North Devon AONB, Exmoor National Park

North Devon AONB, Exmoor National Park
  • Stunning Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to the west of Exmoor National Park
  • Famous for its many sandy beaches
  • Explore some of the Westcountry's most popular seaside resorts
  • Walk the South West Coast Path. This section offers one of the most varied landscapes in South West England
  • Visit top local visitor attractions from adventure parks to National Trust properties
  • Main photo: the view across Morte Bay from Putsborough on the North Devon coast. Putsborough Sand is the southern section of the beach. Woolacombe Sand runs north to Woolacombe

 

Where is the North Devon AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) in relation to Exmoor National Park?

The North Devon AONB runs west of Exmoor National Park and covers most of the coastline down to the Hartland Peninsula and then the Devon/Cornwall border by Welcombe (Devon) and Morwenstow (Cornwall). Note that the North Devon AONB then runs into a section of the Cornwall AONB in North Cornwall.

The North Devon AONB borders Exmoor National Park at Combe Martin so if you're walking the South West Coast Path from, say, the Martinhoe and Woody Bay area west to Watersmouth and beyond then you are crossing from Exmoor National Park into the North Devon AONB at Combe Martin.

 

Directions to the North Devon AONB

It's a big area running from Exmoor down to the Devon/Cornwall border. The major access roads to North Devon from Exmoor and the Exmoor area are the A39 and A361.

The A399 takes you up to Combe Martin and then Ilfracombe which are both close to the western border of Exmoor.

 

Parking in the North Devon AONB

North Devon is a super popular holiday destination. There are big car parking areas in all the major destinations and visitor attractions.

 

Why visit or holiday in the North Devon AONB area?

To help you choose the North Devon area, we've listed places to visit and things to do below.

 

Villages and towns in the North Devon AONB

Moving from the western border of Exmoor National Park to the Atlantic coast, villages and towns in and near the North Devon AONB include:

Combe Martin. Remarkable location on the western border of Exmoor National Park where it meets the North Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Great for beaches, watersports and coastal walks.

Ilfracombe. Major Westcountry harbour town. A North Devon hub for boat trips. Take a RIB along the Exmoor coast or sail on the MS Oldenburg to Lundy Island.

Lee. Small, beautiful village near the north west corner of Devon at Bull Point. Ideal area for those looking to escape the high season crowds.

Martinhoe. Beautiful coastal village at the northern end of Morte Bay just north of Woolacombe. Easy access to one of the UK's most famous beaches and great local walking. Lots of places to eat and drink including the Chichester Arms and The Ship Aground pubs. Massive views from Morte Point.

Woolacombe. Top UK holiday destination by one of the UK's most famous beaches. Huge stretch of low tide sand with Woolacombe Sand to the north and Putsborough Sand to the south. The village is packed with cafes, bars and restaurants. Great for watersports, walking and horse riding from the local stables.

Croyde. Iconic Devon surf location. The beach backs onto dunes and then the pretty village.

Saunton/Braunton. Saunton Sands is a massive strip of low tide sand backing onto a dune system called Braunton Burrows. Saunton is a small settlement overlooking these. Brauton is a large, local village with lots of shops and places to eat and drink. It's also home to the Museum of British Surfing and the fascinating Braunton Countryside Centre next door.

Appledore/Instow. Two stunning villages at the mouth of the River Torridge where it meets the River Taw and flows into Barnstaple or Bideford Bay. A water taxi runs between the two destinations.

Westward Ho! Another popular North Devon seaside resort known for its beach and watersports.

Buck's Mills. Exquisite, small village near Clovelly on the southern coast of Barnstaple or Bideford Bay.

Clovelly. One of the most beautiful and popular coastal villages in the UK. Located on the Hartland Peninsula. Essential visiting.

Hartland. Large village in the heart of the Hartland Peninsula. Super relaxed with plenty of cafes and pubs. Great base for a holiday in the Hartland Peninsula area. 

Hartland Quay. Dramatic coastal settlement. Wild location. Sublime walking and stunning beaches set below high cliffs.

Welcombe. Down on the Devon/Cornwall border. Relatively remote and away from the crowds. Located on a wild stretch of coastline.

 

Beaches in the North Devon AONB

Moving from the western border of Exmoor National Park to the Atlantic coast, beaches include:

Combe Martin Beach. Sand, stone and rock beach in the centre of the arc of coastline at Combe Martin Bay. Wild Pear Beach is to the east. This sand, stone and rock beach is a popular nudist beach.

Broadsands Beach (also referred to as Broad Strand Beach or Broadstrands Beach). Coarse sand and stone. Amazing place. Access is by very steep steps.

Tunnels Beaches in Ilfracombe. Private beach accessed by tunnels, hence the name. Coarse sand, shale and rock. Small charge applies.

Lee Beach. Sand, stone and rock beach near Bull Point in the top corner of Devon.

Sandy Cove (Beach). Stunning sand, stone and rock beach just west of Lee Beach. A set of steep steps take you down to the back of the beach. Similar to Broadsands Beach mentioned above. Awesome views of the North Devon coastline.

Rockham Beach. One of Devon's great 'secret' beaches. Battered by winter storms, the steps leading down to the beach were replaced in 2016. Located between Bull Point and Morte Point at Rockham Bay. Beaches like this are awesome in winter.

Grunta Beach and Barricane Beach. Small beaches at the northern end of Morte Bay and Woolacombe Sand.

Woolacombe Sand (Beach).  One of the UK's most famous beaches. Huge stretch of low tide sand with Woolacombe Sand to the north and Putsborough Sand to the south. 

Putsborough Sand (Beach). Southern section of the stretch of sand lining Morte Bay.

Croyde Sand (Beach). Deep sandy beach at low tide. Iconic Devon surf location. The beach backs onto dunes and then the pretty village.

Saunton Sands (Beach). Saunton Sands is a massive strip of low tide sand backing onto a dune system called Braunton Burrows. Super popular with surfers and walkers. Head for the large car parking area at the northern end of the beach. Good facilities.

Instow Sands (Beach). Another beautiful and huge stretch of low tide beach but this time at the mouth of the River Torridge and River Taw.

Northam Burrows Beach. Smaller version of Saunton Sands at the southern end of Barnstaple or Bideford Bay. Again, super popular for watersports. Backs onto the amazing Pebble Ridge and then Northam Burrows Country Park.

Westward Ho! Beach. This is the southern section of Northam Burrows Beach by the seaside resort Westward Ho! Great facilities.

Peppercombe Beach. Remote pebble beach in the southern section of Barnstaple or Bideford Bay. At low tide, it's part of a vast sweep of pebbles and rock running around to the high cliffs west of Clovelly. Great place if you want to get away from the crowds. Walking the pebbles west to Buck's Mills is fun but can get tiring.

Buck's Mills Beach. Mainly rock and pebble beach below the magnificent Buck's Mill Beach. 

Clovelly Beach. Mainly rock and pebble beach at Clovelly.

Mouthmill Beach. Superb rock and pebble beach on the Hartland Peninsula known for the sea arch Blackchurch Rock.

Berry Beach/Blegberry Beach. Rock and pebble beach below high cliffs. Blackpool Mill Cottage sits behind the beach and was used as a location in the BBC's production of Jane Austen's 'Sense and Sensibility'. Note that you can walk from the beach to Hartland Abbey.

Hartland Quay Beach. Mainly rock and pebble beach at Hartland Quay.

Speke's Mill Mouth Beach. Sits below an extraordinary stretch of coastline just south of Hartland Quay. Highly recommended.

Welcombe Mouth Beach. Remote, wild beach on the Devon/Cornwall border.

Marsland Mouth Beach. As above.

 

Major visitor attractions in and near the North Devon AONB

Moving from the western border of Exmoor National Park to the Atlantic coast, major visitor attractions in and near the North Devon AONB include:

Combe Martin Wildlife & Dinosaur Park. Award-winning family attraction on the outskirts of Combe Martin. A mix or wildlife, dinosaurs and play areas. Great day out.

Watermouth Castle. Family theme park and castle between Combe Martin and Ilfracombe on the North Devon coast.

Exmoor Zoo. Superb zoo located by the west border of Exmoor National Park. Follow the A399 from Ilfracombe to meet over 600 animals in a 15 acre site.

Arlington Court (National Trust). Major Devon National Trust property just off the A39. Big gardens very popular with families.

The Big Sheep. Family attraction located near Bideford.

Milky Way Adventure Park. North Devon adventure park situated by the A39 near Clovelly.

Clovelly. This privately owned village bills itself as ‘one of the West Country’s favourite attractions’.  Admission fees apply.  

Hartland Abbey. Abbey with beautiful gardens and grounds on the Hartland Peninsula. Super museum section telling the story of the abbey and all the films and TV programmes shot in the area. ‘Hartland Abbey circa 1157 Historic House and Gardens.’  ‘Hartland Abbey.  12.00pm to 5.00pm.  Weds, Thurs, Suns Apr 1st – May 23rd.  Sun to Thurs May 25th – Oct 4th.  Bank holiday Mondays.  Easter Fri, Sun and Monday.  GARDENS ONLY also open 12.00 – 5.00pm daily (except Sats) April 1st – Oct 4.’  (Information board at Hartland Abbey)

RHS Garden Rosemoor. Magnificent gardens by Great Torrington where North Devon meets Mid Devon.

 

The National Trust in and near the North Devon AONB

Arlington Court. ‘Explore this unexpected jewel: a complete family estate in North Devon.’ (Information board at Arlington Court)

 

Historical attractions in and near the North Devon AONB

Hartland Abbey. Abbey with beautiful gardens and grounds on the Hartland Peninsula. Super museum section telling the story of the abbey and all the films and TV programmes shot in the area. ‘Hartland Abbey circa 1157 Historic House and Gardens.’  ‘Hartland Abbey.  12.00pm to 5.00pm.  Weds, Thurs, Suns Apr 1st – May 23rd.  Sun to Thurs May 25th – Oct 4th.  Bank holiday Mondays.  Easter Fri, Sun and Monday.  GARDENS ONLY also open 12.00 – 5.00pm daily (except Sats) April 1st – Oct 4.’  (Information board at Hartland Abbey)

 

Gardens in and near the North Devon AONB

Marwood Hill Gardens. Beautiful gardens in the heart of North Devon behind the AONB and north of Barnstaple.

Broomhill Sculpture Gardens. Sculpture park and gardens. Top place. Great for photography.

Tapeley Park and Gardens. Located by Instow east of the River Torridge.

Docton Mill Gardens. On the Hartland Peninsula near the Devon/Cornwall border.

RHS Garden Rosemoor. One of the UK's best gardens. Essential visiting.

Hartland Abbey Gardens. Gardens on the Hartland Peninsula. Note that there's a delightful walk to the coast from here.

Clovelly Court Gardens. Situated above Clovelly.

Arlington Court (National Trust). The gardens of this National Trust property.

Ilfracombe Jubille Gardens. Pretty town gardens.

 

Museums in and near the North Devon AONB

Combe Martin Museum. Local museum behind the beach.

Arlington Court (National Trust) house the National Trust Carriage Museum which is 'one of the most significant collections of carriages in the country'. (Source: Arlington Court (National Trust) website)

Ilfracombe Museum. Cool local museum in the heart of Ilfracombe.

The Museum of British Surfing in Braunton.

The Burton Art Gallery and Museum in Bideford.

Kingsley Museum in Clovelly.

Hartland Quay Shipwreck and Smuggling Museum at Hartland Quay.

Hartland Abbey has a super museum section telling the story of the abbey and all the films and TV programmes shot in the area.

 

Wildlife, zoos and aquariums in and near the North Devon AONB

UNESCO North Devon Biosphere Reserve. See below for more information.

Lundy Island Marine Nature Reserve.  England’s first Marine Nature Reserve.

Ilfracombe Aquarium.  North Devon’s only aquarium.

Combe Martin Wildlife & Dinosaur Park. Wildlife includes lions, wolves and sea lions.

Exmoor Zoo. '175 species. Over 600 animals.' Animals include black leopard, cheetahs and monkeys.

Adventure Falconry. Handle and fly birds of prey.

Exmoor ponies. These native British ponies roam the high moor and surrounding countryside. Also meet and ride Exmoor ponies at The Exmoor Pony Centre. Located near Dulverton.  'Enjoy the feeling of freedom riding our special ponies on the windswept moor where you could glimpse wild ponies and Exmoor wildlife.'

Red deer. Exmoor National Park is famous for its red deer and ponies. Some of the deer herds are huge and seriously impressive.

To increase the likelihood of seeing red deer and ponies, book a trip with Exmoor Safari, Exmoor Barle Valley Wildlife Safaris or Red Stag Safari.

 

Walking in the North Devon AONB

South West Coast Path. The path running along the North Devon coast is the most varied in the Westcountry. Try Exmoor and the Hartland Peninsula for high cliff walking and the Morte Point to Westward Ho! section for gentler dune and beach walking.

Tarka Trail. See below.

 

Cycling in and near the North Devon AONB

Tarka Trail. If you have kids, the Tarka Trail includes the longest, continuous stretch of off-road cycle path in the UK. It's safe and mostly flat so it's perfect for families.

‘The Tarka Trail is a 180 mile (290 kms) regional route connecting many of the locations described by author Henry Williamson in his novel ‘Tarka the Otter’.  Some 30 miles (49 kms) of the regional route are largely constructed on former railway lines and have been designed for cycling and walking and is part of the National Cycle Network.  Horse riding is welcomed between Torrington (Servis) and Petrockstowe Station, a distance of 8 miles (13 kms).  The Tarka Trail and South West Coast Path follow the same route beside much of the north Devon coastline.  This section of the Tarka Trail is part of a National Cycle Network route.’ (Information board at Instow Signal Box.)  The following are distances from Instow heading north: Fremington Quay 4 miles or 6 km, Barnstaple 6 miles or 10 km and Brauton 12 miles or 19 km.  The following are distances from Instow heading south: Bideford Station 3 miles or 5 km, Torrington Station (Puffing Billy) 8 miles or 13 km, Watergate 10 miles or 16 km, East Yarde 12 miles or 19 km, Petrockstowe Station 16 miles or 26 km and Meeth Halt 19 miles or 31 km.

 

Watersports in the North Devon AONB

Surfside Kayak Hire in Combe Martin. Holiday in Combe Martin and you'll see people sea kayaking from the beaches around the village. Hire a sea kayak from Surfside Kayak Hire. Note that they also run guided kayak tours.

Outdoor Shop and Kayak Centre in Combe Martin. Alternatively, hire sea kayaks or stand up paddle boards from the Outdoor Shop and Kayak Centre in Combe Martin. They also run guided kayak and stand up paddle board tours.

Jet Ski Safari from the Watermouth Cove Holiday Park area near Combe Martin. 'North Devon's only jet ski safari.'

Sea kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, windsurfing and coasteering with Active Escape from the Watermouth Cove Holiday Park area near Combe Martin.

Sea kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, windsurfing and coasteering with Exmoor Adventures.

Woolacombe Surf Centre. Surf lessons, coasteering, surf hire, SUPs, kayaking.

Hunter Surf Hire and Surf School.

The Beach Shop. Hire surfboards, bodyboards and wetsuits for 2 hrs, 4 hrs or all day.

Nick Thorn Surf Coach.  Nick Thorn Surf Coaching is a Putsborough based surf school offering … surf sessions for beginners, intermediate and advanced surf development.’

Croyde Surf Academy.

Surf South West.

Lyndon Wake Surf School.

Walking on Waves.

Surfing Croyde Bay.

Croyde Surf Hire.  ‘Croyde Surf Hire, from The Little Pink Shop, our family run surfshop, has been hiring surfboards and wetsuits in Croyde Bay since 1987 … Located at the renowned Croyde Bay, North Devon, we are central to some of the best surfing beaches in the UK: Putsborough Beach, Woolacombe Beach, Saunton Sands and Westward Ho!’

The North Devon Surf School in Westward Ho!

 

Horse riding in the North Devon AONB

Brendon Manor Stables by Lynton (just off B3223 near A39 Watersmeet Road). 1-3 hour treks covering all abilities/experience. Includes trips to Doone Valley/Doone Country. 'Our rides can take people all over the open moorland and down into the valleys and clear streams below. Brendon Manor's location and trekking routes not only takes in the unspoilt ruggedness of Exmoor, but also the natural beauty of the North Devon coastline.'

Exmoor Coast Riding Holidays/Exmoor Riding Centre by Lynton (between the A39 and Woody Bay/the spectacular coast west of Lynton). Rides for all abilities/experience. Includes trips to The Valley of Rocks which is a Westcountry highlight.

Outovercott by Lynton (by the A39 between high moor and the spectacular coast west of Lynton). Treks covering all abilities/experience. Includes 'a scenic coastal ride taking in views of the Valley of Rocks, Lee Abbey and the spectacular Exmoor coastline, with its famous hog's back wooded cliffs'.

Dean Riding Stables. 'Ride out on a quiet or adventurous hack around Exmoor. We have quality well mannered horses and ponies, and offer escorted hacking and instruction for all ages and levels.  Nervous and novice riders are especially welcome.'

Woolacombe Riding Stables. Woolacombe Riding Stables. 350 metres – follow footpath at the top of South St.

Roylands Riding Stables.

 

Boat trips in the North Devon AONB

Ilfracombe Sea Safari. 'The most exciting way to explore the stunning North Devon coastline and Lundy Island.' Ilfracombe Sea Safari runs a number of trips using two RIBs. These include a 1 Hour Sea Safari, 2 Hour Waterfall & Exmoor Safari to Lynmouth and Lundy Explorer.

Bristol Channel Charters/Ilfracombe Sea Safari. Ilfracombe Sea Safari also run Bristol Channel Charters. 'Our boat can be booked for diving, fishing, sightseeing and private charter from Ilfracombe between April and October.'

Lundy Island. The MS Oldenburg leaves from either Ilfracombe or Bideford. Depending on the weather, it takes roughly two hours to reach the island. Most people visit on a day trip from mainland Devon. Once you're there, we'd suggest you walk around the island.

Ilfracombe Princess. 'Spectacular wildlife and coastal cruises aboard 'Ilfracombe Princess' one of the most technologically advanced passenger vessels in the UK.' Trips include Seals Cruise and Exmoor Bird Cruise.

Paddle Steamer Waverley. 'Pleasure Steamers have cruised on the Bristol Channel since Victorian days and Waverley carries on this great tradition.' Special trips in the Bristol Channel. They publish sailing times on their websites.

MV Balmoral Excursions. 'Originally built in 1949 and now for over 65 years, the MV Balmoral has been welcoming passengers on board and taking them on spectacular cruises around the great British coastline.' Special trips in the Bristol Channel. Again, they publish sailing times on their websites.

 

Pubs, cafes and restaurants in the North Devon AONB

Fish and chips by Ilfracombe Harbour.

Tunnels Beaches Blue Cafe Bar in Ilfracombe.

Smugglers Cottage in Lee.

Chichester Arms and The Ship Aground in Mortehoe.

The Thatch in Croyde.

Saunton Break at Saunton Sands.

The Pier House in Westward Ho!

Fish and chips at Appledore. Try Sylvesters in Meeting Street. Whenever we've been the fish and chips have been amazing.

The Red Lion in Clovelly.

The Wrecker's Retreat at Hartland Quay.

 

North Devon UNESCO Biosphere Reserve

'A Biosphere Reserve is an area recognised by UNESCO where communities aim to live in harmony with their environment. North Devon's UNESCO Bisosphere Reserve encompasses the whole of the North Devon area, extending from Dartmoor and Exmoor down through our streams, moors, woodlands, rivers and estuaries and out to Lundy, the Bristol Channel and the Atlantic Ocean. At the very heart of the Biosphere Reserve is Braunton Burrows, one of the most important sand dune systems in Europe, covering over 1,300 hectares. It is home to almost 500 species of flowering plants, some extremely rare in the rest of the UK. These in turn support a wealth of animal life that includes 33 species of butterfly, many other insects, birds and mammals. The presence of the Burrows help give the parish of Braunton more species of flowering plants than any other in England.' (Source: information board at Braunton Burrows)

 

Beauty spots and views in the North Devon AONB

Broadsands Beach. The beach in incredible. For a classic view down to the beach and across to the high Exmoor coastline, walk the South West Coast Path west of the beach.

Watermouth Cove. The view to Watermouth Cove from the South West Coast Path west of natural harbour in a UK classic.

Hillsborough. Big hill overlooking Ilfracombe Harbour.

Lee Bay Beach. Stunning bay. Grab a cream tea here and enjoy the view.

Woolacombe Sand (Beach). The view south along the beach is superb,

Putsborough Sand (Beach). Wander up to Napps Cliff above the beach.

Saunton Sands (Beach). Viewpoint from the B3231 at the northern end of the beach. Saunton Sands is also flat so when the tide goes out, it becomes a remarkable mirror beach reflecting the sky.

Instow Sands (Beach) at low tide is wonderful.

Buck's Mills. Great views of Barnstaple or Bideford Bay.

Clovelly. 

Hartland Quay. Amazing views of a wild coastline.

Speke's Mill Mouth (Beach) is an extraordinary place viewed from either the South West Coast Path or the beach.

 

Shopping in and around the North Devon AONB

Barnstaple Pannier Market. ‘Barnstaple – A Market Town.  Barnstaple has had a market since Saxon days … Separate markets for meat, fish, produce and other goods were held in the town, with Friday appointed as the main market for livestock from Queen Mary’s time.  The Town Improvements Act of 1811 provided for new markets selling meat and produce.  Stalls were set up along the High Street between Cross Street and lower Boutport Street.  Vegetables and produce were sold on either side of the High Street from baskets and panniers (big baskets carried into town on horses).  After construction of the Guildhall in 1827 the decision was taken to build the present Pannier Market (with a Corn Market at the far end of the building) and to form a new street called Butchers Row, linking the High Street to Boutport Street.  The scheme was completed in 1855 having been designed by RD Gould who also designed Bridge Buildings, Bridge Chambers and the Albert Clock.’  (Plaque within Barnstaple Pannier Market)

Bideford Pannier Market. ‘Bideford Pannier Market.  Market Hall Open Tues. to Sat.  Butchers Row Shops Open Mon. to Sat.’  (Welcome board to Bideford Pannier Market)

‘Bideford was granted the right to hold a market in 1271 by King Henry III.  The market was originally held on the High Street, in 1675 the market moved to this site.  It was an open air market until 1884 and takes its name from the wicker baskets once used by farmers to bring goods to town … Surrounding the Pannier Market and along Grenville Street are many niche, independent retailers offering a wide variety of goods and services.  Running through the middle of the market building is Butchers Row where there is a fascinating mix of merchandise from locally made crafts to fresh produce.  The original meat hooks can still be seen in some of the shops.  The Pannier Market is a typical country market with local fruit, vegetables, cheeses, preserves, homemade baking jams and pickles.  It also has a café.  Butchers Row shops are open six days a week and the Pannier Market opens on Tuesdays and Saturdays.’ (Information board at Bideford)

Affinity Devon. Discount outlet shopping by Bideford.