Surf’s up

Jane Day takes her family on a trip to North Devon

Springtime in Devon – sun, sea, sand, surf and snow.

Our destination was Woolacombe on the North Devon coastline which boasts one of the finest and most popular beaches in the country. It’s not hard to see why with three miles of golden sand that face the Atlantic Ocean near the western limit of the Bristol Channel. It’s a wonderful, safe beach for all the family and yet has great surfing conditions for the more adventurous visitor.

After enjoying the first day of our trip soaking in the sunshine, the snow and freezing conditions came as bit of a surprise, especially in April. But we’re used to the changeable British weather and traded in our shorts for jumpers and coats and ploughed on with our visit to this exciting coastline. Luckily our base for the week was perfectly equipped for indoor and outdoor activities, rain or shine. Woolacombe Bay Holiday Parks have been in North Devon for 50 years and it is good to see there is still continuous investment in their four parks in the area. More than £8m has been spent in the last five years, including new caravans, refurbishment of lodges, touring and camping facilities and play areas.

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Our base was the flagship Golden Coast resort where a new sports complex has been introduced this year. High ropes course, climbing wall and bungee run are just some of the extreme sports on offer at the resort. Our 10-year-old was more than eager to try out the surfing simulator – a thin sheet of water flowing out of a stationary wave. After an hour’s tuition, Sam was even trying a few tricks on his body board, while our younger son loved water-walking inside the giant inflatable hamster balls! Their only disappointment was that we were too early in the season for the outdoor swimming pools – in fact we were grateful for the central heating in our three-bedroom comfortable lodge.

With the unpredictable weather, we had an enjoyable couple of hours in the resort pottery painting café. Having created a couple of masterpieces we left them to be fired before collecting them the next day – a nice personal keepsake to take home with us. The usual evening entertainment was on offer, along with a cinema, pub, amusements and ten-pin bowling, so it’s easy to see why many people don’t stray far from the park. A shuttle bus travels around the parks and into Woolacombe if you fancy a day at the beach.

Devon is spoilt when it comes to beaches – Croyde is another surfers’ paradise and not far from the ever busy Woolacombe beach. You can discover more secluded ones as you follow the North Devon Coastal path before reaching the lovely fishing villages of Instow, Appledore and Westward Ho! Barnstaple is the main town in the area and has a good mix of high street stores and independent shops as well as the well-known pannier market selling different wares every day. For those with young families to entertain The Big Sheep Adventure, Combe Martin Wildlife and Dinosaur Park and Exmoor Zoo are all within easy reach.

Ten minutes from our holiday resort is Ilfracombe, home to North Devon’s largest harbour. Visit the tunnels, hand carved by Welsh miners in the 1820s, that lead to unique sheltered beaches and a tidal bathing pool. Four of the six Victorian tunnels are still open where you can learn about the history which led Ilfracombe growing from a tiny fishing village into the bustling resort it is today. A boat trip away is Lundy Island, owned by the National Trust, and is a peaceful, unspoiled haven for wildlife and birds.

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Another example of Victorian splendour can be found at Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway. Situated on the edge of Exmoor National Park the landscape changes to picturesque countryside. Often known as Little Switzerland due to its alpine setting, the cliff railway links the two towns. Opened in 1890, powered only by the weight of water, each passenger car counter-balances the other, it is one of the most environmentally-friendly ways to travel. Our toughest decision was whether to have our Devon cream tea in the harbour town of Lymouth or quaint Lynton, 500ft above with stunning views, we decided on the Lynton option and wasn’t disappointed.

Part of the charm of this lovely versatile county is the contrast from glorious sandy beaches to rugged moorland, pretty harbours to dramatic coastlines. Whether you want peace and quiet while relaxing on the beach or prefer a more energetic break surfing or walking (or maybe snowballing!) North Devon offers the complete package for everyone.

Getting there

The Day family stayed in a Gold Lodge at the Golden Coast, Woolacombe Bay Holiday Parks. Tel. 0843 2080 377.

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