As you descend past whitewashed Victorian villas and begin to see the rustle of palm trees, you know you’re approaching somewhere special. Woolacombe is renowned for its blue flag beach, three miles of golden sand with a backdrop of steep hillsides that typify the North Devon area.
At the northern end of the beach there’s an area that’s great for scrambling over rocks and searching for marine life in the dozens of rockpools, while the remainder is just perfect for spending hours building temporary fortified residences and riding the surf. Virtually every shop in the village appears to hire surfing gear or you can select your very own too. You can also rent a colourful beach hut by the day or a week on the privately-owned beach.
Devon cream teas are, naturally, on offer everywhere from beachside cafes to tea rooms along the main street, but if you fancy putting on glad rags for a slap up dinner, the Woolacombe Bay Hotel, overlooking the beach, is the place to go.
Between the hotel and the main parade of shops is South Street, easily missed but not worthy of missing – head here and you can pick up some fancy accessories for your caravan at Burt’s Bus Emporium or select some tasty morsels at GJ’s Dutch Pancake Bar.
With such sweeping views of the coastline from the surrounding hills, the area around the village of Woolacombe is great for walking too. The South West Coast Path follows the coastline obviously, but head inland along the Combesgate Valley for a delightful streamside walk on National Trust-owned land. Some of the best views of the coastline can be had from Black Cloud Hill south of the valley or, on the southern side of Woolacombe, from Potter’s Hill.
No caravan holiday in Woolacombe would be complete without visiting the neighbouring village of Mortehoe. An ancient stone village neatly tucked onto the clifftop north of Woolacombe, it has a completely different feel from the whitewashed Victorian villas. Where Woolacombe defines space and big holiday homes, Mortehoe is a cosy cluster of tiny cottages around a pretty 13th-century church and a couple of village pubs – head to the Chichester Arms for a hearty meal.
The road between the two villages is not suitable for towing caravans but you can take a stunning walk to the village from Woolacombe via the coastal path or along Combesgate Valley and up over Quarry Hill. Also worthy of a stroll is the vast tract of land to Morte Point, a craggy finger of land from where you could be lucky enough to see bathing seals and dolphins.
With a handful of campsites and caravan parks just outside Woolacombe, you’ll find plenty to occupy your time for a week or two.
Top five things to do in Woolacombe
Learn to surf with one of the various surf schools located in the village. All offer tuition and guidance under professionally qualified instructors and the surfboard and wetsuit are included for the duration of your session.
Visit the Wavedreamer Gallery in the village for a collection of stunning Woolacombe scenes for print on canvas or archive paper.
Head to the EX34 Hub at the Golden Coast Holiday Village for a selection of outdoor activities such as a high ropes course, a climbing wall, a bungee run and a bungee trampoline, plus a new surfing simulator to practise those moves.
Take a scenic horse ride from Woolacombe Riding Stables. With hard hats and boots provided from the British Horse Society and Pony Club approved equestrian centre, choose from a half-hour trek, a one-hour scenic off-road ride, a 90-minute ride overlooking Woolacombe and Combesgate beaches, or a full instruction session for young riders aged four years and over. More experienced riders can take a beach ride or sand dune hack.
Paint your own pottery at the Waves Ceramic Studio. Great for rainy days, you can select what you’d like to paint. All equipment is provided from brushes, sponges and stencils to design books. Your masterpiece will be ready for collection (or posted to you) in one to two days, having been glazed and fired.
When to visit Woolacombe
At a local level, most activities in Woolacombe happen during the summer season from May to September. For example, there are sheepdog displays every week from May to September at Borough Farm, just outside the village, and a Craft Fair takes place every Friday in neighbouring Mortehoe, selling locally produced art and craft work.
Annually, the 10k Beach Run takes place from Woolacombe Sands, with lots of additional activities, in early June followed by the North Devon Marathon at the end of the month, which starts and finishes in the town.
And a don’t miss event is the Mortehoe Scarecrow Festival held annually on the first weekend in August!
How to get to Woolacombe
From the north and east, drive along the M4/M5 to junction 27, then take the A361 to Barnstaple. Avoid the A39 coast road through Exmoor National Park, because there are some 1:4 hills at Porlock, Countisbury and Barbrook that are not suitable for cars towing caravans. That said, this is a rather spectacular road to enjoy with wonderful views across the Exmoor coastline on a day out once you've pitched your van on site.
The A361 is a reasonably fast, straight road with sections of dual-carriageway (and speed cameras) plus plenty of places to pull off for a cuppa. Beyond Barnstaple the approach roads to Woolacombe – the A361 and the B3343 – become narrower but perfectly passable, if taken at an appropriate speed.
The roads between Woolacombe and Mortehoe and also Woolacombe and Georgeham are unsuitable for caravans – when towing, only approach the village via the B3343.