From the moment I entered Docton Mill’s drive, I knew I was somewhere special; I had already spotted banks of daffodils and spied, across the leat, tantalising glimpses of flowering magnolias.


The temptation to explore was strong but the pull towards a cream tea stronger.

Hartland Quay, Devon
Docton Mill sits just inland from the beautiful Hartland Quay coastline ©Getty

So I followed the cobbled walkway alongside the millpond until I found Docton Mill’s award-winning tearoom. The fire was as warm as the welcome and I enjoyed a cream tea with fluffy scones and a house-blended rose-petal and lemon tea.

Balancing act

Nestled in a steep-sided Devon valley, Docton Mill is an RHS Partner Garden and a haven for plant-lovers. It was first laid out in the 1930s, and today’s custodians, John and Lana Borrett, have made considerable improvements, including the addition of a magnolia field and a bog garden.

I was in the mood for slow exploration and was glad that I had donned my walking boots as I wandered along intriguing paths and up steep steps. John and Lana have achieved that elusive gardeners’ goal in their woodland paradise: a seamless merging of the natural and planted. I was too early for the bluebells, but it was clear that later visitors were going to be in for a carpeted treat.

Blacksmith Greg Abel, Dartmoor Artisan Trail

Beyond the mill

Reluctantly leaving the trees, I crossed two wooden bridges to enter the magnolia garden, where I found broad herbaceous borders-in-waiting. Beautifully tended and already burgeoning with spring, the promise of summer effusiveness was obvious, and I immediately started to plan a return visit. All around the magnolia field were green-oak seats, carefully located to frame attractive views and give shelter when necessary. I took my time wandering across the top of the field, admiring the candelabra primulas beside the leat.

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From Docton Mill, I enjoyed a short stroll to admire the weir upstream from the gardens. You can explore further with a 7km circular walk from nearby Hartland Quay, ascending south on the coast path for fine views towards Lundy. Pass the waterfall at St Catherine’s Tor then loop back to the Quay past the ruined Pleasure House folly, which one owner is reputed to have altered so that he could back his carriage in and enjoy the view.

Fi Darby is a Devon author, blogger, copywriter and OS Outside Champion. Find out more at
Fi Darby


Fi Darby
Fi DarbyOutdoor writer and navigation specialist

Fi is an outdoor instructor and writer. She teaches navigation and expedition skills, and specialises in route finding and location story telling.