The South Hams region of Devon, with the Dartmoor National Park

Devon has long been one of the most popular holiday destinations in England. Good weather, attractive countryside, beaches ranged along two coastlines, and Dartmoor in the middle - what more could you ask?
In the summer this popularity results in crowds that can be off-putting for those who prefer a little peace and quiet. No problem: South Devon is an ideal location for a short caravan break at either end of the main season, in Spring or Autumn - especially so if you enjoy walking, since there are wonderful areas for either a stroll or something more strenuous!

One of the most appealing parts of Devon, the South Hams , brings together interesting small towns, pretty villages, gently rolling countryside and a coastline that has been described as the most attractive in Britain. This can be a good touring base not only for the towns and coastline of the South Hams itself, but also for the stark contrasts of the Dartmoor National Park a short distance to the north.

South Devon is a great part of the country for walking, with the South West Coastal path providing access to wonderful cliffs and quiet beaches, and quiet country lanes away from the sea. The route along the cliffs at Start Point is particularly good, with spectacular views out to sea. Park at Hallsands, follow the coastal path south to Start Point, and make the short diversion to Start Point Lighthouse (now unoccupied but open to the public occasionally). Continue west along the coastal path to Lannacombe Beach, then return to Hallsands inland by the country lanes. Further to the west Prawle Point is another good place to access the coastal path.

Kingsbridge is the principal town of the South Hams, relatively unspoiled at the head of the Kingsbridge Estuary. A key market town for the region, in the days of sail it was an important port and ship-building centre. Those times are long gone; the quayside, where sailing ships were once built and rigging ropes made, is now a focal point for visitors and gives good views out towards the sea. The Town Trail leaflet available from the Tourist Office has information on the trades that used to be carried out in various buildings, from rope making to milling, and also the peculiar passageways that are a feature of the town. The ancient, stone building in the main street known as The Shambles - once used as butchers stalls - is worth a look.

Totnes, long a busy market town, has been going through something of a transformation over recent years and has an 'art and craft' feel about it aimed, no doubt, at visitors to the area. Interesting sights in the town include the castle and the Guild Hall, a 16th Century building which once included a prison and is still in use as a council chamber.

Dartmouth, home of the famous Britannia Royal Naval College, is a pretty town on the Dart Estuary and a natural anchorage and haven for many small boats. Bayards Quay has been kept much as it was a hundred or more years ago. In 1620 the Pilgrim fathers sailed from here in the Mayflower towards a new life in America, and it has often been used as a location for filming - in the 1970s it was featured regularly in the television programme 'The Onedin Line'. Some of the villages further up the Dart Estuary, such as Dittisham or Stoke Gabriel, are worth a visit; boat trips are available from Dartmouth.

Across the estuary from Dartmouth lies the town of Kingswear. Small, rather old-fashioned car ferries operate frequently both above and below the town eliminating the need to pass through Totnes en route to Brixham or Torbay.

The pretty, waterside town of Salcombe sits close to the mouth of the Kingsbridge Estuary. On occasion - particularly in the peak summer season - it seems to be entirely devoted to sailing and is packed with members of the yachting fraternity. At other times, though, you can enjoy a pleasant stroll through narrow streets close to the water's edge with spectacular views up or down the estuary. This is the most southerly resort in Devon and it benefits from a particularly mild climate. A ferry (pedestrians only) operates to the small village of East Portlemouth, opposite.

A short distance north of the South Hams is the Dartmoor National Park, an area of hills, forests and moorland dotted with small, picturesque villages. Famous for Dartmoor Prison at Princetown, and with Dartmoor Ponies roaming freely across the moor, it is great for walking or just driving. There are many places to visit - take a look at the Old Clapper Bridge at Postbridge, or the bubbling water at Dartmeet. Walk up Haytor for a great view of the surrounding moorland, or just find a quiet spot and enjoy the wonderful scenery. You could do worse than stopping for a while at Bellever, close to Postbridge.

This area of South Devon is ideal for a short caravanning break and there are several touring sites from which to choose. We stayed in the Caravan Club site at Start Bay (members only) and from here it is possible to walk to the seashore at nearby Torcross. A circular walk guide - available at the site or in Torcross - will get you along the coastal path to nearby Beesands via an old quarry, then back to Torcross through woods and fields.

A World War II Sherman tank is on permanent display as a memorial at nearby Slapton Sands - recovered in recent years from a lifetime submerged under the sea after being lost during a practice for the invasion of France. Slapton Sands itself is a shingle bank that separates the sea from the freshwater 'lagoon' of Slapton Ley, managed as a wildlife sanctuary.

© GDS 2003
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Bayards Cove and the Upper Car Ferry at Dartmouth
Totnes
One of the passageways in Kingsbridge
The coastline close to Start Point, and the lighthouse
The quayside at Kingsbridge, with the town in the distance
Rolling fields inland from Slapton Sands
The Caravan Club site at Start Bay
This memorial typifies the bleakness of some parts of Dartmoor. The inscription reads: “To Lt. Evelyn Penney, died in Palestine in 1918, aged 19 ‘leading his men’. “
The estuary at Salcombe
The view towards the sea from close to Torcross