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What Sort of Landscape and Natural Features are There in Devon?
Sitting on England’s South West Peninsula, Devon has beaches on both the English Channel and Celtic Sea coastlines. In between, its 2,590 square miles feature two National Parks, two National Trails, at least two additional Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and countless coastal and nature reserves. If that wasn’t enough, Devon is also home to two UNESCO World Heritage sites. As you might imagine with so much protected natural landscape dotted around its borders, it is one of the most sparsely populated English counties.
What are the Notable Parks, Beaches or Wild Areas in Devon?
As bewitching and enchanting as you may find historical sites such as Exeter Cathedral or Buckland Abbey, your four-legged friend is far more likely to get excited by the places that they can yomp and romp about, exploring and playing to their heart’s content. As such, they are very unlikely to be disappointed by Devon.
At the heart of the county sits Dartmoor, the largest area of open space in southern England, an area of National Park large enough for visitors to be able to explore a square mile every day for a year and still be three short. Dartmoor is an extraordinary place of barren grassy moorland, rocky outcrops, marshland and wooded areas. It really is a must-visit place for anyone spending time in England.
To the northeast of the county you will find Exmoor, another National Park of rolling moorlands, grasslands and woods which extends into neighbouring Somerset. Meanwhile, the northwest boasts the North Devon Coastal Reserve, part of the northern end of the South West Coast Path National Trail.
Along the Channel coast and the southerly portion of the South West Coastal Trail you will find the UNESCO-protected Jurassic Coast, an area of prehistoric cliffs, rocks, beaches and coves that begins in Dorset. Just to the north of that are the East Devon and Blackdown Hills Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Meanwhile, to the southwest of Devon you will find another UNESCO World Heritage site, the Tamar Valley Mining District.
The majority of these locations offer unfettered access for dogs, although in some areas they may need to be kept on a lead.
Seven Things for You and Your Dog to do in Devon
Visit Stone Lane Gardens
For all of Devon’s wild, natural splendour, it also contains places like Stone Lane Gardens, situated in the northeast corner of Dartmoor between Chagford and Whiddon Down. Open all year round, the gardens feature nurseries of Birch and Alder trees, magnificent water gardens and an annual sculpture competition for young artists which sees their work set amongst the landscape.
Visit Babbacombe Model Village
The southwest of the UK is notable for its collection of model villages but the one at Babbacombe in Torquay is particularly impressive. Dogs are welcome as long as they are kept on leads.
Travel on the Great Scenic Railways
Devon is a county that is amongst the most picturesque and beautiful places in the UK. What better way to explore it than by letting the train take the strain? The Great Scenic Railways in Devon feature three lines – Dartmoor, Tarka and East Devon – which will take you from a starting point in Exeter right into the middle of many of the county’s most desirable locations. There is also the South Devon Railway, a heritage railway line that runs steam trains between Paignton, Dartmouth and Totnes.
Clovelly is a beach resort like no other in Devon: at one time owned by Queen Elizabeth I, for many generations it was a private resort until it was opened up. To say that the village and beach at Clovelly are picture-perfect is something of an understatement – virtually everything you will see there is a listed building. Dogs will need to be on a lead for much of your trip.
Walk the Agatha Christie Mile
One of Devon’s most notable people was the novelist Agatha Christie, born in Torquay in 1890. This short walk, between the Grand and Imperial Hotels on Torquay’s seafront, will take you on a tour of her life, visiting a number of key locations that proved formative experiences in her life or inspired famous events in her work.
Visit the Tamar Valley Mining District
Set in stunning coastal and moorland valley landscape, the Tamar Valley is part of a UNESCO World Heritage site, protecting the tin and copper mines that were the envy of the industrialised world during the 18th and 19th Centuries. While your dog might not be as interested in the museums as you are, they will certainly enjoy a walk in the area as well as the many dog-friendly pubs and cafes which serve it.
Visit Woolacombe Beach
Normally here at UK Pet Guide we shy away from recommending too many places which have restricted areas for dogs, but it was impossible to leave this one out. The sandy beach at Woolacombe is frequently voted as the UK’s best.
Eight Walks for You and Your Dog to Enjoy in Devon
Branscombe to Beer
Part of the South West Coast National Trail, this longer walk along Devon’s portion of the Jurassic Coast takes you through a magnificent – if perhaps windswept – coastal and clifftop landscape typical of what Devon has to offer, between the villages of Branscombe and Beer.
Found inside the North Devon Nature Reserve near to Westward Ho! (the only place in the United Kingdom with an exclamation mark in its name), this walk is quite unlike any other you might find in the county. It combines grassland, coastal paths and salt marshes to beguiling visual effects. It is also a good place to watch birds, as long as your dog will sit still for long enough!
If your dog loves to root about in the forest, look no further than a walk around the heavily wooded area near Plymouth. You’ll both find tranquil woodland and earthy burrows, as well as a wide variety of dog-friendly pubs and cafes to stop, rest and refuel.
Finding a beach walk for your dog in Devon can be something of a challenge, as many beaches in the area impose limitations on where dogs can go and when. Saunton Sands in north Devon is, for the most part, not one of these. Better yet, it is a huge expanse of flat sandy beach which will bring even the most energetic pooch deep feelings of joy. Thrill-seeking owners may also be interested by the excellent windsurfing conditions.
An ideal walk for people who haven’t necessarily packed their Ordnance Survey map and compass, the walk around the reservoir near Yelverton and Plymouth has an easy-to-follow path which will guide you and your four-legged friend through beautiful woodland and valleys.
Haldon Forest Park
Just 15 minutes outside of Exeter and open every day of the year except Christmas Day, Haldon Forest Park offers paths or trails for every level of fitness and adventurousness, without the concern of getting too horribly lost in Devon’s sprawling wilderness.
Soar Mill Cove
A hilly, rocky and sandy beach ideal for the intrepid dog and dog walker, just to the south of Malborough village to the west of Torquay. Part of the wider Bolberry Down National Trust site, Soar Mill Cove offers unlimited access for dogs all year round.
A visit to Devon wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Dartmoor, and that is never more true than for people visiting with their dogs. It was here that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle set The Hound of the Baskervilles, one of the most famous stories about a dog ever published in the English language. Hound Tor – set amongst the ruins of a medieval village and much older neolithic settlements – was named after a local legend about a pack of dogs who were turned to stone. It is just to the west of Newton Abbot and Bovey Tracey and, in common with the rest of the National Park of which it is a part, is absolutely stunning.
Where to Stay in Devon
As previously mentioned, Devon is a fairly sparsely populated county and the majority of its major settlements are towns rather than big cities. You will find a collection of historical market towns, tourist resorts and old fishing villages, but most of all you’re likely to find a very warm welcome – Devon’s economy is built heavily around tourism and as such took a real hit during the Covid-19 pandemic. The locals will be glad to see you back.
Exactly where you want to base yourself for your stay is obviously dependent on exactly what activities you and your dog plan to get up to. However, here are some suggestions.
The second-largest city in Devon by population, Exeter is in the south of the county, at the mouth of the River Exe and just a few miles from the Channel coast. It is an ideal base of operations for anyone wanting to enjoy the full Devon tourist experience: near to Exmouth, Dawlish, Torquay or Paignton. It is also not far from the easternmost edge of Dartmoor and acts as the hub for the Great Scenic Railway, which can take you as far afield as Okehampton (on the northern tip of Dartmoor), Barnstaple (near to Exmoor and the Celtic Sea coast) or Axminster (to the east of the county).
Devon’s most populous place is to the southwest of the county, near to the border with Cornwall. It’s the ideal base for people wanting to enjoy the historical coastline or visit the Heritage site at Tamar Valley.
Any list of places to stay in Devon wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the county’s most famous resort town. Set on the English Riviera, it offers an array of hotels and guesthouses, as well as being nearby a bumper crop of tourist attractions and natural beauty spots.
To the north of the county, Bideford is close to the Celtic Sea coast and sits in between the North Devon Coast Nature Reserve and the Hartland Devon Heritage Coast nature reserve. It is also an ideal base for those wanting to visit Clovelly.
If Dartmoor is calling, Newton Abbot may prove an ideal base of operations. As well as being within comfortable distance of the eastern boundary of the National Park, it itself sits on the River Teign, close to resort towns like Dawlish, Teignmouth and Torquay. Other places the Dartmoor-bound might like to consider include Bovey Tracey, which is near Newton Abbot, or Okehampton, which is at the northern boundary of the National Park. Those wanting to get even closer still should explore Postbridge, a hamlet at the heart of Dartmoor itself which offers several hotels.
If Exmoor is more of your bag than Dartmoor, Ilfracombe is an ideal spot. Sitting on the Celtic Sea coast and sandwiched between Exmoor to its east and North Devon Coast Nature Reserve to its west, it should provide every option that you’d look for in a dog-friendly holiday. It’s also near to the beautiful and award-winning Woolacombe Beach.