South Devon - the ideal family holiday destination
Every summer as a child we would head to the South Devon town of Teignmouth to stay with our elderly relatives, our days were spent on the local beaches or days out around Devon itself. In my teens & twenties, I fell out of the love with it, I had been there every year growing up and it didn’t offer many of things that the Spanish & Greek Islands had to offer – aka cheap alcohol, all night clubbing to name but a few .......you know the rest!
But having had two children of my own, I have fallen back in love with the place. The elderly relatives have sadly departed but we are in a fortunate position that we still have the house as a family bolthole. The town of Teignmouth itself is relatively small traditional Georgian working class port, a little rough around the edges even, but has everything you need for a Great British Seaside break, especially if you have children in tow! The long red Devon Sandstone beach is extremely child friendly, there are no steep drops into the sea so perfect for paddling toddlers, it’s life guarded throughout the summer months, along with large dog-free sections and 2019 it was awarded the internationally recognised Blue Flag award.
When the beach becomes too much the town has a pier (which I won’t deny has become slightly run down since the winter storms of 2014) – but the children don’t care – they happily spend endless hours collecting their winning tickets!
There is an outdoor Lido, a children’s play park for a variety of ages, crazy golf, skate/scooter park, tennis courts and The Den which is an open green space great for a kick about or some Frisby throwing!
There are also public toilets and showers which are always useful for the children.
If you need to stretch your legs, a walk along the sea wall is a must. It is sandwiched between the red cliffs towering above the trainline, and the beach below (but keep hold of little hands!) You can also catch the Foot Passenger Ferry (England's oldest running one to be exact!) over to the picturesque village of Shaldon. A mooch around the sleepy village gives some fantastic views along with a small Botanical Gardens, the small Shaldon Zoo, and you might even stumble upon the Smugglers Tunnel....it's worth a little trip down there if you dare!
Teignmouth itself has an array of independent craft & gift shops. Numerous cafes & eateries
for food stops. For the best Danish Pastries or Cheese Straws (plus a wide range of picnic
options) make sure you head to the Luders Patiserre, for an afternoon cocktail in the sunshine
with some music to take you back to those Spanish & Greek holidays a pitstop at Halulu Bar
is a must (they do some fabulous child-friendly mocktails too, my daughter asked to go everyday last year!). In the evening if you fancy some freshly caught fish head to the Crab Shack where if you are luckily enough to nab an outside table you can enjoy spectacular sunset on the Back Beach whilst watching the world go by and the boats bop on the tide. For those with little ones head to Laura Wall at her gallery where her stories of ‘Goose’ have been a firm favourite by my two (along with a couple of her paintings hanging on my lounge walls!)
This coastline benefits from being on the major west coast train line so there are regular trains from London, Manchester and Birmingham stopping at the many trains stations in the area. A little jaunt from Teignmouth to Exeter is worth it for the views alone as it’s the famous line designed by Isambard Brunel which hugs the coastline from Exeter to Newton Abbot. Another worthwhile ride is the Dartmouth Steam Railway, both are stunning trips come rain or shine!
For those driving, South Devon pretty much starts from the end of the M5 heading onto the A38. From there you can easily enjoy days out up on Dartmoor National Park where you visit the village of Princetown (the home of Dartmoor Prison which has a worthwhile museum you can visit), climb up and admire the views from Haytor, explore Becky Falls Ancient Woodland, or the River Dart Country Park. There is the tired and slightly run down (but the children love it and its cheap as chips amusement park) of Trago Mills, and the House of Marbles to name but a few attractions.
For animal lovers there is Paignton Zoo, the National Marine Aquarium or its sister site - Living Coasts (which we love as you can feed the Penguins each day!). Not forgetting of course the numerous National Trust places to be enjoyed, our favourites are definitely Greenway House (once the home of Agatha Christie) and Overbecks which both have stunning views - made even better on a sunny day enjoying a Devonshire Cream Tea! If beaches are your draw then South Devon has so many to choose from, Bigbury-on-Sea is a firm favourite of mine - white sandy beaches with shallow safe waters - overlooking Burgh Island, and the fun of riding the Sea Tractor if the tide is in. There is the beautiful Blackpool Sands nestled with its Pine Tree backdrop, but be warned – however stunning it is when you drive by on the coast road, it’s a pebble beach with steep drops into the sea, and can be windy
There is East Portlemouth - quiet stretches of sandy beaches opposite to Salcombe. For those who enjoy surfing or body boarding, the large sandy Bantham beach is a must and along this stretch of coast there are so many hidden coves I have never managed to explore let alone find, so it forever keeps me on my toes when we visit!
If you asked my children though they love Dawlish Warren – it's full of amusement arcades, funfair rides, Go-Kart tracks, a few bars, and according to my boy “the best donuts ever”. It’s not my favourite place, but I cannot deny the beach has long sandy stretches of clean, safe, shallow waters (again life guarded & dog-free throughout the summer months). We’ve had some fabulous days there in the glorious sunshine so I can’t say its not worth a visit!
I appreciate I have been lucky enough to holiday in South Devon all my life – it’s definitely my happy place by the sea, but with Cornwall as its next door, it often gets over looked, so maybe save yourselves a couple of hours driving and explore South Devon one year!
Written by Alison Doggrell
Alison lives in Cheshire with her husband and two children aged 9 and 6 years. She loves gardening, photography, travel and planning the next family adventure!