, a brilliant vehicle tall enough to travel through the shallow waters) takes visitors to and fro. The island is home to the iconic Burgh Island Hotel, a stunning Art Deco building that sits elegantly on this tiny tidal isle and was the setting for the Hercule Poirot mystery, Evil Under the Sun. It is also home to The Pilchard Inn, and, having gone seal and bird spotting, we sit outside the pub with a ginger beer before heading back.
Yes, we have built up an appetite, and stop off at The Venus Café, back in Bigbury-on-Sea for a light lunch. Here you can sit outside and enjoy the splendid view of the ocean whilst tucking into homemade veggie burgers or Devon beef burgers, along with Rocks organic squash. (01548 810 141, lovingthebeach.co.uk/bigbury-on-sea)
Just next door to The Venus Café sits Discovery Surf School. Run by Martin and Annika since 2002, the school offers surf and SUP lessons for all abilities. As the sea is eerily calm, we prepare for a SUP (stand up paddled boarding) lesson, rather than a surf lesson, pulling on wetsuits and boots before heading back to the sea. Our instructor takes us through the basics whilst on dry land and then we drag our boards into the water and begin to paddle around Burgh Island, as seabirds hover around us. The lack of waves makes this surprising easy, and the kids race ahead, showing off their youthful skills by standing on one leg as they overtake their slower parents. (07813 639 622, discoverysurf.com).
Having spent the rest of the day on the beach, we head back to base. The Sat Nav directs us to take a left turn beside the river. We follow the road tentatively, quickly realising it is a tidal path, open to cars only when the tide is out. Happily, water free, we arrive at the other end, having greatly shortened our journey home. To our delight there’s a sign for The Oyster Shack to our right, and we head inside to see if we can find some more of the regions great local produce for supper. We are not disappointed. As the name implies, the restaurant serves local oysters and sustainably caught seafood and the menu is mouth-watering.
The coastal décor in blue and orange, with glass buoys in rope nets and a makeshift fish smoker in the courtyard, makes for a friendly and relaxed atmosphere. Here, we sample the very best seafood the South West has to offer: sublime mussels with bacon, cream and leaks, local lobster with garlic butter and oysters with traditional red wine and shallot vinegar. This is all washed down with a bottle of Vinho Verde, light and fresh and perfect with seafood. With six oysters for £15, salt and pepper Cuttle fish starter at £6.50 and a huge bowl of mussels priced at £17.25, it’s a great family restaurant (01548 810 876, oystershack.co.uk).
It’s a fresh, sunny morning and we take a stroll down to Wonwell Beach. This sandy expanse on the Erme estuary is untouched. There are no shops, car parks or toilets blocks, just miles of sand and stunning views. Frequented by dog walkers and horse riders, it’s a joy to be staying somewhere that’s walking distance, so we don’t even have to search for a spot to park a car. Here we skim stones in the shallows and throw sticks for friendly dogs. The walk from Great Torr Barn takes about forty minutes, but you can continue your ramble by taking the South West Coast Path, which connects to the lane here.
Luckily, our visit has coincided with a pop-up feast at Wild Artichokes, run by Jane Baxter and Sam Miller in nearby Kingsbridge. Chef and food writer Jane Baxter worked at the River Café and set up the Riverford Field Kitchen. At this foodie event we share tables and dishes with strangers, getting to know new people and try new dishes. The sumptuous, seasonal array includes black orrechiette with clams, courgettes and prawns and divine pear frangipane. Flat price of £30 per head, and BYO wine with a corkage charge of £5. If you can’t make an event, you can book Wild Artichokes to cook at your holiday accommodation (07976 814 530, wildartichokes.co.uk).
There’s one last thing we need to do (eat) before we leave Devon in the morning. A visit isn’t complete without a Devon cream tea, but we’re all swimming and sunning ourselves in the garden, so we’ve ordered a delivery. Delimann (01625 201556, delimann.co.uk) delivers pre-ordered food boxes to holiday homes and ours comprises of homemade scones – including some for our gluten-free guests – thick clotted cream and local strawberry jam. As the sun sets we gather around the garden table and follow the Delimann’s recommended ceremony for (late) afternoon tea, in Devonshire style with cream first, then jam, and let out contented sighs as we complete what has been an idyllic weekend.
NEED TO KNOW
WHERE TO STAY
Coast stayed at Great Torr Barn with Coast & Country Cottages. The house has five bedrooms, a large garden and an indoor pool. Short breaks (four nights) start at £795, making it around £20 pp pn at full occupancy of 10 people. To book go to coastandcountry.co.uk
or call 01548 843773. Coast & Country Cottages offer a choice of 390 self-catering properties in South Devon.
HOW TO GET THERE
This area of South Devon is accessed from the South Devon Highway, the A385. The local airport is Exeter. Trains to nearby Totnes are frequent, and there is a lesser service to the nearest train station at Ivybridge.
Check out more coastal stays here.