I love Devon: travel guide author Hilary Bradt says there’s no place like home

Celebrated travel writer Hilary Bradt sits at the helm of Bradt Travel Guides, a multi-award winning company that’s currently shortlisted for the prestigious Independent Publisher of the Year award from the Bookseller magazine.

In 2008 Hilary was awarded an MBE for services to the travel industry and a lifetime achievement award the following year by the British Guild of Travel Writers.

She lives in happy semi-retirement in Seaton but is still actively involved in the company and busy updating the three Slow guides to Devon: East Devon and the Jurassic Coast, North Devon & Exmoor and South Devon & Dartmoor.

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Tell us Hilary – is a career as a travel writer as lovely as it sounds?
In many ways, yes, but it is getting hard for freelancers to get published (I’m extraordinarily lucky to own my own publishing company – although I still have to face pretty stringent requirements from the editorial team). The traditional outlets – travel magazines and the travel sections of newspapers – are increasingly using their own staff writers and opportunities to earn money from writing are very limited.

That said, writing these slow guides to Devon is hugely pleasurable, even though my co-author Janice Booth and I are usually on quite a tight timeframe so can’t be as slow as we’d like to be. Compared with, for example, writing the first English-language guide to Madagascar, as I did in 1986, it’s a doddle.

What sets your guides apart from other ways of getting travel information?
The crucial difference – and we feel this is really important – is that guidebooks are rigorously edited.

On-line information is often biased, inaccurate or just plain wrong. The lack of editing on line may also mean cringe-making spelling and grammar mistakes. We admit to being pedants on this subject, but the editorial team insist that all the guides are well written (ideally a guide should be as enjoyable to read as a novel) as well as accurate. And we have space to describe everything that makes the place special, whether it’s music, wildlife, history or legends.

Bradt Travel Guides has about 250 titles in its catalogue and the British guides are only a small (though growing) percentage of these. We made our name publishing guides to unusual destinations, but we have carried the ethos of accuracy and attention to detail to our series of Slow guides which now number 15, covering much of England and parts of Scotland. Both the Cornwall guide and my North Devon & Exmoor one received the best travel guide award from the British Guild of Travel writers which is gratifying.

You’ve travelled extensively around the world … what is it about Devon that made you choose to live here?
I’ve lived in the USA and in South Africa but the one thing that made me sure that I wanted to return to live in England was our system of public footpaths! In no other country can you find a network of such well-maintained paths running through lovely scenery, even close to towns. Devon does footpaths as well as, or better than anywhere else, through rolling countryside and along its two gorgeous coast lines. Another reason is that Janice, my friend and co-author, had already moved here from Scotland. How could I resist?

Tell us about your Devon travel guides – and the fact that you felt you needed to write three to cover our whole county! 
Janice and I originally wrote what we call The Big Slow, a single guide covering all of Devon. But we were frustrated that we couldn’t put in as much detail as we wanted. So when it was time for updating we broke the county down into three separate books, which are far more enjoyable for us to write and more useful for visitors.

What are your top 3 tips for visitors coming to Devon? 
Hilary:

  • Take time to visit the county’s treasure-trove of little churches. Their history, art, and snapshots of community life  will tell you more about a village than any amount of tourist literature.
  • Without rain from time to time, our lovely county wouldn’t be so green and lush! Not everyone enjoys walking in wet weather, however, so plan some indoor attractionsmuseums, art galleries, zoos – in case the weather turns against you.
  • Plan a day using public transport. The feeling of relief when you let someone else navigate those single-track lanes is wonderful and the views of countryside and small villages are so beguiling. Even if you haven’t got a railcard or bus pass there are all sorts of bargains to be had, including a Devon Day Ticket for £8.50 which gives you unlimited travel on most of Devon’s local buses.

Janice:

  • Prepare to exercise rigorous self-discipline (but please, not complete self-denial) when faced with clotted cream, pasties and other culinary delights, or you’ll return home a much larger person! Devon offers a huge range of tempting food.
  • If you’re doing shoreline walks (and there are some beautiful ones) do check the tide tables beforehand. Every year, far too many visitors have to be retrieved from remote beaches by our tremendous but overstretched lifeboat service, and if you’ve planned your timing sensibly you can relax and enjoy your walk far more.
  • Bear in mind that many Devon teashops – with complete lack of logic – close at 4pm just when you might be thinking of a cuppa. If you want a leisurely afternoon tea, start early!

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