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    Local visitor attractions in East Devon

    As we launch our Green Traveller's Guide to East Devon, Jackie King picks out a selection of gardens, animal centres and other family fun experiences in East Devon.

    The East Devon AONB has plenty of exciting activities to keep the whole family amused come rain or shine. There’s abundant wildlife to spot, rescued donkeys to pat and llamas to walk with at animal sanctuaries, narrow-gauge trains and trams to ride, and exquisite gardens to roam around. And if you're coming with children, they'll be kept entertained on fairground rides and log flumes at adventure parks dotted around the AONB. East Devon is peppered with pretty villages worth a visit. The greenest way to explore the towns and villages of East Devon is by bicycle or public transport. Honiton and Axminster are the main railway hubs for the AONB with regular services from London. Places such as Newton Poppleford, Beer and Seaton are well served with the X53 bus route that runs all along the Jurassic Coast.

    Escot Gardens

    This family-run country house and estate of over 200 acres is a dynamic place for anyone interested in Britain’s endangered wildlife. There is a new walk-through enclosed forest area with breeding red squirrels, the first beavers to be breeding in the southwest for hundreds of years, water voles, wild boar in the ‘Jurassic Pork’ forest and more. There’s a beech hedge maze, a camp of yurts where kids can stay on a ‘wild camp’, yomping through streams, getting muddy and generally having outdoorsy, old-fashioned fun. There’s also a good restaurant, serving local food and drinks. escot-devon.co.uk

    Bicton Park Botanical Gardens

    With its four impressive glass houses, including one with an unusual curved roof, built in the 1800s and acres of gardens of various design – American, Mediterranean and Italian (dating from the 1700s), Bicton Park Botanical Gardens is a treat for anyone with green fingers. Even the youngsters will love it, as there’s a miniature railway that takes you on a one-and-a-half-mile journey around the park. bictongardens.co.uk

    Stuart Line Cruises

    With rivers, estuaries and the coast a big feature of this AONB, it makes sense to explore it from the water. A boat makes a great place from which to view the many seabirds and waders that call the wetlands of the wide Exe estuary home. Taking a cruise along the coast is a voyage through history as you pass cliff faces from different geological periods: the guides will explain the differences. In rough weather and off-season, coastal cruises won’t run but you can still cruise up the Exe estuary. stuartlinecruises.co.uk

    Seaton Tramway

    Trundling along on this narrow-gauge tramway, with its open top-deck, is a rite of passage when visiting East Devon. The half-hour, three-mile journey follows the Axe estuary from the seaside resort of Seaton to the ancient town of Colyton, with its picturesque church and interesting history as ‘the most rebellious town in Devon’. There are special bird-watching trips with expert guides, who will point out wigeon, godwit and shelduck, and there are even days when you can learn to drive the tram yourself. tram.co.uk

    Pecorama

    For a train ride with views, you can’t beat this miniature steam railway that chugs through a riot of flower-filled gardens with a backdrop of the sea. A climb above the pretty village of Beer, Pecorama has enough to keep you busy for hours: an exhibition of model railways, the mile-long ride, a restored Pullman carriage where you can relax with a coffee, a restaurant. Train buffs will love the chance to learn how to drive a steam engine, albeit a tiny one, but advance booking is essential as these days are very popular. pecorama.info

    The Donkey Sanctuary

    This is the largest donkey sanctuary in Europe, perhaps the world? Thousands of retired mules and donkeys have passed through its gates. They enjoy a good fuss and are friendly old things. You can visit for free and combine some animal magic with walks through the rolling countryside. thedonkeysanctuary.org.uk

    Beer Quarry Caves

    The understated entrance belies the fascinating facts you learn while exploring this warren of man-made caverns. The Romans were the first to quarry Beer stone, perfect for masonry. Romans, Saxons, Normans and 20th-century quarrymen carved support arches of different shapes, signed their names and left objects behind. While exploring a small part of the 72 acres of man-made caves that are accessible – a fraction of the total – your guide will tell you amazing and moving stories. Hear how a team of 26 horses carted away a 24-ton block for Exeter cathedral, and how the church was involved in smuggling and deceit, and much more! beerquarrycaves.co.uk/index.html

    Escot Gardens

    This family-run country house and estate of over 200 acres is a dynamic place for anyone interested in Britain’s endangered wildlife. There is a new walk-through enclosed forest area with breeding red squirrels, the first beavers to be breeding in the southwest for hundreds of years, water voles, wild boar in the ‘Jurassic Pork’ forest and more. There’s a beech hedge maze, a camp of yurts where kids can stay on a ‘wild camp’, yomping through streams, getting muddy and generally having outdoorsy, old-fashioned fun. There’s also a good restaurant, serving local food and drinks. escot-devon.co.uk

    Walking, cycling and wildlife watching in the East Devon AONB

    With its gently undulating hills and 28 miles of stunning Jurassic coastline, the East Devon AONB has plenty of opportunities for lovers of the great outdoors. Whether you're an avid cyclist, a keen rambler, or prefer to laze away the afternoon on a beach with the family, you won't be stuck for ideas of things to do.

    There are plenty of cycle routes in the AONB which cut through forest, valleys and farmland, perfect for both cycling enthusiasts and families, many of them linking up the towns and villages of the AONB.

    And with so much marshland and the estuaries from the four rivers - the Exe, Axe, Sid and Otter - the East Devon AONB is a great place to spot wildlife. Bring the binoculars and look out for redshanks and warblers; you might even be lucky enough to catch a sighting of an otter or beaver!