The sea never sleeps
In the winter, when the rest of the world feels empty and lethargic, the North Devon coast is a breath of fresh air. A borderland between the land and sea. Even on the greyest days, the sea mirrors the light, sunbeams gathering in pools and shifting on ripples like quicksilver. The coast may be quiet, but the sea never sleeps.
In the downtime between September and May, Woolacombe has an energy you won’t find inland.
Trailing running is an all-year activity. Fun, immersive, engaging. It’s about quick feet, and quicker reflexes. You’re working your body but also your brain, navigating changing terrain.
North Devon has fantastic trails. Coastal paths skirt the highest coastline in England, giving spectacular views out to sea and stomach churning cliffs at Foreland Point and the Great Hangman. The mystical Valley of the Rocks is a must-see, and Exmoor has miles upon miles of open, heather-dusted hills. It’s a great way to get under the skin of the area, while putting your body through its paces.
There isn’t a bad time to try it, but cooler weather will help to balance your body heat. On wild days, when the wind whips at your hair and you can hear the roar of the waves fill your ears, coastal trails are especially freeing. The blast of fresh sea air, the endorphin rush, and the healthy tingling of windswept skin…you’ll return light and relaxed to the bone. Ready to soak away the afternoon in the Spa, catch a showing at Neo Cinema, or cosy down with a book.
There are few things as exhilarating as the first time you catch a wave. Waiting with bated breath as the green belly of the wave swells. Then comes a frenzied succession of paddling, drawing your legs up to stand, and flying on its crest.
North Devon has some of the finest surfing in the UK. Strong westerly swells from the Atlantic ocean roll in to our long, gently shelving sandy beaches. Saunton, Croyde, Putsborough and our own Woolacombe have fantastic conditions for all levels.
The best time of year to surf is in the autumn, when the swells are higher and the water is still warm with summer’s heat. And, as Finisterre’s Ernie Capbert puts it ‘autumn is definitely the best season for swells, sunset barbecues, and general good beach vibes.’
Isn’t it strange to think that the majority of Earth’s surface is inaccessible to us. An otherworldly landscape with mountain ranges, vast forests and unknown species.
To put it into perspective, seaweed and phytoplankton in the ocean produce 70% of Earth’s oxygen, so your next breath could well have travelled from the depths of the sea. While we cannot go there ourselves, every tide leaves behind some of the ocean and its residents in rockpools on the shoreline.
In the early autumn and late spring these habitats are home to a diverse array of creatures. Peer through the bladder wrack and other native seaweeds to spot scuttling crabs, small fish, scarlet anemones and orange starfish.
Beach strolls and country walks
Wrap up and blow away the cobwebs on a winter’s walk. North Devon has miles of varied countryside to explore, from beaches and sand dunes, to AONB designated fields and woodland and Exmoor National Park. Lose yourself in nature, then stumble upon a cosy village pub for a fortifying pint.
The coast is at its prettiest in the springtime, when wild flower displays fringe the clifftops. Delicate pink thrifts waft in the breeze, and the coconut-vanilla scent of gorse flowers fill the air. The National Trust have created this guide to spotting wildflowers in North Devon.
Visiting Clovelly is like stepping into a fairy tale. This tiny fishing village appears to be carved into the rock directly above its harbour. Its charming cottages are stacked up the hill, with the sea stretching beyond and below. It’s a unique place, rooted in Devon maritime history, while bringing to mind the steep villages on Italy’s lakesides and Amalfi Coast.
Like them, it is busiest in the summer, but visit in the autumn to stroll along the harbour in peace or attend one of their traditional events. Visit during the annual September the Crab and Lobster Feast or November’s Herring Week for the finest Devon seafood. Apple Day in October is also well worth a visit.
The best time to see Clovelly is during the Christmas Lights, when the village is given a festive ‘glow up’. Strings of fairy lights turn the already atmospheric village into a romantic wonderland, perfect for strolling arm in arm and sipping mulled wine.
Counting sheep helps you sleep. Watching waves makes you calm. Steadily the water rises, crests, and falls in a tumble of foam and salt spray. It’s hard to say why, but the movement of the water is strangely grounding. Perhaps it’s the recurrence of it, a simple cycle unfolding in real time.
The waves are at their most impressive in the autumn and winter, particularly whenever a storm strikes. On these days, wrap your hands around a hot toddy or a big mug of tea and indulge your impulse to hibernate. Take in the wind and rain, with the dramatic backdrop of the waves. That’s hygge.
Between March and October boat trips take you across the sea, to the remote island of Lundy. The 3 mile long and half a mile wide outcrop of granite is the last land on its latitude until the Bay of Labrador in Canada.
It is one of the most peaceful spots in the UK, cocooned by the wash of the waves, with huge skies all around. While you will never see crowds of people on Lundy, wildlife thrives here. Lundy has the biggest seabird colony in the southwest, including 375 puffins. 200 odd seals bob in the seas around the isle while Sika deer, Soay sheep, wild ponies and feral goats roam its grassy verges. For a remoteness that is pure and total, escape to the island for a day of sightseeing, walking and picnicking.
People have been taking dips in rivers, lakes and the sea for thousands of years. Swimming combines cardio with an awareness of your breath, something it is all too easy to neglect in other exercise. But it also has a huge mental component. For one, when you swim you live in the moment, hyperaware of your body and the water, and free from other distractions.
Swimming in cold water also seems to have added benefits for mental health. It helps to reduce inflammation— our immune system’s response to stress. Inflammation acts as a red flag to tell the brain, ‘Houston we have a problem’. But in the long term inflammation brings a problem of its own: exacerbated symptoms of depression. Cold water specialist Mike Tipton explains that there is physiological argument that wild swimming could cause: ‘a cross-adaptive anti-inflammatory response’ which would aid mental health problems including depression which are thought to have an inflammatory basis.
At the other end of the scale, swimming gives rise to a sense of euphoria, or a ‘post-swim high’. Studies have shown that this is caused by an increase in levels of dopamine, serotonin, and beta-endorphins. It seems cold water floods your body with happy hormones. Ready to brave a dip?
During the summer a paddleboard is your friend. SUPing is an accessible and fun way to escape the crowds and make the most of tranquil water. With such clean seas the water around us is crystal clear on a calm day. Look beneath its glassy surface to spot spider crabs, interesting rock formations, or gas bubbling up from the seabed— which may be seaweed producing oxygen!
Woolacombe Bay Hotel
Looking to stay somewhere stylish and relaxed? Our boutique hotel by the beach could be the one. Whatever the season, unwind by the water and let the Devon air work its magic. With two delicious eateries and the SALT Gymnasia, Alchemist Spa and Neo Cinema on hand, holiday just as you like it.