South-west England is awash with places claiming to be surf heaven. Croyde Bay in North Devon is the genuine article, with a perfect beach, great waves, sheltering dunes – and a quiet village
Surfing "paradises", as they are affectionately known, are as common as strong cider in the South-west of England. Every coastal town or village that relies on tourism as a source of income is desperate to promote itself as the place to be if you want it all – the surf, the sea, the sand and even the sun (though this last one cannot be legally guaranteed, for obvious reasons).
The majority of places use the term with little regard for what "paradise" means – yet there are a few, dotted around Devon and Cornwall, that can genuinely sell themselves as the Edens of surfing. Croyde Bay, in North Devon, is one of these. Bordered by the unspoilt rocky headland of Baggy Point, one of the best surfing beaches in England is set against a wonderful village of thatched cottages that has a brook, named after a Viking raider, running through its centre.
Situated on the west-facing coast of North Devon, Croyde is relatively small and manages to balance an energetic and vibrant beach atmosphere with a refreshing serenity on its streets. That cannot be said for such surfing metropolises as Newquay, which are a constant, booming hub of energy from dusk until dawn (and then some). This relentless vigour and drive may be what many people want from a holiday, but for those who are seeking pleasant enjoyment as opposed to cheap thrills, Croyde Bay is a great choice.
Beach and surf
The beach at Croyde Bay had an ever-growing reputation until 2007, when a clerical error by the council resulted in the loss of the highest possible Blue Flag status. With the council planning to reapply next year, it should not be long before the Blue Flag is waving once again – as it should be – over the sand at Croyde.
The beach is consistently manned by lifeguards who are in constant communication with swimmers over a megaphone. This pretty much guarantees everyone’s safety, making the bay at Croyde the ideal spot to take a dip. From seasoned pros to chancing amateurs, and from budding Mark Fosters to brave paddlers, all are welcome to enjoy the benefits of the sheltered bay which produces some fantastic waves.
The beach is about 800m long, with a great array of sand dunes to provide shelter and tranquillity. For the more adventurous, Croyde boasts one of the few permanent beach volleyball courts in the country, while reasonably priced surf lessons are on offer at the nearby surf shops. Surfing Croyde Bay (01271 891 200, www.surfingcroydebay.co.uk) guarantees a student to instructor ratio of 5:1. A two-and-a-half-hour lesson cost £35 for adults, £16 for under-16s.
Where to stay
There are a number of reasonably-priced guest houses, such as the newly refurbished Baggy Lodge (01271 890 078, www.baggys.co.uk) which offers a great view across the bay. The Ruda Holiday Park (0871 641 0410, www.parkdeanholidays.co.uk) has facilities such as tennis courts and a tropical adventure pool (but be warned, it was definitely built with children in mind!).
For those with a little more money to hand, houses are available to rent throughout the summer period – but the best choice for a beach holiday is to get fully involved with nature and camp. The tellingly named Surfer's Paradise (01271 890 671, www.surfparadise.co.uk) is orientated more towards a younger crowd, while Mitchums Campsite (www.croydebay.co.uk, 07875 406 473) is a stone’s throw away from the sandy beach and has some of the friendliest staff you will come across. You are unlikely to forget Guy, the charismatic owner of the site, in a hurry.
Facilities include a good set of showers and an excellent new food stall situated at the end of the campsite – and the location is fantastic, both for the beach and for Baggy Point. The weekday price at Mitchums is £12 per night, per person, rising slightly for weekend stays.
When the temperature drops and the evening draws in, there is a good choice of entertainment in the village. Both The Thatch and The Manor provide live music most weeks, while Billy Budds has a great food menu. All offer a great selection of drinks to replenish you after a long, hard day on the surf, or a hot, thirsty spell among the dunes.