Blessed with a diverse landscape encompassing long stretches of beach, open moorland, deep valleys and winding waterways, South Devon is a veritable playground for a huge range of sports.
Take to the water
It is probably only natural that those taking place in the water grab the most attention. With its rich maritime history and location in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it is the perfect place to hone your nautical skills. The medieval town of Dartmouth is world renowned as a sailing venue and – although small – has played a huge role in Britain’s naval history.
Whether you want to go sightseeing, fishing or wildlife-spotting you can hire a boat by the hour or day from plenty of companies along the embankment. Further down the coast, Salcombe is another top nautical destination and is particularly popular for dinghy sailing, perfect for those new to the sport.
The twin villages of Noss Mayo and Newton Ferrers, which sit on either side of the beautiful River Yealm, are an unspoilt haven for sailing boats. The estuary is very well protected from the storms of the Atlantic and the Channel and provides ideal sailing waters for novices (or experienced captains looking for a quiet Sunday lunch).
Another great way to get out on the water is by canoe or kayak, with dozens of companies offering individual hire, tuition or tours. Paddling along the River Dart makes for a stunning outing that can be tailored to suit the whole family, whilst for those more skilful seeking an adrenaline rush the rivers Exe, Tavy and Dart all have white water possibilities.
Whether you want to go sightseeing, fishing or wildlife-spotting you can hire a boat by the hour or day from plenty of companies along the embankment.
Catch the surf
Although South Devon may not have the same reputation for surfing as the north of the county or neighbouring Cornwall, it does boast plenty of locations that reward loyalty when the swell direction is right. The surf is more consistent during the winter, when powerful North Atlantic swells manage to push past the Lands End/Brittany gap, causing waves to break along the whole coastline.
The most reliable surf can be found at Bantham in the South Hams where waves break through all stages of the tide, although rip currents can be strong at times. Other popular surfing beaches nearby include Challaborough and, close to Plymouth, Wembury.
In Torbay, surfing has grown steadily over the years, with Paignton Pier and Torquay providing quality surf – again, when conditions are right. Teignmouth is a sheltered beach break that only works once in a while, usually in winter. Waves are also ridden at Dawlish Warren, Sidmouth and along the East Devon coast to Lyme Regis.
Luckily, if the surf isn’t playing ball but you’re still keen to get on a board, there are other options. Stand up paddleboarding (SUP) has experienced an incredible surge in popularity in recent years, with South Devon recognised as one of the best spots for the fast growing sport in the whole country. On flat water, SUP is very accessible to almost anybody and – because you are upright – you see a lot more of the landscape and can peer into rockpools, caves and get right up close to birds and other sea life.
Top spots include Bigbury, Blackpool Sands, the River Yealm and Kingsbridge Estuary. Windsurfing and kitesurfing are also well represented in the area, with Mothecombe Estuary and Wonwell Beach popular for the former and good opportunities at Bantham, Paignton and Slapton for the latter extreme sport.
Although South Devon may not have the same reputation for surfing as the north of the county or neighbouring Cornwall, it does boast plenty of locations that reward loyalty when the swell direction is right
Activities on dry land
Back on dry land, for those who enjoy life on two wheels, South Devon is a great place to explore by bike. In September 2013 this was brilliantly showcased by the sixth stage of the Tour of Britain, an 85-mile route from Sidmouth ending in its first ever summit finish beside Dartmoor’s dramatic Haytor.
Tens of thousands lined the roads to watch Bradley Wiggins and his competitors race past. Currently being developed, the National Cycle Network Route 2 (NCN2) will eventually link Dover in Kent with St Austell in Cornwall via the south coast, passing through Exeter, Dawlish, Teignmouth, Newton Abbot and Totnes before heading to Plymouth.
Some sections have already been built and are very popular with families looking for traffic-free cycling, such as the flat and easy Exe Cycle Route that takes you along the beautiful estuary, or the Totnes to Dartington Riverside Trail. For more challenging terrain, there are off-road tracks in Haldon Forest Park and all over Dartmoor.
The moors are also a top destination for climbers, with many of the granite tors for which the National Park is renowned offering both challenging routes and dynamic bouldering opportunities. The access situation should always be checked beforehand via the Dartmoor National Park Authority or British Mountaineering Council.
For golf fans, the fairways and greens of South Devon won’t disappoint. There are courses with fantastic views on the coast or inland amidst the lush rolling countryside. Dawlish Warren Golf Club on the mouth of the Exe Estuary is an 18-hole par 69 bordered by water on three sides, whilst Thurlestone Golf Club offers a mix of links and cliff-top terrain with spectacular views of the rocky seascape. Inland, Bovey Castle is an idyllic and historic golfing destination where the 18-hole championship course meanders through the hotel estate. Dartmouth Golf & Country Club has two courses and also operates golfing holidays that take in a selection of the finest spots to tee off in the region.
Finally, if you’re in need of a football or rugby fix during your stay, keep an eye out for home fixtures of the local teams: Exeter Chiefs, Plymouth Albion, Torquay Utd, Exeter City and Plymouth Arygle.
Read more about South Devon