Kate Calvert offers edited highlights for family trips to the West Country
There are some great places to stay – try one of the Yurt camp sites – www.luxurydevonyurts.co.uk, www.devonyurt.com, www.yurt-holidays.co.uk, or www.yurtcamp.co.uk. If you prefer the internal combustion engine hire a classic campervan with www.classiccampervanhire.co.uk, www.devoncoolcampers.co.uk, www.oconnorscampers.co.uk, or www.swcamperhire.com.
For something a little more conventional,two luxury b&bs would be The White House, close to the south coast beaches www.whitehousedevon.com, with a slightly Babington House vibe and just six rooms, or on the edge of Dartmoor www.weekebarton.com, run by a graphic designer and restaurant manager, relocated from Hackney.
The countryside is so lovely the thing is to get out there. There are loads of cycling trailswww.cycledevon.info with plenty of operations hiring bikes for all ages, including tag-a-longs and buggies, and offroadcyclewaysfor example on converted railways, totally safe for kids to try their own wheels.
The big surf coast is the north with its Atlantic rollers and surf schools at places like Wollacombe, Croyde Bay and Westward Ho! (this last recommended as away from the big waves and experienced surfers). Or on the south coast there’s Bigbury, though the quieter waters mean more sailing, canoeing, widsurfing and stand-up paddleboarding on offer.
On dry land, however terrified at the time, kids love having conquered the wobbling of tree climbing. If under 12 you have to go up with them, wondering what the hell you’ve got yourself into, which means you get the same buzz when you’ve completed the circuit. www.treesurfers.co.uk is one of the best in the UK – way more interesting than Go Ape and in a fabulous location on the side of the Tamar valley.
An option for bad weather is trail biking at www.adventurecottages.co.uk where the farmer – a biker himself – has converted his barn to an indoor biking facility. The bikes go down to truly tiny with a learner circuit before they’re allowed out on the main one – kitted out with enough safety equipment to make them look like Power Rangers – cue photos to show friends. There’s self-catering as well in converted stone farm buildings, including an indoor pool.
Of the many, many places for visitors www.escot-devon.co.ukstands out, the grounds of a diminutive stately home offering kids a chance to set up camp in the wood or drop down a vertical slide en route to a hidden pirate ship. Gates change the maze routes daily and there are bird of prey shows and otter feeding for further entertainment.
www.fairground-heritage.org offers a chance to spend time on genuine rides, right off the beaten track. www.tapeleypark.com is a stately home with a difference, solar panels heating the water and a demo of straw-bale building. Or www.broomhillart.co.k combines a hotel and Slow Food restaurant with eight acres of wooded valley featuring 300 works of art to enjoy as you wander.
There are plenty of options but perhaps the best is the Paignton & Dartmouth Steam Railway www.pdsr.co.ukwhere you can take a day to pootle along the coast from Paignton to Kingswear, passing over three Brunel viaducts, before crossing to Dartmouth on the passenger ferry (perhaps calling in at the base of punning illustrator Simon Drew www.simondrew.co.uk). Then there’s a River Dart cruise to Totnes stopping off as and when you like (say Agatha Christie’s fine old home Greenway), before returning by bus.
www.miniatureponycentre.comis real life My Little Pony, plus other furry friends, tractors and so on. www.dartmoorzoo.orgwas the inspiration for a TV series and film about the family which took on and turned around the failing enterprise, while www.livingcoasts.org.ukis for coastal wildlife and its partner www.paigntonzoo.org.ukare more traditional. www.thebigsheep.co.ukcovers everything sheepy – including sheep racing but also plenty of play areas, plus sheep shearing demos – all for a reasonable price. For otters and butterflies try www.ottersandbutterflies.co.uk at Buckfastleigh.
Devon seems to feature more artisan ice cream makers than any other part of the UK – all that West Country cream. Tasting a different one each day to choose the best by the end of holiday is a popular holiday treat.
And if you’re near Buckfastleigh, south of Dartmoor, book lunch atwww.riverford.co.uk. The organic box delivery scheme offers a delicious (and copious) set menu, served at a table shared with fellow diners. The veg is straight off the land, and the cooking imaginative tasty and copious.
Or for seafood straight out of the sea try www.britanniashellfish.co.uk on the beach at Beesands with an outdoor summer café.
There are so many good ones just pick one close to you when the weather is good – bearing in mind that in summer the car parks get full, and costs surprisingly high.
Kate Calvert is the author of Devon with Kids, published by Footprint Travel Guides