No not the Australian Gold Coast. This one is in England, North Devon to be precise. It is characterised by rolling hills and wide, golden sand beaches. It is a magnet for surfers
but you do not have to be a surfer to appreciate the delights of this stunning coastline. There is great surfing and body boarding, but also gorgeous old villages and coastal walks, fantastic gardens and a range of excellent eating establishments to tempt the appetite, including one endorsed by Rick Stein!
The Gold Coast has three beautiful sandy beaches, Putsborough, Croyde and Saunton Sands, set within an area of outstanding natural beauty. Putsborough and Croyde are separated by a National Trust headland at Baggy Point. Inland there is picturesque Croyde village with traditional thatched cottages and the larger village of Braunton for necessities. Saunton Sands, located just south of Croyde, are backed by sand dunes at Braunton Burrows and a golf course.
Life’s a Beach!
Our relaxing retreat was at award-winning Putsborough beach. Here there are just a few cottages, caravans and the well-appointed Clifton Court Apartments, set in a wonderful location overlooking the beach, but more on these later.
The beach at Putsborough has a timeless appeal. I was mesmerised by the blue, gold and green of a vast expanse of sandy beach, backed by rolling hills which stretches for three miles to Woolacombe at the far end. The overriding impression is of space and a mellow vibe whether you are into surfing, walking, discovering rock pools or just splashing in the waves. The seagulls stalk the foreshore but don't worry, they tolerate visitors.
The beach here never seems to get too crowded. It is perfect for a barbecue in the honeyed evening light. Putsborough is approached via extremely narrow lanes so is less readily accessible than Croyde and remains much more tranquil in summer. The excellent beach cafe offers barista coffees and a wide range of food.
Walkers may decide to walk along the beach to Woolacombe or on the coastal path around Baggy Point to Croyde, where a reviving cream tea awaits at Sandleigh Tea Rooms (www.sandleigh.info, Moor Lane Croyde EX33 1PA, tel. 01271 890930, cream tea £4.95).
Catch a Wave
The area is very popular with surfers and body boarders but you don’t have to be an expert to join in the fun. There are surfing lessons available at Croyde and Saunton Sands catering for beginners and improvers run by Surf South West, a British Surfing Association approved school (www.surfsouthwest.com, prices from £28 per half day, equipment included). There is surfboard and wetsuit hire available at all three beaches.
Alternatively you could go body boarding and experience the exhilaration of trying to catch a wave in the shallow, white water. For those who haven’t tried it, first there is excited anticipation as you watch for the next good wave. Next, sheer glee if you manage to time your launch correctly and you surge forward at speed, powered by the wave, before eventually coming to rest in the shallows. The best ride of all is when you catch a breaking wave and are dumped down from a height on to the white water. Just make sure you hold on!
If you are looking for a less hectic experience then garden lovers are spoiled for choice as this part of North Devon has numerous gardens open to visitors. Our choices were the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Garden at Rosemoor and the Clovelly Court Garden.
RHS Rosemoor, one of four RHS show gardens, is located near Torrington. (www.rhs.org.uk/gardens/rosemoor, Torrington EX38 8PH, tel. 01805 624067, admission RHS members free, adult £8.50). The formal gardens are a wonderful series of garden rooms and long borders. There is a rose garden, a hot garden that was fabulous in September, full of vibrant colours and spectacular cannas. There is a potager and herb garden, a cottage garden as well as an ornamental lake with huge gunneras. Lady Anne’s Garden is the original garden created by the former owner and has a very intimate feel.
Don’t miss eating in the restaurant where they use their own home grown produce. I can recommend the sandwiches of brie and cranberry, chicken and tarragon and also the homemade apple cake and cherry cake – delicious! Allow a full day for a visit here as there is plenty to see.
We also visited Clovelly Court Gardens, next to Clovelly village. Clovelly itself was very crowded when we went, a real tourist hot spot as visitors walked the steep cobbled street and photographed the famous donkeys (www.clovelly.co.uk, adult admission £6.50). However Clovelly Court Gardens were a complete contrast (entrance £2 per adult via an honesty box) and had few other visitors.
Clovelly Court is a lovely old walled garden complete with colourful herbaceous borders and restored Victorian glasshouses, full of grapes and tomatoes. Through the garden gate there is access to the green terraces and panoramic views across Bideford Bay. You are able to buy plant cuttings, fruit and vegetables, by donating to the honesty box.
Eating and Drinking
The place of choice to eat fish and chips is undoubtedly Squires Fish Restaurant in Braunton (www.squiresfishrestaurant.co.uk, 1 Exeter Road Braunton EX33 2JL, tel. 01271 815533). Established in 1969 Squires is a family run establishment offering award-winning fish and chips in immaculate surroundings at very reasonable prices (fish mains from £7, desserts from £4). Generous portions and thick, crispy chips – a real treat! The restaurant has been recommended by Rick Stein and former Prime Minister John Major amongst others.
Another favourite is the seventeenth century Rock Inn at Georgeham, near Putsborough. (www.therockgeorgeham.co.uk Rock Hill EX33 1JW, tel. 01271 890322, mains from £13). The Rock is an upmarket operation with top quality meals and excellent service. On our visits the blackboard menu listed such delights as ‘sea bass caught off John’s line at Morte Point’. We enjoyed the chicken, bacon and avocado salad in balsamic dressing and the French onion soup.
The Thatch at Croyde offers a lively atmosphere and an extensive menu of pub favourites from scampi to stuffed chicken breast and burgers (www.thethatchcroyde.com, 14 Hobbs Hill, Croyde, tel.01271 890349, starters from £5, and mains from £11).
Our excellent apartment at Clifton Court (from £353 per week) had a balcony and a fabulous view along the beach. This is the perfect place to watch the sunset with a glass of wine or the surfers in the early morning waves. The coastal path runs behind Clifton Court, ideal for a morning run but beware of the inquisitive sheep in the adjacent field. The apartments have the benefit of a small indoor swimming pool so that you are not dependent on the weather for your swim. They also have private parking, useful to minimise the beach car park charges.
Marsdens Cottage Holidays have many self catering properties in Croyde and Saunton but if self catering is not for you, then you could consider a luxury option at the four stars Saunton Sands Hotel in a great location above the beach. Alternatively The Thatch pub at Croyde offers bed and breakfast accommodation (details as above).
A website provides information about the facilities and car parking at Putsborough beach (www.putsborough.com). Parking cost £7 a day (September). The charge reduces during the afternoon.
Information about gardens to visit in North Devon is listed in the gardens section of the website www.northdevon.com.
Putsborough is special. Come and enjoy it soon.