EstuarySalcombe Harbour is stunning. It’s even within an area of outstanding natural beauty so we can’t be making this stuff up! But before we go into a smorgasbord of adjectives about the rich ecosystem, the climate and the creeks, we think it’s about something else…
What is so special about Salcombe – which is often overlooked by magazines and tourism guides etc. – are the wonderful holiday memories from a visit to Salcombe.
Visit Salcombe for the first time and you might be lucky enough to see it in all its sunny, beautiful, sandy-beached glory. You’ll no doubt smell the wafts of freshly baked bread coming from the Upper Crust and pop-in to see their baked delights. You’ll probably stroll the coastal road along to North Sands and visit The Winking Prawn for an evening BBQ. And you’ll be charmed by the pink-striped traditional sweet shop at Cranches.
Visit a couple more times, and the children will want to return to their favourite beach to build sandcastles; in the mornings Dad will make the daily trip to the bakery to buy croissants for breakfast and baps for lunch on the beach. You’ll paddle in the sea and spare clothes will probably get wet. On Monday evening, the children go crabbing on Victoria Quay, catch a record-breaking 34 crabs and are rewarded with a Salcombe Ice-cream. On Tuesday night you’ll head to the Winking Prawn for your usual BBQ, bottle of vino and a good laugh at everyone in fancy dress. On Thursday night a family meal at Captain Flints followed by carefully picked penny sweets from Cranches; on Friday night Mum and Dad treat themselves to a romantic meal out eating scrumptious seafood and quaffing delicious wine.
Over the years, your love of Salcombe will develop but more importantly, the memories and the traditions will develop too. That is why Salcombe is so very special and continues to be such a popular holiday destination for all generations.
Strictly speaking Salcombe isn’t an Estuary but a Ria; a tidal inlet with no major fresh water source flowing through it. We’re not sure anyone is particularly fussed about this as no attempt is made to rename it!
At the mouth of the Estuary lies Salcombe – famous as a sailing destination and a characteristic town with stone quaysides and brightly painted buildings. There are many creeks and valleys to explore around the Estuary leading to picturesque villages with thatched houses and country pubs serving real ale, Scrumpy and good food.
Southpool is one such village that regularly wins prizes for best kept village. At low tide there are stepping stones from one side of the creek to another – a fun treat for kids – and the gateway to the pub for grown-ups! (See The Millbrook in restaurants section.)
The larger town of Kingsbridge lies at the head of the Salcombe estuary – in the summer The Rivermaid Ferry makes trips between Salcombe and Kingsbridge (when the tides are right.)
The climate in Salcombe is almost Mediterranean bringing balmy summers and mild winters to the area. Many species of plant life flourish here that are rarely found in other parts of the UK, and birds such as egrets, cormorants and herons flock here in their thousands.
The Salcombe Estuary grows Eel grass which supports a rare UK seahorse population. In fact, Eel grass is the perfect environment for seahorse nurseries!
Dolphins, basking sharks and seals are also frequent visitors to the waters giving water skiers a bit of a shock!
TownThe main high street of Salcombe runs along Fore Street (one of over 75 Fore Streets in Devon) and is bubbling with creative juices. Did you know that Quba Sails, Crew Clothing and Jack Wills started their empires in this very town?
Fore street runs parallel to the water’s edge and as well as the wonderful cafés and boutiques lining the main street, don't forget to hunt out the alleyways featuring small jewellery stores and galleries.
For children, there is a fantastic toy shop selling a wonderful range of goodies including joke shop classics such as fun crackers, itching powder and water bombs.
Take a dog leg turn from Fore Street around the Fortescue Pub to find Victoria Quay; a quaint row of chocolate box houses overlooking the sea. Here is your classic crab-catching spot – it takes considerable skill and patience to land a crab from these walls!
Following your nose from Victoria Quay brings you to Island Street; another main street in town which is home to the traditional boatyards in Salcombe. The Salcombe Yawl is still built here and many of the traditional wooden clinker-built boats see their winters days snuggled into these boatyards for repairs and TLC.
Salcombe Dairy Ice-cream produces their famous ice-cream on Island Street; a delicious must-try whilst in the area.
BoatingAs one would hope from a coastal town, there are oodles of boating related activities available ranging from sailing an elegant Salcombe Yawl through to high speed coasteering adventures.
Sailing in Salcombe is incredibly interesting (and at times frustrating!) as conditions vary along the estuary: the wind swirls around the coves and bounces off cliffs plus the tides throw in an extra level of complexity.
But when the sun is glistening on the water and the wind fills your sails it is positively magical to be sailing in these waters.
The most well-known sailing school, The Island Cruising Club (ICC), has its base on Egremont, an ex-Mersey ferry which is permanently moored just around the corner from the visible Salcombe moorings. The ICC runs sailing camps and holidays for all ages. 01548 844300 http://icc-salcombe.co.uk/
For those seeking a more traditional sailing experience, you can sail a Salcombe Yawl with the hugely talented Fred Hitchen (nicknamed Scratch – inspired). 01548 xxxxx
The Salcombe Yacht Club runs regular regattas for all classes of boats. They also warmly welcome visiting yachtsmen so get thee to the bar for rum! 01548 842593 http://www.salcombeyc.org.uk/
Many visitors to Salcombe (and locals) have powerboats – they give you the freedom to travel to less busy beaches, explore the area at leisure and enjoy water sports such as waterskiing and donuting. Powerboat course are becoming more popular which can only make Salcombe a safer place to be. If you are interested in learning more there are two excellent companies for you to consider:
Salcombe Power Boats 01548 842727http://www.salcombepowerboats.co.uk/
Sea N Shore 01548-842276http://www.sea-n-shore.com/
For an adventure, a little independence from the ferries or even fishing, you can hire a boat for the duration of your stay in Salcombe. The boats are excellent quality; you are kitted out with lifejackets and have a good safety briefing before your maiden voyage.
Salcombe Boat Hire 01548 844475 http://www.salcombeboathire.co.uk/
Whitestrand Boat Hire 01548 843818 http://www.whitestrandboathire.co.uk/
Crabbing is still a big industry in Salcombe; you must try handpicked Salcombe crab during your visit as this is a delicious local speciality. But if you would like to reel in your own meal, there are many varieties of fish to be caught in the South Devon waters: bass, cod, pollock, ray, sole, plaice, shark, conger eel and mackerel. Either Phoenix Charters (0)1548 842840 http://www.phoenixcharters.co.uk/ or Salcombe Angling 01548 511 500 http://www.salcombeangling.co.uk/offer some of the best angling charters in these waters.
Water-skiing & Wakeboarding
For water-skiing, wakeboarding, and other water sports activities from an RYA powerboat training centre see http://www.sea-n-shore.com/.
Both surf schools at Bigbury offer excellent group and 1-to-1 tuition. For the surf-supporters there's a good café on site for watching radicals moves...
Bantham Surfing Academy 01548 853803 http://www.banthamsurfingacademy.co.uk/
Discovery Surf School 07813 639622 http://www.discoverysurf.com/
Surf Hire from Trioceansurf 01548 854676 http://www.trioceansurf.co.uk/
Other water-related activities available:
South Devon Sea Kayaking 01548 843451 http://www.seakayakingsouthwest.co.uk/
Kingsbridge Estuary Boat Club http://www.kesup.co.uk/
Salcombe Scuba 01548 843243 http://salcombescuba.co.uk/
BeachesOn the Salcombe side of the estuary, there are two beaches that are easily accessible: North Sands and South Sands. Both are linked by road from Salcombe, and South Sands is served by a regular ferry service from the centre of Salcombe (Whitestrand). The journey in the recognisable blue, yellow and red ferry is definitely one to try, particularly with the quirky tractor ride out of the sea…
At North Sands you will find the wonderful Winking Prawn; at South Sands there is a café, the South Sands Hotel, the Tides Reach Hotel and sailing boat hire facilities.
On the other side of the estuary, called East Portlemouth, there are sandy beaches that will lure you across the water. There are many small coves which line the foreshore, with soft golden sand and views across the clear aquamarine water of the estuary.
The easiest way to access these beaches is to jump on the passenger ferry from Salcombe (in the summer this runs from the Ferry Pub steps; in the winter months from Whitestrand).
Alternatively, you can go under your own steam by hiring a boat – see boating section. Just be sure to learn about the tides!
RestaurantsIn Salcombe and surrounding areas there are restaurants for every taste and wallet; here are our favourite taste bud tingling temptations:
The Winking Prawn (North Sands, Salcombe) ££
Surely even the name makes you curious?! A firm family favourite and a pleasant walk to get to from the centre of Salcombe. Simply walk along the coastal road keeping the estuary to your left and you will come across this little gem of a restaurant which is situated behind North Sands. Offering food from all-you-can-eat breakfasts to fruit de mer and BBQ’s in the evening. Keep your ears open for the rock n’ roll music and eyes open for the fancy dress box…
01548 842326 http://www.winkingprawn.co.uk/
South Sands Hotel (South Sands, Salcombe) £££
Proud of their food provenance, you will see deliciously local produce on the menu including the best handpicked Salcombe crab meat in the world (it’s from Salcombe, so we might be bias). Situated in the newly renovated South Sands Hotel, the stunning New England décor lets you in for a visual treat. And with freshly caught fish on the menu each day ready to be grilled to perfection, what’s not to love?
01548 845900 http://www.southsands.com/
Dick & Wills (Salcombe) £££
If you can walk down a few flights of stairs to this restaurant and bar on the ground floor of what was the Salcombe Hotel, you will be rewarded with stunning views across the estuary from the terraces (whilst enjoying a glass of bubbly). In good weather, enjoy alfresco eating throughout the day. Perfect for a romantic night out and special occasions.
01548 843408 http://www.dickandwills.co.uk/
The Victoria (Salcombe) £
The Victoria jokes that they offer a man-crèche; ladies leave your husband’s in our safe hands whilst you go shopping! This is a valued service, but don’t you ladies miss out on some locally sourced delicious-ness! With a roaring log fire and a cockle-warming crab bisque for a winters day you will be very happy tucked in here. And for the summer, freshly grilled fish and homemade icecream are the order of the day. Gents, some fine ales await you too…
01548 842604 http://www.victoriainn-salcombe.co.uk/
Captain Flints (Salcombe) £
A fun and informal restaurant for everyone specialising in homemade crispy base pizza’s, burgers and pasta. Brightly decorated inside with a pirate theme (think shiver me timbers). Kids will love the coloured pirate drinks; adults will love the 5:30pm opening time. But be warned, reservations are not taken a this popular restaurant; it’s first come first served but certainly worth the wait!
The Millbrook (Southpool) ££
Offering a gastronomic experience with food from award winning French chef, J-P (booking essential). Be prepared for some quirk including Squirrel wrapped in Rabbit! In the summer months, enjoy good quality freshly grilled fish, paella’s and local sausages from the outdoor BBQ. The best way to get to the Millbrook is by boat in the summer when there are big Spring tides enabling you to travel up the creek (with a paddle). The beautiful journey leads you through Swallows and Amazons-esque settings.
01548 531581 http://www.millbrookinnsouthpool.co.uk/
The Oyster Shack (Bigbury) ££
A seriously fishy number – in a good way! Offering seafood by the bucket-load, this local legend of a restaurant started its days as an oyster purification shack and has grown-up considerably over the last decade or so. Still serving wonderfully fresh locally grown Bigbury Bay oysters, this restaurant is a must for seafood lovers. Al fresco eating in the summer at lunchtime is a great experience.
01548 810876 http://www.oystershack.co.uk/
The Beach House (South Milton Sands) ££
Set just above the stunning South Milton Sands, this small beach hut-style restaurant (seats max 30 inside) serves lots of lovely fresh fish in a relaxed beach-style décor with driftwood panelling and low lighting from hanging bulbs. Perfect to watch the sun set.
01548 561144 http://www.beachhousedevon.com/
The Treby Arms (Sparkwell) ££
Further afield there is a stunner of a pub run by Anton Piotrowski, winner of MasterChef 2012. Book in for a delicious taster menu (10 courses £50 per head excluding wine) or enjoy items off the seasonally inspired menu.
01752 837363 http://www.thetrebyarms.co.uk/