THE bright lights of Woolacombe are reflected in a calm, still sea as we stroll the beach by moonlight.
A family toasts marshmallows over a bonfire, wrapped up in coats and scarves. Who knew a winter break in this Devon summer hotspot could be every bit as beguiling?
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Without the crowds, there is room to breathe and walk off any worries – socially-distanced of course – on three miles of golden sands.
We managed to sneak in a quick getaway before the latest tier shenanigans – and we couldn’t have enjoyed our break from routine more.
The North Devon resort has remained in Tier 2 so you can still visit, providing you are able to travel. So check the Covid restrictions.
Our base for a few days of freedom – Beach House on Beach Road – couldn’t have been better, just a few minutes’ walk from the centre of the village and, of course, that gorgeous sandy sweep.
The modern holiday home was totally renovated a few years ago and features three large bedrooms, each with en-suite bathrooms boasting rainfall showers. Upstairs also has a large, south-facing balcony from which to admire those stunning sea views.
Downstairs is a spacious, modern kitchen-diner with all the mod-cons you could ever need.
There are TWO living rooms, one with a cosy fireplace and the second with huge picture windows looking out to the garden and, beyond that, the stunning coastline.
Families will love the games room, complete with a three-in-one sports table for pool, table tennis and air hockey, plus a sofa, smart TV and dartboard. All this is topped off with a wet room for cleaning up after country walks and days at the beach.
Clearly the owners are keen to help guests make the most of their breaks, with a wealth of information in a handy binder identifying the best places to eat, drink and visit. We took their advice and got fish and chips from Woolacombe Fryer, with the long queue of locals out the door proof we had made the right choice.
With the October sun shining in clear skies, the next morning we drove along the coast to Barnstaple to hire bikes from Tarka Trail Cycle Hire.
Inspired by the route travelled by Tarka the Otter in Henry Williamson’s books, the 180-mile figure-eight loop takes you through lovely countryside, past dramatic sea cliffs and beautiful beaches.
The southern loop is the nation’s longest continuous off-road cycle path. But being cycling softies, we opted for hybrid electric bikes and set off from Banstaple to follow the off-road path for six miles to Bideford.
The scenery, again, was sensational and the chance to relax with a pint in this pretty coastal market-town was all the incentive we needed to keep the wheels rolling.
After a stroll, mooching around the antiques shops and stopping at a seafood stall, we were all set for a relaxing evening back at Beach House.
With the weather fair but the winds picking up, we rounded off our short break exploring two of the area’s more unusual beaches.
On Barricane Beach, a sheltered cove at Woolacombe’s far northern end, keep an eye out for treasures in the sand. It is known as a home of exotic shells carried all the way from the Caribbean.
But do check the tides before you head off. It becomes a large natural pool at high tide.
Our final stop was at the Tunnels Beaches in nearby Ilfracombe. Excavated by hand in the 1820s, four tunnels provide access to unique sheltered beaches, separated so Victorian ladies and gentlemen could take the waters in suitably genteel fashion.
Woolacombe in winter proved the perfect reset for this Covid-crazy time: Oodles of fresh air, sea views and good food.
STAYING THERE: Original Cottages has three-night breaks at Beach House, sleeping six, from £913 in total in January and February 2021. Details at originalcottages.co.uk.
OUT & ABOUT: Tarka Trail Cycle Hire has hybrid bikes from £10 for a half day or £13.50 for a full day. There is a vast range of other bike options and all come with free helmets. See tarkabikes.co.uk. Access to The Tunnels beaches is from £2.75 per adult.
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