Places to stay South Devon
Then it’s a drive to the beach for a game of Frisbee at Bigbury-on-Sea, Bantham or Blackpool Sands, followed by a picnic bought the previous day from the artisan delis in Chagford or Tavistock Farmers’ Market.
Afternoons are spent in town: Ashburton is a favourite for antiques shopping, Totnes for local history, while Topsham is an all-round crowd pleaser. A good cream tea is never far away in Devon: the chintzier the tea room, the better the scones. Trust me, I’m an expert.
We’ll usually go for dinner at my local, the Ring of Bells (ringofbells.net), a traditional thatched Dartmoor inn where melt-in-the-mouth Devon lamb is served up by a log fire in a convivial atmosphere.
The perfect day ends as it began: on a tor, only this time stargazing with a blanket and bottle of wine.
Beach life at Bigbury-on-Sea
Where I tell my friends to stay
Finding a stylish hotel by the sea in South Devon is surprisingly difficult, but South Sands (00; southsands.com, from £150), near Salcombe, is just that. It’s in a secluded cove and most of its nautically-styled rooms have sea views and balconies. Stay in the J-Class, which has twin roll-top baths looking out to sea, a sun terrace and an 8ft bed. I’m also expecting the Salcombe Harbour Hotel to join my suggestion list when it opens in August this year (0844 858 9187; salcombe-harbour-hotel.co.uk).
A less expensive seaside option is the newly revamped Royal Oak in Bigbury (43; theroyaloakbigbury.co.uk, from £60). Its four rooms are decorated in pared-down chalky palette, warmed up with chunky knit blankets. The sweeping sands of Bigbury-on-Sea are a short drive or a 20-minute walk away.
I love the wilds and woods of Dartmoor, the extraordinary geology of the Valley of the Rocks in Exmoor, and the Tamar Trails, a newly completed network of tracks following West Devon’s copper mining heritage (tamarvalley.org.uk/explore/access/walking/tamartrails).
Get there on the new Topsham-to-Exmouth cycle path, then catch a water taxi to the café.
Take my advice and…
Stick to one region. Devon is a deceptively large county, and what looks like a quick jaunt on a map can mean hours of driving along narrow country lanes – and that’s before you get stuck behind a herd of cows.
View of Dartmoor from Hayne Down
Favourite tea shop
In the land of cream teas, it’s hard to choose a favourite, but I always find myself returning to the Endsleigh Hotel (hotelendsleigh.com), a fairy-tale fishing lodge in the Tamar Valley, where crispy-on-the-outside, doughy-in-the-middle scones are served up with huge quenelles of clotted cream and giant bowls of jam.
Haytor on Dartmoor is one of Devon’s most famous views: on a clear day you can see the coast, the Teign estuary, the moors and rolling countryside in between. My weatherproof standby is the epic drive from Moretonhampstead to Princetown over the high moor.
Perfect night out
All Devon life can be found in the pubs. Many stage regular folk music evenings, often riotous free-for-alls that are a great opportunity to meet locals and soak up the atmosphere, as well as try some local ales.
Sunset on Burgh Island
What I’ll be doing this year
A book for inspiration
Set in Dartmoor, War Horse is bound to stoke your West Country yearnings. But give the film version a miss in favour of the original novel by Michael Morpurgo, or the National Theatre’s stage production, which starts its Britain-wide tour at the Theatre Royal in Plymouth (theatreroyal.com) in September.