North Devon AONB

Hartland Quay - North Devon AONB, England
Hartland Quay, North Devon AONB ©

North Devon – Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is located in the scenic county of Devon in south west England. The area has been designated a AONB since back in 1960, the area covers 171 square kilometres making it one of the more compact AONBs in the UK, the area includes some of the finest cliff scenery in England. The area is well known for its cliffs, reefs, deep valleys, coastal waterfalls and includes a variety of landscapes.

The local population of approx 12,000 live mainly in small coastal towns and villages located across the AONB such as Woolacombe and Combe Martin. The area covered under the AONB designation on the North Devon covers an area from the Hartland peninsula in the west across the Bideford Bay coast, the Torridge Estuary Mouth, the North Devon Downs and on to the North Devon High Coast in the west. The area is of national importance for nature conservation and includes of Sites of Scientific Interest (SSSI), National Character Areas, Country Wildlife Sites and Scheduled Monuments.

The key features and special qualities of the North Devon AONB include the scenic coastal scenery incorporating some wonderful views, there are a variety of landscape character and there are a number of historical and archaeological sites. The area is rich in wildlife habitats making it a key nature conservation site, the wildlife in the area is both rich and varied and is home a number of rare and protected species. The area includes costal scenery with some dramatic and inspiring views and its peaceful and tranquil nature makes the area special.

The main industries in the AONB include farming and tourism. The area is a popular destination for visitors, it is popular for day trips, weekend breaks, family holidays, coach trips and water sports activities. There are a number of scenic villages and small towns located in the AONB including Georgeham, Woolacombe, Watermouth and Combe Martin. Main settlements located close by include Barnstaple, Tiverton, Bideford and Taunton.

The area is popular for water sports and activities, sailing, wildlife watching, day trippers, walking and cycling with a range of routes and trails to explore. Visitors can enjoy the scenic landscapes, coastal scenery and the great outdoors.

Quick Facts

North Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty:

Year of Designation: 1960

Population: 12,000 (approx)

Size in square kilometres: 171

Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs): 15

Country Wildlife Sites: 57

Scheduled Monuments: 21

Main Settlements close by: Barnstaple, Bideford, Tiverton, Taunton .

Located in: Devon.


The North Devon AONB is located the south west English county of Devon. The AONB is essentially a coastal one offering visitors a scenic coastal retreat with a range of landscapes and impressive coastal views for visitors to enjoy. The AONB with its relatively small settlements, peace and tranquillity offers a contrast to the traffic and congestion of the towns and cities. The AONB area itself is relatively sparsely populated compared to the population centres in the surrounding areas. The area includes a number of historic coastal towns and small villages full of history and character.

The North Devon AONB has a rich history with a number of historic archaeological and historical sites for visitors to explore, the area is of national importance for its landscape, ecology and geology. Within the AONB area there are no large cities or towns as is the case with several other AONBs, there are a number of smaller coastal towns and villages. Local towns including Barnstaple, Bideford, Tiverton and Taunton provide convenient places from which visitors can tour the North Devon AONB. The commercial development in the AONB area has been limited in order to protect the special qualities of the area ensuring visitors can see a relatively unspoiled coastline that is not overly commercialised.

The location in the south west of England means the AONB is assessable from across the south west and south east of England, East Anglia, Midlands and southern Wales. From Exeter, Plymouth and much f Devon and Cornwall the area is 1 hour 30 minutes to 2 hours 30 minutes by car, from Bristol and Bath it is 2 hours by car, from Birmingham and much of the Midlands it is 3-4 hours away, from Liverpool and Manchester it is approx 5 hours. From Cambridge it is 5 hours and from London and much of southern England it is 4 to 5 hours away.

Tourist Information Centres and information points are located at various locations in and close by to the North Devon AONB. The TICs are based in Bideford, Barnstaple, Lynton and Lynemouth, South Molton, Woolacombe and Ilfracombe. The tourist information centres provide visitors with information, help, advice and tips on the AONB area and the surrounding areas in Devon. Each of the centres has knowledgeable staff that can provide useful local knowledge on local attractions, places of interest, things to see and do, along with local advice and tips. A visit to the tourist information centres provides a good first port of call for visitors helping to better plan and organise trips in and around the local area.

Local Accommodation includes a range of historic and contemporary hotels, B & B’s, Guest Houses, Self Catering houses, holiday homes and cottages. Local accommodation is available in Clovelly, Saunton, Woolacombe and Combe Martin. Towns located in the area including Bideford, Barnstaple and the village of Braunton, provide good access to local facilities and accommodation from which to explore the AONB and the surrounding local areas in the south west of England.

The North Devon AONB is a place where visitors can explore a number of small historic coastal towns, villages and hamlets, many of which retain their character and charm. History and tradition have been well preserved in a number of the towns and villages in the area, offering visitors a fascinating insight in to local history and culture. There are a number of local attractions and places of interest for visitors to explore further.

Local Towns & Villages include Clovelly is a village located approx 33 miles south west of Ilfracombe in the AONB. The village is a popular destination for visitors with a pedestrianised cobbled main street, a number of events and impressive views over the Bristol Channel. The Quay dates back to the 14th century and is well known for being a hot bed of pirate and smuggling activity in the past. The village was once a small fishing village, it still retains its charm and character.

The main street descends some 400 metres to the pier and is too narrow for wheeled traffic with sledges used for the movement of goods. The main street includes houses, shops, a public house and a cafe, a number of the buildings are of historic and architectural importance and are listed buildings. The village hosts a number of annual events including the Clovelly Maritime Festival in July, Clovelly Lobster and Crab Feast in September and the Clovelly Herring Festival in November.

Clovelly Court Gardens are located in Clovelly, the gardens are part of the country estate that includes a number of Grade II listed buildings. The gardens are a prime example of a Victorian walled kitchen garden and include impressive glasshouses, the maritime micro climate allows for the growth of exotic plants. Highlights include the herbaceous borders that are full of colour throughout the summer months. Visitors can buy herbs, bedding plants, fruits and vegetables that have been freshly dug and harvested.

Hartland is a town located 35 miles south west from Ilfracombe in Devon. It is the largest parish in Devon and is known for its stunning coastline and inspiring scenery. There are number of cliff top walks for walking enthusiasts along with a number of secluded beaches away from the crowds and a wide range of fauna and flora. Local attractions include the 12th century Hartland Abbey, known for its rich history, architecture and gardens, visitors can explore the house, grounds, exhibitions and enjoy the popular walk to the sea.

Hartland is home to some of the most spectacular cliffs on the South West Coast Path. Hartland Quay dates back to the 16th century located on the Atlantic coast of Devon, the harbour was swept away back in 1887. The area has a rugged coastline and deep sheltered valleys that are best explored further by foot. Hartland Quay is a popular tourist destination offering accommodation, museum, rock pools and sandy coves in the historic area. The Quay is at the beginning of one of the most challenging parts of the South West Coast Path and hosts motorcycle hill climb events.

Bideford is a town located 20 miles south of Ilfracombe. The historic port town is located on the River Torridge in Devon, once one of Britain's largest ports, the compact market town is a popular place for visitors to base themselves from when exploring the North Devon AONB. The town includes a number of facilities and amenities including accommodation, a number of shops, pubs and restaurants. The town includes a number of small and quirky shops along with a number of street side cafes. Atlantic Village is a retail outlet located on outskirts of the town, it includes over 30 retail outlets and an adventure park.

Visitors can explore the quay and the waterfront by foot, the town is still an active market town and there are regular farmers markets. The Bideford Pannier Market dates back to the end of the 19th century and includes a market hall that now has a number of shops and galleries. The town is famous for its New Year's Eve celebrations where the many people including from towns and villages nearby gather in Bideford quay for festivities, celebrations and fireworks displays.

Visitors to Bideford can use the ferry to see Lundy Island, the largest island in the Bristol Channel. Located 12 miles off the coast of Devon, Lundy Island, the island has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Marine Nature Reserve and a National Character Area. The island is popular for day trippers, offering a range of things to see and do including fishing, walking, climbing, bird watching, diving and more away from the crowds.

Woolacombe is located under 6 miles west of Ilfracombe, the seaside resort is a popular destination during the summer months and Woolacombe beach is regarded as one of the finest in the UK. The beach includes 3 miles of sand that goes south to Putsborough beach, the area is a favourite destination for both families water sports enthusiasts and is known for its surfing. For visitors there are a range of accommodation options in the town along with local amenities ad facilities.

Woolacombe offering dramatic coastal cliffs and landscapes along with sand dunes. Visitors can also see panoramic views of Lundy Island located of the Devon coast in the Bristol Channel.

The seaside town of Ilfracombe is located on the North Devon coast next to the AONB area. The local facilities, amenities, accommodation and transport links make Ilfracombe a convenient place for visitors to base themselves from when exploring the AONB and the surrounding areas in North Devon. The town includes a rugged coastline with a number of rock pools and secluded coves. Hillsborough Hill located at the harbour is a Local Nature Reserve and is the site of an Iron Age fortified settlement.

Local attractions include the Verity sculpture, created by Damien Hurst that is made from stainless steel and bronze, the statue is 67 foot tall and stands on the pier in Ilfracombe. The Landmark Theatre famous for its architecture with its conical design offers a varied arts programme with dance, drama, music and literature. Local historic attractions include the Anglican parish church, Trinity and St Nicholas's Chapel.

Walking offers visitors a great way to discover more in the AONB and the surrounding areas, there are a number of popular walks in the area for visitors to try. The North Devon AONB includes a choice of landscapes and terrain, with a number of footpaths and bridleways offering both shorter and longer walks for walkers of all abilities. The walks include Cultural Trails including the Hartland Easy Access Trail, Combe Martin Cultural Trail and a number of others.

Cycling provides both a cost effective and environmentally friendly way to explore the North Devon AONB. There are a number of quiet country lanes and bridleways making the area suitable for cycling. There are a number of cycle routes in the area these include the Tarka Trail that is both a cycle way and a pedestrian trail, running for 180 miles through a range of landscapes. The trail goes through places in the AONB including Bideford and close by such as Ilfracombe and Barnstaple.

Visitors to the North Devon AONB in the south west of England will find a scenic coastline that retains its charm and historic character known for its beautiful coastline, cliffs and splendid views. Visitors can explore a number of historic coastal towns and charming villages. The area is home to one of the finest coastlines in the UK and is known for its peace and tranquillity and is a fine place to enjoy the great outdoors and outdoor pursuits.

How to Get There

North Devon AONB is accessible by both car and public transport.

By Car:

The seaside town of Ilfracombe is located next to the AONB area, the town, provides a convenient located from which to explore the area with a choice of accommodation and local amenities. Located approx 225 miles from central London. From London take the A4 then the M4 up to junction 20. At junction 20 of the M4 exit on to the M5 exit to Bristol (West), continue on the M5 until junction 27 and exit on to the A361 to Tiverton/Barnstaple. From the A361 take the A39 then the B3230. From the B3230 turn left on to the A3123, then at the roundabout take the third exit for the A361 that goes to Ilfracombe. The approx journey time is 4 hours to 4 hours 40 minutes depending on traffic and time of day.

By Train:

The train station at Barnstaple has regular services from London Paddington station via Exeter St Davids. The journey time is approx 3 hours 30 minutes to 4 hours depending service, connections and time of day. From Barnstaple there are bus services available via the Stagecoach South West bus service 21 that goes to Ilfracombe. The journey time is approx 50 minutes to 1 hour depending on time of day and service.

By Bus/Coach:

There are regular buses available from London Victoria Coach station to Ilfracombe in Devon. The approx journey time is 6 hours to 6 hours 30 minutes depending on time of day and traffic. Coach services to Ilfracombe are provided by services are provided by National Express

Contact Details

North Devon AONB
Barnstaple Civic Centre
Room 510
EX31 1EA

Telephone: +44 (0)1271 388647

Website: North Devon AONB


For Local Search and Directions see: North Devon (AONB) Map

Tips & Other Considerations

The weather and climate can be unpredictable, there can be elements of all four seasons in one day. Ensure you check the weather forecast before you travel and have the correct clothing and footwear including comfortable walking shoes, fleece, raincoat and umbrella.

Follow travel advice and remain alert, vigilant and aware of your belongings at all times especially your wallet/purse and valuables and ensure they are hidden away from public view. If you have a bag try to use a shoulder bag with a good quality, strong strap, that is put across your shoulder not on your shoulder making it more difficult for anyone to take your bag.

If you are travelling by car to the North Devon AONB ensure you are well prepared with maps and Sat Nav to aid your journey, particularly if you are not familiar with the local area and roads. Use the journey planner for door to door directions. Check traffic updates before you travel.

If you are looking for car parking in and around the AONB, ensure you fully understand the rules, regulations & charges for car parks and street parking. The rules & regulations can be complex & confusing if you are unclear, it is wise not to park there.

If you are travelling by public transport, check for service updates prior to beginning your journey for any delays, disruption or cancellations to services that may impact on your journey. Ensure you have the service timetables for the trains, trams, buses and coaches. Remember when the last services are and ensure you make it to the train/bus/coach stops well in time to avoid missing the service.

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