Leaving the M5 motorway at Junction 27 the journey on Devon's backroads will first take you on the A361 towards Barnstaple. This is a major A road, crossing the River Exe at Tiverton, and giving you a direct and quick route into the heart of this county.
Once at Barnstaple you will be at the beginnings of the estuary of the River Taw. The town has a Victorian character and the Pannier Market, a Devon speciality, is worth a visit. Its high glass roof and timber framing is architecturally quite rare but very attractive. The remains of the castle consists of just the earthworks but a pleasant park surrounds it.
Take the A30 towards Bideford. This delightful town lies on the Taw at a much wider point and is a traditional historic sea port with one of the longest medieval bridges in England, the 24 arch Bideford Long Bridge which was built in 1474. There is a local tale that each arch is a different size as various guilds and townspeople contributed for each arch and as each one differs, it shows the amount contributed by each donor. Of course, it could be due to using the earlier wooden bridge as a form of scaffolding and the stones were then built around the varying wooden arches. The bridge is 677ft (222 metres) long.
The town grew as an important dock for both import and export, especially wool, and by the 16th century was one of England's largest ports. Shipbuilding was also a major industry here but a decline in the 19th century saw Bideford turn into a sleepy town full of narrow alleyways and stone cottages with a long promenade along the river front. Streets climb steeply up from the riverside and the Pannier Market here is a delight. A small iron roofed building at the top of a steep hill with little cafes and gift shops. Parking can be found just below the market at the Bridge Street car park.
From Bideford it is a short drive to Westward Ho! a small seaside village on Bideford Bay with a fine sandy beach. Palms grow in the gardens of the brightly painted cottages and surfers head out to the waves. Back on the A39 head west to Clovelly, a stunningly beautiful fishing village with a very steep but rewarding climb in and out to the harbour. It is such a popular destination that a fee is charged to enter the village but it is well worth it. The ancient cobbled street is so steep and narrow that goods and groceries are delivered here by sled over the shiny cobbles. Donkeys transport visitors who do not wish to undertake the steep walk. The harbour and main street is breathtakingly beautiful and picture postcard perfect, if a little on the crowded side in high season.
Head back east on the A39 then turn inland from here on the A386 towards Great Torrington following the River Torridge and the remains of the old railway line, now a cycle path. When you cross the Torridge on the approach to Great Torrington on the A386 you will see the older bridge on your left, this is known as Rothern Bridge which goes back to the 15th century. Just after crossing the river pull in on your left to the old station car park. The railway line closed in the 1980s but the station yard has a collection of old railway stock and a cafe. You can walk back and cross the old bridge as well. Continue then, onwards to Okehampton and the Dartmoor National Park. Okehampton is a wool town on the edge of the National Park, worth pausing to see its ruined castle and the pretty 18th century town houses along its main street.
Dartmoor was given National Park status in 1951 and covers 368 square miles (954 square km), made up largely of moorland, peat and granite outcrops. Livestock farming is common and narrow country lanes link small village communities.
Head into the National Park and enjoy its stunning and dramatic landscapes by taking the B3260 out of Okehampton to Sticklepath then follow a collection of narrow country lanes via Throwleigh and Murchington to Chagford on the River Teign with its collection of thatched houses and 16th century meeting house on the charming town square. The lanes that you be following here will be very narrow, even with grass growing in the middle of the roadway. It can be challenging but it will be very scenic, however the wider main road is the A30 and A382 from Okehampton to Chagford. The B3206 can take you back to the A382 from Chagford then drive south to Heathfield if you do not wish to attempt the series of narrow lanes to North Bovey and Lustleigh.
If you do leave Chagford on the country lanes then wind your way down from here towards Bovey Castle and North Bovey. The castle in question is actually a manor house built in 1905 and converted into a top class hotel, once you have marvelled at that you will arrive at the pretty village of North Bovey with its whitewashed thatched cottages and village green. The green is full of trees planted at different periods for different events in history, a coronation here, the jubilee of a monarch there, the millenium, etc. The picture postcard bucolic setting is surely worth a photo stop and a gentle stroll around.
Meandering country lanes and wild moorland will accompany you on the next leg of the journey down to Lustleigh for more charming thatched buildings and a old Celtic Cross on the village green alongside the 14th church of St John the Baptist. Its worth stopping here and taking a short walk to the edge of the village along Wreyland Path, a cluster of beautiful thatched cottages await you at the end!
From here head to the A382 towards Heathfield and the A38 south west towards Ashburton. Exit right on the B3352 into the town and drive along its charming main street. Drive onwards to the end of the town and a little further on make a right turn for the 12th century Buckfast Abbey, here the Abbey was refounded by French Cistercians in 1882, so despite Henry VIII closing the abbey down, it thrives again and is open to visitors. There is a fairly modern Abbey church with a grand tower plus a restaurant and gift shop which sells the famous Buckfast Tonic Wine.
Pass by the Abbey gatehouse and continue heading north, driving back into Dartmoor to the beautiful village of Holne and via Venford Reservoir then up to the summit of Combestone Tor, a stunning viewpoint, 1168ft (356 m) above sea level with its brooding granite outcrops. There is a small car park with a short walk to this craggy collection of stones. Wide breathtaking views can be had in all directions.
Follow the road through wild open moorland down to Hexworthy to the B3357 and turn right to Dartmeet where, as the name suggests, the East and West Dart rivers meet. A very photogenic and popular location. Cross over the old stone bridge and turn left for the car park. Notice the ancient ruined 'Clapper' bridge used by shepherds in days gone by. Return on the B3357, back the way you came, this time continuing west to Two Bridges and then left on the B3212 via Princetown towards Burrator Reservoir. Look out for the Dartmoor ponies who seem to be oblivious to vehicular traffic and meander along the roads happily greeting tourists who stop to say hello. Eventually turn left down a narrow country lane which will take you along the west bank of the reservoir with plenty of photo opportunities. With a pine forest visable on the other bank it has a bit of a Scottish feel to it. The drive will end up in the pretty village of Meavy with its 15th century pub and ancient oak tree in the village centre.
By following the River Meavy out of the village westwards you will pass through Hoo Meavy and Clearbrook to the A386. Turn left here and follow the road to Plymouth.
Plymouth lies on the estuaries of the Plym and Tamar rivers, the latter being a border between Devon and neighbouring Cornwall. And it was chiefly exports from Cornwall that boosted Plymouth as a port over the centuries. The exporting of China clay, tin and copper left these shores here, having been mined and excavated just west over the border. Plymouth and the Royal Docks just over to the east in the neighbouring harbour of Devonport saw a major shipbuilding industry and its importance as a naval base saw much destruction during the Second World War. There are many modern buildings within the city centre but one glimpse of old Plymouth can be seen in Pryston House, built in 1498.
The Box is the city's art gallery and museum and is free of charge to visit. Part of the museum is dedicated to the Pilgrim Fathers who sailed from here to the New World on 6th September 1620. Nearby at the harbourside are the Mayflower Steps, a memorial to those early adventurers and placed at a location as near as possible to where it was believed they hoisted anchor.
The nearest parking is at Vauxhall Street car park right by the marina and very near the town centre. The car park is rather small but just down Commercial Road is the Elphinstone car park just along the quayside and by part of the old town defences. It is much larger and provides a pleasant walk back into the centre along the quayside.
From Plymouth head out east on to the A38 towards Ivybridge, continuing a few miles further then taking a right on the A385 to Totnes, here head right again and southwards on the A381 to Halwell and the A3122 to Dartmouth. Partway along the A3122 you will see the entrance to Woodlands Family Theme Park with fairground rides, water slides and a zoo. It also has a very large indoor play area, perfect if the weather is a little on the cool or wet side!!
At Dartmouth the river that you will have seen up on the moors, the very same river that gives its name to the National Park, meets the ocean here. Dartmouth is famous for its regatta and the naval college that sits proudly on the hill above the town. The Britannia Royal Naval College opened in 1863 and is still in use for training sailors today. A cascade of attractive houses meander down to the river itself and right by the collection of yachts and sea going vessels is a railway station that has never had a railway. Dartmouth station sells tickets for the ferry that takes you over the river to Kingswear where trains are waiting to continue to Paignton. You can cross using the car ferry and once in Kingswear drive up out of the town and over the tops towards Brixham on the B3205. You are now in the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Brixham is a beautiful and delightfully photogenic fishing village. Just pull into the large Brixham central car park and wander down to the harbourside. Old stone fishermen's cottages stand alongside the quay and trawlers head out to sea. This is clearly a working community but tourism does play an important role for standing predominantly in the middle of the harbour is a replica of Sir Francis Drake's "Golden Hinde", a ship that circumnavigated the globe in 1577. This replica, built in 1988, is fully accessible and you can explore all decks, rigging and defences!!
There are plenty of fish and chip shops around the quayside. Load up with food and take a scenic stroll over to Berry Head, about a half hours walk. The rocky headland played host to fortifications over the centuries. There are remains of an Iron Age hillfort and more recently a fortress built from 1794 to 1804 to defend Britain during the Napoleonic Wars. The remaining buildings provide a museum plus a cafe with spectacular views.
From Brixham join the A3022 and then the A379 towards Paignton. Stop off at the beautiful stretch of coastline known as Goodrington Sands, a perfect sandy beach decorated by colourful bathing huts and the occasional passing of a stream train on the Paignton and Dartmouth steam railway. Paignton itself is a very popular seaside resort with a pier built in 1879. Its zoo boasts 2,500 animals on a 80 acre site. The promenade isn't a typical collection of amusement arcades, fast food and bingo halls but rather a large open grassed area with a backdrop of hotels and guest houses, the more lively area of food and amusements is kept further back into the town. Nevertheless Paignton has the liveliness and hustle and bustle that many enjoy. Others prefer to move along the coast to gentile Torquay.
Torquay is a hilly resort that takes advantage of the milder climate here in the southernmost parts of Britain. Those hills that form a backdrop to the town fend off any unwelcome colder north winds. Here one can stroll along the Royal Terrace Garden, past the main harbour and over to the Beacon Quay Marina. Take a ride on The Big Wheel, the large ferris wheel on the sea front, then relax in the adjacent Princess Gardens.
A short but scenic drive around the headland will take you to Babbacombe Beach. Take Meadfoot Sea Drive then Ilsham Marine Drive to get the best views, stop at the little park and viewpoint with a lookout point towards Thatcher Rock. Continue to Babbacombe with its unspoilt little beach and funicular cliff railway. The model village here is also worth a visit.
Leave Torbay along the A379 towards Teignmouth and the estuary of the River Teign, cross here and follow the A379 along the coast to Dawlish and neighbouring Dawlish Warren where the estuary of the River Exe meets the sea. Lines of palms grace the sea front at Dawlish and the beautiful sandy beaches at Dawlish Warren are part of a National Nature Reserve. The A379 will then skirt the Exe estuary up to the city of Exeter for a final break.
For a final break in this tour head over to Magdalen Street car park where one can walk along the River Exe to the old harbourside warehouses, now converted to restaurants, bars and shops. Make your way to the stunning Gothic cathedral completed in 1400 and visit Rougemont Castle, named after its distinctive red stone and whose ruins stand in the centre of the city amongst the landscaped Northernhay Gardens. A journey from Exeter back to London will take you on the M5 motorway towards Bristol then the M4 to Heathrow Airport and London itself.