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Stretching west and south from Coombe Martin to the Cornish border, this is essentially a coastal AONB containing some of the finest cliff scenery in Britain.
In the north, steeply dipping rocks form hogsback cliffs in a natural continuation of Exmoor’s coastline. Turning south, Hartland Point’s dark, sheer crags and razor-like reefs are the coast at its sternest. Facing the full force of the Atlantic, its fractured jagged drama is the stuff of wreckers’ tales. The AONB also reaches inland to take in the cliff top plateau around Hartland. This is scored by deep valleys which reach the coast as steep hanging gaps in the cliffs, often foaming with spectacular coastal waterfalls.
In contrast, the AONB includes the broad sweep of Barnstaple Bay, the surfing beaches of Westward Ho! and the huge dune systems of Braunton Burrows on the Taw and Torridge Estuary. Although skirting larger resorts such as Ilfracombe, the AONB boundary takes in picturesque fishing hamlets, including tiny ‘honey pot’ Clovelly.
The remote cliffs and cliff-top grasslands are important ecological sites, with many Sites of Special Scientific Interest. The dunes of Braunton Burrows, with their rare flora such as marsh orchids, are a National Nature Reserve.
The AONB has approximately 12,000 residents and most live in coastal villages such as Combe Martin and Woolacombe. The coastal hinterland provides rough pasture for sheep farming but tourism is the major local employer.
The AONB is heavily used both for traditional family holidays, coach excursions and increasingly for water sports, particularly surfing and windsurfing. The South West Coast Path, a National Trail, has opened up the high cliff tops for walkers and naturalists.
Pressures on the landscape
As the AONB is essentially coastal, some tourism pressure is felt all along its length but most intensely in the Combe Martin-Ilfracombe-Westward Ho! stretches, and in the Woolacombe and Croyde areas. Localised visitor pressures include access and parking congestion, footpath erosion, litter and dune trampling.
So much to enjoy within the North Devon Coast AONB: rugged cliffs capped by Iron Age hill forts; twisted and folded rocks carved by the sea over millions of years; internationally renowned sand dunes; plethora of rare wildlife’ sheltered harbours and fishing villages; oak woodlands; estuary teeming with birdlife; ancient burial mounds; hamlets, farms and fields steeped in history.