We shrieked as we dipped our pale toes beyond the UK-famed rockpools into the chilly South Devon waters off Wembury beach.

A thousand shimmering diamonds skimming the crystal clear surface scattered as we dared to tread further. I went first. Held my breath and plunged forth only to turn and see my goose-pimpled partner still ankle-deep, staring wide-eyed in what I'd like to think was admiration until I heard him, through chattering teeth, mutter "Madness"

His eyes widened even more when Wet-suit man suddenly appeared by his side, cue adonis-apt music, he nodded his latex-capped head and in one impressive stream-lined manoeuvre was under the water.

Not to be outdone, my own man followed - first his calves then knees, then almost waist, shouting "You're a girl. You don't understand" as the water rose higher. My patience was waning and my gaze was stretching out to sea where wet-suit man was also stood up to his waist beckoning us in further.

We swam out above the sandy bed to reach him before turning back to take in the view off the shore we'd left behind, the old water-wheeled mill now a cafe, the perched Norman church exposed to all elements and skirted by the South West coastal path.

Wet-suit man it turns out, was a lucky local. The odd-shaped rock formation ahead of us was once the home of another local exiled from the village because he had a habit of taking things that did not belong to him. Fed up of his pilfering ways, villagers packed him off to the rock where he lived for seven years, he liked it so much he did not want to leave, legend has it. He built a house and grew his own veggies. Devon-style good life.

We were staying at Langdon Court, a luxurious pad of a place, rich in history and nestled deep in the rolling green countryside just minutes from the beach in the quaint thatched-hamlet of Down Thomas, up a winding tree-lined hill. A primrose-flanked drive and muddied-wellies in the tiled porch welcomed us to this grand old Manor which oozed quintessential English charm. Romance was born here. It's influence rubbed off on my man who could not resist tinkling out a serenade on the ivories on the piano at the foot of the staircase of this Grade II listed house where once the Prince of Wales, later to become Edward VII, was often accompanied by his friend, the society beauty and actress Lillie Langtry. The window seat in our beautiful bedroom looked out over a lake, onto thick woods and fields beyond. The super-kingsize bed and crisp white linen was a relaxing retreat, the roll-top bath with Molton Brown a giddy indulgence. In the candelabra lit restaurant, the centrepiece was a silver urn overflowing with heady red rhododendrons. The kitchen was in the hands of Master Chef quarter finalist Jamie Rogers who delivered us heaven on a plate. Wood pigeon, smoked artichoke and spring onion salsa and a Bream fillet, mussel and chicken broth tantalised us before our main courses of filet of beef, fermented onion, carrot, baked potato and short rib risotto then new season lamb in pancetta. The hot banana souffle, coconut sorbet and mango milkshake was a taste of pure tropical paradise.

From the National Trust car park at Wembury Beach we hiked along the path clinging to the coast edge above coves before turning into the stunning Yealm estuary and dipping down to a landing where ferryman Billy transports walkers to Newton Ferrers on the other side. Noss Mayo, a hidden, secluded village which survived the Black Death and was popular with smuggler is reachable from there. We enjoyed a pint at The Ship Inn in the sun, overlooking its pretty creek bathed in that special South Devon light that makes artists reach out for their paints and brushes. Earlier in our stay we had stopped off in seafaring Plymouth, a mere six miles from Langdon Court, standing on the same spot where pilgrims had sailed off in the Mayflower. Close by was award-winning watering hole The Dolphin, a former haunt of well-known artist Beryl Cooke, some of her works celebrating very curvy women and the landlord, still grace its walls.

Vast and gloriously mystical Dartmoor with its wild ponies was a short-ride away from bustling Plymouth. It was here on the empty, moor I spotted a ginger fox lazing in the golden light on top of a stone wall, we made eye contact before he vanished from view.

After exploring the moor and taking a swing past the bleak almost Yorkshire mill-like Dartmoor Prison out of sheer curiosity we headed north to Maidencombe for a two-night stay at tastefully eclectic Orestone Manor, an Edwardian country retreat set in its own sub-tropical parkland with sweeping views across the Torbay coastline and Lyme Bay. Each of its bespoke boutique-styled 12 bedrooms are themed and unique, some with four poster beds, hot tubs, claw foot baths. We stayed high up in the eaves, well worth the climb, in a quirky Wordsworth-inspired suite which peered out to the sea. From here we watched a Tawny owl swoop down into a tree next to the kitchen garden to feed its hungry young.

The designer of the first commercial Christmas card, John Callcott Horsley lived here in the 1800s and his famous brother-in-law Isambard Kingdom Brunel was a regular visitor enjoying candelit dinners and music in the parlour - Rudyard Kipling lived next door for a time. Now it is the home and family venture of Dorset chefs Neil and Catherine D'Allen who took it on five years ago building an award-winning reputation for its two-rosette restaurant and fine cuisine popular with locals as well as guests from far parts. From our ramblings on Dartmoor we had worked up a raging appetite fully satisfied by starters of creamy goats cheese and chicken liver parfait, followed by locally-sourced juicy steaks prepared exactly to our liking and desserts of creme brulee and duck egg custard tart.

Re-fuelled by our feast, we took off for a moonlight stroll downhill to the beach savouring the peace of the night, only broken by the hoot of owls then the rush of lapping waves, before bracing ourselves for the return hike and a refreshing sleep. It's a gem of a place, friendly and first-class.

Close by and not far from palm-tree fringed Torquay is Totnes, home of hippies and place of alternative lifestyle and culture, is a rustic market town on the River Dart where steamers cruise and pass Agatha Christies' Greenway house. Topped by a classic motte and bailey castle, independent, ethical shops line its quaint streets which also tuck a way a magnificent Guildhall and a secret fairy garden. Cream teas also live here, try The People's Cafe in the main street.

A quick car jaunt from Totnes is the small fishing town of Brixham, home to a full-size replica of the Golden Hind. Rise early and you might catch a tour of its lively fish market. Get there late and take a troll through its Battery Gardens. As far back as the 1780s the area was used for military training, most significantly it was a World War II Coastal Defence Battery, with up to 250 soldiers based there. Much of it is still in existence, propped up above a small shingle bay.

To save time in the car, follow the ferry signs from Brixham and cross to pleasing Dartmouth with its painted houses, Elizabethan streets, timbered shops and castle at the head of the estuary. It is home to Britannia Royal Naval College and a splattering of famous sons including Thomas Newcomen, the inventor of the first successful steam-powered pumping engine and George Parker Bidder civil engineer and calculating prodigy notable for his work on railways over much of the world. More endearingly Christopher Robin Milne, son of A.A. Milne, after whom the character Christopher Robin in the Winnie-the-Pooh books was named, used to own the Harbour Bookshop.

All too quickly our South Devon adventure came to a close and it was time to motor back north with a boot load of happy holiday memories, and more than just a few grains of sand, to smile about.


Kathie Griffiths was a guest of Langdon Court, Down Thomas near Plymouth (www.langdoncourt.com 01752 862 358) who offer one-night luxuriant stays with breakfast from £130 and Orestone Manor at Maidencombe (www.orestonemanor.com 01803 897 511) whose indulgent stays with breakfast start from £130