It’s true that the British do love to be beside the seaside and where better than Devon’s north and south coasts? Rory Knight Bruce presents a leisurely guide to visiting the county.

The 450 miles of Devon coastline are often dressed up in people’s minds from their happy childhood memories as being made up of sand, sea and starfish. Returning there in adulthood can be a bit more hit and miss. Although mild, the climate isn’t endless sunshine and Devon is vast, latticed with narrow lanes, so plan your visits and journeys. Such is the soporific nature of the county that an advisable watchword is not to try and do too much and to combine the landscape with leisure.

What to do

North Devon
From Clovelly, the small harbour 10 miles west of Bideford, there are walks to Welcombe Mouth beach, where the librettist Ronald Duncan wrote his startling memoir, Obsessed, and kept Arab horses and where Deep Purple recorded an early album.

For the seafarer, there are day and half-day mackerel trips from the harbour or a one-hour boat trip to Lundy Island, which has its own tavern. You can swim with dolphins. All can be booked through the Red Lion hotel at Clovelly, which also offers donkey rides.rosemoor garden

Visit: The church at Morwenstow where, in the 19th century, the Rev hawker rescued brigands and smugglers and gave them their last rites. The RHS gardens at Rosemoor (above 0845 265 8072) offer unrivalled displays.

South Devon
Anyone wishing to be transported back to the 1930s should look no further than Burgh Island and the Art Deco of this iconic south Devon hotel, which has hosted Agatha Christie, Noël Coward and Winston Churchill and where guests dress in black tie for dinner. ‘No dressing up is too over the top,’ declare the owners, Deborah Clark and Tony Orchard, and guests take them at their word.

Burgh Island is approached by sea tractor over a 270-yard tidal causeway, an activity in itself not unlike being on the shoulders of a clown on stilts. Short, bracing walks can be taken on the island (and dogs can be walked on the beach just off it) and there is a small pub with an open fire, the Pilchard Inn, which dates back to 1336.

Do: Snorkelling, kite- and wind-surfing, surfing and golf are all activities to be undertaken from the island and can be arranged by the hotel. The Bigbury-on-Sea coastal course, with forgiving fairways, welcomes non members—its 15th hole has panoramic views to the island.

DartmoorFoal on Dartmoor
Perfectly located between the north and south Devon coasts is Olga Polizzi’s hotel Endsleigh near Tavistock, set in 108 acres of walks, woodland and gardens. Visitors who can tear themselves away from the peace of the 300-yard Rose Walk and Grass Terrace or the Humphry Repton landscape stretching down to the River Tamar below can choose from a number of coastal destinations and activities.

An hour to the north, there is surfing at Watergate Bay and, a similar distance to the south, there is the thriving sailing resort of Salcombe in the South Hams.

Do: There is eight miles of fishing on the Tamar, a first-class pheasant shoot nearby, riding from Lorraine Chamberlaine (01364 631210) and, for those with a Boris Johnson-style death wish, the longest zip wire in Britain at Adrenaline Quarry, 45 minutes away.

However, Endsleigh is most suited to those with a passion for gardening. Cotehele House, Saltram House, Trematon Castle and Antony House are all worth a visit. The adventurous can also walk along the Tamar for an hour to a pub and have supper.

Where to stay

Red Lion Hotel, Clovelly
From £100 per person (including breakfast). Based right on the harbourside, the hotel offers a locals’ bar, full of fishermen and Poldark types, and a restaurant for fine dining, serving local lobster and Red Ruby Devon beef.
(01237 431237)

Burgh Island hotel
From £400 per night for two for dinner, bed and breakfast. Timeless elegance, a destination stay that feels as if you’re on the Orient Express. Fabulous cocktails from maître d’ Gary ‘McBar’ Maguire and frequently a jazz-era dance band.
(01548 810514; www.burghisland.com)

Hotel Endsleigh
From £190 per night for two (including breakfast). Sublime tranquillity from this former hunting lodge of the Dukes of Bedford. Dogs £20 per night in your room. (www.hotelendsleigh.com; 01822 8700000)