the classic guide

A guide to the West Country from the people that know…

Classic Summer

Days out at the beach. Building the perfect picnic. Experiencing the California effect. These are just some of the things we love about summer in the South West. Not to mention escaping the crowds, bucketloads of ice cream, exploring hidden nooks and crannies and evenings under the stars. Here's our guide to a week-and-a-bit's-worth of summertime fun.


1. Beach Days

We've lovingly listed over 250 beaches in the South West for you to explore on the Classic Guide. If you visited a different beach every week, it would take nearly five years to see them all. It's an enticing prospect. But for those who don't have the luxury of a five year beach plan, you could start with the eight – yes, eight – South West beaches that made it into the UK's Top Ten Beaches. Or take pot luck and see what takes your fancy from our selection of holiday cottages by a sandy beach.

2. Building the Perfect Picnic

Food tastes better outdoors. On the beach at sunset, cooling your heels in a woodland stream, or on a blanket spread out on the springy grass on the moors. Add generous helpings of fresh air and good company and you've got the recipe for a perfect summer picnic. Food miles are measured in metres here. Keep your eyes peeled on country lanes for stalls selling farm eggs and veg. Or track down a South West farm shop or farmers' market for a full-flavour feast fresh from the fields.

3. The California Effect

When the sun's shining and the waves are rolling in over the pristine white sand, the South West can feel like a little piece of California. All you need to complete the effect is a surfboard. There are over 50 surf schools to choose from, where the pros will have you on your feet in no time. Or ditch the wetsuit and dust down the all-in-one swimsuit and flowery bathing cap to celebrate the traditional art of board riding. Tip up at the World Bellyboard Championships at Chapel Porth in north Cornwall where 200 retro surfers hit the waves on wooden boards to compete in the only surf comp with prizes for 'best patina' and 'nicest cake'.

4. Escaping the Crowds

There's nothing like a good hearty stomp across the fields and a healthy dose of country air to recharge the batteries. Leave behind the hustle and bustle for a world of winding country lanes, fields, woodlands, stepping-stone streams and wild, open moors. The West Country does rural like nowhere else. There are plenty of opportunities to walk, fish or cycle – or just sit back, relax and enjoy the silence. Pick your perfect country hideaway from our selection of rural holiday cottages in The West Country.

5. Bucketloads of Ice Cream

The South West does ice cream the way nature intended: fresh and creamy, made with milk straight from the local herd. With no added nasties, just lip-smacking goodness. (Ok, maybe we should draw the line at a bucket, but an extra scoop won't hurt.) Here are three of our favourites.

Jelberts Ices – based in Newlyn, it grew out of a dairy business run by Jim Glover's grandfather before the Second World War, which delivered local milk and other dairy products in and around the town. They still only do one flavour – clotted cream – and it's simply sublime.

Granny Gothards Ice Cream – seriously creamy, made with milk from a herd that live on the lush Somerset Levels. The Cider Brandy flavour is so good it got two gold stars at the Great Taste Awards. Contact them to arrange a tour of HQ.

Barford Farmhouse Ice Cream – they use milk from their own herd to make this scrumptious Dorset ice cream. Handily, the farm is on the Stour Valley Walk and the North Dorset cycle route, so you can stop off for a well-earned ice cream break. They do a huge array of flavours, including Double Liquorice.

6. Exploring Hidden Nooks and Crannies

Tired of the beach? Embark on a quest to delve deep into The South West's hidden nooks and crannies. Winkle out ancient caves, mysterious 'fogous' and smugglers' hideouts. Rough, ready and open to the elements, or buried deep in the belly of the land; some are more under cover than others. Choose where you want to explore according to the weather and how adventurous you want to be with our Guide to the South West's Hidden Nooks and Crannies.

7. Shows Under the Stars

All the world really is a stage in the South West. Clifftops, beaches, castles and beer gardens spring into life in the summer months when actors, musicians, poets and singers come out of the woodwork to perform under the sun or the stars. We recommend bringing along blankets and cushions.

The Minack Theatre – Cornwall's world-famous clifftop theatre is an obvious choice, but who could tire of coming here? The ever-changing scenery of cliff, sea and sky – and Mother Nature's unpredictable input – always provide an extra dash of excitement to the performances.

Killerton House and Gardens – the gardens are the star of the show at Killerton, near Exeter. Open-air theatre is hosted here during the summer among the rhododendrons and magnolias, set against the backdrop of Devon's rolling countryside.

The Square and Compass – sipping a Dorset Gold at this quirky country pub, to the twang of a visiting muso, is high up our list of summertime musts. You'll be joined by the brood of tame chickens. The stage is a field out the back, with the rolling fields and sea in the distance. One of only 20 or so pubs to have appeared in every edition of the CAMRA Good Beer Guide.

7 ½ because a week is never enough. Before you leave, take time out to unwind. Discover a slice of West Country wilderness. Stay for one more sunset, or sunrise, at one of our Top 3 places to Unwind.

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