There is only one thing that can make a sandy beach between the blue sea and green rolling hills better: dogs. Saunton in North Devon is so dog-friendly the beach café even sells dog biscuits
The parking lot of Saunton beach could be the happiest “Where is Wallie?” ever: it’s a sea surfboards and wetsuits, kids and grown-ups carrying beach bags and picnic baskets, colourful towels and bikinis everywhere, and dripping wet dogs and their owners sharing ice-creams (although you don’t have to share – the café sells a ‘Paws 99’ with a gravy bone instead of chocolate flake). It’s got the buzz of an ant heap, and we can’t wait to dive in.
Saunton, the third of the famous ‘surf beaches’ on the North Devon coast – west of Woolecombe and Croyde – is very simply a happy and a friendly place. There is nothing pretentious, nothing high-maintenance to find here. Saunton itself consists of only a few houses, hotels and surf schools, and the next village along, Braunton, functions as the shopping hub for the surfers, holiday-makers and locals who flock to Saunton for its 3.5 mile-long sandy beach and outstandingly beautiful hills. (There is also a golf course, if that’s your sort of thing.)
Croyde, a picturesque five-minute drive to the next bay, is somewhat fancier with a deli for posh coffees and a few restaurants and pub, but the beach is not dog-friendly. Woolecombe, a place of much nostalgia for many Britons who spent their childhood holidays here, is around 15 minutes from Saunton by car.
There are beach shops, restaurants and an upmarket hotel, but the real attraction here is – again – the beach. At this three-mile long gently sloping beach the first few metres are reserved for non-dog visitors between May and October, but the vast length and breadth of this beach is a doggy heaven. Flanked by Woolecombe town, dunes and the Baggy Point headland, there is really no escaping as a dog – unless you want to swim to Wales. And why would you? Dogs can run, dig and splash in the waves to their heart’s content.
Saunton beats Woolecombe by being entirely dog-friendly, all year round. It’s just so heavenly, being set against a steep cliff on its eastern edge and running seemingly forever to the west, only to be cut by the Rive Taw estuary. The dunes and colourful beach huts cuddle it to the south, and to the north foot-height waves of Atlantic lap against the paws. The beach café sells not just dog ice-cream and biscuits, the shop also has toys and even microfibre towels to dry your pooch off before heading back home.
Wunderdog spent one week in July in Saunton. Here are our tips for a relaxing week.
Where we stayed
We stayed in a little cottage off the beach road, around five minutes from the beach, which we found through AirBnB. The cottage is simple and cosy with one double bedroom and one room with two single beds. Although you can hear the noise from the road, we found it pretty cosy and cool when it was baking outside.
Where we ate
Since North Devon is hardly a culinary destination, you have every excuse to have cream tea three times a day. We had fancy high tea in Bovey Castle on a one-day excursion to Dartmoor (around 1.5 hours drive from Saunton) and picture-postcard cream tea at Sandleigh Tea Room and Garden near Baggy Point. If you fancy a non-scone-based meal, The Thatch pub as well as the Blue Groove restaurant in Croyde serve acceptable burgers, with the latter being a tad fancier. The Stores deli has a small selection of food to take home – think more picnic than full grocery shop.
Appledore, on the south side of River Taw estuary and around a 40-minute drive round the water, has some lovely places, such as the Seagate pub, and the Johns of Appledore deli to stock up on goodies for a night in.
Closest to home, we were tempted by terrace restaurant of the Saunton Sands Hotel, but sadly it is no longer dog-friendly. It runs a second, more casual restaurant by the beach carpark, which is dog-friendly, but we decided to boycott it out of principle (childish, but true).
Where we walked
No day was complete without sandy feet and paws, and we took a few different walks, mainly to remind ourselves that the best place is the beach. There was one other reason we stayed on open terrain: reports of adders being spotted in the thick dunes (and on the golf course).
The Baggy Point walk, across a National Trust park, is picturesque and not very difficult. Drive to the carpark behind the Sandleigh Tea Room and walk from there around the headland to Woolecombe beach.
We did a one-day trip to Dartmoor, which was unfortunately marred by bad weather but even in the mist a picture of heart-stopping beauty. Goldie, Wunderdog’s social editor, decided to bark at the wild ponies, who were decidedly uninterested, while being less harsh on the roaming sheep. We kept her on the leash throughout our visit to Dartmoor.
How we got there
Wunderdog drove, which obviously makes getting around easier. It is a bit of a drive when you come from London or a similar distance, so Wunderdog recommends a break to stretch the various passengers’ legs. On the outward journey we detoured ever so slightly to have lunch at the wonderful Ston Easton Park manor house hotel in Somerset. On the return, the drive through Exmoor added around an hour to the trip, but it was certainly worth it for its dramatic scenery and many little walking opportunities.
If you don’t drive, you can take a train to Barnstaple and then a bus to Saunton, which takes around 40 minutes. The bus service seemed frequent to us and connects the coastal villages.