A secret smugglers’ tunnel leading to the beach, coupled with an ancient passenger ferry for a quick getaway. How could I resist? So, on our way home from Dartmoor, we took an unexpected visit to Shaldon.
Shaldon is a small, picturesque fishing village on the South Devon coast in England. The village lies at the mouth of the River Teign, opposite the seaside town of Teignmouth.
However it wasn’t just the footsteps of ancient smugglers I wanted to follow, it was the path of my grandfather who spent his childhood in Shaldon. Plus, my parents inform me that my grandparents regularly took me to Shaldon as a toddler, so it was time for a trip down memory lane.
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One of the most popular things to do in Shaldon is visit the original Smugglers’ Tunnel, so this is where we started our day. It was well-signposted from the car park and only a short walk away. In fact, the tunnels are not very secret at all, but we went in anyway.
A series of damp, winding tunnels lead through the cliffs to Ness Cove Beach. It is exciting to think that smugglers and wreckers may have come this way, though I suspect the lighting is far better now!
Ness Cove beach
The tunnel leads to Ness Cove Beach, a secluded beach, nestled below rugged, red sandstone cliffs. In days gone by this headland was a welcome sight for the sailors passing by. However, today Ness Cove is an award-winning family beach with safe swimming areas.
Although Ness Cove is a picturesque beach, it doesn’t have the golden sands of its Devon neighbours. (We’ve been spoilt after a visit to Bigbury-on-Sea a few days earlier). Instead, you’ll find red shingle, which is not great for sandcastles. However, it does match the cliffs!
After a dip in the sea and wander up the beach, we left to discover the other best things to do in Shaldon.
If you are an animal-lover, one of the best things to do in Shaldon is visit Shaldon Wildlife Trust . This small, family-friendly zoo is only a few minutes’ walk from the entrance to the tunnels.
Set in a woodland garden on the hillside, this wildlife park has a very natural setting. The zoo’s main priority is the conservation of endangered and rare animals, especially primates.
It’s ideal for younger children, as it is only an acre and kids can get close to the animals. You can see lemurs, tamarins, civets, and a collection of amphibians.
A family ticket is £18, which allows you to return as often as you wish on the day of purchase.
From the zoo, we headed down the steep hill to Shaldon Village. The path follows the route of the South West Coastal Path, one of England’s most popular National Trails. The route is 630 miles in total and Shaldon is a popular stopover for walkers.
Shaldon’s coastal path leads directly to the main beach, in the heart of the village. We stopped in the beer garden of the Ferry Boat Inn, which has an idyllic location overlooking the beach.
The main beach is a big contrast to the seclusion of Ness Cove Beach. It is an open space, with many fishing boats, both on the beach and in the water. It is close to the pubs and facilities and is far more accessible than Ness Cove. Of course, it has the same red sand.
The Ferry Boat Inn is located at the landing spot for the ancient passenger ferry, which has been transporting people across to Teignmouth for centuries. In fact, historians have records of it in operation since the 10th Century, making it England’s longest-running ferry boat.
There is now a bridge which takes you directly to Teignmouth, but surely the black and white boat is far more fun? It runs every 15 minutes from the beach.
Away from the waterfront, we found a pristine bowling green, surrounded by Georgian houses. Shaldon has several independent shops, selling beach gifts, pieces of art, and ice creams.
As a seaside village, Shaldon remains unspoilt. It has retained a traditional charm, without bowing to commercialism in the way that some beach resorts do.
Unfortunately, as hard as I tried, I had no recollection of my childhood visits.
The Ness House, Shaldon
If you return up the hillside, you can visit Homeyards Botanical Gardens. Unfortunately, we were out of time, as lunch was calling. We retraced our steps along Marine Parade and stopped at the Ness House pub.
From its perch halfway up the hill, the Ness offers the perfect seascape. We had interrupted views of the estuary and Teignmouth. Of course, it had to be fish and chips for four, before a fond farewell to the pretty village of Shaldon.
The Ness is a large friendly pub, and the food was great. It has a children’s menu, with generous portions, which come with a tub of ice cream, which is always a winner.
Getting to Shaldon, Devon
Shaldon is in Devon, in South-West England, about eight miles North of Torquay. You can get there easily from the A380/A38, which joins to the M5.
The nearest train stations to Shaldon are at Teignmouth or Newton Abbot.
Have you been on a day out in Shaldon, Devon? We’d love to hear your comments below.
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