Cream Of The Country: Croyde

Sheltered behind a sandy bay, this town lures both surfers and second-homers
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The pretty north-west Devon beach resort of Croyde has become the region's premier surf centre while hanging on to its olde worlde charm. The village is a magnet for people relocating or second-homing in search of unhurried seaside pleasures.

Sheltered behind the dunes of a west-facing sandy bay, Croyde took its name from a Viking raider called Crydda. Its thatched, whitewashed cottages date from the 17th century and wind up by a stream flowing towards the equally picturesque hamlet of Georgeham, a mile and a half inland. There is a sprawl of bungalows from the 1960s, when Croyde became the choice of retired folk from London and the Midlands.

Tourism brings in the money today but farming was the main occupation, with a bit of smuggling. Croyde began its transformation into a holiday destination once a main road linking it to Barnstaple was cut into the cliffs in the early 20th century - it's still a spectacular coastal drive.

"They campers", as locals referred to visitors, were regarded in the 1930s as noisy and wild, but Croyde has never been tacky. You're as likely to find longboards strapped to a BMW as a VW camper.

The horseshoe of Croyde Bay is flanked by two vast stretches of surfing beach, Saunton Sands and Woolacombe Sands, so is at the centre of a "scene". Its popularity stems from having the most challenging wave breaks on Devon's north coast, thanks to a dangerous rip tide. As a result of the surfing boom, buying to let is lucrative and more families of employment age are moving in.

However, the water and village get very congested at the height of the season. There has been resentment from locals that the summer wave-seekers are spoiling their party. But, away from July, August, bank holidays and sun-drenched weekends, you can have the place to yourself.

Prices in the village are 15 per cent higher than in the surrounding area, according to Colin Thorne of Webbers estate agents in Braunton, and there's virtually nothing for sale under £200,000. "Croyde has always been popular," he says, "but there's a succession of people discovering it and adding to the lure."

New building is limited by protection orders on the surrounding countryside and a local desire to keep it quaint. But there are some detached modern houses, and a development of New England-style homes is under way, for an average of £530,000 each. Chocolate-boxy period property is hard to come by.

With most of the village nestling behind the dunes, the best views are from the houses on Baggy Point, including the designer bolt-hole of the former BBC chairman Gavyn Davies. The headland is owned by the National Trust and attracts climbers and walkers.

Croyde isn't over-endowed with amenities. It boasts three pubs, four surf shops, a post office, general store, gift shop, riding stables and about five eateries, but the two holiday parks are the only places to buy a newspaper. However, Braunton, five miles away, has schools, shops for most eventualities (including fish-and-chips) and a wealth of interest groups.

Devon accents are rare in Croyde, with 85 per cent of properties sold to buyers from at least 150 miles away. Builder Simon Fleischman moved to Croyde from Berkshire 18 months ago with his wife, Jill, and two daughters.

"The pace of life is slower and more relaxed," he says. "Everyone knows one another and our social life is meeting in pubs. The only negative is when our village is invaded by holidaymakers, but most people make their living from it so they muck along with it."

The lowdown

Cost of living: Two-bed bungalows from £240,000; modern four-bed detached houses from £325,000; family-sized period cottages from £375,000; the handful of large houses with uninterrupted bay views are £600,000-plus (usually at auction).

Attractions: sandy beach; stunning coastal walks; surfing facilities and annual Oceanfest; thatched tea-rooms; championship golf-course at Saunton; Braunton Burrows (which is a Unesco biosphere reserve).

Downsides: very crowded in summer, with the odd case of wave-rage and revellers spilling out of pubs; minimal local amenities; no mains gas.

How to get there: Three hours and 50 minutes by train from Paddington to Barnstaple via Exeter, then 45 minutes by bus; an hour's drive from junction 27 of the M5.

USP: Charm, surf, sand and dramatic coastal scenery.