Home » Advice, Attractions » Three Things to do to Enjoy England (or more specifically, Devon (or even more specifically, North Devon (also Torridge)))

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Awkward and unwieldy titles aside, summing up the top three things I’d recommend people do in Devon isn’t an easy task. Despite having a reputation as a sleepy, relaxed county, there’s a lot you can do here.

In other blog entries, we’ve mentioned the obvious (beach trips. Devon means beach trips), as well as those that not many people know about (hot air balloon rides. Devon means… wait, what?). But here I had to choose three. Three places that let you enjoy England.

No point in delaying, is there?

Combe Martin Wildlife Park

Combe Martin Wildlife and Dinosaur Park

The name is misleading. I mean, technically, Combe Martin Wildlife and Dinosaur Park is a park with wildlife and (animatronic) dinosaurs, but it’s really not the dinosaurs you should be visiting here. Don’t get me wrong; they’re impressive, but the genuinely living, breathing animals are what you should be paying attention to.

Let’s list them, partly because we can and partly to give you a look at the variety you get:-

  • Sealions.
  • Lemurs (Ringtailed, Black and White Ruffed, and Red Ruffed).
  • Monkeys (Goeldi’s, Cotton Top Tamarins, Brown Capuchins, and White-faced Sakis. I’ll be honest and admit I got this list of their website, and I had to look most of them up on wikipedia, despite having seen them in the flesh not that long ago).
  • Raccoons.
  • Wolves (and Sean Ellis).
  • Meerkats.
  • Lions.
  • Otters.
  • Birds of Prey (hawks, falcons, and owls, including a huge Eagle owl).
  • Birds not of Prey (parrots of various kinds).
  • Jackass Penguins.
  • Probably some others, but this is getting long and I can’t remember anything else.
  • (Wallabies)

The park at the moment is particularly interesting because the animals have been spurting out babies over the summer. There are otter pups, wolf cubs, meerkittens (There’s not an interesting name for baby meerkats, as far as I know), and penguin chicks. The penguin chicks took their first swim a couple of weeks ago. I happen to know that a video was taken, and if I can get a copy on youtube, I’ll edit this post to include it.

The sea lions have also learnt to paint, and recent exhibitions of their work took place in Ilfracombe and Barnstaple.There are two other things that make the park unique. The first is that it’s the only place in the UK where you can swim with sea mammals, unless you want to track them down in the ocean and try it there. I don’t think that’s recommended.

There are also daily shows with the sea lions, where they show off their behaviours (they are definitely not called tricks, see a show and you’ll understand), or Meet and Greet sessions where you can see Morgan, one of the two sea lions, up close. They’ll even give you a peck on the cheek.

The second is wolves. Big, scary wolves. They have big, scary teeth. You can see wolves in other places in the UK though. What makes Combe Martin special is that they’re managed by Shaun Ellis, who it’s possible you may have seen in one of the documentaries about him.

Essentially, Shaun lived in with wolves at the park for a year and a half as part of their pack, and he didn’t get eaten. He now lives alongside the wolf enclosure and regularly gives talks there. (Edit: I’ve been informed that Mr. Ellis no longer lives on-site, but still works there most days.)

It’s incredible.

Right, I’ve spent quite a few words on Combe Martin, so a quick recap:

  • A large variety of interesting and/or cute animals.
  • Swimming with Sea Lions.
  • Wolves and a man who lived among them.

What’s next?

Sheep Racing at The Big SheepThe Big Sheep

My mum once called somebody during a birthday outing to the Big Sheep. That somebody didn’t live in Devon. They asked her where she was, because the people yelling and cheering and having a good time in the background were quite obvious. She explained she was at the Big Sheep and they proceeded to laugh.

To some people, the fact Devon has an adventure park called The Big Sheep is funny. Those people can stuff it. The Big Sheep is awesome, no matter your age. When I was younger, the birthday parties were great, and now that I’m older, I can write a blog post explaining why I still enjoy it.

Advertised as one of the best family tourist attractions in Devon on their pun-riddled website (“Ewetopia” the indoor play area, “the best day of your holiday… baa none!”, the “Ewe-ro”, a currency for the park. The list goes on), The Big Sheep is genuinely family orientated, and good all year round.

Most kids gravitate towards the indoor play area, which is fine. It’s soft, safe, there are staff nearby, and they all have a grand time.

The brewery at the Big Sheep.Meanwhile, you can head to the brewery, get a take-out keg (in 18, 36 and 72 pint sizes) and go and bet on the sheep races.

And sheep races are exactly what they are; sheep, accompanied by little woollen jockeys, race around a track. Bets are taken by Honest Joe and the whole thing is highly enjoyable, made only better by the brewery.

I want to take the time here to point out that this is not what life in Devon is actually like, but that doesn’t stop this being completely awesome.

The Big Sheep also has the nursery barn. It’s got baby animals. They’re cute. Whereas Combe Martin Wildlife Park has penguins, wolves and raccoons, The Big Sheep has lambs, puppies, kittens, chicks, piglets and more. I’m tempted to advocate a trip to the brewery before this too, but I’d be worried about what you’ll start to think of me.

We’re getting to the point where the whole thing is getting a bit long again, so I’m going to quickly list other activities. There’re sheep shearing demonstrations, duck trials (collies rounding up Indian Runners. It’s genuinely entertaining and informative), pony rides and Battlefield Live.

Battlefield Live is interesting. I hadn’t really looked into it until I started writing this, and now I really want to go. I’d kind of written it off before, as it’s one of those laser gun games advertised as paintball without the pain. I’ve never seen why you’d do this instead of paintball. Then I started reading.

For £30 per person, you get a three to four hour game session, complete with radio headset communications equipment, two smoke grenades for every player, proper missions involving caches of equipment or VIPs, and seven acres of game area strewn with buildings and disabled vehicles. To make this even better, you can get a keg from the brewery (this is actually suggested on their website, so I’m not to blame for that one). You also get entry to the Big Sheep itself included in the price. It’s things like this that make the inner child in me sick with excitement. Exactly the sort of games you’d run around playing with sticks and yelling “pew pew” but upscaled to use thousands of pounds worth of equipment.

Hopefully, that’s all shown you that this place can offer a great day out for people of any age whatever the weather. Oh, and I didn’t even mention the events they’ll be running soon in autumn and winter. Oh well.

Barometer World

Phil Collins, Barometer Expert

A sudden change. From animals, drinking, betting and laser guns to the ancient weather-monitoring devices, barometers. Bear with me though.

If you’re willing to travel to the small village of Merton on a day when Mr. Phillip Collins is in the museum (phone ahead to check), then you will have a chance to talk to one of the world’s foremost experts on Barometers, potentially even seeing the workshop in use (Edit: My mistake. The workshop is in fact purely for restoration, and not open to the public).

Admittedly, this is not for everyone. Not everybody is going to find themselves interested by the subject. Not everybody is going to enjoy learning about barometers, their history, the minutiae of how they work, the advancements made over time, or their use in maritime life. It’s all a bit nerdy.

Actually, it’s not a bit nerdy, it’s very nerdy.

But it’s fascinating! If you are the sort of person who can spend a day absorbing knowledge about something and find it interesting and enjoyable, then Barometer World is one of the gems hidden around the country. It might be odd for some people (Lenny Henry used Barometer World in a mock ‘Exciting things to do in Devon’-type skit. He had a point, really), but to others, it’s enthralling.

They even have a working copy of the leech barometer, or ‘The Tempest Prognosticator‘, a “gold plated exhibit of Victorian eccentricity” that uses leeches to predict storms. Click that link and read it. It’s brilliant.

Well, that was quite a bit longer than I intended, and there’s a lot of information stuffed in there. If you want to ask about anything mentioned here, then either visit the websites or drop a comment here. If you do the latter, I’ll try my hardest to answer.

I hope this has been helpful to you, or at least entertaining.

– Alex Douglas-Mann

All images reproduced with the consent of the owners.
Written for Enjoy England.
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