Devon, Dartmoor, Dorset in August - Accommodations question
July 2, 2019 9:23 AM   Subscribe

I'm traveling to UK in August for work in Southampton, but heading over early to take in some of the AONBs and other sites in the (South)West England region. Requesting lodging and any other recommendations / must sees - must dos. Thank you in advance!

Hello! For one, I'm hoping to see as much of the AONBs as possible - are there any "hidden gems" that tend to be more remote, less-traveled? I've read that August is very busy for tourism in England. (If you have any tips regarding where to absolutely stay away from because of insane crowds, please share).

A few things:

-- We (2 of us) plan to have 2-3 full days to devote to exploring the area (probably Wednesday through Saturday)
-- We would like to get lodging in an area for "home base". Nothing fancy required, but want to feel safe and clean.
-- We will have a rental car, but hope to keep trips to a destination 1 hour, no more than 2 hours.
-- Looking for scenic day hikes - huge, open, austere spaces; awesome forests, craggy cliffs - coastal hikes a plus!
-- Rec for great fish n' chips :)
-- Do you recommend taking a ferry to any of the small islands in August?

Really, just anything you think of to share about the area would be greatly appreciated.
posted by foxhat10 to Travel & Transportation around South West England, England (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Cotehele is *just* into Cornwall, but if you're on Dartmoor you're as close as makes no difference. It's a Tudor manor owned by the National Trust, with a very well preserved and interesting house, as well as good grounds and some interesting industrial/commercial history stuff on the site.

Also, it's worth getting into Plymouth and seeing the Barbican and the Hoe. And while you may well enjoy seeing the Mayflower Steps and reflecting on the history of the American continent since that fateful departure, I'd primarily recommend going just over the other side of the quay, to Cap'n Jaspers, and buying an inordinate amount of fried food stuffed into a foot and a half of baguette with onions, and a Pyrex mug of tea (please note that you must stir your beverage before leaving the counter, as all spoons available to the customers are strictly kept chained to it). This is how to replenish yourself after a long day's walking.

Try letterboxing on Dartmoor? This is a major precursor to geocaching, which has been played on Dartmoor for about 150 years.

Don't bother with Dorset. Spend the rest of your time in Cornwall instead. Has Dorset got Dozmary Pool, the Eden Project and the works of Barbara Hepworth? Dorset!

posted by howfar at 9:58 AM on July 2

For those non-English who don't watch a lot of Escape to the Country like I do and may not be aware, AONB = Area(s) of Outstanding Natural Beauty
posted by terrapin at 10:19 AM on July 2 [2 favorites]

Re Dartmoor: Chagford is a decent sized town to base yourself with a few pubs, tearooms and a few good shops including a traditional ironmongers that is worth visit all on its own. It is fairly central but like most of Dartmoor it will be busier in August so get booked soon wherever you stay. Memail me if you want an air bnb recommendation for a nice place in Chagford.
If you want kitsch (but busier) then head to Widecombe in the Moor and check out the church with the medieval poem thanking god for only striking 'some' of the congregation dead during a thunderstorm. Avoid Haytor as it is hella busy during peak season and there are hundreds of other equally impressive tors to climb.

For true Dartmoor beauty you can head to Wistmans wood, named for the Wisht hounds that haunt the wood, which is a few miles walk off the main Two Bridges to Postbridge road. While you are there you could also visit Dartmoor prison museum which is an interesting little museum partly run and staffed by the prisoners themselves.
Much of Dartmoor is quite bleak but there lies the beauty. The north side of the moor is generally quieter than the south but the towns there aren't really worth visiting. The more chocolate boxey villages are to the south. If you fancy a proper hike then try High Willays, the highest point on Dartmoor.

Its worth getting an Ordinance Survey map for a detailed view of the whole place plus the place names are fun to read too! Don't forget that there is little mobile signal and weather can change quickly even in summer, so take layers and waterproofs. Also watch out for the sheep and ponies roaming free across the roads!

If you fancy an atmospheric read then Sherlock Holmes Hound of the Baskervilles is a good potboiler set mostly on the moor and check out some of the myths and legends about the moor.

If you do visit Dorset then you could do worse than spend the day fossil hunting at Lyme Regis or Charmouth. Have a great trip!
posted by RandomInconsistencies at 11:21 AM on July 2

August will be busy anywhere touristy since the schools only close for 6 weeks, late July to early September. As well as AONBs perhaps consider Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs). You are probably already aware of the national parks.

As will as Cotehele mentioned above checkout other National Trust locations, have stunning gardens.
posted by biffa at 1:03 PM on July 2

Re: crowds, you should probably skip the so-called "English Riviera" (not sure anyone calls it that besides tourism offices?) Torquay, Paignton, etc.

I didn't explore Dartmoor nearly enough when I was there, but I do remember stopping at Grimspound, a pre-Celtic site. It was inexpertly reconstructed by Victorians, but still super cool.

For coastal hiking, I believe this is the hiking path you want. I did the bit near Sidmouth and got lost trying to cut up to the donkey sanctuary and it was altogether a thrilling time. Gorgeous scenery. I remember Sidmouth being a cool little town too.

If you happen to be in the area, the House of Marbles museum and gift shop in Bovey Tracey is oddly compelling.

No fish & chips recommendations, but for the full tourist experience, make sure to have a Devon cream tea and eat LOTS of pasties.
posted by toastedcheese at 1:17 PM on July 2

I've never been to the UK but I am a Southampton supporter (English Premier League soccer) and I dream of attending a PL match at Saint Mary's stadium in Southampton. If you are into sports they have home matches on Aug 17 and 31.
posted by COD at 3:09 PM on July 2

[This is an answer from an anonymous commenter.]
You've tagged this Southampton as well as the south-west areas. Some fish and chip shop recommendations in the city:

Charlie's in Bitterne Park
The Jolly Friar in Netley
The Duke of Wellington (not a takeaway - historic pub)
The Little Fryer in Bitterne

Most of the local Hampshire walks and scenic areas will be busy in August as you say. You might like the New Forest or Tennyson Down on the Isle of Wight, but they will be peopled.

Rather agree with howfar about Dorset, though there is the Jurassic Coast. That will be crowded too. You might have better luck with the North Somerset coast - Glenthorne, an SSSI, or Kilve, in the first AONB of the Quantocks, maybe. Here's some info about walks in the area.

You don't mention culturey things but Southampton has a good art gallery.
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:20 PM on July 2

If you have an hour or so free in Southampton, I really enjoyed the Tudor House.

We went to parts of Dorset last summer and loved it so much. Corfe Castle was spectacular, if you like ruined, crumbling old castles (check out the "what's on" events listing, we went on a historical reenactment day and it was super fun). If you end up there, the Bankes Arms has a lovely beer garden out back with views of the castle and the steam train.

Further down the coast, as mentioned above, Lyme Regis is gorgeous and has some excellently craggy cliffs. We were taken by surprise in Lyme Regis by lunch hours, no matter how many times we go to the UK we always forget that places stop selling food in the afternoon after lunch hours are over, and we end up wandering around in search of food getting hangry. We ended up eating at the Bell Cliff, which was good and as a bonus is a super old historic building.

We are heading to Dartmoor/Devon/Cornwall in a month, will be watching this space for more recs!
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 6:27 AM on July 3

Seems like GREAT recs so far! And yes, I did forget to add about Southampton itself so thanks for the add, anonymous and COD. Traveling partner is huge football fan and the 17th hits our schedule - maybe we can add that as well! Thank you thank you :)
posted by foxhat10 at 7:37 AM on July 3

I guess I also should have asked about any spectacular castles to see - if you were to visit one (crowds or not) which one would it be??
posted by foxhat10 at 11:42 AM on July 3

Dorset is beautiful wherever you go... (sorry) Especially good for cliffs and coastal walks.

The New Forest definitely hits the spot for huge, open, austere spaces, and, obviously forests (although not as many as you think, considering the name). It will be super busy in August but as long as you stay out of Burley/Lyndhurst/Beaulieu and head towards the open countryside you should be fine.

Hurst Castle is p. nice and there's a longish beach walk to it with the beautiful Keyhaven salt marshes on one side and the sea on the other. Corfe Castle is also very pretty, albeit a ruin.

A ferry to the Isle of Wight would be busy but doable as long as you are walking (probably all booked up with cars, plus it's much cheaper on foot) or cycling. You may find it a bit twee tho :)
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 2:58 PM on July 3

Meant to get back to this alot earlier. Our trip was wonderful! We crammed so much in, I'll try to remember everything! The things we did included:

-- staying in Airbnb in Ryall, which is by Bridport and Lyme Regis, which was an EXCELLENT, perfectly English countryside stay; absolutely beautiful! our awesome host provided fresh eggs, homemade bread, and garden veggies for us - big score for us!
--locally, we started off climbing up Golden Cap which was a great view and easy, quick climb; later on in the week, we stayed local and went to Charmouth Beach and Lyme Regis beach - honestly, Charmouth Beach was the most excellent surprise - the short hike up the cliffs for a great view of the English Channel - had the place to ourselves for most of the time - was incredible. Considered one of the top things we saw. Unfortunately the tide was coming in so we didn't have much beach to scour for fossils.
--Dartmoor AONB - walked teh Great Staples Tor and sure enough we saw the wild ponies; again, we were the only ones there at the time, so we stayed quiet and the ponies didn't run from us, so we had some great quiet time with ponies :) honorable mention: the sheep and English bulls that hang out on the side of the roads eating grass :) Staples Tor (and Dartmoor as a whole) was my number 1, close 2nd was the Charmouth hike/view
--hiked up to Wistman's Woods, which was neat - i actually enjoyed the walk to it more than the actual woods itself. on recommendation, i DID pick up "Hound of the Baskervilles" and read it as i was there so definitely helped set the mood in that respect! Thank you, RandomInconsistencies for that rec :)
--we wanted to drive all the way to Penzance, but it just didn't happen. We made it as far as Truro (which was cute), stopped off at Charlestown (very neat harbor area), Plymouth - breezed by the Mayflower Steps since we were in the area
--tried a pasty, but we must have hit the wrong place - it was not good! it was some vendor in one of the small towns we walked around, maybe Bridport?
--Other great stops: Durdle Door, Lulworth Cove, Corfe Castle (although we did not go in, we decided to just venture through the small village outside)

The trip was most definitely a wonderful experience for us both - all around. I love England! Even the rainy, cool temps - we LOVED it (coming from southern U.S. where it's too damn hot most of the year) - so we put on our raincoats and happily basked in the drizzly overcast!
posted by foxhat10 at 8:20 AM on September 18

Oh forgot, we did stop at the Dartmoor Prison Museum as well which was very interesting! Great rec on that as well.
posted by foxhat10 at 8:21 AM on September 18

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