North Devon – Devon
From the extraordinary desert-like sand dunes of Braunton Burrows, to the formidable cliffs of northern Exmoor, this wild stretch of Devon coast is a delight. You can even catch and cook your own supper – there are fish in the sea and plenty of driftwood for fires on the secluded beaches.
The rocky outcrops, mud flats and steeply shelving shingle beaches are perfect places for sea fishing, but head east along the precipitous Exmoor coast and it is difficult to see an easy way down to the dramatic foreshore lying far below. During World War II, German submariners anchored their U-boats in the deep water of this coastline and came ashore to collect much-needed fresh water supplies from the streams and waterfalls at Sherrycombe and Heddon’s Mouth.
Today, walking down from remote Hunter’s Inn to the stony beach, it’s hard to imagine that much has changed in this landscape since the U-boats visited these wild shores. Coconut-scented gorse and purple heather grow on the hillside and native rowan, holly and sessile oak flourish along the pretty stream. After a two-mile walk to the east, the remote, rocky beach of Woody Bay opens up at the end of the valley, below the trees. There is an ancient, cobbled track winding down past a limekiln and a wonderful bathing pool. At low tide, you can see the old quay, the relic of a grandiose but doomed scheme to develop this bay into a Victorian resort.
To the west, at Combe Martin, Wild Pear Beach has long been used by naturists, but Broad Sands, a little further to the east, is a surprising discovery. This deep, double cove lies far beneath wooded cliffs with many caves, and offers a welcome refuge from the busy camping and caravan sites at Water Mouth harbour.
On the western coast, there are several tiny coves to explore that are perfect for picnics, and Barricane Beach is one of the most charming. It has a little island look-out, steep rocks from which children jump and gritty shell-sand washed in from the Caribbean. The whole scene is set aflame at sunset. After a hot day’s swimming, buy a plate of delicious Sri Lankan curry from the beach shack here and it’s not hard to imagine you are far away, staring out into tropical waters.