Known for its beautiful sandy beaches, rolling moorland and fantastic family attractions, North Devon is often considered to be one of the best UK holiday destinations. From the cosmopolitan town of Ilfracombe to the rugged cliffs of Hartland, there are plenty of places that are well worth a visit – but there's one village which, in our opinion, remains surprisingly under the radar.
The area has plenty of towns and villages that are welcoming to all visitors, but we want to shine the spotlight on holidays in Combe Martin, home of England's highest sea cliff, and in particular Stowford Farm Meadows - the perfect base for your next North Devon adventure.
About the village:
The little village of Combe Martin, nestled on the North Devon coast on the edge of Exmoor National Park, is one of the county’s true hidden gems. Easily overlooked by holidaymakers heading for the beach resorts of Croyde and Woolacombe, Combe Martin has retained its rural charm and friendly atmosphere.
Holidays in Combe Martin can be anything you want it to be, from a relaxing romantic retreat enjoying the natural beauty of the coast to an active family break complete with dinosaurs, castles and kayaking.
Set in an attractive location at the bottom of the village lies Combe Martin's beach; surrounded by glorious countryside, sea cliffs and in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Rock pools hug the cliffs surrounding the cove, harbouring all sorts of sea critters waiting to be discovered, while dolphins have been known to be seen off the coast during the summer months.
The sandy stretch makes it a great choice for families, and with food, shops and car parks close by, many happy hours can be spent here. There are also spots perfect for rock pooling, fishing, sunbathing or even kayaking across the water. The calm waters are ideal for the kids to take along their inflatable boats, and there are secluded coves to explore. Due to its sheltered position protecting it from strong currents or waves, the beach is a great location for swimming but take care in the water as there are no lifeguards on duty.
If you fancy heading a little further down the road, the unbelievably beautiful Broadsands Beach is 2.5 miles north-west and is one of North Devon’s most picturesque locations. Recently voted the "happiest view" in Great Britain following a poll by Best Western Great Britain, it’s well worth a visit – but take your comfy shoes as it’s a steep walk down 250 steps to get to the secluded cove. You could, on the other hand, kayak from Combe Martin, with Surfside, right on the beachfront, able to rent out equipment.
For a truly unique family adventure, it’s hard to beat Combe Martin Wildlife and Dinosaur Park. Life-sized animatronic dinosaurs inhabit the woodland, offering an experience more akin to Jurassic Park than a wander through the North Devon countryside. Prehistoric monsters aside, lions, primates, exotic birds, reptiles, sea lions and penguins are among the other animals which call the park their home.
Found pretty much on the beach, Combe Martin Museum and TIC is also a wonderful place to visit to get a little history and background information on the lovely village and some further intel on exploring the surrounding area. It holds regular coffee mornings and school workshops, as well as events such as seashore safaris, where both adults and children can enjoy a look around the beautiful Combe Martin coastline with the help of a guide.
Just down the road from Combe Martin, overlooking the beautiful Watermouth Cove is the stunning Watermouth Castle. Not only is it a culture vulture’s treasure trove of fascinating items, curios and exhibitions, it’s also a top family attraction. Down in the dungeons, fairytales come to life and the hall of mirrors and arcade machines provide good old-fashioned entertainment. Back out in the open, Merry-go-land in the castle gardens is a jumble of fun attractions and activities including Crazy Snooker, Aviator Ride, a Rolling Bridge and Mystical Water Gardens.
After a day exploring the local area, Stowford Farm Meadows is the perfect base to unwind and relax. With pitches available for motorhomes or camping, the park is one of the few touring caravan sites in North Devon open all-year-round. The park's brand-new cottages (available from 20th July 2018 onwards) also look mightily comfortable, and a stay means you get free access to their fantastic on-site facilities.
On that note, there’s plenty to keep everyone entertained during your stay, from evening entertainment to a large indoor heated pool, nine-hole fun golf, play areas and a games room. Pick up holiday essentials in the onsite shop, fill those rumbling tums in The Oak House Restaurant or The Fisherman’s Quay takeaway, or enjoy local real ales and cider in the Old Stable Bars.
Make sure you bring your four-legged friend with you, too, as the dog-friendly park has plenty of room for your pooch to stretch their legs during your holiday.
The food and drink:
Foodies will love the local produce on offer in the village, and there are quaint tea rooms to unwind in, delis to pick up those picnic supplies and great local pubs serving up delicious home cooked meals and locally–brewed tipples.
Some of our favourite drinking holes include Ye Olde George and Dragon, The Dolphin Inn and the Pack o’Cards Inn (above), found halfway along the high street. Built in 1626 by George Ley of Marwood, it was constructed to celebrate a large win at cards and is supposedly built to resemble a pack of cards in a heap.
For a true seaside holiday experience, pick up some fish and chips and enjoy them on the beach, watching on as the sun sets over the beautiful coastline.
Credit: Rob Farrow
In the east side of the village, there are several derelict silver mines, tunnels and the remains of a wheelhouse used to lift ore from the mine. The silver-lead mines were worked in as long ago as medieval times, with activity dating back to 1292. There are several ties to the Crown from the mines, with a large part of the war expenses of Edward III and Henry V paid for by the sale of silver mined here and even items in the Crown Jewels made from Combe Martin silver!
Did you know that England's highest sea cliff is found in Combe Martin? Well, on the outskirts to be exact, but Great Hangman is indeed the highest sea cliff in the country, measuring 1,043 feet (318m) high with a cliff face of 800 feet (244m). Affording staggering views of the sea and countryside, a walk along the coast path here is not to be missed.
The village is also just on the edge of Exmoor National Park, where 268 square miles of possibilities, wonderful scenery and walking routes await you. From long walks across the moors to trips to country pubs via days out at Exmoor Zoo, exploring the quaint villages or strolling along the coastline, you'll never be bored.
“What do you mean, ‘the locals'?” We hear you mutter under your breath. We'll keep it simple… in 2002, to mark the Queen's Jubilee, villagers closed its high street for five-and-a-half hours to throw the world's longest ever street party! The mile-and-a-half-long village street was packed with tables, bands and bouncy castles to celebrate, with the numbers of revellers estimated at between 5,000-8,000.
A favourite event held in Combe Martin has to be The Hunting of The Earl of Rone Festival.
Held over four days every May Bank Holiday, this festival is unique to the village and sees locals spend the weekend hunting for the ‘Earl of Rone’ before finding him on Monday evening. What’s more? It’s all organised by Combe Martin villagers – further pointing to the fact they're up there with the best!
Fancy visiting this wonderful North Devon village? Our great ranges of cottages in Combe Martin have everything you need to help you enjoy the best this slice of North Devon has to offer!