Whether you’re a seasoned campervan explorer or you are thinking of trying it for the first time, South West England is the ideal destination for a varied holiday. Devon, in particular, is a United Kingdom county of opposites. Beautiful moorlands coexist with bustling cities. Laidback coastal destinations are just a couple of hours from the nature found inland. Devon is a strip of England that isn’t much more than 100 miles from tip to toe, meaning these places lie within close proximity to each other. A quick drive down the road will lead you somewhere with a completely different atmosphere.
Activities like water sports and hiking draw visitors to the county. For those who wish to park their campervan up for a few days and explore the area car-free, there are hundreds of miles of cycle paths too. The south coast especially has excellent trails. Exe Estuary Trail runs through Exeter, Exmouth and Dawlish Warren, while off-road tracks can be found inside Haldon Forest Park.
Devon is also a land of castles, manors and abbeys, for anybody seeking heritage. And after days of discovery in your van, food and drink options will tempt you into local eateries. Be sure to sample a famed Devonshire cream tea on your tour – an afternoon treat involving a scone coated with heavenly clotted cream and strawberry jam.
Appropriate campervan parking is widely available across the county, and the wide-ranging motorhome sites mean you can choose a base that suits your interests. Towards the south coast you will discover options like Dartmouth Camping and Caravanning Club Site, where you can wake up overlooking the sea. Dartmoor National Park can easily be explored from sites at Tavistock and Lydford. Meanwhile, road trippers in the north might choose Newberry Valley Touring and Camping Park, or Lobb Fields Caravan and Camping Park just under two miles from Saunton Beach.
Whether your dream is touring the Devon coast behind the wheel of a classic Volkswagen vehicle or visiting cities in a modern motorhome, campervan rental offers the freedom to choose. But, what should you be looking for when hiring a van?
First up, think about size. Traditional vans, such as the vintage VW models, are icons of the campervan holiday. However, if you’re a family of six, they’re unlikely to be the right option.
Providing a vintage van has been well maintained, it’s better for couples looking to explore at a leisurely pace. Some of the VW vans are advertised as sleeping four, with pop-up roofs providing extra accommodation for sleeping. Space can be tight with three to four people though, so it’s advisable to take a tent to pitch alongside your van if you’re likely to need a little extra room.
A number of modern conversions of these classic vans sit in the middle of the size scale. Driving like a big car, these frequently fit a couple and two young children comfortably, offering slightly more space. They’re still smaller than a motorhome, so they may be more suited to holidays where you expect to be driving through larger cities. Look out for Toyota or Ford models.
At the top end of the scale, contemporary motorhomes are a very popular option for hire. This is because they are roomy and extra comfortable. Sleeping up to six people, these are a practical option for small groups and families. Some of the bigger models may also come with a small toilet and shower room, adding convenience to your tour.
The modern conversions and motorhomes are sometimes built with diesel engines, which may be a consideration if you’re planning on touring long distances and are looking for fuel-efficiency.
Most vans will additionally come with basic kitchen facilities such as a sink, tap, fridge and two-ring gas hob. A larger vehicle may even have an oven or a grill. If you’re planning on regularly eating out, then the first option will be more than enough to whip up quick meals and snacks. Families planning on eating in their vans most nights might find the added extras give more flexibility when it comes to preparing meals.
Insurance and licenses are another key consideration for your Devon campervan trip. If you’re interested in the larger motorhome option, be aware that a full driving license doesn’t automatically mean you’re allowed to drive one. This all depends on when you took your driving test. Those who took the test before 1997 and are aged under 70 are able to drive motorhomes up to 7500 kg, under the C1 category of their driving license. If you took your test after 1997, or are aged over 70 and you haven’t renewed your C1 category, then you are limited to vans weighing 3500 kg or less.
The insurance setup varies between companies, so check with the campervan hire company in Devon you’re using whether insurance is included as part of the rental. There may be additional costs for insurance or named drivers.
Ready to buckle up your seatbelt and get on the road? Devon is calling.
Exploring Devon in a Campervan
Many of the campervan rental companies on the way into Devon are clustered around Exeter and Exmouth. One popular road trip takes the route from Exeter to Dartmouth. The B3212 offers a scenic drive through a portion of Dartmoor National Park. Take a pit stop and a picnic around Becky Falls and Hound Tor Deserted Medieval Village, an abandoned site of stone longhouses. Public footpaths are numerous in the national park, but you will need an OS map to locate these attractions once you park the van. More points of interest on this route include Buckfast Abbey, Woodlands Family Theme Park, and Buckfast Butterfly Farm and Dartmoor Otter Sanctuary.
Stay close to Dartmouth to enjoy the outdoor pursuits of south west England. Walking on the South West Coast Path is a great way to make the most of the scenery. Rugged headlands in Dartmouth lead you to more tranquil spaces around Torcross. Another alternative is to drive to Totnes for cycling along the Dart Valley Cycle Way. Totnes is worth a wander too, boasting a Norman castle and an interesting high street.
From Dartmouth, you might consider journeying a little further along the coast to Torbay. Part of the English Riviera, Torbay is renowned for some of the most popular beaches in Devon. The sheltered bay has its own microclimate, nurturing year-round palm trees that grow along the seafront.
Torquay, one of the larger towns in Torbay, boasts elegant Victorian buildings and an international marina. It’s a great stop-off point for those wishing to indulge in the many top-quality foodie offerings available in Devon. Paignton is another highlight of the English Riviera, with a lovely pier and promenade for evening strolls. The stretch of sand here houses beautiful little beach huts, a throwback to the history of this seaside resort.
Journeys north from Exeter or Exmouth are lovely too, taking you towards Lynton and Combe Martin via Exmoor National Park. Before you depart these main urban spaces, take some time to enjoy their sights.
Located on the south-Devon coast, Exeter is a small but vibrant city with a range of visitor attractions appealing to different age groups. Varied historical attractions include its underground passageways, a castle and the Exeter City Walls. Exeter Cathedral, in particular, is a magnificent example of a medieval building in Devon. Its beauty and Gothic architecture place it as Exeter’s top tourist attraction. Tours through the city’s medieval underground passages are hugely popular too, especially during school holidays.
There are a range of activity centres, such as climbing walls and a ‘Go Ape’, to keep younger and more active visitors entertained in the city. Meanwhile, the historic Quayside area includes a variety of pubs and restaurants for a drink or dinner on your campervan break.
Torquay, one of the towns in the English Riviera, is a foodie lover’s paradise. A host of Michelin-starred restaurants and continental-style cafes satisfy all tastes here. The Orange Tree, The Elephant and Number 7 come highly recommended, using the freshest local ingredients. Family-friendly options include Rockfish Torquay, while those on a budget might choose good old-fashioned takeaway fish and chips.
Walks along the beautiful promenade, boat trips and a traditional ‘bucket and spade’ holiday make this town a great choice. Torquay has plenty of car parks suitable for a campervan, and the wide range of campsites across the bay make it an accessible option for touring Devon.
Drive your campervan just down the road from Exeter and you will reach Exmouth: a pretty beachside town and one of the oldest in Devon.
Exmouth is perfect for lovers of water sports and outdoor pursuits. Home to the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site, the town has a variety of scenic cliff walks and is particularly popular with windsurfers and kayakers. Make sure you head out to Orcombe Point, where a geoneedle marks the beginning of the heritage site. The geology of the landscape here spans millions of years, and it’s visible in the rock formations.
For something more relaxed, the Exmouth Pavilion runs a series of free concerts in the gardens throughout the summer months. It also houses a restaurant with sea views across Exmouth’s beaches.