Written by Melissa Stewart
When I first moved to North Devon from Bristol five years ago I’ve got to be honest, the thought of swapping a cosmopolitan city with a diverse range of bars, restaurants, museums and galleries for a quaint coastal town filled me with THE FEAR. Where would I get my weekend chai latte? Who would replace the Falafel King as my street food vendor of choice? And where would I get my culture fix after a week of hectic work?
Admittedly, it took a while to say farewell to my favourite city but once I started to see beyond North Devon’s chintzy tearooms and mediocre pubs, I discovered some cracking spots and here are a few I’d like to share with you…
Where to Eat in North Devon
I’ve long been a fan of the pop-up catering brand Seadog and this is their first bricks and mortar establishment. It’s got a stellar spot too, situated just above Woolacombe beach on Marine Drive. The views, whether on a bright sunny day or a dramatic winter’s one, are truly magnificent looking out over the beach and across to Lundy Island. A great spot to grab a coffee and a slice of cake after a brisk beach walk, or, if you’re feeling energetic, after the Woolacombe Park Run, which takes place on the dunes below every Saturday morning.
Insider tip: If you’re visiting in the summer try a Verney’s Molton Ice, made on a nearby dairy farm in South Molton. Perfect coastal fodder.
One thing North Devon certainly doesn’t have in short supply is a load of pubs serving up proper local ales and good old-fashioned Sunday lunches. In fact, I could write a whole other article about that, but a standout is The Farmer’s Arms in Woolsery, a sleepy little village on the way to Hartland Point. Its claim to fame is that it was bought by the guy who ran Bebo, the pre-Facebook social network of choice. His family herald from Woolsery and so he took it upon himself to liven up the village with a smart new pub and soon-to-be-opened accommodation over the road. The Sunday lunches are top notch and are served sharing style, with lots of yummy sides like creamed celeriac and artichokes.
Insider tip: If visiting in winter, ask to sit in the main dining room with the open fire.
This is hands down my favourite lunch spot. Barnstaple doesn’t have a great reputation for eating out so this casual dining venue, tucked away on Butcher’s Row near the Pannier Market, is a real gem. They serve up dishes from around the world, like chicken shawarma, ramen, Korean nachos, falafel wraps, and my personal favourite, the chicken burrito bowl. The vibe is cool and laid back, with rustic wooden tables and industrial-style lighting. Note: this place is always busy, so arrive early to bag a table.
Insider tip: Look out for their regular supper clubs advertised on social media. Think feasting banquets laden with worldly flavours. But hurry, seats sell out quickly.
The Antidote, Ilfracombe
This cosy little bistro run by a husband and wife team has just retained its Michelin Bib Gourmand status for a second year running, and rightly so in my book. Serving up a Modern British menu – think chorizo shepherd’s pie and twice-baked cheese and onion souffle – it’s bold in its simplicity. With just a handful of tables and a limited offering of just nine dishes – three starters, three mains and three desserts, it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea but if you like your food executed with intention, flair and flavour then it’s definitely worth a visit. The menu changes regularly, depending on what’s in season and you can nab three courses for just £27.
Insider tip: The Antidote also has boutique accommodation upstairs, so book a room if you plan on having a few drinks.
When I stumbled across these amazing gardens tucked away in a wooded valley at the back of Barnstaple it gave me the culture injection I craved. North Devon is more surf central than thriving art metropolis, so this place really is rather special. Immerse yourself in the weird and wonderful sculptures found along the pathways, incorporating many different artistic styles. Each year, Broomhill hosts the National Sculpture Prize and the outdoor exhibitions are a visual treat. After the art, step inside for some delicious tapas and a glass of red. A great place to go for some quiet contemplation or take a loved one for a romantic date.
Insider tip: To appreciate the full experience, visit on a dry day and give yourself a good 2-3 hours to stroll around outside.
Valley of the Rocks, Lynton
North Devon is a walker’s paradise, with a range of coastal and inland walks to suit all abilities. One of my favourite spots is the Valley of the Rocks, a U-shaped valley west of the town of Lynton and part of Exmoor National Park. It’s a spectacular place with craggy cliffs and unusual rock formations and its magical atmosphere is further enhanced by the feral goats who cling perilously to the rocks, like something out of a Brothers Grimm fairy tale. If you’re feeling energetic, walk two hours from the Valley of the Rocks to Hunters Inn in Heddon Valley. This picturesque hunting lodge was built in 1906 and today operates as a pub and restaurant owned by the National Trust.
Insider tip: Be sure to stop and look at the rock formation known as ‘The White Lady’, so called because if you look up at it from the Lee Abbey side you can see a woman in a hat through a gap in the rocks. Victorian visitors apparently loved it!
No visit to North Devon is complete without at least dipping your toe in the sea at one of our many beautiful beaches. Whether it’s surfing, stand-up paddle boarding, diving or good old-fashioned sea swimming, this is the place to do it. The coast is littered with surf schools for you to choose from but I’d like to give a special mention to Active Escape. I stumbled across this place this summer and you’ll find it along the coast between Ilfracombe and Combe Martin, at Watermouth Cove. With access to its own private beach, it’s a great place to try out coasteering or paddle boarding because the bay is nice and sheltered and, in the summer, the sea shimmers a bright azure. If you’re in a group, try booking out the giant party SUP. One big inflatable, multiple people with paddles, the sea… what could possibly go wrong?!
Insider tip: On a sunny summer’s day this place can get really busy, so arrive early for a parking spot and to make the most of your own private cove to paddle in.
If you prefer self-catering accommodation to hotel stays, these newly opened apartments are in the heart of breath-taking Woolacombe Bay. This completely new development offers a range of classy one- to four-bedroom holiday homes literally yards from the beach. Enjoy secure parking, a concierge service and top-notch leisure facilities, in a real home from home setting. There’s also a restaurant within the complex, which is open to guests and the general public. Run by Richard Branson’s former Necker Island chef and Woolacombe-born resident Graham Brundle, it offers high-quality food in a family-friendly setting.
Insider tip: Stay for the Brundle’s Sunday lunch. Melt-in-the-mouth beef or lamb served with a huge range of delicious sides and trimmings. Yummy.
The Red Lion, Clovelly
The village of Clovelly is, in my opinion, the jewel in the crown of North Devon. A cobbled street of fishing cottages built into a 400-foot cliff that meanders down to a wonderful historic harbour mouth, that’s still used by fishermen today. The village is part of the Clovelly Estate, which has been in the Rous family for over 400 years. There are no cars allowed, so sledges have replaced donkeys in helping locals to carry supplies to their homes. Stay at the Red Lion Inn on the harbourfront, which has recently had a makeover and straddles the tricky line of being a charming historic inn but without being too chintzy. The upstairs restaurant has amazing views across the harbour. A perfect spot for a cosy, coastal escape.
Insider tip: Book a room in The Sail Loft, a conversion of an old store next to The Red Lion, which provides six deluxe modern, spacious and stylish bedrooms.