When I was a child, we spent a week in Devon each year. I grew up with scones and clotted cream, glorious sandy beaches and green fields.
They were great times but, as I got older, holidaying in the UK became a distant memory as I hopped on a plane to Europe, or crossed the Atlantic to the States.
Once my daughter, Jessica, came along, however, things changed. Car trips, with boots crammed to the brim, became far more appealing than the thought of traipsing to the airport. Staying in the UK, where nappies are easily replaced and familiar food bought with ease, became increasingly attractive.
That’s why we spent our summer holiday this year in North Devon. Unsure whether hotel or self-catering was the best option, we did both, three days in a hotel and four in a cottage.
First stop was the Woolacombe Bay Hotel in beautiful Woolacombe Bay. It really is a stunning place, with a beach that reminded me exactly of my childhood. The expanse of sand was astonishingly broad and my two-and-a-half year old loved everything about it, from feeling the sand between her toes while paddling in the sea, to riding on the Victorian swings at the entrance to the beach.
Woolacombe Bay Hotel was also a wonderful place to stay, helped by the fact that we were not only given a huge room, more than big enough for all Jessica’s toys, but also one with a balcony and fabulous sea view.
The hotel, very grand and standing in extensive grounds, has reinvented itself as a place for families. It has good facilities, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, beauty salon, gym, snooker table, table-tennis, pitch and putt and an adventure playground — and serves a children’s supper in the brasserie from 5pm. We found this service to be a great help, and Jessica ate well, surrounded by other children.
The hotel also has a fine restaurant for dinner and breakfast. A baby-listening service, where you leave your phone off the hook and reception listen in every 15 minutes, allows harassed parents to enjoy a good meal without having to cook it themselves.
I can thoroughly recommend the Woolacombe Bay Hotel, apart from one thing, the curtains. Having made such an effort to attract young families, the hotel should have provided thicker backing for their curtains. It sounds like such a small thing, but Jessica not only found it very difficult to sleep (the sun streamed in until late at night) but awoke at 5am when the sun shone through again.
Woolacombe Bay really is a holiday town, with an array of restaurants and cafes selling ice-creams and snacks, as well as other essential shops, including a chemist and a bank. It is also near lots of other North Devon attractions, as well as a number of beaches.
We visited one attraction, The Milky Way Adventure Park, en route to our next stop, nearer the border with Cornwall. On an awful British summer day, The Milky Way was great.
It is the biggest all-weather attraction in North Devon and not only offered a toddler town and bumper cars for little ones, but also had its own pets corner. Jessica loved the ferrets, rabbits, sheep, goats and newborn chicks.
The Milky Way is not just for small children, as it also has mini golf, laser target shooting and various rides. At the end of a fun-packed day, we left feeling very impressed.
After our three days staying at the hotel without having to lift a finger, I actually felt ready for a cottage (and the chance to cook Jessica some healthy food).
I was delighted with the Coach House, in a group of buildings called the Glebe House Cottages. The cottages, which used to form part of a Vicarage, are just outside a village called Bridgerule, near Holsworthy.
I must admit that, when first arrived, I was concerned that it was in the middle of nowhere.
I need not have worried. It is only about 10 minutes drive from Bude, in Cornwall, and less than half an hour’s drive from a multitude of other attractions. The cottages are fantastic. Once again, the owners have tried to attract families, and realise this means they must offer good facilities. There are swings and a little wooden house and slide for toddlers, swingball, table tennis and a small pool table for those a little older. There are also lovely gardens with ornamental pools.
The best thing of all for me is that Glebe House has its own restaurant where the owners, Margaret and James Varley, cook meals for guests a few evenings a week. They gave us a baby monitor for Jessica’s room and my husband and I ate a fabulous meal in the old cellar of the vicarage.
The cottage itself is also well equipped. Ours had two reasonably-sized bedrooms (one with an ensuite toilet and shower), and, upstairs, a lovely living room, with a kitchen and television. There is also a very small room, containing two bunk beds, off the living room.
Glebe House Cottages are very close to the Cornish border, so we ventured over it to visit Sandymouth beach. It only took about 20 minutes in the car, and we had a wonderful day. The weather was gorgeous, Jessica was fascinated by the pebbles, and I loved exploring the rockpools, which reminded me of my childhood. Back in Devon, we spent one day visiting Clovelly, a lovely village built right by the sea. You walk down the cobbled steps to get to the harbour at the bottom, on the way passing houses, restaurants and even the odd hotel. It is a long way down, so I recommend paying to come back in the Land Rover, but it is a lovely place to visit.
If I’m honest, I didn’t want to come home from this holiday. There was so much to do and, I felt, so much more to see. I can’t decide whether a hotel or self-catering was the better option. To have all my food put in front of me and not have to tidy up was great –for three days. After that, I was delighted to have the freedom of the cottage, to be able to put Jessica to sleep at night in a room of her own, and to relax upstairs with a light supper.
For more information on Devon, visit Discover Devon.
We stayed at the Woolacombe Bay Hotel, Woolacombe, Devon, which offers rooms and self-catering apartments.
This was originally written for the Press Association in 2004 and syndicated to regional and local papers across the country.