With its dramatic cliffs, beautiful beaches and wild seas, North Devon is known as “England’s Adventure Coast”. Popular with surfers, kayakers and hikers, this spectacularly scenic part of the country should be on everyone’s must-visit list – especially if you’re a fan of the Great Outdoors. Almost everywhere in North Devon welcomes dogs, from the shops to cafes and family attractions. There is so much to see and do, in fact, that I’ll wager one visit won’t be enough.
WHAT ARE THE MUST-SEES? The beaches! North Devon is home to some of the UK’s biggest and best expanses of sand – and many beaches allow pets to visit 365 days a year. Woolacombe Bay is perennially popular and, aside from one small section, pets have the lion’s share of the three-mile beach all year round. Saunton Sands, backed by one of the most impressive dune systems in the country, is also wonderful and dogs have the run of its 3.5-mile beach throughout the year. And don’t forget surfers’ favourite Croyde Bay – it has a real wow factor, but dogs are not allowed from May to September. For more information about dog-friendly beaches in North Devon, click here.
A trip to the working fishing village of Clovelly, clinging to a 400ft cliff, is also a must. The picturesque village has been privately owned since the Elizabethan times and a trip here is akin to stepping back in time. No cars are allowed on the steep cobbled streets – just donkeys and sledges, which has made the village something of a tourist attraction. Visiting costs £7.75 per adult while dogs go free, but must be kept on a lead at all times.
One of the best ways to admire North Devon’s dramatic coastline is from the water, though. If you’re feeling adventurous, head to Surfside Kayak Hire in Combe Martin, where you can take a paddle with your four-legged friend. Kayak hire starts from £10 an hour but owner Gary also offers two-hour guided tours of the area, where you can often spot dolphins and seals. Guided tours cost £25, including all equipment, and there is no extra charge for dogs. Mini one-hour tours are also available for £20. If you’d rather head out on the water alone though, the company also offers a petsitting service.
If you’d rather let someone else do all the hard work, consider taking a boat trip on the Ilfracombe Princess. Between Easter and October, the Princess cruises along the coast from Ilfracombe to show tourists old smugglers’ caves, waterfalls and the abundance of local wildlife. Trips range in length from one to two hours and start from £12 per adult. Well-behaved dogs on leads are welcome onboard, but must stay on the lower deck.
Trainspotters and those preferring to stay on dry land should head to Lynton, however, where there are two great dog-friendly attractions. The Lynton & Lynmouth Cliff Railway is the highest and steepest water-powered railway in the world and has been shuttling tourists – and dogs – between the two hilly towns since 1890. I can highly recommend saving your legs and climbing aboard the funicular – at the time of writing, it was £3.90 for a return adult ticket and £1.50 for dogs. The dog-friendly Clifftop Cafe perched at the top is a great place to enjoy a cuppa and spectacular views across Lynmouth Bay, too.
If you have a ticket for the cliff railway, you’re entitled to 10% off at the Lynton & Barnstaple Railway, a short drive away. The narrow-gauge railway originally closed in 1935 but a team of volunteers have spent decades bringing it back to life. Currently, from March to November, visitors can enjoy a two-mile round trip through the countryside from Woody Bay to Killington Lane Halt but there are ambitious plans to extend the route to Barnstaple. Return tickets cost £7.50 per adult while dogs travel free and even get their own ticket.
WHERE’S GOOD FOR WALKIES? Once you’ve had your fill of beaches – if that’s possible – there are plenty of fantastic walks to be had in this part of the world. If you’re keen to get off the beaten track, make Exmoor National Park your first stop.
This is true Lorna Doone country, and trying to recognise the places mentioned in RD Blackmore’s famous novel will certainly keep bookworms busy. To experience the breathtaking beauty of the area, take the 5.5-mile walk from County Gate to Oare Church. Alternatively, sign up for a two-hour guided tour of the park, which is also home to England’s highest seacliffs. Click here for inspiration and to see what’s coming up.
The South West Coast Path is also a delight. The 630-mile route, which was originally created by coastguards patrolling the area for smugglers, runs from Minehead in Somerset to Poole in Dorset. The rugged six-mile section between the Morte Point and Bull Point Lighthouses is a great place to spot dolphins, while the scenery on the three-mile stretch from Lynton to the Valley of the Rocks is spectacular.
The Tarka Trail, named after Henry Williamson’s literary otter, is well worth exploring, too. Centred around the ancient market town of Barnstaple, it runs for 180 miles through North Devon and Exmoor National Park, taking in both coast and countryside. The website has an excellent route planner but I can particularly recommend checking out the 30-mile stretch between Braunton and Meeth – it follows an old railway line so is traffic-free.
BEST PLACE TO GRAB A BITE? Whether you want to treat yourself to one of its famous cream teas or enjoy a savoury snack, you certainly won’t go hungry in Devon. There is no shortage of great, dog-friendly places to eat but for a brilliant breakfast or lunch, head to funky Charlie Friday’s in Lynton. Previously voted the Best Coffee Shop in Devon by Devon Life magazine, the cafe also does a mean cream tea and an AMAZING veggie sausage and brie sandwich.
You’ll also find delicious cakes at The Porthole Cafe, above Woolacombe Bay. This plastic-free cafe opened its doors in early 2019 and has a small but perfectly formed menu with everything from freshly-made salads to sandwiches. If you visit Croyde Bay, be sure to head to The Stores – a steampunk-style shop and cafe which champions local produce. And for coffee and cake in Ilfracombe, try No 28 The Cookery. There are plenty of dog-friendly cafes in town but this is one of the few that actually allows pets inside.
For a memorable evening meal during the summer months, head to the Barricane Beach Cafe which, when the weather is good, serves authentic Sri Lankan curries from 5-7pm. These can be enjoyed on the beach as the sun goes down and cost just £10 – but to remember to bring a towel or something to sit on, and some drinks. Keep an eye on the cafe’s Facebook page to find out whether they will be serving on the day you visit.
The Dolphin Inn in Combe Martin is also a great place to enjoy some high-end pub grub, as is The Pyne Arms in East Down, which offers an award-winning Taste of the West Country menu with dishes such as Exmoor Gold-battered halloumi. Plenty of footpaths run past the pub so there are some great walks in the area – and don’t forget to look out for the Hocking’s ice cream vans dotted around North Devon. It’s a local favourite.
WHERE SHOULD I STAY? If you’re travelling on a budget, check in to Combe Martin Beach Holiday Park, where dogs are guaranteed a warm welcome. The quiet and relaxing park is ideally located for exploring North Devon, with many of the best beaches just a short drive away. Check out our review of the site by clicking here.
The Bath Hotel in Lynmouth is another great option, with rooms to suit all budgets. This stylish Victorian hotel, overlooking the harbour, has been in the same family since the 1950s. Dogs are welcome in a number of rooms, which all have nautical names, as well as the bar and Galley, where breakfast is served.
If you’d prefer to stay right on the beach, consider the luxurious Woolacombe Bay Hotel. Pets are allowed in both the rooms and self-catering apartments and will be given a bed, bowls and treats to enjoy during their stay. The hotel also has six acres of landscaped grounds to explore, as well as an excellent spa. Bliss!
GET ME THERE: North Devon is easy to reach by road – simply get on the M5 towards Exeter and from Junction 27, you can pick up the A361 link road. By car, the journey takes approximately four hours from London.
Devon is also served by trains from across the country with the two main lines being Great Western Railway and South West Trains. Regular National Express coach services run to Bideford, Barnstaple, Westward Ho! and Ilfracombe and if you’re flying in, head to Exeter Airport – around an hour’s drive from North Devon.
FIND OUT MORE: For additional ideas for things to see and do in North Devon, click here. Alternatively, head to the main Visit Devon website which has plenty of suggestions for dog-friendly walks and days out.