Susanne Kries and Nicky Gardner, editors of hidden europe magazine, introduce a special EuroCheapo series in which the writers explore an English county that deserves far more attention by overseas visitors to Britain.
Few English counties have exerted so strong an appeal on the imagination as Devon. But that appeal is essentially to English minds. Devon has long been a vacation destination for Londoners and others from south-east England and the Midlands. Trains with wondrous names like The Devonian and The Torbay Express evoke the appeal of a holiday playground which has sun, sea and sand.
Strong local identity
For the great social historian WG Hoskins, Devon was a county with its own cultures and landscapes — a place apart from anywhere else in England. Hoskins was a Devon man through and through, and his affection for his own home county shines through in his writing.
But you don’t need to be English to see the beauty of this county in south-west England. Even Napoleon, enjoying the hospitality of the English Navy in early August 1815 as he viewed the Devon coast from HMS Bellerophon, remarked on the beauty of the Devon shorelines.
Devon has superb coastlines, and not just one but two of them. Only three English counties are thus doubly blessed (Kent and Cornwall are the others). Devon’s north coast is washed by the Bristol Channel. The south coast, with a series of great fjord inlets, faces the English Channel.
History and geology have conspired to favor Devon. During the Napoleonic Wars, when the English were confined to their island, Devon was the beneficiary as the London set discovered the delights of holidaying in their own land. Devon’s serene beauty is something quite special, ranging from rich red sandstones on the coast at Dawlish to the great dark granite boss of Dartmoor National Park.
Devon is a county that demands time. True, the fastest trains will whisk you from London to Exeter, the principal city of Devon, in just over two hours — and it is thus all too tempting to think of Devon as an easy day trip from London. Yet Devon deserves more. In two recent visits, we have each time stayed a full week in the county.
Devon is well suited to longer stays. The downturn in the rural economy and migration to the cities has brought a windfall for visitors. There are many handsome old farmhouses and country houses now available for all or part of the year as for weekend, weekly or even monthly rentals. These offer real bargains for larger groups looking to have an extended stay in a rural setting. There are of course plenty of smaller cottages too, but for really bargain-basement per-person-per-night prices, look for off-season rentals at the bigger houses.
Rashleighayes is a gorgeous old farmhouse in a landscape of delicate beauty just a few miles north of Exeter. It lies on the east bank of a tributary of the River Exe near the village of Bickleigh. This is hidden Devon at its best — just the sort of countryside that WG Hoskins loved.
You can rent Rashleighayes any week this month for just £960. That price applies for groups of up to ten people, so for a group of that size staying seven nights the charge is just £13.71 per-person-per night. (Yes, not much more than $20 US a night).
For groups above ten in number, up to a maximum of 16 guests, the same pro-rata charge applies (so an extra £96 a week for each extra person). Group rates in fine properties like Rashleighayes thus undercut even the cheapest B&B, yet the facilities in this — as in many other large houses for rent across Devon — are superb.
There are several agencies that specialise in vacation rentals in Devon. A Devon-based company called Helpful Holidays looks after rental arrangements for Rashleighayes. It is one of about 600 properties in the Helpful Holidays portfolio — all in Devon or adjacent counties. Their list ranges from coastal cottages to grand country homes. Many places on the Helpful Holidays listings are more modest in proportions than Rashleighayes.
Another company that specializes in vacation rentals in Devon is Marsden Cottage Holidays. Like Helpful Holidays, Marsden is based in Devon. Their list runs to 300 houses for rent — and they are particularly strong in their coverage of North Devon.
Whatever accommodation you opt for, bear in mind that even a full week will barely allow enough time to explore more than just a fraction of Devon. In our upcoming articles on Devon for EuroCheapo, we shall look in more depth at this most appealing of English counties.