If you’ve read Maddy Ross’ recent instalment of the Local Guides series on Exeter, you may be wondering why this one is focusing on the region right next to it. My response would be that if you’re going to trek down to Devon anyway, you might as well go a little further South-West. There are trains through Exeter from most major UK cities (the one I took to school ended up in Edinburgh).
I’d recommend hopping on one in the direction of Totnes, my hometown, which is about 30 minutes away. This train route takes you through Dawlish, a route that has frequently been described as one of the country’s most scenic, where the track runs right along the beach. At high tide, the spray from the waves can often hit the windows of the train, whilst the windows on the other side are right up against the cliffs.
Totnes itself is the heart of the ‘alternative’ side of Devon; a longstanding local joke is that it’s twinned with Narnia (you can buy the T-shirt). At my last count, it had approximately 9 health food shops, despite being really quite a small town. If you’re interested in buying crystals or incense, or seeing the local, yellow community service “Bob the Bus” trundle up the high street, this is very much the place to go. There’s an incredibly wide range of independent shops, and frankly, a ludicrous number of cafes with a full range of milk alternatives. The Totnes Cinema also shows a great range of current, classic and vintage films, and has a bar beneath the screen.
Of course, as anyone who’s ever been on a family holiday to Devon knows, its main attraction is the beaches. Almost all of them are lovely, but some of the more interesting ones include Bigbury, where you can take a sea tractor over to a little island when the tide separates it from the mainland.
Teignmouth has a fabulously retro pier and the chance to take a ferry across the estuary. From there it’s a quick walk to Ness Cove, a beach with Devon’s classic red-toned sand that you can get to through an old pirates’ tunnel.
The English Riviera along the coast at Torquay (see this Metronomy music video for a preview) has palm trees and streets full of little B&Bs and hotels, and Torbay is also likely to be your best chance of clubbing unless you want to head to Exeter or Plymouth.
A personal favourite day-out of mine is to take the ferry from Steamer Quay at Totnes along the River Dart to Dartmouth. There is fully scripted and reasonably funny commentary, and the route passes Agatha Christie’s old house, now a National Trust property. Dartmouth itself is a lovely town with a great restaurant scene, but if you don’t fancy sticking around you can make it a round trip and head back upriver by steam train. Round off your trip with a Devon Cream Tea – it won’t be hard to find one.