There have been a couple of articles published in the national press recently that have sung the praises of both the Blackdown Hills and the county of Devon more widely as brilliant places to visit on your holidays.
Back in October 2022 The Telegraph published an article on the best AONBs (Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty) in England and featured our very own holiday cottage complex Halsbeer Farm (pictured above) as 'THE' place to stay in the Blackdown Hills. They said that the Blackdown Hills AONB is the "Cinderella of the West Country, overlooked by those bound for Exmoor and Dartmoor" and it's not the first time I've heard that about our little piece of heaven in Devon, but we think it's worth the trip. Come this way to find out why...
Plenty of people snake their way through the Blackdowns on the A30 on route to South Devon and Cornwall, however we chose this area nearly seven years ago when we "escaped to the country", rather than venturing further into the county, because of the ease of transport links, both to Bristol, the Midlands and Wales via the M5 and to London and the Home Counties via the A30/A303. We are just 12 minutes from junction 28 of the M5 at Cullompton and 22 minutes from the A30 at Honiton.
The Blackdown Hills are lovely to potter around by car, bicycle or on foot. The AONB’s own website has great suggestions for walking and riding routes, suggestions of places to visit and more. There is also a digital visitor guide.
Did you know there are 34 AONBs in England?
They are smaller and generally less well known than the 10 National Parks. The Blackdown Hills AONB was listed at number 2 in the Telegraph's guide but we also have some others within easy reach of Halsbeer Farm.
The East Devon AONB incorporates the Jurassic Coastline between Exmouth and Lyme Regis just into Dorset. As well as fabulous seaside villages, beaches and coastal walking it is also host to the East Devon Way, an inland walking route with heathy armband and river valleys hemmed by ancient woodland.
The South Devon AONB covers the beautiful coastline from Plymouth in the West to Brixham in the East, incorporating the stunning River Dart (pictured below from Agatha Christie's Greenway estate, now owned by the National Trust) and the Kingsbridge Estuary. Fabulous beaches, coastal walking and great attractions such as the Dartmouth Steam Railway which you can take and then access the glorious town of Dartmouth via the Kingswear Ferry.
Counting the county
On 28th December 2022 The Telegraph published a piece on the best counties of England to visit based on a "scientific" assessment of all 48 counties across 33 criteria over four categories including: Natural Wonders, History & Culture, Luxuries and Peace & Quiet. Devon came first with a clear 79 point lead over second-placed Cumbria.
Devon came top of the Natural Wonders category and third in the History & Culture. Devon was helped to its first place in Natural Wonders by having two beautiful coastlines, two national parks, five AONBs (in addition to the three mentioned above there are also the North Devon Coast and Tamar Valley), nine RSPB reserves, a Royal Horticultural Society garden (RHS Rosemoor, pictured below) and lots of lovely woodland.
However, it was actually the stats for the History & Culture category that stopped me in my tracks - I had no idea there were as many as 177 museums and galleries in Devon, a whopping 34 National Trust listings and 13 English Heritage properties. I had a little word with myself as I think I’ve been to possibly three museums and one gallery, two National Trust properties (more if I include coastline or parkland I suppose but I’ve only been inside two houses in Devon) and I don’t think I’ve been to any English Heritage properties in the county! Must do better!
To help us and our guests plan their days out I've updated our digital guide book map with museums, galleries, stately homes, castles, gardens, woodlands and more. You can look at all of the categories together or filter by the type of attraction you want to visit.
(The above is a screenshot - to visit and search the guide yourself click on the image or this link).
The end of the entry about Devon in the December Telegraph article made me chuckle a bit, it said about Devon: “It’s not without its faults, of course - parts of it are becoming overwhelmed by tourism - but it’s the English county that comes closest to perfection”.
Which brings me neatly back to my starting place that, located as we are in the Blackdown Hills “the Cinderella of the West County”, we benefit from being in the least touristy part of a very fabulous county. If you want unspoilt, peaceful, quiet Devon, without the crowds, but with easy access to fabulous natural beauty, culture and history you can’t go wrong with a stay at Halsbeer Farm.
PS. I realise the Telegraph is behind a paywall so if you’d like an overview without subscribing then Devon Live summarised the best counties of England piece in an article here.
PPS. Did you know that the National Trust now has rather fetching passports (in hot pink, lime green and grey) which you can have stamped and dated when you visit one of their properties? When you reach your 30th property you can send off for a certificate. I got my first one at Stourhead last week. I’m going to set a goal of a property a month this year and see how I get on. Now where to go next…?
PPPS. Our neighbouring counties of Somerset and Cornwall came 4th and 5th in the Telegraph listing respectively and Dorset came 10th. Glastonbury Tor (pictured below) was picked as the holiday highlight for Somerset and, having been just recently, I can confirm it is well worth the climb for the view! It’s about 1 hour and ten minutes from us. Dorset’s holiday highlight was Brownsea Island (one of the last strongholds of the red squirrel). That’s a bit far for a day trip from us, but our own Dorset highlight would undoubtably be fossil-hunter’s paradise Lyme Regis and Charmouth only just into Dorset and easily accessible from us for a day trip.