12 hours in Kingsbridge, Devon

Date published: 29th October 2015

The southern-most tip of Devon boasts some of the prettiest towns to visit for the day. Nowhere more so than Kingsbridge. This friendly market town packs a touristy punch for its small size: set on a tranquil slice of estuary in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it's got waterside good-looks, historic character, old-fashioned charm and a palpable joie de vivre. In other words, plenty to keep you hooked for a delightful Devon day out – as we discovered.

To market, to market | 10am

Plan your trip to coincide with the Kingsbridge Farmers' Market, held on the 1st and 3rd Saturday of every month in the town square. Although the market is small, the local spirit makes it feel giant. Faces creased into welcoming smiles as I approached – no-one's in a rush to push a sale or turn icy if you're simply browsing. Among the warmth of the stall holders, were handcrafted gifts, home-baked goodness, and the sizzle and spit of local produce being cooked al fresco. Accompanying it all, and lifting hearts as the sun shone, was the breezy sound of an acoustic guitar. Devon sparkle.

A soulful lunch | 12pm

The Harbour House is a layer cake of meeting rooms, yoga studios, impressive art and organic food. Before lunch, steal away into the house's ground floor gallery and relish the work of local artists. We met artist in resident, Keith Stott, a gentle-mannered pastel painter whose work was so exquisite it was hard to leave empty-handed. Afterwards, climb one flight of stairs to the vegetarian Harbour House Café – a light, airy chill-zone with a small mezzanine overlooking the gallery. Fill your belly with local allotment-grown food (my roasted vegetable hummus was simply divine), washed down with Fairtrade coffee or a splash of organic crush. Soul food to nourish the rest of your day.

Tour the town | 1pm

Kingsbridge formed in the 10th century around a bridge linking the royal estates of Alvington, to the west, and Chillington, to the east. In 1219, the Abbot of Buckfast was granted the right to sell produce and so began Kingsbridge's tradition as a market town. Stroll your way through Kingsbridge's history, following the town trail (pick up a guide at the Tourist Information Centre). It's a gentle, 1-hour long walk that takes you past the town's main sights and sounds: the Old Town Hall, now the Reel Cinema; St Edmunds Church; and the Old Shambles walkway. Along the way you'll notice family-owned drapers, butchers, bakers and hardware shops. This is a town not shy of showing its traditional roots, making shopping here a refreshingly authentic experience.

Hit the quay | 2pm

Finish your tour at the bottom of town next to the picture-postcard quay. Sidle beside the estuary, a ria (or drowned river) that stretches six miles to the gaping mouth of the English Channel. When the tide is high, boats dot the perimeter like stitching on a seam. When the tide is low, mud flats gleam in coffee-coloured swirls. Sail by breathing in the fresh sea air and admiring the manicured houses that overlook the estuary on the Promenade. If you can, grab an ice-cream from the nearby Salcombe Dairy ice-cream hut – cool creamy bliss and just the sugar rush you need before your next adventure.

Catch a wave | 4pm

Head west from Kingsbridge to Bigbury-on-Sea; it's time to release your inner Devon surf dude. Expect epic coastal views as you snake down the ribboning back roads to this tip-toe of land where the largest sandy beach in South Devon awaits. Make tracks for Discovery Surf, just below the main car park. For £20 you can slide into a wetsuit, grab a board and receive expert coaching from the school's pro instructors. Our 1-hour lesson was flooded with good vibrations: we splashed, laughed, fell and – wait for it – rode the waves, as we were promised by Discovery Surf. It was insatiably swell. In fact, the saltwater sunk so deep that day we've not stopped talking about going back for more.

Queen of mystery | 5pm

To the right of the beach is a pretty tidal outcrop known as Burgh Island. Sink your best foot forward and head across the silver sands towards the island. If the tide is high, pay your £2 to cross on the towering sea tractor. A one-time haunt of smugglers and pirates, Burgh Island hasn't lost its mysterious charms. The rich and famous used to hide out here in the 1930s – most famously Agatha Christie, who sought refuge in the island's luxury hotel: The Burgh Island Hotel. You can't visit the hotel as a day guest, sadly. You can only stare through art deco gates as it regards you with an arctic gaze. But the thrill of being close to such an icon is worth it.

A starlet dinner | 7:30pm

Soar Mill Cove has been owned by the Makepeace family for three generations. During its time, it's played host to many starlets, the most famous being Audrey Hepburn who fell in love with the incredible location and Granny Makepiece's summer pavlova. Winding roads thick with hedgerows take you to the hotel nestled in a spot so secluded, it's a wonder Google maps can spot it. Although fancy, the atmosphere of the Soar Mill Cove restaurant was anything but aloof. On our visit, diners chatted respectfully across tables, sharing tales of Devon with warm smiles. Our waiter was wonderful; nothing was too much trouble and our dinner was sublime (the Hepburn pavlova worth every calorie).

Starry night, night | 10pm

Holiday cottages are a serious business in Devon. Fuscia Cottage is just 10 minutes from Kingsbridge and played host for our trip, courtesy of Toad Hall Cottages. It couldn't have been more perfect. The décor was fresher than a polo mint, untouched by paying guests – we were the first in since the cottage's renovation. Downstairs, an elegant wood-floor dining room and lounge, complete with a brand new log burner awaited. The kitchen thrilled us all with its heated tiles. And upstairs were two immaculate double bedrooms with sink-soft beds. The location was secluded and serene, and as the night rolled in, we fell into a peaceful slumber. Smiles fixed firmly on our faces.

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South Devon Guide 2017

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