Sometimes things feel a bit too much. The lecture halls seem too small; the city centre feels too busy and the queues at Forum’s Pret? Don’t get me started! It’s the first week of term and already it feels like you’re trapped within the city.
But we all need to sometimes escape from our routine.
Devon has always held a special place in my heart. I moved from Devon to Dorset when I was twelve years old, and still memories of excursions with my family lift me up when I start to feel down. That’s why I’m gifting these places to you with the hopes that they might just be as good as ‘a spoonful of sugar’.
Here is a list of my three favourite places to visit in Devon when it feels like you need to escape from the city. These places are all FREE to visit (with some excluding parking prices) and are all under an hour’s drive away from Exeter’s City Centre. Take the family down the next time they visit and truly impress them with your knowledge of Devon’s hidden gems. Visit at my recommended ‘the best time of year’ so you can truly appreciate Devon’s beauty when it’s at its finest.
- Occombe Farm
Travel Time: (By Car) 35 minutes
Entry Price: FREE
Parking Price: FREE
Postcode: TQ3 1RN
Best Time Of Year to Visit: Spring
Occombe Farm. A tranquil and lovely place tucked away in the middle of some of the best examples of the English countryside and one of my very favourite places to visit. Occombe is a working farm and gives you the opportunity to visit (and sometimes even handle!) their livestock as well as savour their lush grounds all year round. In spring, there are lambs, calves and chicks to be seen all over their farm whilst Occombe’s nature trails through woodlands and meadows come to life with wildflowers, butterflies, squirrels and bees. There are also viewing huts that look on to squirrel and birdfeeders so you can view Devonshire wildlife up close and personal. Spring is perhaps a busier time of year to visit as Occombe encourages many educational visits to their grounds, but Spring is when the farm truly comes to life. Occombe often tends to create Easter hunts and treasure trails around this time of year and will often reward participants with prizes (even the adults) so be sure not to miss out! Throughout the Spring/Summer season, Occombe also puts on many events such as barn dances, beer festivals as well as craft and farmer’s markets so you will always get to witness the best of Devon’s countryside charm.
Spring is when the farm truly comes to life
Not only does Occombe Farm sell their own home-grown produce in their farm shop, they also use their own produce within their cafe! The cafe ensures that what produce they don’t provide themselves is locally sourced from other farmers so you can be sure that other local businesses will be supported. Tasty, nutritious, good for the planet and good for the community! Be sure to try their oatmeal cookies dipped in white chocolate, or their ‘Thunder and Lighting’ flavoured ice cream if you get the opportunity. Although the shop and café is on the pricier side, it’s one of the farm’s main source of income due to their refusal to charge visitors with parking or entrance fees. However, they still allow you to bring your own picnic as long as you don’t litter and that you respect (and don’t feed!) the wildlife around you.
As we approach Autumn, the farm has been offering a variety of cooking classes and workshops within their restaurant and café which you can book onto and enjoy for a certain fee (please look on their website for more information). Astronomer Chris Proctor is also joining Occombe Farm for a stargazing evening on Saturday 20th October between 8pm and 10pm for the price of £10.50. This price includes free hot drinks as well as a guided tour of the sky through the use of telescopes. This is an event that is not to be missed!
- Cockington Court and Cockington Country Park
Travel Time: (By Car) 40 minutes
Entry Price: FREE
Parking Price: (2 Hours) £2
Postcode: TQ2 6XA
Best Time Of Year To Visit: Summer or Winter
Winter. As you walk down the footpath towards Cockington Church, you begin to catch the scent of cinnamon and hot cocoa and the sound of the hymns coming out of the open church door whilst schoolchildren with Christingles walk merrily away, their cheeks pink and rosy. The farmer’s market and Christmas craft fair boasts proud seasonal gifts and decorations whilst the occupants of the stall rub their hands and shiver with big grins on their faces. This is just some of the magic you could expect to find within Cockington in December.
you begin to catch the sound of the hymns coming out of the open church door whilst schoolchildren walk merrily away, their cheeks pink and rosy.
Cockington boasts one of the most beautiful English manor houses within the grounds of the village’s country park whilst the lawns of Cockington Court remain well-kept and pruned all year round. Cockington is traditional at heart and it’s often common in the Summer to bring a picnic and watch as various teams play cricket and petanque whilst children roll or ride their banks down the long hilly lawns. Cockington also maintains a fine assortment of hidden nature trails, paths and provides opportunities for visitors to interact in an assortment of craft workshops within their refurbished ‘Stable Yard Studios’; offering classes in glass-blowing, blacksmithing and many more. Cockington has also recently established a selection of boutique, independent shops within their ‘Sea Change Studios’ where visitors can purchase local, unique and handmade gifts.
If you feel you’d rather relax than explore then take the opportunity to ride in a horse-drawn carriage around the grounds of Cockington’s Court or simply stop off for some tea and homemade cake or a lunch in the Court’s tea rooms. Treat yourself to a Devonshire afternoon tea or a Cockington Tearoom Special and have an explore around the Court’s vast art gallery and rooms. The gardens and greenhouses in bloom at Summer are sights that are not to be missed, with the country park’s vast grounds allowing you to find new discoveries with every visit you make.
- The Haldon Hills
Travel Time: (By Car) 15 minutes
Entry Price: FREE
Parking Price: (2 Hours) £4, (ALL DAY) £7
Postcode: EX6 7XR
Best Time Of Year To Visit: Autumn or Winter
The closest place to travel to from Exeter’s City Centre, the Haldon Hills and forest park are a lot less hidden than they used to be. When I was 7, all there was of the forest was a few unspecified nature trails and a car park or two that was entirely free. It was like a whole world that only my family and a select few others really seemed to know about. In the Winter, whilst the roads and streets only remained slightly slippery and frosty, we’d drive up to the Haldon Hills and it would be Devon’s very own little Lapland, covered in a whole layer of untouched snow.
it would be Devon’s very own little Lapland
Nowadays however, the forestry commission has made sure that the country park is well maintained and well known to visitors and residents. The Hills may be slightly more commercialised than they once were, but they still possess the same level of charm and nostalgia as I used to search for monsters and fairies on woodland walks between the trees. The commission has also made sure that the park is now more suited to families. As well as refurbished toilets, Haldon also offers play trails, a play park as well as many bike and horse riding trails and footpaths in order for visitors to experience the 3500 acres of woodlands to the full. Haldon now also offers ‘Go Ape’ sessions for those who are more daring than others and for those who want a more relaxed scenic tour of the splendours of the hills, you can book onto the entertaining Segway tours. You can even hire bikes! If you are worn out from your explorations, The Ridge Café provides hot meals, lunches and drinks throughout the day so you will always remain warm and toasty even in the bitterest weather conditions throughout Autumn and Winter.
Visiting the Hills in Autumn allows you a fresh perspective of the beauty of Devon. There are many conker trees, firs and pines and the trees are sticky with sap to give an exciting wintery scent to the air as you stroll around the woodlands. There are also a lot less visitors than there are in the Summer if a more quiet and leisurely experience is your preferred conditions for strolls and scenic views. The Haldon Hills has always possessed an element of magic and even now with more visitors than ever to the country park, the magic still persists.
So what now?
Go get out there and visit the best of what Devon has to offer! Remember that although it’s important to try and do your best with your studies, it’s also important to explore the places around you and have a little breather too.