Plan a weekend in Hope Cove, Devon. With its dramatic rock formations overlooking sandy bays, this pretty fishing village offers a traditional British holiday away from the crowds. Words: Alex Fisher Photographs: Jon Spong
First they came for the fish; more than 800 years ago there was a settlement in Hope Cove built around the humble pilchard. Abundant fish stocks guaranteed a living for families who were drawn to this remote location. Fishing was often supplemented by smuggling, along with the bounty from numerous shipwrecks, the remains of which still sit on the seabed today. In 1588 a ship from the defeated Spanish Armada was blown onto the rocks and 140 survivors came ashore. The sailors were sentenced to death, but were eventually returned home to Spain in exchange for a hefty ransom.
The village is divided into two areas, Inner Hope and Outer Hope. Despite the emotive names, the word hope in this case is likely to have been derived from the Norse word ‘hop’, meaning shallow bay
or landlocked inlet.
It was only in the 1950s that the village became a holiday destination, and hotels and restaurants began to pepper the streets. With dramatic rock formations towering over sandy bays surrounded by green rolling hills, its natural beauty and tranquillity attracted a range of visitors; even the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie chose to spend some of his exile here during the Second World War. Although the hotels became a little tired in the 1980s, a few new restaurants and holiday properties are now bringing visitors back to this pretty village. Just five miles from the busy harbour town of Salcombe, it offers a quieter getaway, with all that a traditional British seaside holiday can offer – just without the crowds.
7PM THE COVE CAFÉ
After a long drive I arrive at Drake House (coastandcountry.co.uk
). This stunning property overlooks the bay at Outer Hope and the views are spectacular. After unpacking I head down to the Cove Café and Bar for a sunset supper. Nestled in the valley, with views across the ocean, this little restaurant has been breathing life into the community since Shelly and Toby took it over two years ago. As well as serving excellent craft beers and simple, locally sourced food, they put on gigs for visitors and the community. Throughout the year they offer an interesting array of highly rated, up-and-coming singers and bands, with styles ranging from folk to electro-pop. The gigs are free and start at 9pm; check the cafe’s website for details. I order a Salcombe Smokie – griddled mackerel with rocket, horseradish and toast. If you give them 24 hours notice, they can also provide you with local crab or lobster (thecovedevon.co.uk
I’ve always wanted to try stand-up paddle boarding (SUP) and jumped at the chance to have my first session in the calm Kingsbridge estuary, just 10 minutes’ drive from Hope Cove. Triocean Surf offers surfing, kayaking and SUP lessons and supplies all the kit you need to get started. Once I’m in my wetsuit, Dave, my instructor, selects one of the largest boards, designed to help beginners get their balance.
He gives me a few tips on dry land first, showing me how to switch the paddle between hands, then we head into the water. Following Dave’s advice, I push out into the river – kneeling down to begin with – and paddle from one bank to the other. The board is steadier than I expected, and a few minutes later I’m kneeling, then – tentatively – standing. Dave is a great teacher; I really didn’t expect to be up so quickly. I am a little bit wobbly to start, but it’s not long before I’m gliding along the water, relaxed enough to enjoy the view (trioceansurf.co.uk
12PM BEACH HEAVEN
The beaches at Hope Cove are fantastic for rockpooling. Bucket and net in hand, we find shrimps, periwinkles and anemones in the clear water. After some crab sandwiches and lemonade, children gather on the harbour wall of Inner Hope Bay and take turns jumping into the water, while the adults lie back and drink in the sunshine.
3PM AND RELAX…
My SUP session has worked muscles I am not used to using and I’m looking forward to visiting the spa at Thurlestone Hotel, 15 minutes away from Hope Cove. Thurlestone is part of the Pride of Britain
Hotels consortium, which means that the standard of the food, spa and surroundings will be excellent. The nautically themed spa has a sauna, steam room, jet hydrotherapy pool, laconium, and swimming pool.
I head to the treatment rooms for a Voyage Spa Ocean Escape massage. Keeping with the coastal theme, this body treatment uses Atlantic sea salt to polish off dead cells, followed by a seaweed mask to condition the skin. Feeling completely pampered and relaxed, I glide to the terrace for afternoon tea. The elegant terrace looks out over the rolling green hills and sandy coves that make this part of the Devon coastline so beautiful. However, when afternoon tea arrives, all eyes are on the table. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a pretty array of cakes. Alongside smoked salmon sandwiches, the tiered cake stand is full of pink macarons, strawberry tarts, raspberry possets and fruitcake. I certainly won’t have any room for supper.
10AM RIB RIDE
Busy Salcombe harbour is a 15-minute drive from Hope Cove and I head here to meet Ali Turner-Jones, who runs rib rides from the town. I get kitted out in waterproofs and life jacket before heading out into the ocean. The coast looks stunning from the sea, and Ali’s fascinating history and wildlife talk begins with pointing out seals basking on the rocks and guillemots diving for fish. She takes us past a shipwreck, a working lighthouse and to the eerie ruins of Hallsands village, which was swept into the sea in a fierce storm in January 1917 (sea-n-shore.com
1PM FAMILY FUN
A theme park is a guaranteed hit with the kids, whatever the weather, but can sometimes be a bit intense for the parents! However, as Woodlands Leisure Park is set in 100 acres of what was previously a dairy farm, with shady glades and cool lakes, there are places of tranquillity amid the mayhem. As well as offering a 500m toboggan run, bumper boats and circus shows, there’s room for a Zoo Farm and a falconry show with a highly informed and engaged falconer, offering a fascinating insight into the amazing birds that grace our countryside (woodlandspark.com
7PM SUPPER WITH SEA VIEWS
The elevated position of the terrace at the Hope & Anchor Inn guarantees a great view out across the beach in Outer Hope. This pub serves beers and ales by Cornish brewer St Austell, and offers a menu that includes potted local crab, steamed mussels and traditional fish pie. The beef is from Devon, and the crab and lobster are landed locally. This bustling, family-friendly venue tends to get very busy, so it’s a good idea to book in advance (hopeandanchor.co.uk
I am leaving tomorrow, but I don’t want to. Hope Cove is stunning, and the surrounding countryside offers everything you need for a fantastic family holiday.
For more inspiration for weekends away, try a weekend on the Isle of Man. Check out the latest tip off for the best weekend breaks in the latest issue of the magazine.
NEED TO KNOW
COAST AND COUNTRY COTTAGES
Coast stayed at stunning Drake House, a self-catering property directly overlooking Outer Hope Bay. This luxury five-bedroom house sleeps up to 10 people, and is perfect for a group of friends or a large family holiday. It is stylishly decorated, with a superbly equipped kitchen, long dining table and outside there’s a veranda with fantastic sea views. Prices start at £1,500 a week. Alternatively, if you need a smaller property, then 4 West Park Mews is a smartly decorated two-bedroom terraced house with an outside dining area, and prices start at £398 for a week. To book either property, visit coastandcountry.co.uk
HOW TO GET THERE
The train station nearest to Hope Cove is Totnes, 18 miles away. However, the connecting bus service (cheerily named Tally Ho!, Route 162) takes two hours, so this may not be the best way to travel. The road to Hope Cove runs off the A38, which is accessible from Cornwall to the south, and via the M5 and M4 from the rest of the country.