This attractive market town, with its Georgian High Street, grew famous for the intricate lace produced there and used in Queen Victoria’s wedding dress. It’s now bustling with plenty of independent shops and cafes. Browse the antiques shops or potter among the market stalls (held near Lace Walk on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays). No trip to Honiton is complete without a visit to the Thelma Hulbert Gallery, an award-winning public art gallery hosting modern art and exhibitions. The Honiton Museum is a small and very informative museum celebrating Honiton Lace from the 16th through to the 20th century. Ask the friendly staff about the history of lace-making in the area and examine the bones, fossils and other artefacts. You might even be treated to a lace making demonstration. Honiton sits between the Blackdown Hills and East Devon Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty so there are plenty of walks in the area including Combe Wood and Dumpdon Hill. These earthworks, with a clump of trees on the top, overlook the Otter Valley and are maintained by the National Trust.
Another market town and considered the centre of mid Devon, Tiverton owes its early growth and prosperity to the wool trade and production of fabrics. The Heathcoat fabric factory is still a strong presence in the town. For shoppers, the Pannier Market offers a range of fresh produce, crafts, clothing and bric a brac and the High Street has a selection of well-known and independent shops. For a real taste of history, visit romantic Tiverton Castle. Originally built in 1106 by order of Henry I, it was extended over the following centuries and so demonstrates a range of different architectural styles. The castle is currently closed, but the gardens are open – check the website for booking details. Find out more about the town’s fascinating history at the Tiverton Museum of Mid Devon Life, a wonderful, eclectic mix of exhibits reflecting life in the area throughout the ages, giving a local context to periods in history from ancient Roman relics through to war time. There’s a focus on the area’s agricultural heritage, as well as the famous ‘Tivvy Bumper’, a beautiful old steam train on whose footplate you can stand and pretend to be the driver! The Grand Western Canal, with its flat, easily accessible walking, starts at the Tiverton Canal Basin, from where you can take a trip on a horse-drawn barge, rent a rowing boat or kayak, or simply enjoy a cuppa by the waterside. Nearby Knightshayes, a quirky 19th Century manor house surrounded by lush gardens, is a real must if you’re in the area.
We’ve written about Exmouth in a previous blog. It’s a full day out, with the main draw being its miles of golden sands, appealing to families looking for rock pools, water sports enthusiasts and walkers. The area along the sea front has recently been modernised, with an excellent outdoor play area, an indoor entertainment and bowling centre and Michael Caines’ newly opened Mickey’s Beach Bar. If the sand isn’t for you, stroll around the marina from where you can board one of the Stuart Line Cruises to explore the coast by boat, or head into the town to visit the indoor market or one of the many bars and cafes surrounding The Strand. Find yourself a bike and pick up the Exe Estuary trail which is a beautiful route which links Dawlish Warren with Exmouth following the banks of the River Exe.
One of our absolute favourite places to visit, Sidmouth is a quintessential seaside resort. It has two main beaches – the town beach with its rolling pebbles and Jacobs Ladder beach, both with sand at low tide. Amble along the esplanade, lined with Regency hotels, which runs the length of the town beach. Indulge in some people watching from a deck chair, ice-cream in hand, or have a go at paddle boarding. For a hit of horticulture, find Connaught Gardens at the bottom of Peak Hill, or climb the white wooden steps of ‘Jacobs Ladder’ from the beach to the cliff top. Its sheltered location makes it the perfect garden for rare and tender plants. Enjoy fabulous views of the red-cliffed coastline or visit the Clock Tower Cafe for delicious cakes. Towards the end of August, Sidmouth Regatta has sailing races and plenty of family activities. Of course, the Folk Festival earlier that month, affords music, traditional dancing and stalls along the esplanade and is a great time to visit and soak up the atmosphere. A little outside the town you can find the Donkey Sanctuary, where children and grown ups alike can meet this gentle creatures and find out about their rescue and ongoing care.
Lyme Regis / Charmouth
Venture a little further along the Jurassic Coast into Dorset and you’ll find the towns of Lyme Regis and Charmouth: the dual hubs of fossil-hunting country and just two miles apart. To see some amazing recent finds, including an ichthyosaur which starred in the TV programme about David Attenborough’s “Sea Dragon” and some enormous ammonites, visit the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre. You can book a fossil tour, with guides who will help you not only find but identify these fascinating treasures. Lyme Regis is a more upmarket seaside town and, should you be unlucky on your hunt for fossils on the beach, boasts a range of fossil shops from which to purchase a souvenir. Towards the eastern end of the bay, the beach is pebbly and may be better suited to anyone wanting a quieter day out by the sea. At the Cobb end of the beach there is fine golden sand, ideal for families with young children who are keen to build sandcastles and play in the gently sloping shallows. The Cobb has recently been seen dusted in snow during its use as a filming location for the new upcoming Willie Wonka film, and not forgetting the iconic scene in the film, The French Lieutenant’s Woman.
Voted ‘best place to live in the south west’ in 2019, the quaint historic port of Tospham retains its village character, despite having been subsumed within the city of Exeter over recent years. With its picturesque Dutch gabled houses and clusters of specialist shops, Topsham is an ideal for those with more discerning tastes. It is full to the brim with independent eateries and places to buy local produce such as wine from the nearby Pebblebed Vineyards. Darts Farm on the road towards Exmouth is bursting with delicious food, drink and luxury gifts.
Let us know your favourite local towns. We’re always happy to receive your recommendations. We do our best to ensure information is correct at time of writing, but please always check the information on attraction websites before visiting to avoid disappointment or a wasted journey.