Tired of the usual tourist traps? Just a little off the beaten trail, Devon has some of the most unusual and offbeat visitor attractions and sites in the UK. Owned and run by a dedicated army of enthusiastic and eccentric patrons, these places add that vital sense of surprise and novelty to any trip to the region. And why indeed not? Variety is healthy and it’s always nice to be surprised.
We’ll grant you that some of these sites divide opinion; many are very much for the grown ups only. But they are also great for confounding expectations and providing great pictures and plenty to talk about. After all, who wanted a generic holiday in the first place? Here are some of the best alternative places to visit and things to see in Devon, from the brilliant to the baffling.
Broomhill Sculpture Gardens, Barnstaple
Beautiful, fascinating and thought provoking, what’s not to love about a collection of contemporary sculptures in a pretty location? You’ll find works from bronze to marble from a range of award-winning artists, ranging from sinister to sublime. The summer flowers are pretty spectacular too: http://www.broomhillart.co.uk/sculpturegardens
Narnia Time Traveller’s Museum & Shop, Totnes
If the Devon town of Totnes could be described as colourful and unconventional, one thing you’d never call it is dull. Which is perhaps why this quirky museum and record shop is a perfect fit for the place. It’s not the biggest, but you will find several rooms packed with strange objects from wartime to pop culture, along with an eclectic range of curiosities and even a secret café. Meanwhile, the town itself is packed with quirky independent shops and eateries. https://narniatotnes.co.uk
In the world of popular tourist attractions, cuddly mascots, loud colours and noisy rides tend to dominate. Barometers hardly get a look in, sadly, while places like this tend to feature on lists of Britain’s Most Boring Tourist Attractions. Perhaps that’s unfair though, because Barometer World has an unexpected fascination all of its own (honestly!). The onsite Barometer Museum has some real rarities in fact, including a primitive weather machine that utilises leeches (Met Office eat your heart out!). They also have a shop selling plastic souvenirs and ice creams (only joking, it’s just a massive load of barometers, by some wild coincidence). For more details see www.barometerworld.co.uk
Cobbaton Combat Collection
There might be other much bigger war museums across the UK, but this private collection is remarkable in more ways than one. Described as a “hobby which got out of hand” it is an impressively sprawling collection of vehicles, arms and artillery. Big and not so big kids will love the authenticity and sheer curiousity value here, from Mickey Mouse gas masks to tanks and vehicles actually used in combat zones. For more details and current opening times, see http://www.cobbatoncombat.co.uk/
Bee World & Quince Honey Farm
We all know how important bees are these days, and how we ought to show them more respect. But a bee-themed tourist attraction? Yes, you’d better bee-lieve it, because this neat little visitors centre is both fun and enlightening. There’s a lot to learn and plenty to try. The centre produces delicious honey too, while you could try your hand at bee keeping with all the gear provided or even take up the challenge of wearing a “bee beard” (which is exactly as it sounds- do try and keep still!). Make a bee-line for www.quincehoneyfarm.co.uk for current opening times, ticket prices and more.
The Gnome Reserve
Gnomes are the epitome of English eccentricity or pure poor taste, depending on how you look at things. For sheer kitsch value then, or an absolutely certain way to collect photos that will embarrass your friends and family forever, Gnome World is certainly a good giggle. You can even borrow an appropriately daft outfit, should you want to pose as a gnome. Actually, before you cringe too hard, there are also pretty gardens and quite rich wildlife on site. It must be the magical powers of all those irritating charming gnomes. As well as a Guiness record for the most gnomes in any one site (over 1000) it also has the number one Trip Advisor ranking for things to do in West Putford (well, it does have only 200 residents, and we think they counted some of the gnomes).
Dartmoor Prison Museum
Not your average day out, but “just visiting” is an interesting option at Dartmoor Prison. (Pic: Wikimedia Commons/ Herbythyme)
Prison ought to be the last thing on anyone’s mind for a day out in Devon, we hope! For anyone tired of dull parochial museums though, this Dartmoor visitor attraction is criminally entertaining. Marvel at two hundred years of escape attempts, rare weapons and artefacts as you become acquainted with former inmates and crazy tales galore at one of the UK’s most fascinating prison sites. http://www.dartmoor-prison.co.uk/
Damien Hirst’s Verity, Ilfracombe
If cheesy tourist attractions are the last thing on your mind, the obvious answer is to seek out something more thought provoking. Devon is an underrated area for art in general, but has some truly unlikely surprises. Perhaps the most notable recent example has been Verity, a bronze created by Damien Hirst. Some locals hated it; others loved its boldness. We’ll let you make your own mind up (see the North Devon Gazette article for some fascinating facts on the work).
Escape the ordinary on your next Devon break!
With a beautiful site, amazing food and a story or three to tell, Northcote Manor is one of the most refreshingly original places to stay in Devon. With luxury rooms, delightful grounds and unique artworks on display, it makes a wonderful difference to the norm. Complete with special events, themed breaks and offers, not to mention our award-winning restaurant, Northcote is the perfect place to treat someone you love to a memorable break in beautiful North Devon. Keep an eye on our Facebook page and special hotel offers section for our latest news, seasonal deals and more.