Devontopia: Top Ten Things to Eat in Ilfracombe and North Devon

Surfing & Champagne Hot Chocolate | Smoothies, Yoga, Massage & Reiki | Cream Teas & Tandem Rides | Beach Swims & Curried Pasties | Art & Sculpture | Vegan Sunset Hikes | Markets & Antiques | Bubbly & Fish and Chips 

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I can’t resist a UK break, especially one with a large helping of local produce. Being from Norfolk and spoilt by 93 miles of windswept beaches, nature reserves and quirky little market towns, when it comes to exploring coastal destinations further afield, it takes a lot to rock my boat. But Devontopia, as I’ve renamed it, is perfect for those who like their breaks laidback, with rolling countryside steeped in legend, and for water-babies like us, who can’t resist some time surfing the waves.

The plan was to write poetry and relax for a week, but considering the t-shirt weather last week (oh how things have changed!), we found the outdoors too difficult to resist. So if you’re heading to Devon this coming autumn or are thinking of planning a break there next summer, here are my top ten tips for things to eat while seeing the sights:

1) Sunset Fish & Chips (and a sneaky glass of bubbly) under Hirst’s Verity

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Before we’d even stepped foot onto Ilfracombe’s shores, we’d heard several rumours about Maddy’s fish and chips. And rightly so. Oh my. Arguably the best in town, the batter was light and delicious, the fish plucked straight from the ocean, the mushy peas were bright green and earthy, and the chips, waxy and creamy. A big thumbs up!

The perfect way to enjoy your fish and chips is at the harbour by sunset, where you can seat yourself underneath Damien Hirst’s famous yet controversial sculpture, ‘Verity’. Do as we did and take your own bottle of wine and wine glass, and enjoy a cheeky slurp with your fish supper and a shawl draped over your shoulders.

Damien Hirst donated this piece on long-term loan to North Devon Council as a gift and a bid to boost tourism in the area. Verity stands at 20.25 metres tall and weights 25 tonnes. The bronze sculpture is an allegory for truth and justice. An anatomical cross-section of her head and torso reveal her skull and the developing foetus inside her womb.

Wine Match for Fish and Chips: Sparkling wine is a great match to deep-fried foods – Champagne if you’re feeling plush. Alternatively, the crisp citrus notes of a British Sauvignon Blanc – such as this Winbirri wine from Norfolk – contrasts to any punchy tartare sauce you smother on your fish.

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With golf umbrella clasped in hand, instead of a sword, I quite liked this pregnant tourist’s interpretation of the pose (pictured far right). Maddy’s: 25 St James Pl, Ilfracombe, Devon EX34 9BJ Phone: 01271 863351.

2) Yoga and Holistic Treatments at the Yoga Barn, Lee (outside Ilfracombe)

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I found the Yoga Barn by pure chance online and what a find it was. Run by one of the loveliest and bendiest yogis in the business, Alex Giffoni, who mindfully restored the 200-year old barn to accommodate yoga and meditation practises as well as holistic therapies and treatments.

We spent half a day here, practising yoga in the morning (Thursday 10 – 11.30pm) followed by a reiki session for me, and a massage for my other half. A must-visit if you’re looking for some rest and relaxation during your trip. Drop-in classes are £10 and treatments start from £20. Remember to eat lightly before your class.

We started the day with my recipe for papaya and honey hemp milk smoothie. (GOOD HEMP Milk is made from a hemp seed crop grown at Collabear Farm in nearby Barnstaple.)

For more about the weekly yoga schedule and for a full list of treatments phone: 07794 917675 or go to http://www.breathingyoga.co.uk

3) Surfing in Saunton and Croyde

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No trip to North Devon would be complete without a day riding the waves. For a half-day surfing, lessons cost around £30 at the award-winning school, South West Surf. Available at either Croyde and Saunton, although the former beach is mainly used outside of peak season. Pack a flask of Fine de Champagne Hot Chocolate – recipe here, and armed with a couple of shawls, curl up in front of the waves after a day in the cool surf.

Call: 01271 890400 for enquiries and bookings.

4) A Crab Sweet Chilli Baguette at Harbour Deli, Ilfracombe

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Known for serving award-winning local produce, this funky and fair trade deli is well worth a visit. Run by the talented Amy Fairchild, pictured here. (Isn’t she lovely?) My vegetarianism took a back seat on our last day so that I could sample fare from Harbour Deli, by far the best sandwich place and deli in town. A friend of mine and fellow food blogger, Emily from Pantry Secrets, recommended this place to us for its Devon caught crab with Thai chilli sauce and rocket baguette. Very easily the best crab sandwich I’ve ever eaten. The soft, sea-salted artisan baguettes were pure poetry. Other fillings include smoked mackerel pate with beetroot relish or smoked salmon, wasabi mustard, cucumber and rocket. Artisan baguettes range from £4 – £6.50.

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A close-up of the said crab sourdough superstar. The crab meat was plentiful and the sweet, syrupy thai dressing contrasted beautifully against the subtle seafood flavours of the crab.

Harbour Deli: 21 St James Place, Ilfracombe, EX34 9BJ 01271 864 160

5) Tandem cycling for two, Braunton

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Take a trip over to Otter Cycles and you’ll be glad you hired a tandem for the day at £26. Follow the Tarka Cycle trail along the winding River Taw and pass picturesque nature and the occasional gastro pub. You can follow the route to Bremington Quay before returning back to Braunton (16 mile round trip) or end up in Barnstable (for a cream tea – see below!) before returning to Braunton (12 mile round trip). Open March – November.

Phone: 01271 813339 During your tandem ride, stop off in nearby Barnstaple for a gigantic scone with lashings of clotted cream:

6) Antiques and Cream Teas at Barnstaple

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A mooch around the famous, historic indoor Pannier Market and antique shops here would not be complete without a cream tea or a slice of rainbow-coloured sponge at ‘Tea by the Taw’. These scones were bigger than our teacups. And they give you two per person, as standard!

Tea by the Taw Phone: 01271 370032 https://www.facebook.com/teabythetaw

7) Grassroots Vegetarian Café, Ilfracombe

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Head to this wholesome little vegetarian eatery for sandwiches and coffee during the day and every Friday and Saturday night you can bring your own wine (for a £1 corkage) and enjoy a special home-cooked three-course menu for £12.

8) Tunnels Beaches, Ilfracombe

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The Victorians used to love bathing here! And so did we. Enter the tunnels and through the other side you encounter a magical seascape with bold outlines and rolling icy blue waves. The temperature was 17°C, nippy on first toe dip, but we acclimatised in under a minute, resulting in the best British sea swim of my life. Featured on BBC TV’s ‘Coast’, Tunnels Beaches is Ilfracombe’s award-winning beach with tidal bathing pool and possibly the best rock pooling in the UK.

£2.50 entrance fee.

In our packed lunch for the beach, we took some homemade lemonade (3 lemons and 125g caster sugar – serves 2) and a tin of homemade Curried Vegetarian Cornish pasties – see recipe here. For more go to: www.tunnelsbeaches.co.uk

9) Sunset Hike to Hillsborough

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You can see South Wales, possibly even America, from here. Hillsborough is the highest point in Ilfracombe, which can be accessed via the staircase on Hele Bay or from the other side of the cliff near Ilfracombe town. It involves a small hike through winding woodland paths, which lead you to a scenic and secluded vantage point.

We walked to the top and took with us to the clouds, a small bucket barbeque where we enjoyed a gourmet vegan feast of: vegan hot dogs with black truffle mustard and fried onions; and sweet potato wedges with aioli. The views were spectacular.

10) Broomhill Art Hotel, near Barnstaple

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Tucked away within one of North Devon’s most attractive valleys, this hidden gem will excite hungry art-lovers. For more about lunch, dinner and cream tea at this little find, please see my blog post Magic, Art and Fine Food.  

ACCOMMODATION: Looking for an awesome and quirky place to stay in Devon? Check out my post here Devon’s Swankiest Beach Hut?

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