5 South Devon beaches that only the locals know about

You are just one hard-to-spot lane away from paradise

You shouldn’t expect AA signs to these little parcels of paradise, here are five Devon beaches that only the locals know about. They often lack what you’ve come to think of as “basic facilities”, but they are rarely crowded and usually cost you a lot less than a trip to Torquay.

Expect steep twisty roads heading down to these beaches – you’ll be skilled at hill starts before you run out of factor 40. These beaches are NOT suitable for caravans, nor folks who need easy access. Snacks should be brought with you, or bought from the last garage you saw on the way.

Quiet beaches in Devon

Blackpool Sands to Start Point.

If you arrive without parking money, or prefer fewer people, head south along Slapton Lay and drive on a fragile lick of land between two bodies of water. The road has washed away before and Torcross was separated from the rest of the UK by a miriad of tiny lanes – even the Google car gets lost out here if the driver loses sight of the sea.

Driving this road you get to be between the sea and two other bodies of water. Unique environments for aquatic birds and a stunning one for humans too. Get out of the car and enjoy bird watching in one of the public hides at Slapton Ley and Widdicombe Ley, which although smaller is well served with a well located wooden hide. It’s delightfully unusual to be watching a “pond” whilst at the seaside.

Slapton Sands Car Park (middle of this stretch of coast)  https://goo.gl/maps/7JXkixbi81oQYWFx8

Blackpool Sands feels distinctly exclusive, they have a Venus cafe there and other commercial trappings. It’s beautiful to look at and truely a lovely place to be. The road there will take you through some small villages and like a lot of Devon you will see thatched cottages and narrow passing places. Only here they occur in sight of Lime Bay through tall cliff-edge Scots Pine trunks. It feels tropical somehow, and again riffs off the Jurassic theme. This area was desert before there where dinosaurs, and the first Pterradactyl was found within view of this beach. Speaking of which, Lyme Bay is significant for its geologically significance globally during the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.

Top tips: Go to Beesands and eat seafood in either the fantastic (although pricey) first pub you come to (Britannia at the Beach) or catch some crab (or fish and chips) from the shack that opens near the car park, it’s priced more keenly, and the food is excellent. This bay is famous for crab fishing, you can eat a meal in idyllic surroundings. Free, plentiful parking. Smaller children will be a worry due to the rapidly deep water at the beach, but there is plenty of room where they can run around safely. This is not a paddler’s beach as the sea becomes deep very quickly. We recommend, ahem, an easy-care Dartmoor Sheepskin to soften out the pebbles. Substrate ranges from shale to large rocks and this whole stretch of coastline guarantees for you a place to build your castle for the day. Even at the peak of tourist season (which could be significant owing to Covid restrictions on flying abroad) this stretch of coastline has plenty of space.

Widdicombe Ley at Beeson

Slapton

If Blackpool Sands feels too exclusive, head further south along the coast – it’s a spectacular bit of coastline defined by steep cliffs, twisty roads (sometimes you will see supercars and other sport rides taking in the scenery and challenging drive) It’s a beautiful place to look at. If you want a less commercial experience, act like a local. Head south along Slapton Lay and drive on a fragile lick of land between two bodies of water. The road has washed away before and Torcross was separated from the rest of the UK by a miriad of tiny lanes – even the Google car gets lost out here if they lose sight of the sea.

Driving this road you get to be between the sea and two other bodies of water. Unique environments for aquatic birds and a stunning one for humans too. Get out of the car and enjoy bird watching in one of the public hides at Slapton Ley and Widdicombe Ley, which although smaller is well served with a well located wooden hide. It’s delightfully unusual to be watching a “pond” whilst at the seaside.

Spitchwick, Dartmoor

Ask at the ice cream van, the only local amenity, which way the best spots by the river are, or just head under the bridge and follow someone carrying a towel.

Did you fall into the trap of thinking that beaches are always at the sea? Spitchwick is a private estate on Dartmoor where then public are allowed in to enjoy the land. And water. The infant River Dart meanders around the eastern edge of the land, creating a gently flowing and in places deep watercourse which has something for everyone. 

The brave can jump in from the bank, the young can paddle in the shallows whilst large stretches are perfect for river (read: cold) swimming. 

During the summer thousands of people come here and it can feel crowded at peak, but bare in mind:

Spitchwick, looking "busy"

I live in Devon and to me Plymouth and Exeter are BIG CITIES, so my crowded might not be yours and there is always room for everyone.

Top Tips: Spitchwick is perfect for laying out a picnic, but whatever you bring here, you must take home. Spitchwick is open to the public under but concerns mount as litter has been a problem.

It’s a wonderful site, but hard to see how public access can be maintained if litter seen in recent years is repeated.

Labrador Bay, it already sounds exotic.

Labrador Bay in Devon

I’m going to again recommend a short stretch of coastline, and the most spectacular way to see it is from the Labrador Bay Nature Reserve car park on the South West Coast Path. It’s wonderful how the council have arrange the land to so perfectly as to cup the very sea and sky that you won’t even mind paying for parking. Even that is, this far away from any amenities.

Head down hill on the less well worn of the paths that lead away from the top and you will have access to a bunch of little bays. If you choose to keep your height, and your feet dry, then you can do an out-and-back northwards along the top. Take your camera with you because there will be a wide coastal view.

Top Tips

Enjoy the drive from the A38 Teignmouth exit, head towards Teignmouth and across the bridge over the estuary. This is the road equal of the rail journey through Dawlish Warren – anyone who’s travelled that route will have loved (or hated) being that close to the sea in a train. In extremes of weather this journey is particularly invigorating. I digress. 

From Teignmouth over the bridge towards Shaldon (the kids will love the zoo and you can eat in one of several family friendly pubs) drive up the cliff on twisty coastal roads featuring hair pin bends. If there where any adverse cambers then folks would be dripping off into the sea at every other corner.

Thankfully, the pace can be set quite slowly, and frequently is by holiday makers who have lost their hotel. Stop at the top, as previously mentioned, and then continue on down into Paignton and pick up snacks from Lidl or a McDonalds.

Labrador Bay Nature Reserve Car Park
https://goo.gl/maps/EBn1pSBSyNJbrifg9

Gas Works Beach, Torquay

Gas works beach in Torquay, a local quiet beach that isn’t crowded

This beach has it all, rock pools, sunbathing, swimming – which is made better buy the gentle slope of the seabed. This can create exceptionally fast current just before extreme low tide, always check tide times and avoid the hour before full low tide. 

The sea rushes fast on such shallow stretches and can carry you out to sea a short way, the trick is not to panic (isn’t it always?) you won’t get dragged out to sea and the real danger is that you try and swim against the tide directly for land – you haven’t the strength to beat the current, instead swim across the beach (or swim when the tide is coming in). Excellent video on rip currents here

Rip tides can be found at almost every beach, I only mention it here because it was at Gas Works that I got into a current that dragged me out to sea.

I did everything wrong, I panicked, I swam for shore and became exhausted, I didn’t call for help for some reason. When I did finally get back to shore I was totally exhausted, nauseous and angry with myself for panicking. My companions, who had surf boards and could easily have effected a rescue had no idea there was any trouble.

This beach is unserved by any amenity, you’ll have to park your car in a street nearby, or happen upon a spot by the side of the road near the entrance to the park. The park itself is literally the old gas storage facility, and the bases of the long-gone gas tanks form circular planting beds, fair play to the council who have sort of reclaimed this site for the town.

If you do want snacks during your visit, there is a garage on the coast road uphill (towards Paignton). It’s run, appropriately for a beach, by Shell.

At peak times this beach looks like other beaches at off-peak – you’ll get the spot you want.

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