As a coast dweller, I’ve grown up appreciating the beach during off season. In the summer it’s too crowded, too noisy and, if we’re really lucky, too hot. This time of year there’s nowhere nicer for a bit of respite from the hustle and bustle and nothing better for the soul than having the cobwebs blown out by the sea winds.
We live on the southern coast of Devon, where the beaches are defined by their pebbles and their promenades. However, if you’re looking for huge sandy beaches and long shallow coves then there’s really nowhere better than North Devon. So we packed up the dog, the baby and pretty much our entire house and headed North to spend four nights at Saunton Sands. A stretch of beach nearly three miles long, backed by a huge nature reserve of sand dunes and sandwiched between Barnstaple and Ilfracombe.
Our accommodation for the week was at Saunton Beach Villas; fairly basic but comfortable chalets right next to the aforementioned dunes. What they lacked in finesse they more than made up for in location, allowing us to walk the beach at both ends of each day; magically quiet times.
We had no plans for the week other than a bit of exploring and a lot of eating! Having settled in, we headed off to Ilfracombe to view The Tunnels, the Verity statue and do the Torrs Walk; a walk touted in our guide book as being ‘family friendly’. After hiking up the side of the cliff clinging on to both the dog and the buggy, I’d definitely query the family aspect of the walk although that could just have been our poor navigation skills taking us off route! A return to the town centre and we made it down to the harbour to see the pregnant Verity statue, ready and armed to protect. With copious numbers of fish and chip shops and ice-cream parlours, it would’ve been criminal not to partake and well, we’d earned them! Unfortunately, we decided that neither the dog or the baby would be particularly tolerant of visiting The Tunnels – hand carved out rock tunnels on the beach – so reluctantly we headed back accompanied by an epic baby meltdown mid-route.
Wednesday saw us take a wander over to the next bay, Croyde. Known primarily as a surfing venue, we thought it would be a perfect easy stroll for our tired legs following the uphill work the day before. Wrong. We chose to take the more direct route which entailed going up and over the headland instead of around. Throw in a large field with ‘Beware of the bull’ signs (terrifying but no bull) and another lot of sand dunes to hike over (not an easy job with a baby). At least this time we’d left the buggy at home and opted for the carrier! Croyde beach is a little busier and smaller than Saunton Sands due to it’s popularity and the various holiday camps in the vicinity but still a family friendly sand beach and definitely a place to go if you’re looking to learn to surf. After making it to the beach we realised there was nowhere to eat at this time of year except the town itself so treated ourselves to a delicious pasty before turning around and trekking back home.
Our final full day, Thursday, we took a trip off to Fremington Quay. You can park here and do part of the Tarka Trail – a 30 mile cycle and walking path across Devon – by heading towards Barnstaple or Bideford. We opted to walk towards Barnstaple, leading us to do about 6km of level, easy terrain accompanied by stunning views of the water and valley. The beauty of parking at Fremington Quay is the cafe; a perfect end to the walk where you can treat yourself to stunning cakes and drinks whilst looking out for the resident seal who likes to sit in a wooden boat during low tide! Well it would be rude not too.
Each evening we were able to view the most gorgeous of sunsets at the beach under the guise of walking the dog. With the October chill well and truly set in, we bundled up nightly and strolled amongst the dunes, down onto the sand and in amongst the edges of the waves. Because the beach is so shallow, you get an exceptionally large beach at low tide – perfect for wearing the dog out! Our last night we were treated to some real beauts.
And so ended our week at the beach and our first family get away just the 4 of us (well 3 plus the dog!). If you’re looking for a very laid back, simple and affordable break with plenty of outdoor space for both kids and pets, then look no further than North Devon and the Saunton Sands area!