There are so many places to visit and Things to Do in North Devon to name them all, but here are some of the highlights.
Exmoor National Park is right on our doorstep at Nutcombe only half a mile up the road. Offering a unique landscape shaped by people and nature over thousands of years, Exmoor covers 267 square miles of North Devon and Somerset and has large areas of open moorland, spectacular coastal views, deep wooded valleys, high sea cliffs and fast flowing streams. All of which provide a sense of remoteness, wildness and tranquility which can be rare nowadays. Littered with crystal clear streams and endless footpaths to explore, Exmoor is home to the tallest tree in England, the highest sea cliffs in England, over 250 species of birds and over 1000 flowering plants and grasses, the highest number of wild Red Deer in England and not least, is home to the famous wild and free native Exmoor ponies.
With cities and light pollution being part of many peoples lives, Exmoor is a great place to star gaze at night as it has been designated a Dark Sky Reserve. On a clear night the skies above are Exmoor are simply stunning even with the naked eye, but even better through a telescope or binoculars. Good spots to star gaze are Holdstone Down (just up the road from Nutcombe), Country Gate, Brendon Two Gates, Webbers Post, Anstey Gate, Haddon Hill and Wimbleball Lake. Take a blanket or a deckchair and sit and stare in wonder!
Exmoor is also a great place to eat and drink! It is littered with little tea rooms, country pubs and even has it's own Exmoor Food Fest usually held in February, which is also a good time to visit Snowdrop Valley at Wheddon Cross; a beautiful secret valley full of snowdrops at the right time of year, so a good excuse for a winter break.
Another famous landscape of Exmoor is Tarr Steps. An ancient clapper bridge possibly dating back to 1000BC. It is a Grade 1 listed building and Scheduled Ancient Monument. It crossed the River Barle about 6.5 miles upstream from Dulverton. A great place for a picnic or lunch at the nearby pub.
The two villages of Lynton and Lynmouth are situated one above the other and were known by the Victorians as Little Switzerland. Lynton is an attractive village with a beautiful church perched above the cliffs, a good range of restaurants and cafes, a local art & craft centre and small museum.
Situated six hundred feet below Lynton is the small harbour village of Lynmouth. You can walk down a zig-zag pathway between the two where you will get stunning views of the village and coastline below you. Or you can use the famous and very clever Lynton & Lynmouth Cliff Railway.
The railway was opened in 1890 and is the highest and steepest totally water powered, railway in the world. This working heritage railway is grade II listed and is the UK's only fully water powered railway and one of just three examples left in the World! Well worth a visit to see the stunning views from the top and during the ride. There is a cliff top cafe where you can sit and enjoy the views and take it all in. Dogs can enjoy the ride too!
Lynmouth is dominated by the East and West Lynn rivers which serve as a reminder to the locals of the Lynmouth Flood Disaster. Rain started falling on the high moors of Exmoor during the morning of the 15th August 1952. By the following morning over 9 inches (23cm) of rain had fallen, swelling the rivers to bursting point, washing away whole buildings and leading to the tragic loss of 34 lives. There is a museum in Lynmouth depicting the tragic hours and days after the devastating flood and is worth taking the time to sit and imagine how it must have been that terrible morning.
A great walk from Lynmouth is to follow the East Lynn river to where it joins the Hoaroak at Watersmeet. Take a look at our Activities page for more details.
As most of North Devon is within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a large part of the coastline is owned and managed by the National Trust. There are also wild woods, coastal climbs with impressive views, pretty historic villages and historic houses to visit for National Trust members and non-members. Here are a pick of a few local to Nutcombe.
Arlington Court is a neoclassical country house set in a 3500 acre estate of formal gardens, woods and parkland and is just a 10 minute drive from Nutcombe. There you will see displays of model ships, costumes, pewter and shells collected by the last owner Miss Chichester whose family had owned Arlington for eleven generations. There is also a Victorian, walled kitchen garden and an impressive collection of over 50 horse-drawn carriages. There is plenty for all the family with beautiful woodland walks that have wild play areas and secret den building sites, Victorian dressing up room, Victorian toy collection you can play with and hands on activities in the Carriage Museum.
Dunster Castle was originally a motte and bailey fortress which then became a country home. Perched high on a hilltop with dramatic sea and countryside views, it has been fortified since the late Anglo-Saxon period although the medieval walls were mostly destroyed during the English Civil War and then remodeled by the Victorians. The gardens at Dunster take you through hundreds of years of planting and restoration through four different micro-climates with the sub-tropical garden housing the National collection of Strawberry Trees. The village of Dunster itself is probably the largest and most intact medieval village in England and includes the iconic Yarn Market, the remains of a Benedictine priory, a Working Watermill, Packhorse Bridge and Iron Age settlements.
Knightshayes was built by Sir John Heathcoat Amory, the grandson of John Heathcoat, creator of the mechanised bobbin lace making machine and owner of a lace factory in Tiverton. The elaborate interior designs at Knightshayes were completed in 1873 although the family fired the designer after a rocky relationship only to employ another ill fated one whose work was covered up by the family and later restored by the National Trust. This unique Victorian, Gothic revival house, has quirky ceilings and intricate carvings and a magnificent kitchen garden that is also of Gothic design. The gardens are one of the finest in Devon and are divided into eight different areas of formal and woodland gardens, enhanced by one of the most unique and extensive plant collections in the care of the Trust.
Clovelly is a truly unique village perched clinging to a 400 foot cliff side overlooking Bideford Bay. It's steeply cobbled streets have no vehicular traffic with donkeys and sledges used to take goods in and out of the village and provide rides for children. The Clovelly Estate has remained in private ownership for over 400 years by the Rous family which has helped to preserve its unique originality and atmosphere. There is a charge to enter the village but once inside there is something for everyone from craft workshops, art galleries, museums and shops and plenty of places to eat. Once down the cobbled streets to the cove at the bottom there is a lovely harbour and rocky beach with a waterfall which has links to Merlin the wizard as there is a hidden cave behind – supposedly called his home! If you can't manage the climb back up, there are Land Rover taxis back to the top!!
Hartland Abbey welcomes visitors from the end of March until October. Built in the 12th Century it survived as a monastery longer than any other in the country and is one of the most important ancestral homes in North Devon. In 1539 it was gifted by Henry VIII to the Keeper of his Wine Cellar and still remains in the family. It is the family home of the Stucley family and has many treasures collected throughout the familys' generations including preserved architecture and decoration from the Medieval, Queen Anne, Georgian, Regency and Victorian periods, paintings, furniture, Chinese artifacts and porcelain collections. There is an 18th century walled garden as well as a woodland garden, plus extensive parkland which offer a great way to enjoy the stunning valley with leads down to the rugged cove and little cottage at Blackpool Mill which has been used as a location for many notable films and TV shows.
Marwood Hill Gardens
Marwood Hill Gardens are just 20 minutes drive from Nutcombe. Covering 20 acres, the gardens were created by Dr Smart in 1950 and include three large lakes and the National Collections of Astilbes, Tulbaghia and Japanese Iris. A lovely walk around the garden with plenty of places to sit and admire the views and flowers and watch the fish in the water, or even have afternoon tea in the charming tea rooms.
Castle Hill Gardens
Castle Hill Gardens at Filleigh are about half an hour from Nutcombe on the Southern edge of Exmoor and are set in 50 acres of historic Parkland surrounding an 18th Century Palladian Mansion House built in 1730 for the Fortescue family who still call it home after 15 generations. The gardens are open all year round and there is always something to see whatever the season. Within the gardens you will see statues, follies and temples, a striking water feature and walled garden. Views from the terraces are beautiful across to the Triumphal Arch and Holwell Temple the other side of the valley, but for even more magnificent views, climb the hill to the ruined castle at the top for panoramic views across Exmoor, Dartmoor and beyond. After a day exploring there is a tearoom for homemade cakes, cream tea or light lunch or take a picnic and sit and take it all in!
RHS Rosemoor was originally the home of Lady Anne Palmer and was gifted to the RHS in 1988 with it's 8 acres of gardens around the house and 32 acres of pastureland. Since 1989 the RHS have created a magnificent national garden with impressive lakes, streams, formal gardens including a Rose Garden, Hot Garden, Long Herbaceous borders, The Potager and Cottage Garden, Foliage Garden, vast Fruit and Vegetable Garden and many more. There is a visitors centre and garden centre as well as The Garden Room which hosts a variety of events throughout the year. A gardeners delight!
Docton Mill Gardens & Tea Rooms
Docton Mill Gardens & Tea Rooms in Hartland was established in the 1930's but fell into disrepair until it was renovated in 1980's. The Mill as also restored and the garden extensively cleared and re-planted creating a new Bog Garden, extensive Herbaceous Borders, Woodland Garden, Wild Flower Gardens and Greenhouse. The gardens are particularly pretty in Spring with Narcissi, Bluebells and Wild Garlic and there is an award winning Tea Room serving light lunches and the obligatory tea and cakes! Docton Mill is an RHS Partnership Garden every Saturday throughout the season. Due to the topographical layout of the garden, it is unsuitable for those in wheelchairs or with limited mobility.
Tapeley Park is perched high on a hill overlooking the River Torridge. It has been home to the Christie family for two hundred years and is renowned for it's beautiful gardens. Of particular interest is the Italian Terraces but there are also ponds, a lake, an old woodland and an organic vegetable garden and is one of the oldest permaculture gardens in the UK. The gardens are open six days a week (excl Saturday) where you can explore the grounds, bring a picnic or sample the delights from the tea rooms that uses ingredients fresh from the gardens. Tours of the house can be arranged by prior appointment.
If you fancy a trip to the theatre then The Queens Theatre in Barnstaple offers a choice of entertainment from comedy to music, ballet and classical concerts. The Landmark Theatre in Ilfracombe also has a varied programme. Take a look at their websites to see what's showing.
Exmoor Zoo is just 10 minutes from Nutcombe and has been owned and run by Danny & Lynn Reynolds since they took over the old Exmoor Bird Gardens in 1993. Since then they have totally transformed the zoo with new exhibits of mammals, bird and reptiles which are always changing and increasing. They endeavour to install the importance of looking after the environment and respect for the habitat of native and exotic animals. To this end, Exmoor Zoo has over 35 breeding programs to help maintain the captive population of endangered species from around the world, which is a very important part of their work. Throughout the day they have a programme of talks and feeding sessions as well as opportunities to handle bugs, conquer your spider phobia, Wallaby petting and of course the chance to see the Exmoor Beast! Exmoor Zoo has the only pair of Black Leopards on exhibit in the UK, the large cat that has been roaming the South West and Exmoor and created the myth of the Exmoor Beast since medieval times.
Combe Martin Wildlife and Dinosaur Park
Combe Martin Wildlife and Dinosaur Park is our closest attraction to Nutcombe just on the other side of the valley. It is set in 28 acres of spectacular gardens where you can see Lions, Wolves, Sea Lions, Meerkats, Primates, Penguins and more and interact with feeding sessions. As well as the animals CMWDP offer their unique Animatronic Life-Size Dinosaur exhibits, a large indoor soft play area, the Dino Express Train Ride through a giant earthquake or a visit The Tomb of the Pharoahs in the basement of the manor house.
Watermouth Castle is also just 10 minutes from Nutcombe and was built in 1825 and has been used for various things since. It was bought in a near derelict condition in 1977 by Richard and his family who have turned into what it has become today which is once of North Devon's well known tourist attractions. There are plenty of activities to enjoy: explore Victorian life through toys, games and displays including a model railway, explore the dungeons, watch a performance of lights, music and fountains, explore the secret world of gnomes or pan for gold. Or you can enter Adventure Land and Merry Go Land and experience an array of rides and experiences. A great day out for families.
Lynton & Barnstaple Railway
The Lynton & Barnstaple Railway is another attraction just 10 minutes from Nutcombe and is home to Englands highest narrow-gauge railway station, one thousand feet up on Exmoor. More than eighty years after its closure in 1935 you can now ride in the original L & B carriages along a two mile section of track from Woody Bay Station to Killington Lane Halt. Your ticket entitles you to as many rides as you want during the day so why not combine it with a trip to the conservation village of Parracombe or walk to Heddons Mouth before returning for another trip. Or sit and enjoy a picnic and watch the trains or sample the goodies in the tea rooms. The railway is run entirely by volunteers and is a non-profit making organisation.
The Milky Way Adventure Park
The Milky Way Adventure Park is located near Clovelly between Bideford and Bude so a bit further to travel from Nutcombe. They have attractions to suit all ages and whatever the weather including, roller coaster rides, dodgems, death slides and North Devons biggest indoor adventure play area with assault courses and slides built for adults and children. There are numerous interactive experiences too all based on a Space theme. All rides are included in the entrance fee. The Milky Way is also home to the North Devon Bird of Prey Centre and flying displays take place daily.
The Big Sheep
The Big Sheep in Bideford is another all weather family attraction. There is a large indoor playground and soft play area, rides, farm animals (including babies), feeding sessions, roller coaster rides, train rides, sheep dog trials, Combat games, adventure centre and sheep racing. For the adults there a micro craft ale brewery and gin distillery! There are two cafes on site plus a shop.
Quince Honey Farm
Quince Honey Farm moved to it's brand new location at Aller Cross South Molton this year (2019) and is just half an hour from Nutcombe. A fascinating attraction dedicated to the work of Bees. A day at the farm can include Expert Talks on the life of bees, Critter Handling, Indoor Play Hive, Honey Tasting, Beekeeping Demos, Candle Rolling and a visit to the Quince Cafe and shop.
Dartington Crystal based in Torrington is the UK's only remaining glass factory. Visiting here you can discover the story and development of Dartington in their exhibition centre, watch the skilled glass makers in action on the factory floor, participate in a range of glass activities and at the end of the day take a look in the factory shop or visit the cafe and restaurant. Dartington Crystal isn't far from RHS Rosemoor so why not combine the two visits.