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Secrets Of Devon & The Hidden Gems You Must Discover!

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Easily one of our most favourite things about living in the UK is all of the stories, tales and legends that are carved into the very stone our cities are made from.

So today, we’re diving deep into Devon – our favourite English county.

These are all the hidden gems and secrets of Devon we’ve discovered so far, which are sure to captivate you just as much as us!

Secrets Of Devon & The Hidden Gems You Must Discover!

Secrets Of Devon & The Hidden Gems You Must Discover!

1. ‘The House That Moved’ in Exeter

The House That Moved in Exeter

On the corner of West Street and Lower Rackclose Lane in Exeter, there is a bridal shop housed within an old Tudor building, which has a very interesting story to tell.

It’s called ‘The House That Moved’.

Post-WWII, a new road system was due to be completed in Exeter, resulting in the loss of many historic buildings within the city centre.

Number 16 Edmund Street, or Merchant House was what it was once called, was a Grade II listed building circa 1430 and was due to be demolished to make way for this new through-road.

But thanks to pressure from historians and archaeologists who didn’t want to lose the oldest building in Exeter, the council agreed to spend £10,000 and actually move the house out of the way of the new road. 

Come December 1961, the house was hoisted up and moved to West Street. 

It’s really interesting when seeing it in person because the house really does look like it’s just been bolted on the end of the street – and to this very day remains the worst-kept secret in Exeter.

DON’T MISS: When you’re visiting ‘The House That Moved’, take a look at Book-Cycle just across the road from it. This bookshop housed within an old Tudor building sells used and vintage tomes and runs off of donations. Head upstairs and you’ll find a comfy sofa and reading room!

Reading room inside the Book Cycle shop in Exeter
Inside the Book Cycle shop in Exeter

Secrets of Devon Address Book:
Pirouette Bridal aka ‘The House That Moved’
24 West Street

2. The River Otter Beavers

Another of Devon’s secrets and hidden gems involves beavers, which mysteriously arrived in the River Otter in 2008. 

No one knows how they came to be there but still to this day, the Otter is the only river in England known to have wild beavers living there.

There are now eight beaver families living in the River Otter, and it’s said that you might be able to spot them if you head to the mouth of the river near Budleigh Salterton, or base yourself near Otterton in the early morning or evening.

3. ‘Robin Hood of Dartmoor’ and the Gubbins of Lydford

Lydford Gorge White Lady Waterfall

Lydford Gorge is one of my favourite places in Devon as it’s home to a charming 3-mile riverside walk past a 100-foot high waterfall (Whitelady Waterfall) and a mystically named whirlpool called the Devil’s Cauldron. 

Lydford Gorge

Lydford also has its place in history as back in the 17th century, a gang of violent outlaws known as the Gubbins lived in the caves around the gorge for many years, stealing sheep, mugging passersby and terrorising the local villagers. 

The Gubbins’ leader was supposedly someone called Roger Rowle who is said to have been the ‘Robin Hood of Dartmoor’ but this was NOT a term of endearment!

Rowle and the Gubbins have been mentioned by various writers over the centuries, including in a poem by William Browne from the 17th century called ‘A Lydford Journey’.

Here’s an extract from it:

And near hereto’s the Gubbins’ cave;
A people that no knowledge have
Of law, or God, or men:
Whom Caesar never yet subdued;
Who’ve lawless liv’d; of manners rude;
All savage in their den.
By whom, — if any pass that way,
He dares not the least time to stay,
For presently they howl;
Upon which signal they do muster
Their naked forces in a cluster.
Led forth by Roger Rowle.

Extract from ‘A Lydford Journey’, William Browne (1644)

Secrets of Devon Address Book:
Lydford Gorge
EX20 4BH

4. The Mysterious Wistman’s Wood

Something else we love about living in England is discovering all the mysterious woods full of twisted mossy branches, ancient oak trees and intriguing tales rooted in legend.

And Devon’s answer to this is Wistman’s Wood near Two Bridges in Dartmoor National Park.

It’s said to be the most haunted place on Dartmoor and is rife with tales of ghosts, the Devil, poisonous adders and the ‘Wisht Hounds’ with a thirst for blood.

So beware the scare of the ‘Wood of the Wisemen’.

Secrets of Devon Address Book:
Wistman’s Wood
Two Bridges
PL19 9NA

5. North Devon’s Secret Island

Puffins on Lundy Island in Devon

While most people know about the Isles of Scilly, Isle of Wight, Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, very few know about Devon-owned Lundy Island.

In fact, it’s often nicknamed North Devon’s Secret Island!

Lundy Island is no more than 3 miles long by 0.6 miles wide and is just a 2 hour ferry journey away from Bideford and Ilfracombe in North Devon, so it’s really easy to explore it as a day trip.

Look out for puffins and seals during your visit, as well as the various ancient buildings and ruins here like a medieval castle, Georgian lighthouse and the remains of Bronze Age settlements.

Be sure to take a look around the shops in the village too where you can even buy Lundy Island stamps!

Secrets of Devon Address Book:

The Lundy Shore Office
The Quay
EX39 2EY

6. East Devon’s Secret Garden

Burrow Farm Gardens, Devon

Have you ever wanted to escape into a secret garden a la Mary Lennox? Well now you can at Burrow Farm Gardens!

Nicknamed East Devon’s ‘Secret Garden’, Burrow Farm Gardens is all kinds of wonderful!

There are over 13 acres of gardens to explore – from wildflower meadows and rose gardens to ancient maple woodlands and ponds surrounded by giant “Dinosaur Food” plants.

Dinosaur Leaves at Burrow Farm Gardens

And yep, we even found a secret gardenesque gate!

Better still, Burrow Farm Gardens is dog friendly so your pet pooch can join you on your rambles too!

Secrets of Devon Address Book:
Burrow Farm Gardens
Old Taunton Road
EX13 7ET

7. England’s Last Castle

Famously cited as the last castle to be built in England, Castle Drogo in Drewsteignton was built between 1910 and 1930 for the wealthy owner of Home and Colonial Stores Julius Drewe and his family.

It’s now owned by the National Trust

While the castle itself is a hidden gem, this castle is also included in many roundups of “Devon’s Secret Gardens”.

Castle Drogo Secret Garden - Bunty House

There is said to be 600 acres worth of land on the Castle Drogo estate, and if you look for long enough, you may be able to find the hidden Bunty House complete with its own miniature garden that was made for Drewe’s youngest daughter.

It’s a cute wendy house and is considered to be a great example of “a garden within a garden”.

Secrets of Devon Address Book:
Castle Drogo

8. Ilfracombe’s Pregnant Lady: Verity

Verity statue in Ilfracombe

Scott and I didn’t know that much about Ilfracombe before our weekend getaway there, but we were in awe of a bronze statue that towered over us at a whopping 66 feet!

It depicts a pregnant lady holding a sword and scales and standing on a pile of books.

We later found out that the statue is called Verity and was created by Damien Hirst in 2012. It’s supposed to resemble truth and justice as the books are law books and the scales are the scales of justice.

Verity is on loan to the town of Ilfracombe for twenty years so you’ve got until 2032 to see her.

Secrets of Devon Address Book:
EX34 9EQ

9. The “Secret” Cove of Heddon’s Mouth

Heddon Mouth's Cove in Devon

While tourists flock to well known beaches in their hoards, those in the know go searching for hidden bays and secluded coves.

In Devon, the place to be is Heddon’s Mouth Beach, which can be reached via a one mile walk along Heddon Valley.

It’s a pebble beach (and a small one!) but very few end up here so it’s a tranquil place to come.

Heddon Mouth Cove Beach in Devon

Afterwards, be sure to follow the coastal paths surrounding Heddon Valley for epic views across the Bristol Channel.

It’s a challenging climb as the beginning is uphill for a fair way and the paths are narrow – but it’s certainly worth it to be up this high!

Coastal views from Heddon Valley, Devon

Here’s the full trail although there’s no reason why you can’t do some of it and head back the way you came.

Secrets of Devon Address Book:
Hunters Inn*
EX31 4PY

*for the car park; you need to walk to Heddon’s Mouth for 1 mile

10. Tea & Cake Where Waters Meet

Watersmeet in Devon

If you’re wondering where the most picturesque place to enjoy tea and cake in Devon is then look no further than Watersmeet House.

This pretty house sits beside the meeting of the East Lyn river and Hoar Oak Water, and when the weather’s nice, there’s nowhere better for enjoying some tea and cake while surrounded by nature.

Afterwards, be sure to follow the rivers for stunning woodland walks and through fields of foxgloves.

Foxgloves near Watersmeet

Secrets of Devon Address Book:
Watersmeet Road
EX35 6NT

*for the car park; you need to walk down a steep hill to get to Watersmeet House. Alternative (and free!) parking is at Combe Park, which is a 1 mile walk from Watersmeet House.

11. Sidmouth’s Victorian Beach Ladder That Cost £11,000 To Repaint

Known as the Devonshire town “caught in a timeless charm”, Sidmouth is a charming Regency seaside town on the south coast of Devon close to Exeter. 

Sidmouth, Devon

While there are tranquil beaches, boutique shops and coastal walks to admire, we were struck by a story we heard about the Victorian ladder, which provides access to Jacob’s Ladder Beach from Connaught Gardens.

While the first ladder that stood here was built in 1871, it didn’t suit the Victorian women and their long skirts as the steps were too steep and too narrow.

That’s actually why it’s called Jacob’s Ladder (after the biblical ladder leading to heaven).

A new design was installed in 1899, which better suited the Victorian women and their fashions of the day, and it cost £3 and 5 shillings to paint in 1901. 

Fast forward 111 years to 2012 and the cost of repainting the ladder skyrocketed to £11,000… that’s some inflation!

When you’re in Sidmouth, make sure you climb Salcombe Hill as it’s part of the Jurassic Coast and there are stunning sea views framed by Sidmouth’s dramatic Triassic red cliffs to admire.

Oh and pretty wildflower meadows too!

Salcombe Hill, Dorset

Secrets of Devon Address Book:
Jacob’s Ladder
Clifton Lodge
Peak Hill Road
EX10 8RZ

12. The Half Pennies & Farthings of Ilfracombe

Ilfracombe Half-Pennies Decoration

Now here’s an interesting Devon secret that we haven’t been able to get to the bottom of. 

If you wander along the paths near The Admiral’s House leading to St James’ Park and Hillsborough in Ilfracombe, then you’ll come across some half penny and penny farthing decorations on the wall of someone’s home.

They were an interesting find but maybe you know the story of why they’re there?

Secrets of Devon Address Book:
Coordinates – 51°12’33.7″N 4°06’55.8″W

13. The Unassuming Devonshire Towns & Villages That Inspired J.K. Rowling

Ilfracombe, Devon, England

It’s a widely known fact that J.K. Rowling sought much of her inspiration for the Harry Potter series within her everyday life and surroundings. 

Given that she lived in Exeter for four years while studying at the University, it should come as no surprise that Devon played a huge part in inspiring names, events and places within the books. 

Here are some examples within Devon, which you could even turn into a Harry Potter road trip!

  • Budleigh Salterton: Thought to have inspired the name of the town that Horace Slughorn was hiding out in when Dumbledore and Harry came looking for him aka Budleigh Babberton.
  • Ottery St Mary: Could this be the village of Ottery St Catchpole where the Weasleys live? Interestingly, there is a house about a mile south of the village called The Burrow Hill Farm. Coincidence? We think not.
  • Chudleigh: Surely this has to be the inspiration for the Chudley Cannons (Ron’s favourite Quidditch team)?
  • Axminster: An Axminster in the Harry Potter series is a type of carpet (named after the town it’s made in), which have frequently been turned into flying carpets by wizarding families throughout the UK. They are now banned by the Ministry of Magic.
  • Ilfracombe: Famously the site of the “Ilfracombe Incident”, which involved a rogue Common Welsh Green dragon attacking a group of unsuspecting muggles in 1932. 

BONUS: Exeter

Naturally, Rowling’s home would also serve as prime inspiration for the Harry Potter series. 

It’s said that Gandy Street helped her conjure up Diagon Alley. This street is full of olde-worlde buildings, which are home to various boutiques and cafés.

Gandy Street in Exeter

There’s even ‘The Vaults’ at one end of the street, which is a nightclub with a grand and imposing white facade. Gringotts Bank ringing any bells right now?

The Vaults in Exeter - Gringotts Bank Inspiration

And then there’s the door at 10 Cathedral Close, which seemingly leads to nowhere and is said to be the inspiration for the door to the Room of Requirement.

We can see it. Can you?

10 Cathedral Close, Exeter

14. The Medieval Passageways Underneath Exeter

Exeter appears in this list of Devon secrets again; this time for its medieval underground passages, which are the only one of their kind in all of Britain!

They were designed to bring clean drinking water from natural springs outside of the city, and since the 1930s, it has been possible to join guided tours through the vaulted passageways!

Would you do it?

Secrets of Devon Address Book:
Exeter’s Underground Passages
Princesshay Shopping Centre
2 Paris Street

15. The Secrets of Exeter’s Guildhall

Exeter Guildhall regalia

Okay, so confession. Exeter’s Guildhall itself is not a secret. In fact, it’s a really well known building and free to visit when it’s open to the public.

But there are few tourists who know what treasures lie inside upstairs so we just had to include it!

Two of our friends got married at the Guildhall last year, and afterwards, all of the guests were treated to a guided tour of the Lord Mayor’s Parlour, paintings and Regalia.

Lord Mayor's Parlour Desk in Exeter Guildhall

We learned a lot of interesting stories about Exeter that day (sadly we didn’t have a notepad to hand for obvious reasons!), but we did manage to remember a couple of interesting tidbits like:

  • Exeter was the third city to be appointed a Mayor in the UK (in 1200), third only to London and Winchester.
  • In its lifetime, the Guildhall has been a prison, courthouse, police station, market hall, council meeting place and a place for civic functions and celebrations (like weddings!)
  • A long sword and Cap of Maintenance are housed upstairs, which are believed to have been given to Exeter by Henry VII after Perkin Warbeck tried to usurp the throne in 1497 and Exeter defended itself against the usurper.
  • There is also a sword displayed inside the Guildhall, which belonged to Admiral Nelson.

Our tour guide also told us that Exeter speaks to the city through the flags on top of the Guildhall. 

Although we can’t remember exactly how many flags they have stored away ready to be used when the time comes, we do remember the number was in the hundreds! 

So when you’re next visiting Exeter, be sure to look at the flags on top of the Guildhall to see what hidden messages the city is trying to send to you!

Secrets of Devon Address Book:
Exeter Historic Guildhall*
203 High Street

*not to be confused with the Guildhall Shopping Centre also in Exeter!

We hope you’ve enjoyed reading all about these Devon hidden gems and secrets of Devon! Do you know of any other places that should be added to this list? Let us know in the comments below…

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Secrets Of Devon & The Hidden Gems You Must Discover!
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Justine Jenkins

Justine is one half of the married couple behind the Wanderers of the World travel blog. She lives in Bristol, UK and has travelled extensively within Europe and beyond since 2013. After her trips, she shares detailed travel itineraries, helpful travel guides and inspiring blog posts about the places she's been to. When she's not travelling overseas, you'll find her joining her husband, Scott on various day trips, weekend getaways and walks within the UK, which she also writes about on Wanderers of the World. Aside from travelling and writing, she also loves reading, crafting and learning about nature.

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