Between the office, public transport, cars and the couch, us modern-day humans end up spending a fair proportion of our life cooped up indoors. Pity that, because nothing boosts the spirits like fresh air and nature, both of which Devon has in spades. Not only is the county home to two National Parks (Exmoor and Dartmoor), but it also contains an impressive five Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) – the government’s official designation for Britain’s best-loved landscapes – as well as a sensational coastline with vertigo-inducing cliffs and forgotten coves. All of which are crisscrossed by walking trails and paths. If it’s a sense of freedom you’re after during a Devon getaway, it’s most easily found on two feet.
At 14.5 kilometres (9 miles) in length, the Kingswear to Greenway walk is no mere stroll in the park. It does make a pleasant day’s lakeside ramble for relatively fit holidaymakers, but steps, several steep inclines and an occasionally muddy track can render it unsuitable for baby buggies and wheelchair users. This trail leads along the banks of the River Dart – about four miles on either side of the water – through atmospheric ancient woodland. Wildlife sightings are likely: the branches overhead harbour tawny owls and blue tits, while badgers and roe deer are also known to roam this region. Be on the lookout for seals bobbing in the salty waters of the estuary too. At Greenway, a chance arises for a cultural stop-off at the beloved holiday home of the so-called Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie. During the course of the walk, you’ll need to cross the river twice via ferry services running between Dartmouth and Kingswear, and Dittisham and Greenway. For some additional context, download a selection of audio clips from the website before you set off and listen to them at the ‘Audio Clip Points’ shown on the map.
England’s longest waymarked walking path, the South West Coast Path, winds around both Devon’s north and south coasts, encompassing 329 kilometres (205 miles) of trails within the county. While serious long-distance hikers may have the time and necessary skills to tackle the whole 630-mile route, more casual walkers and trekkers can attempt shorter, more manageable sections, such as this one. A gentle 5.4-kilometre (3.4-mile) stretch, the Agatha Christie Mile begins and ends at Torquay Railway Station and has mostly flat terrain (with the exception of one hill), making it a feasible option for families. This route is not just your regular seafront walk; it has a murder mystery twist. You’ll wander around Torquay’s seafront area past various buildings and sights associated with the top-selling crime writer. You’ll see the Grand Hotel, where the author spent her honeymoon night in 1914, the Princess Pier where she used to go roller-skating and a bronze bust of Christie erected to celebrate her centenary. Potential pit stops abound: stop off at the Torquay Museum to see their Agatha Christie exhibition or at one of the many Torquay pubs and restaurants for fresh-from-the-ocean seafood and coastal views.
Another segment of the South West Coast Path, this challenging 2.4-mile (3.9-kilometer) track is guaranteed to blow the cobwebs away. Weaving through woodland, heathland and moorland, the path encapsulates the dramatic and wild coastal scenery for which North Devon is so well known. Tackling the demanding ascents and descents of this short but arduous trail isn’t for the faint-hearted; the vertiginous cliff drops will send height-fearers into a tizzy. But if you can withstand the sight of plunging drops and are content to huff and puff up the remote trail, the striking views across the Bristol Channel are surely worth it. This area also has an interesting history to ponder while you walk: back in the 19th century, the secluded hamlet of Trentishoe and the surrounding coast was a hotspot for smuggling and contraband was frequently hidden around town. More recently, Trentishoe was the setting for several eco-friendly alternative music festivals, which were held here in the 1970s.
This well-known route traverses the wilds of Dartmoor, which can appear pleasantly bucolic or beautifully brooding depending on the weather. The trail begins at Castle Drogo, the National Trust-owned fort, which is often said to be the “last castle to be built in England”. From there, it continues along Hunter’s Path, which overlooks a forested gorge, leading all the way down to the 13th-century stone-arched Fingle Bridge. Just beyond the bridge lies the Fingle Bridge Inn, where many walkers pause for a midway drink or snack. In cold or wet weather, the warm wood-beamed interior and the log fire is as cosy and comfortable as any soaked explorer could wish for, while the outdoor terrace – which overlooks the river – is an ideal resting spot for sunny days. After a hearty feed at the inn, start walking back along the lower path, which runs along the riverbank. Look into the water and try to spot fish or perhaps even an otter or two swimming by. Overall, this route clocks in at 5.6 kilometres (3.5 miles).
From pretty seascapes with quaint cottages to sheer headlands that plummet into the sea, this 21-kilometre (13-mile) stretch of coast is one of Devon’s finest. In fact, many would argue it’s the best stretch of the South West Coast Path. This particular walk begins with a ferry transfer across the Avon, before leading ramblers past Hope Cove, home to the twin fishing villages of Outer and Inner Hope. From here, the trail ascends out of Inner Hope to a patch of headland where kestrels and peregrine falcons are frequently seen. All the while, this path hugs the coastline, offering almost unrelenting sea views. As this is a linear trail, you should plan for a car or some alternative mode of transport at the far end in Salcombe.