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Life in an East Devon fishing village called Beer

Explore the village of Beer. Photo: Visit Devon
Explore the village of Beer. Photo: Visit Devon

The East Devon fishing village may be tucked away on the coast but, once discovered, visitors always fall in love with its unique charm. Chrissy Harris chats to the locals about what makes their coastal home so special.

Lunchtime at Woozie’s Deli and the pasties are in. The wonderful aroma fills the street outside, luring in passers-by like pastry sirens. 

‘Looks like you’ve got the makings of a good lunch there,’ says the woman behind the counter to the couple who have made the mistake of coming in hungry. They head out of the red door, struggling to contain all of the paper bags full of treats. ‘Enjoy your day.’

The woman behind the counter is Woozie Taylor, something of a local legend. She’s run this treasure trove of a deli in the centre of Beer for 23 years and can’t imagine living anywhere else. ‘It’s the community that makes it, the feel of the place, it’s just lovely,’ she says, before briefly answering a phone call about an order.

Great British Life: The locally famous Woozie's Deli. Photo: Karen Stevens The locally famous Woozie's Deli. Photo: Karen Stevens

‘Sorry about that! It’s been non-stop today,’ she adds. ‘I quite like the busyness of it, though. I like chatting to the people that come through the door.’

The sun is out today and there are plenty of visitors, wandering around aimlessly in that way that you can get away with on holiday. In a few weeks’ time, the weather and the feel of this East Devon fishing village will change as the tourists leave and the pace of life shifts down a few gears.

‘It’s quieter, but in a good way,’ says Woozie. ‘Then it’ll be Christmas – we all light up our windows. You should see it.’

Great British Life: The village is set within a beautiful stretch of coastline. Photo: Richard ScottThe village is set within a beautiful stretch of coastline. Photo: Richard Scott

For a place that’s often described as hidden away, Beer certainly seems to like shining bright.

The local village website refers to it as being in a Devon version of the Bermuda Triangle. It’s certainly off the beaten track, or the B3174 as it’s more commonly known. And the beach is visible only from far out at sea (18th century smugglers took advantage this). But its secretive location means everyone can feel as though they’ve discovered Beer and a simpler way of life.

‘I see it all the time,’ says Rob Dormor, who, along with his brothers, runs Beer Head Caravan Park, perched right on the clifftop overlooking Lyme Bay. ‘People arrive here and they’re all like this,’ he says, scrunching up his face and shoulders. ‘Then after a day or so, you see their shoulders drop and they’re smiling.’

Great British Life: Rob Dormor, of Beer Head Caravan ParkRob Dormor, of Beer Head Caravan Park

Rob is Beer born and bred. His farming family has lived here for three generations and their caravan park has been here since 1955. Two of Rob’s three brothers now run the farm and help Rob take care of the site, which enjoys some of the best views in Devon.

‘I think that’s a big part of it,’ he says, talking about Beer’s appeal to generations of visitors. ‘You come up this hill and all you can see is sea. It’s an escape for people.’

One of the caravan owners has been coming here on holiday every year since 1958. Others are multi-generation visitors who’ve been away and come back with their kids and grandkids.

‘That’s very much how the park is,’ says Rob, explaining that the regulars pitch in when they can. ‘Many of them get actively involved with Beer and events,’ he adds. ‘It’s a village that totally works with tourism.’

It does, however, mean that in the winter months, things can get a bit lonely.

‘The streets are pretty quiet after the end of October,’ says Rob. ‘But, in fact, for me, that’s when the real work starts,’ he adds, talking about the list of jobs required over the next few months, including digging out pitches, moving caravans and sorting out drainage etc. ‘I spend eight months of the year looking after people and then the next job starts. But that’s the rhythm of life. Just as you get fed up with the weather and the season, it changes again. I love any time of year here.’

Great British Life: Beer offers'an escape' for people says Rob Dormer. Photo: Richard ScottBeer offers'an escape' for people says Rob Dormer. Photo: Richard Scott

Back down in the village, Jubilee Garden’s benches are filling up with people and pasties. One man looks out over the railings to the beach below and says to his friend: ‘Well, it’s even nicer that I thought it was going to be – probably nicer than Seaton, don’t you think?’

‘Ha! That’s funny to hear that,’ says local resident and parish councillor Karen Stevens when I tell her this. ‘There’s definitely a rivalry between Seaton and Beer.’

‘Or Beer and ‘East Beer’, as we call it!’ adds her husband Tim, also a parish councillor. 

Great British Life: Tim and Karen StevensTim and Karen Stevens

The rivalry dates back more than a hundred years and is thought to have been caused by complaints about boats, followed by disquiet in arrangements for the then Seaton and Beer Regatta - now just the Beer Regatta…

These days, the healthy competition is played out between the local football teams but it’s a reminder that people are proud of where they come from around here. Beer is still very much a fishing village and many of the residents have strong connections to the sea. There’s some great chat on the Beer Memories Facebook page about boats, smuggling, fisherman past and present.

Great British Life: Beer is still very much a fishing village. Photo: Richard ScottBeer is still very much a fishing village. Photo: Richard Scott Great British Life: Beer is a village just waiting to be discovered. Photo: Karen StevensBeer is a village just waiting to be discovered. Photo: Karen Stevens

‘Beer is steeped in history,’ says Karen, whose grandfather was a local fisherman. ‘Of course, things have changed over the years and we’ve gradually got more and more visitors coming.

‘You can see why. It’s a beautiful place – why would you want to go anywhere else? You’re surrounded by countryside, there’s the sea, lots of walks. It’s great for families.’

The tourists are a crucial income stream here now and that’s fine, for the most part. The only slight - and familiar - rumble is the increasing number of second homes and the pricing out of the locals. It’s an issue affecting communities across Devon, with Beer at a disadvantage because there isn’t much space to build many new and affordable homes.

Karen and I talk about this, the cost of everything, the general state of the world and how good Woozie’s Deli is – all the important topics – before we say our goodbyes. She advises me to walk up the path through Jubilee Gardens where a local ‘working party’ has just helped to clear away a load of weeds and shrubs. ‘Doesn’t it look great?’ says Karen. ‘Go up to that bench up there and you’ll get some of the best views.’

This is a village that likes people to know that it’s Devon’s best kept secret. Cheers, Beer.

Great British Life:  Take a stroll to Beer Head for some spectacular views over Lyme Bay. Photo: Visit Devon Take a stroll to Beer Head for some spectacular views over Lyme Bay. Photo: Visit Devon

WINTER CHEER IN BEER

Marine House at Beer and Steam Gallery in Fore Street form a leading centre for fine and applied arts from local and national artists and crafts people. Several times a year the galleries host major solo shows from leading artists. marinehouseatbeer.co.uk

Beer Congregational Church in Fore Street contains the oldest surviving Wurlitzer theatre organ in the UK.

Take a ramble through the Hooken Undercliff, where a dramatic landslip in 1790 left a tumbled landscape that is now a haven for wildlife. There are spectacular views from the clifftops above. The walk links Beer with the nearby village of Branscombe.

Get cosy in The Smugglers Kitchen (Fore Street) and enjoy local produce and an ‘exceptional’ wine list. Stay all year round in

The Lookout Tower , a luxury two-bed coastal retreat run by Rob Dormor and family. the-lookout-tower.com

Great British Life:  Stay all year round in The Lookout Tower, a luxury two-bed coastal retreat. Photo: Anthony Sonko / The Lookout Tower Stay all year round in The Lookout Tower, a luxury two-bed coastal retreat. Photo: Anthony Sonko / The Lookout Tower



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