On the border between Devon and Cornwall is the Hartland Peninsula. A wide, green and gorse-filled landscape, with babbling brooks and a rugged coastline interspersed with beautiful sandy beaches.
It takes ages to get to from London, and - I like to think this will be the most useful bit of advice anyone gains from this post - there are no toilets for many, many miles on the M4. This issue is only exacerbated with bank holiday traffic. You do not, I repeat do not, want to be the girl who has to squat beside a traffic jam on the side of the motorway. But once you get there, the peninsula is a hidden gem - perfect for a weekend escape to fill your lungs with good clean air and embrace the outdoors.
Location: Hartland Pennisula / Welcombe Mouth
Distance from London: 239 miles
Travel time by car: approx. 4h 30 (6h on a bank holiday Friday...)
Map: OS Explorer 126
Where to stay:
We stayed in the village of Welcombe, nestled in one of Hartland's valleys. Crenham Mill is home to Antoinette, wife of the late artist John Moat. Antoinette lets out the beautiful studio annex she and John once lived in, and it's not hard to tell that it was home to a very creative and nature loving couple.
With floor to ceiling windows, light floods in during the rare periods of sunshine. The main bedroom leads out to a balcony which I'd imagine in good weather is the perfect spot for dining al fresco. Being British (or perhaps just being me) I attempted to eat outside regardless of the gale force wind and horizontal rain, and ended up with soggy socks and half the bacon on my plate blown into the garden and consumed by Antoinette's cats. Lucky them.
What to do:
A 20 minute walk from the house down quiet country lanes is Welcombe Mouth, a stunning National Trust preserved beach. I say beach, but you wouldn't want to bath here. When we visited, the black pebbles were barely contrasted with the black of the sky, and the sharp splintered rocks jutting out into the sea would put anyone off swimming. The coastline here is notorious for the hundreds of shipwrecks it has caused. But that's fine - because it's more than enough to just gaze out in awe at the vast expanse of grey ocean.
From Welcombe Mouth you can climb up onto the South West Coastal Path, and join it heading west on the most challenging section of its 630 miles between Clovelly and Bude. Heading East, in 3 hours you can get to Hartland Quay, where you're greeted by one of the most magnificent waterfalls of the entire Coastal Path at Speke's Mill, and a pub. Never more inviting than when you're been walking for 3 hours in gale force winds and torrential rain, having failed to re-waterproof your coat.
The peninsula seems to have it all, as just half an hour's drive west from Welcombe, you're on the sandy beaches of Bude where surf schools ply their trade, and you can swim in one of the last remaining tidal pools in Britain.
If you like history and picture postcard scenery you can visit the village of Clovelly, where motor vehicles are banned and only sledges and donkeys are used to transport goods - from furniture to groceries - in and out of the village. Aside from the stunning scenery and quaint buildings, personal highlights on my visit included meeting a duck called Harry who wears a bow tie, eating a microwaved mackerel sandwich, being bitten by a stray cat and listening to tiger-mum style parents teaching their kids quantum physics (might have been algebra) over a cream tea.
But the best bit is escaping from the city and spending a few days in walking distance of a deserted coastline with a beach all to yourself - no matter how cold or wet it might be. It's a nice reminder of the power and beauty of nature and why we love being out in it - whatever the weather.
Antoinette's studio is available to let via Sawdays. She loves her home and is happy to share stories and tips with her visitors about this beautiful spot.
The Old Smithy Inn - a surf styled pub, short drive from Crenham Mill and closest place to eat: http://www.theoldsmithyinn.co.uk/
Hartland Quay - old fashioned pub used to walkers. http://hartlandquayhotel.co.uk/
The nearest place for provisions is Hartland village.