Mathew Growcott from the Midlands finds there’s plenty to do on a weekend break in Devon
It’s a long way down the M5 to Devon, with only dull grey buildings, the occasional field and lots and lots of traffic to hold your attention. Then suddenly, like a desert mirage, you are surrounded by greenery. Trees pop up almost out of nowhere on both sides of the road, gorgeous hills tower in every direction – the motorway melts into spectacular countryside. If this is your first trip to Devon, believe me when I say it only gets better from here. Because around every corner, down every little side road, is a hidden gem. Whether it’s a traditional village unspoilt by yet another big superstore, a quiet beach, castle or an old house full of secrets, there’s always something worth seeing. Kents Cavern in Torquay sums up that fact better than anything. We got lost down a couple of residential roads trying to find it. In a well-kept but fairly unassuming building at the top of a hill, it houses miles of prehistoric caves that have over the years been a den for everything from bears and hyenas to families of early humans. Our David Attenborough-voiced guide Simon talked us through the history of the caves and the long Victorian effort to clear it out. It is an easy walk, entertainingly delivered, although those who struggle with the dark or cramped conditions might want to steer clear. If Kents Cavern is a deep look at the past,
Babbacombe Model Village is a miniature modern world. Thousands upon thousands of little dolls occupy dozens of different worlds, from castles and hospitals to the house from the Addam’s Family or a celebrity mansion with everybody from Freddie Mercury to Elvis Presley at a party. Pennywell Farm, in Buckfastleigh, might offer an alternative for groups with toddlers. Adorable animals can be played with across the park, with rides and things to take part in as well. It’s more aimed at families, and that soon becomes obvious when you start exploring beyond the entrance to the park. But nature lovers will get a rare chance to interact with some genuinely chilled out animals. Just down the road is the South Devon Railway. The heritage line is the longest established steam railway in the south west,
dating back to 1872. It’s a real step back in time. The food, the sights and smells – it all comes together to something really special. It’s only a short trip, but the delicious afternoon tea and chance to take part in a bit of nostalgia with, hopefully, good company really puts it on the map. If history is your thing, Buckfast Abbey is an odd example well worth visiting. The site has been the home of an abbey for 1,000 years, and there’s events to celebrate the site’s millenium year throughout 2018. Another Victorian site, volunteers are slowly restoring Canonteign Falls which were built more than a century ago, uncovering interesting walks or beautiful gardens. The key attraction is the beautiful waterfalls, which give an exquisite view of Devon’s countryside.
We stayed at Dartington Hall in Totnes, an ideal place to stay for exploring this part of the world. Many of the buildings date back hundreds of years, including the fantastic Grade I listed hall itself. The rooms were clean and traditional, but simple. Food was delicious, and the gardens were well worth an explore. Another great place to stay in the Torquay area is the TLH Toorak Hotel, renowned as one of the most friendly hotels in Torquay. Devon is an absolutely stunning place to visit. Walkers and nature buffs have endless countryside to explore, while families are never too far away from an attraction or beach. The long road back seemed a bit dreary after all the colour and sights of Devon. But knowing there’s plenty more to see, we’ll be heading back very soon.