South Devon AONB

Blackpool Sands, South Devon AONB, England
Blackpool Sands, Stoke Fleming, South Devon AONB ©

South Devon – Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is located in the county of Devon in south west England. South Devon was first designated a AONB back in 1960, the area covers over 330 square kilometres and includes 97 kilometres of coastline. South Devon is one of the most southerly AONBs in England after the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly AONBs. The area is well known for its coastline, estuaries, tranquillity, nightscapes, wildlife habitats and varied landscapes.

The local population of approx 34,000 live in local villages and towns located across the AONB such as Dartmouth, Salcombe and Wembury. The area covered under the AONB designation covers an area starting from close to Totnes in the north down to Salcombe in the south to Brixham in the east and to the outskirts of Plymouth in the west. The area is of national importance for nature conservation and includes of Sites of Scientific Interest (SSSI), Scheduled Ancient Monuments and National Nature Reserves.

The key features and special qualities of the South Devon AONB include the undeveloped and rugged coastline, rural landscapes, a number of wide panoramic views, range of wildlife habitats, cultural heritage and historical sites and settlements. The area is important for wildlife and habitats with a number of protected sites. The key features combined with the peace, tranquillity, unspoilt nature of the site and inspiring panoramic views makes the area special.

The main industries in the AONB include farming, agriculture and tourism. The scenic area is popular with visitors and attracts visitors for day trips, weekend breaks, longer stays and for a number of recreational activities. There are a number of scenic historic villages and towns located in the AONB, including Dartmouth, Salcombe and Wembury. Main settlements located close by include Plymouth, Brixham, Paignton and Torquay.

The area is popular for outdoor activities including surfing, canoeing, coasteering, sea kayaking, swimming, wildlife watching, walking and cycling with a range of routes and trails to explore. Visitors can enjoy the tranquil environment, natural coastal scenery with panoramic views offering some of the finest natural beauty in England.

Quick Facts

South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty:

Year of Designation: 1960

Population: 34,000 (approx)

Size in square kilometres: 337

Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI): 18

National Nature Reserves: 2

Scheduled Ancient Monuments: 55

Main Settlements close by: Plymouth, Brixham, Paignton, Torquay and Ivybridge.

Located in: Devon.


The South Devon AONB is located in the scenic county of Devon in south west England. The county of Devon includes the North Devon AONB in the north of the county and the South Devon AONB in the south, the Dartmoor National Park and part of the Exmoor National Park. Given the county has more than its fair share of national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty it is not surprising Devon is often mentioned as one of the most scenic and naturally beautiful places in England.

The AONB includes just under 100 kilometres of coastline with close to 70 beaches ranging from popular family beaches to isolated coves. The tranquil and peaceful area enjoys a relatively remote location offering visitors a place of scenic natural beauty and landscapes away from the traffic and congestion of the cities and towns. There are a number of things to see, do and experience in the area for visitors.

The AONB includes a number of small settlements, the landscape makes the area one of the most scenic in England. The AONB area itself is relatively sparsely populated with no major towns or cities falling within the AONB boundary, local settlements include Dartmouth, Salcombe and Wembury. South Devon are home to a number of landscapes including coastal cliffs, inhabited islands, lowland plains, estuaries, river valley slopes and open coastal plateaux, each of which has its own landscape character.

The South Devon AONB has a rich history and includes its famous coastline along with cliffs, wildlife and varied landscapes that have been shaped here over thousands of years; the area is of national importance for its landscape, ecology and geology. Local towns located close to the AONB border include Brixham, Paignton, Torquay, Ivybridge and the city of Plymouth. The local towns provide convenient places from which visitors can tour the South Devon AONB and surrounding areas.

The protection given to the area with its AONB status means the commercial development in the AONB area has been limited in order to help protect and maintain the special qualities of the area. The area is located to the south west of the Torbay area that includes the tourist hot spots of Torquay, Paignton and Brixham known as the 'English Riviera'. The relative low profile of the area and its remote location means visitors can enjoy much of the AONB area away from the crowds.

The location in north west England means the AONB is easily assessable from across the south west and south east of England, the Midlands, East of England and South Wales. From Newcastle, Durham and much of north east England the area is 7 to 8 hours by car, from Leeds it is 5 hours 30 minutes to 6 hours by car, from Birmingham and much of the Midlands it is 3 hours 45 minutes to 4 hours 30 minutes. From Liverpool and Manchester it is approx 5 hours to 5 hours 30 minutes.

From Cambridge and much of the East of England it is 5 to 6 hours by car. From South Wales it is 3 hours to 3 hours 30 minutes by. From London and much of southern England it is 4 hours 30 minutes to 5 hours 30 minutes drive by car.

Tourist Information Centres and information points are located at various locations in and close by to the South Devon AONB. Inside the AONB there is a tourist information centre in Dartmouth and Salcombe, there are also ones located at Ivybridge, Kingsbridge, Modbury and Totnes close to the AONB. The tourist information centres can provide visitors with useful information, help, advice and tips on the AONB area and the surrounding areas.

Each of the tourist information centres has knowledgeable staff with valuable local knowledge with information 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. At the centres visitors can find out about local events, public transport options and accommodation facilities.

Local Accommodation includes a range of hotels including historic and contemporary, B & B’s, Guest Houses, Self Catering houses, holiday homes and cottages. Local accommodation is available in Dartmouth and Salcombe. Towns located in the area including Ivybridge, Brixham, Paignton, Torquay and the city of Plymouth, provide good access to local facilities and accommodation from which to explore the AONB and the surrounding local areas in south west England.

The South Devon AONB provides a place for visitors to explore a place of remote wilderness by the coast surrounded by beautiful scenery and landscapes where it is possible to get away from it all and the stresses and strains of daily life. There are a number of small dispersed settlements in the AONB, many of the towns and villages in the AONB have preserved their history, traditions and heritage and include a number of local attractions and places of interest.

Local Towns and Villages include Dartmouth located within the AONB area 30 miles to the east of Plymouth in the eastern corner of the AONB. The scenic town is located on the banks of the River Dart, the town is well known for is maritime history and the architecture of the town reflects the rich nautical history of the area. The town includes a number of historic streets noted for the Elizabethan architecture.

There are a number of independent shops, art galleries and a market, there are choice of options for food and drink with a number of cafes, bistros, restaurants and pubs to choose from. Visitors have a choice of local amenities and accommodation making Dartmouth a popular pace for visitors to base themselves from when exploring the AONB area. Local attractions include the Britannia Royal Naval College, famous for training naval officers since the beginning of the 20th century, guided tours are available for visitors. Greenway House & Garden is a National Trust property famous for being the holiday home for author Agatha Christie and her family; tours are available of the Georgian mansion and the gardens.

Dartmouth hosts a number of festivals during the course of the year, these include the Dartmouth Royal Regatta that is held in August, the Comedy Festival, Dartmouth Food Festival and more.

Dartmouth Castle is a historic castle and coastal fortress that dates back to the 14th century. Under the guardianship of English Heritage the castle has been described as one of the most beautifully located castles in England. The castle is noted for its wonderful views across the estuary and out to sea. Visitors can see the video presentation and climb up to the top of the castle for unrivalled views across the town of Dartmouth and beyond. The ferry boat ride to and from the castle offers a good opportunity to spot local wildlife. The Tea Room offers a range of hot and cold drinks and meals whilst the gift shop includes souvenirs, books, toys and English Heritage gifts.

Salcombe is a seaside town located 20 miles south west of Dartmouth in the AONB. The compact coastal town was once a busy port for the fruit industry; today it is an upmarket seaside town and is a popular destination for both families and yachting enthusiasts. The main street in the town is narrow and includes a range of interesting shops including fashion and craft shops, jewellers and the well known sweet shop. The town offers a choice of dining options with pubs, cafes, bistros, restaurants and coffee shops serving a choice of cuisines including fresh local produce.

There are a number of popular sandy beaches in the area some of which are assessed by ferry. Local attractions include the Salcombe Maritime and Local History Museum showcasing the social history and maritime tradition in the town. Water based activities are popular visitors can try sailing, surfing, fishing, scuba diving, canoeing, kayaking and more. Visitors can enjoy leisurely boat trips exploring the shoreline. The Salcombe Town Regatta is an annual event that includes a number of parades, displays, processions, competitions and more offering something for the whole family.

Hope Cove is located 20 miles west of Dartmouth, the scenic fishing village is provides a scenic retreat, a place to sit back, relax and unwind. Historically the area was once used by smugglers; today Hope Cove offers visitors impressive sandy beaches and a laid back atmosphere where you can relax an get away from it all. The area includes two bays; Inner and Outer Hope, there are some wonderful views of the heritage coastline and out to sea.

The area is renowned for its fauna and flora and visitors can enjoy a number of walks to coves and see some stunning natural views. Local attractions include the Hope Cove Weekend that takes place in August with three days of live music, food and drink, competitions, children's events offering a range of activities to see and enjoy for the whole family.

Kingsbridge is located approx 12 miles west of Dartmouth on the edge of the AONB. The historic market town is located between Plymouth to the west and Dartmouth and Torbay to the east, making it ideally located for exploring the South Devon AONB and surrounding areas. The town of Kingsbridge is made up of the historic medieval towns of Kingsbridge and Dodbrooke over time the towns expanded to form the current day town. The town has a long tradition of being a market town and is still hosts regular markets with the Kingsbridge Farmers Market held on the first and third Saturdays of each month.

Visitors will find a range of shops, pubs, cafes and restaurants in the town. Local attractions include annual events such as the Music Festival hat is held in June and the Fair Week that is held in July. The scenic countryside and estuary ensure the town is a favourite among walkers and sailing enthusiasts.

Overbeck's is located 20 miles south west of Dartmouth in Salcombe on the South Devon coast. At the National Trust property visitors can see the seaside residence of scientist and inventor Otto Overbeck, he house is located on cliffs above Salcombe offering some inspiring views over he estuary and the Devon coastline. One of the highlights o any visit here is taking a leisurely stroll through the impressive gardens; here there are subtropical gardens one would expect to find in warmer climes, there are banana plants, palm tees, olive and citrus trees and more.

The historic house itself dates back to 1913, it is built in an Edwardian style, inside visitors can see the museum that includes Otto Overbeck's art and history collection. There are a number of eclectic collections including natural history exhibits and collections of butterflies, bugs along with collections of toys, model boats and dolls. The Tea Room offers a choice of cakes, scones, teas, coffees, lunches and snacks whilst the gift shop includes a choice of gifts, mementos and souvenirs.

Dartmouth Steam Railway takes visitors along a seven mile route along the stunning Devon coastline in to the Dart Valley. Visitors can relive the golden age of train travel and step back in time with a trip on the heritage railway. The popular attraction offers a historic steam train journey along with a river cruise, ferry crossing and bus ride making it a fun day out for the whole family. The steam railway passes along scenic areas and includes the stations at Goodrington Sands, Churston and Kingswear; he trip includes varied scenery and wildlife visitors can spot a number of birds including kingfishers and herons.

Dartmouth River Boats offers a number of river cruises including Dartmouth harbour river cruises, Dartmouth to Totnes river cruises and cruises to Salcombe and coastal cruises. Visitors can sit back, relax and take in the stunning coastal scenery and natural beauty.

Farmers Markets including the South Hams Farmers Market is held regularly in Kingsbridge usually on the first and third Saturdays of each month. Visitors will find a range of fresh local produce including a choice of fruits and vegetables, for seafood lovers there is a range of seafood available including local oysters. In addition there is a wide choice of meats, beads, cheeses, chocolates and flowers making a visit to the farmers market well worth while.

Walking offers visitors the most cost effective and environmentally friendly ways to discover the AONB and the surrounding areas, there are a number of popular walks in the area for visitors to try. The South Devon AONB includes a choice of landscapes and terrain, offering both shorter and longer walks for walkers of all abilities with over 40 walks to choose from.

Walks include Dartmouth Town Trail, a 1 mile gentle walk taking in the sites of interest in the town. The Kingsbridge Town Trail is also a 1 mile walk hat takes in the sites and sounds of the town. More challenging routes include the Wembury to Plymouth route, a 12 mile route passing through various landscapes.

Cycling provides both a cost effective and environmentally friendly way to explore the South Devon AONB. There are a number of quiet country lanes, hilltops, cross country routes, scenic coastal routes and more challenging terrain making the area suitable for cycling. There are a number of cycle routes in the area these include; East Portlemouth and East Prawle, a 12 miles route that takes visitors country lanes, bridleways and a range of landscapes.

Visitors to the South Devon AONB in south west England will find a quiet, scenic coastal area that retains its charm, character and sense of remoteness. Visitors can explore a number of historic villages and market towns in and around the AONB. A visit to the South Devon AONB offers peace and tranquillity where visitors can enjoy the great outdoors, a number of outdoor activities and get closer to nature .

How to Get There

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

By Car:

The city of Plymouth is located next to the western edge of the AONB area and provides a convenient located from which to explore the area with a choice of accommodation, facilities and local amenities. Located approx 220 miles from central London. From London take the A4 then the M4. From the M4 junction 20 exit on to the M5 for Bristol (West); continue along the M5 then on to the A38 then exit on to the A374 that goes to Plymouth. The approx journey time is 4 hours 5 minutes to 5 hours 30 minutes depending on traffic and time of day.

By Train:

From London Paddington station there are regular services to Plymouth train station. The journey time is approx 3 hours to 3 hours 50 minutes, depending on service, connections and time of day. From Plymouth there are bus services to Salcombe via Kingsbridge in the AONB via the First in Devon number 93 service to Kingsbridge, the approx journey time is 1 hour 5 minutes. From Kingsbridge there are bus services to Salcombe via Tally Ho Bus number 606 service to Salcombe, the approx journey time is 20 minutes.

By Bus/Coach:

There are regular coaches available from London Victoria Coach station to Plymouth. The approx journey time is 5 hours 30 minutes to 6 hours depending on connections, time of day and traffic. From Plymouth, visitors can use local bus services to destinations in the AONB. Coach services to Plymouth are provided by National Express

Contact Details

South Devon AONB
Follaton House
Plymouth Road

Telephone: +44 (0)1803 861384

Website: South Devon AONB


For Local Search and Directions see: South 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 South Devon AONB in south west England 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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