Thinking of Devon often evokes sepia-toned scenes of cream teas, chocolate-box cottages and rambling on wild Exmoor. Yet this genteel image of the county is only as true as you make it round these parts. Sure, there’s the traditional Devonian charm of sleepy village Georgeham; not to mention the typical seaside ‘candy-floss ‘n’ kiss-me-quick’ chic of the family resorts at Woolacombe. But if you’ve descended upon the North Devon coast with tent on back, board under arm and adventure on your mind, you’ve come to the right place – for Croyde Bay is undoubtedly England’s surf capital.
Acres of sand, pounding surf, and bronzed lifeguards... welcome to the Gold Coast. It may be a tad cooler than the Aussie version but, more importantly, it is much nearer for us Poms. Okay, so our cousins down under might enjoy near perma-sunny skies, but on an early summer morning, with the breeze just right, we’d take Croyde over Byron Bay any day of the week. With its lush green hills ravining down to blustery expanses of open beach, there’s no disputing the beauty of Croyde Bay. This wide sweep of dune-backed sand flanked by the finest field-green North Devon hills is the closest thing you’ll find to an Aussie surf beach in this part of the world, gifting awesome waves to pros and beginners alike.
Anyone lucky enough to secure a pitch at this long-running campsite will understand why owners Benny and Lou chose the name. As you drive here through a landscape dotted with campsites it’s not until you reach the very closest spot to the sea that this enviably elevated spot reveals itslef.For surfers, it’s ideal. Hours can pass as you scan the endless blue horizon for that elusive perfect wave. And from its priceless vantage point, Ocean Pitch is one of the few campsites in the area with direct beach views, meaning you can keep an eye on the surf from your, well, ‘ocean pitch’, and race down with your board when the waves are breaking. And if you’re not here for the surf, it’s just as great being able to wake up and see the ocean each morning while you cook your breakfast sausages. The stunning Croyde Bay provides a perfect canvas for this unparalleled campsite masterpiece, and the site is on the coastal path, so it’s easy to reach the neighbouring beaches on foot.
Book some lessons with Surfing Croyde Bay or Surf South West or take advantage of the stunning heritage coastline path with a walk to Baggy Point. Croyde Bay also hosts the annual Oceanfest – a beach, sports and music festival in June. To see how it all began, visit the Museum of British Surfing in Braunton. Here you’ll find a detailed history of the long board in our native waters, including sketches of Hawaiian surfers by Captain Cook’s crew, airbrushed surf art on early boards and photos of the locals riding the waves on wooden planks in the 1920s. You may also be surprised to learn that Devon’s most famous daughter, none other than Agatha Christie, was an early surf pioneer who mastered the art of stand-up surfing in Waikiki. Horse riding on Croyde beach is a must-do experience, whether a leisurely beach trot or epic country trek, exploring Croyde on horseback is a great way to soak up the atmosphere. The family- run, pretention-free Roylands Riding Holidays is based in central Croyde and welcome experienced riders and first-timers all year round. Discover the area on two wheels by hopping on the Tarka Trail and exploring the beautiful coast and countryside. Bikes can be hired from Tarka Trail Cycle Hire (01271 813339) in Braunton.
There's on-site catering from Biffen's Kitchen, a suitably surf-inspired street food truck. Scoff a Devon cream tea at Centery Farm (01271 879603). The Thatch (01271 890349) pub is a lively surfers’ hangout with decent food. The Blue Groove (01271 890111) combines laid-back beach-bum vibe with trippy artwork and an internationally eclectic menu that includes Thai curries, Mexican pancakes and Japanese noodles. In the village of Georgeham, just inland, try the food and real ales at The Rock (01271 890322), where they do a great Sunday lunch and serve lunch and dinner daily in a light, bright conservatory. For some of the best fish and chips you’re likely to have on the North Devon coast, go to Squires Fish (01271 815533) in neighbouring Braunton. They’ve been frying the freshest Devon-caught fish here since 1969 and the stylish 2-floor restaurant attracts many celebrity admirers, not least Rick Stein. Find out more about organic farming and conservation at the dairy at West Hill Farm (01271 815477) and taste their wares. You can buy cold drinks and chocolate bars onsite, plush they have a cool retro slush puppy machine! Ivan's cool split screen, coffee-serving campervan also parks up in the peak season.