Like discovering old buildings and learning about the people who lived and worked in them? North Devon has a good choice of heritage sites. Meanwhile keen gardeners (and those who like to be inspired by keen gardeners!) will appreciate the grounds and other local gardens many of which benefit from being in sheltered valleys.
Here are a few ideas to whet your appetite for exploring:
Head west along the Atlantic Highway (A39)and you’ll soon encounter the pretty little village of Clovelly. This privately owned village is built into a 400ft cleft in the cliff, has a cascading cobbled Main Street, maritime museum, tea room, two pubs, the famous Clovelly Donkeys, craft workshop, and Quay. Fishing was a way of life here and there are a few boats still bringing in Herrings, Lobsters and Crabs. Look out for special events throughout the year. Clovelly Court Garden, the estate kitchen garden with incredibly high walls is well worth exploring.
Hartland Abbey dates from the 12th Century and is the home of the Stucley family. The house is packed with family treasures and walled garden a delight to see. Parkland extends along a valley to the rocky cove and cottage at Blackpool Mill, setting for various BBC drama series. The tea room is superb. Look out for special Spring bulb open days when there is a children’s treasure trail and the Summer outdoor theatre programme. On the sky line above the Abbey is St Nectan’s Church in Stoke village – otherwise known as the Cathedral of North Devon. There has been along association between Abbey and Church which has a dramatic 128ft tower.
Further round the Hartland Peninsula is the charming Docton Mill Gardens and Tearoom. This multiple award winner boasts a stunning garden set in a steep valley complete with working mill wheel. You get a sense of the garden’s delights walking along the mill race from carpark to tea room next to the working water wheel. Do sample the menu – crab sandwiches and cream tea are highly recommended.
Heading inland c20mins from us is Royal Horticultural Society Rosemoor Garden. Stunning to walk around, fun for children (trails, woodland picnic sights and playground), awe inspiring, this is a relatively young but incredibly established garden of c25 years cultivation. The award winning restaurant is excellent and there is a busy events calendar.
Tapeley Park at Instow has a colourful Italian garden and extensive grounds with great views over the Torridge estuary. With a sustainability ethos, you can see permaculture in action.
Move north of Barnstaple to Marwood Hill Garden with national collections of Japanese Astilbe, Iris and Tulbaghia. Extensively planted with shrubs and trees – the Magnolias, Rhododendrons and Camellias in spring are magnificent. A colourful garden in all seasons with another great tearoom – Ginger Cream Tea is novel and lovely!
The National Trust owns several properties in the region. Nearest is Arlington Court home to the National Carriage Museum, a Regency house chock full of collections made by Victorian explorers, pretty walled garden and extensive grounds with brilliant Wilderness and Monkey Puzzle Mania play areas. Don’t miss the bat colony beamed live on bat cam!
Across Exmoor, over-looking the Bristol Channel is NT Dunster Castle perched high on the hill above the pretty medieval village of Dunster. A castle has existed here since Norman times. Today you will find an impressive medieval gatehouse and mysterious ruined tower. The main building was extensively modernised in the 19th Century and has a subtropical terraced garden. In the middle of Dunster High Street is the Yarn Market where wool from Exmoor Sheep was traded.
South East of Exmoor is NT Knightshayes commissioned by the Heatcote Amory family wanting to create a country estate overlooking their successful lace mill in Tiverton. Quirky gothic features in the house and extensive grounds – look out for wicker sculptures, Fox and Hounds topiary, walled garden, formal borders, informal woodland garden and vast parkland.
NT Killerton south of Tiverton houses a stunning historical fashion collection surrounded by glorious landscaped grounds home to many ancient trees.
Further afield on the northern edge of Dartmoor National Park is NT Castle Drogo. The youngest castle in England set above a picturesque fishing river, it is currently undergoing a massive re-roofing adn refurbishment programme which is fascinating to see. At Bodmin in Cornwall you will find NT Lanhydrock complete with servants quarters which gives a fascinating insight into the ‘upstairs/downstairs’ life of an Edwardian home.