Around Bideford there are a number of delightful communities which are best explored on a scenic drive, stopping to stroll around, explore a local church or take a photograph when somewhere particularly appeals. The Hartland and North Devon Heritage Coast is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and has countless beautiful viewpoints, breathtaking landscapes, idyllic cottages, delightful coves and masses of flora and fauna to lift the spirit and delight the senses.
Along this historic coastline, which is rich in maritime and smuggling history, there are always plenty of old inns and cafés offering home-cooked lunches, cream teas and long cold drinks in the beer garden.
Overlooking the Torridge Estuary is a duo of small hidden gems: Appledore and Instow. Appledore has charming cobbled streets lined with bow-fronted cottages which are barely a cart-width apart. Stroll along the seafront of this “little white fishing village”, as Charles Kinsley affectionately described it, and imagine it back in the 19th century when mail was actually rowed across the water in all weathers until Instow got its own post office!
In the 17th century Appledore was a hive of small shipyards supplying ships and sailors to fight the Spanish Armada in 1666, which earned it free port status from Elizabeth I. Don't miss the opportunity to sample the local Hockings ice cream from one of the cream and red vans which are parked at most local beauty spots.
Across the estuary, Instow attracts visitors with its higgledy-piggledy cottages, windmill, Grade II listed railway signal box and grand Commodore Hotel. The best beaches are reserved for Westward Ho! where the two miles of golden sand are popular for surfing, swimming, shrimping, kite surfing and kite buggy riding.
Continuing on along the A39, pass the delightfully named Fairy Cross and Peppercombe, famous for its valley of bluebells in spring, to reach Clovelly. Commercialized yet still retaining its historic charm, the cobbled street with its 16th century cottages drops steeply (400 feet in half a mile!) down to the sandy cove and harbour below. Look out for the sledges in the village which are still used to haul furniture and groceries up and down. If the ascent looks daunting, opt for the Land Rover ride which carries weary legs back to the Visitor Centre in double-quick time.
Drive on to see the impressive waterfall at Spekes Mill near Milford and the rock formations at Hartland Quay, now quay-less since it was claimed by the waves in 1887 and never rebuilt.
Great Torrington is well-known as the home of Dartington Crystal where glass-blowing can be seen. Visit the Civil War Experience at the Visitor Centre or spend time browsing the spectacular gardens at RHS Rosemoor's flagship gardens.
Further inland there are still more enchanting villages such as Weare Gifford, Parkham, Horns Cross, Alwington, Abbotsham, Buckland Brewer, and Woolfardisworthy (pronounced Woolsery). Take five at the kitschy Gnome Reserve, Wild Flower and Pixie Kiln at East Putford near Bradworthy or venture further afield to the market towns of Holsworthy and Hatherleigh.