Last Updated on June 29, 2020 by Sophie Nadeau
Devon is a popular holiday destination and with good reason: the only English county to boast two coastlines, the region is home to a myriad of quaint fishing villages, a marvellous foodie scene, and more than its fair share of hidden gems ranging from crumbling ruins to secret small towns. Here’s your ultimate guide to the best-kept secrets of Devon you must visit for yourself!
Stay in a hotel which inspired an Agatha Christie Novel!
There are a handful of tidal islands scattered across the UK, the most famous of which is perhaps Saint Michael’s Mount in Cornwall. However, Devon, too has its own stunning tidal island which is cut off from the mainland twice a day by the crashing waves.
In times gone by, there would likely have been a small chapel on the island dedicated to Saint Michael (indeed it’s often alleged that the ‘St Michael ley line’ makes its way through Devon). Today, Burgh Island sits just across the sand from the village of Bigbury-on-Sea and is home to a 14th-century
Check rates and availability for the Burgh Island Hotel here.
The Topsham Bookshop
Hands down, one of the most charming bookshops located in Devon is that to be found in the sleepy fishing village of Topsham. An easy day trip from Exeter, Topsham is famed across the Devon region for its number of independent stores and fantastic eateries (there are more cafés than you could list on one hand alone).
But if there’s one store which stands out more than any other, it’s probably the Topsham Bookshop, a higgeldy piggeldy independent store set over three floors and comprising of more rooms than you could count on a single hand. A treasure trove of vintage finds and new classics, you can’t go in without ending up leaving with a book or two in tow!
Take the South Devon Railway
A wonder for older visitors and young children alike, the South Devon Railway is a heritage attraction with all the charm which lives solely in the history books. Set within the scenic Dart Valley, the South Devon Railway passes through almost seven miles of glorious countryside between Buckfastleigh and Totnes (Riverside). Check our guide to the South Devon Railway for more information on how to visit!
Discover one of the oldest yew trees in Britain
Lying rather nonchalantly in a forgotten corner of Devon, one of the most unusual things to do in Devon is to visit the Kenn Yew tree, which is often alleged to be one of the oldest in the country. Yew trees have long been associated with graveyards for a multitude of reasons, and most likely because they’re highly toxic and cemeteries would have been one of the only places where farm animals wouldn’t have been able to reach their toxic berries.
Nearby, Kenn Church is a delightful example of a 14th century ecclesiastical building constructed from the distinctive local red Heavitree sandstone and highlighted with windows carved from the white chalk limestone quarried at Beer. The church is dedicated to St Andrew and is a great example of the Gothic Revival movement.
Dine in one of the oldest pubs in Devon
A little drive away from the A38 (one of two main dual carriageways which transport traffic through to Cornwall in lieu of a motorway), the Church House Inn is set against the backdrop of a building alleged to date all the way back to 1028 (i.e. the year of William the Conqueror’s Birth).
Though this little tidbit of information seems almost too good to be true, there’s no doubt that the Church House Inn was originally built so as to house the stonemasons working on the nearby medieval church. Today, the pub boasts a roaring fire, traditional wooden beams, and hearty British meals (including some delicious vegetarian options).
Uncover the secret side of Newton Abbott
Once upon a time, Newton Abbot would have been a thriving market town with bustling businesses and a key hub for trade within the wider region. Today, the Devonian settlement is to be found somewhere between Torbay and Exeter and is more residential than anything else.
However, scratch beneath the surface, and there are still some hidden gems worth checking out. After all, top highlights of Newton Abbot (often referred to simply ‘Newton’ for short) include a historic National Trust Property and a bell tower dating back to medieval times. Check here for more hidden gems of Newton Abbot
Shop for plants at Hill House Nursery!
If you like your unusual plant shopping served with a side of coffee and cake and set against the backdrop of a historic country house, then you simply must head to Hill House Nursery on the fringes of Landscove. And with a wide array of outdoor plants for sale, including some indoor succulents and a wide selection of greenhouse plants, if you’re a keen gardener then you surely won’t come away empty handed!
Explore the village of Cockington
With its charming cottages and quiet ambiance, the tiny village of Cockington is a well-kept secret just a short drive away from the much more bustling town of Torquay. Home to a historic mill, country house (which houses a café), medieval church with enough descriptions and artefacts to fill a small museum, and endless countryside walks, it’s hard to believe you’re just under two miles away from one of the most populated areas of Devon (as the crow flies).
The medieval ruins of St Peter the Poor Fisherman
For those who wish to see some rather unusual ecclesiastical history, that is to say an abandoned roofless church in the very heart of a modern holiday park, you need to look no further than the church dedicated to St Peter the Poor Fisherman.
Situated in Revelstoke in the South Hams area of Devon, nobody knows exactly why St Peter the Poor Fisherman was built in its present isolated situation, but, it’s believed that there has been a church on the site since at least the 11th century. This previous structure was perhaps an oratory for the Cathedral Church at Old Sarum (Salisbury, Wiltshire) which owned land in the area.
A Canadian Memorial Chapel in the Devonian Countryside
One of the more unusual things to do in Devon is completely free… And that is to visit the Canadian Memorial Chapel (Wolford Chapel) close to the town of Honiton in East Devon. Free to visit and constructed by the Simcoe family, the ecclesiastical building is the final resting place of John Graves Simcoe who was a key figure in the evolution of Canadian history and the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada.
Throughout the ages, the village of Lydford has been associated with many a local lore and legend. Situated along a ‘ley line,’ the village has a ‘castle’ (which was once a prison), one of the most eerie gorges in Devon (which you can buy tickets to walk along), and has even been associated with the Vikings. As such, visit the sleepy Devonian settlement today and you’ll never have a shortage of attractions to see and things to do!
The attractive village of Sticklepath on Dartmoor is home to Finch Foundry, a feat of Victorian ingenuity and engineering that produced industrial tools right through to 1960, and is now part of our rich and varied industrial heritage. Finch Foundry is best visited over the course of a long and lazy afternoon. Owned and managed by the National Trust, members of the National Trust can visit for free, while members of the public can pay a fee to visit.
The House that Moved, Exeter
One of the more curious cases of hidden gems in Devon is that of the House that Moved in Exeter. if you’re approaching the city from the West and the A38 via car, then no doubt you’ll spy a timber-framed structure when driving into the city centre. The House that Moved is on the corner of West Street and Lower Rackclose Lane.
The house is so historic that, when the council wanted to construct a new road, they agreed to pay a princely sum of 10000 pounds to facilitate the move of the entire structure out of the way of the new bypass. Today, another Devon hidden gem situated close by is that of Book-Cycle, a free bookshop where you can exchange books you no longer want for ones you wish to read.
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