- Bryan Cath
Ilfracombe's Beauty Spots
Distance from Combe Martin: 6 miles
I would like to take you around the beauty spots of the main harbour town on the north coast of Devon. I lived in Ilfracombe for 12 years, running a 9-bedroomed hotel overlooking the harbour. We specialised in walking and cycling holidays. I got to know North Devon and Exmoor really well as I took our guests around. Here are some highlights that a visit to Ilfracombe would not be complete without seeing them.
Verity and the harbour
A visit to Ilfracombe would not be complete without going to the picturesque harbour. Here you will find Verity, the amazing 66-foot-high bronze sculpture standing at the entrance to the harbour.
This sculpture was created by Damien Hirst and loaned to Ilfracombe for 20 years in 2012. She is very controversial, with everyone having their own opinion.
While at the harbour a short walk up Lantern Hill is worth the effort to visit St Nicholas Chapel.
St Nicholas Chapel
This 14th century chapel has stood sentinel over the harbour and is said to have the country’s oldest working lighthouse. The views from here across the harbour and along the coastline are most impressive.
In the mid-19th century, the lighthouse keeper called John Davey with his wife and fourteen children lived in this tiny building.
Entry is free, but donations are welcome with the funds going to charity.
Coming back down to the car park you pass the Lundy Island booking office (open during sailings and in season) to reach Ilfracombe Aquarium.
This unique aquarium explores the specific journey from the source of an Exmoor stream, downriver passing through a lake and pond, to the river estuary with its rock pools, through the harbour to reach the coast. It then goes across the sea to Lundy Island with its marine nature reserve.
This award-winning attraction is housed in the old lifeboat station. It has many displays, a café and gift shop. To discover more please visit their website at https://ilfracombeaquarium.co.uk/.
Ilfracombe Lifeboat Station, RNLI
The original lifeboat house was on the harbour, where the aquarium is now housed. It was built in 1893. Because of its location, the lifeboat had to be hauled through the streets around the inner harbour to reach the slipway. This sometimes caused problems with badly parked cars getting in its way. In 1996 a new and much larger lifeboat house was built at the top of the harbour, directly opposite the slipway, reducing launch times considerably.
It houses two lifeboats, the larger all-weather Shannon class and the smaller inshore D class. The station is open from 10am-4pm, Monday to Thursday. The shop is open every day, off season from 11am-3pm and in-season from 10.30am-4.30pm. To find out more, visit their website at https://rnli.org/find-my-nearest/lifeboat-stations/ilfracombe-lifeboat-station.
While at the harbour you can find kiosks for boat trips that take you along our stunning coastline. They offer trips along the coast as far as Lynmouth to the east and Woolacombe to the west.
If you are looking for an exhilarating and fun ride, then Ilfracombe Sea Safaris www.ilfracombeseasafari.co.uk take you on a fast (up to 20 knots) ride in their RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat).
For a more sedate trip along the coast with commentary on the local wildlife, then the Ilfracombe Princess catamaran www.ilfracombeprincess.co.uk has 100 seats on two decks for you to get a closer look at the wildlife and coastal scenery. They offer three different trips, from a 1-hour trip, 1.5-hour trip and 2-hour trip.
Hillsborough Nature Reserve
Overlooking Ilfracombe harbour is the local nature reserve and headland. Park in the car park next to the swimming baths. From here various paths over Hillsborough, offering excellent views over the harbour and along the coast to Bull Point to the east and Combe Martin with Great Hangman to the west. On the inland side, near the top are the remains of an Iron Age hill fort.
On the western edge of the hill is Hele Bay, a sheltered bay popular for a day on the beach with a good-sized car park. It is dog-friendly all year. On the eastern edge of the hill is Rapparee Cove, which was a popular beach in Victorian times. It is directly opposite the harbour and is visible from there with its old stone-built shelter.
These unique bathing beaches date back to Victorian times when these beaches were made accessible by Welsh miners tunnelling through the shale rocks to reach them. There are two beaches, back then, one for men and one for women. That is not the case now! One beach has a tidal pool which holds back seawater when the tide goes out. This is available 3 hours either side of low tide. High tides cover and refill it with fresh seawater. The beaches are not sandy, but rocky and dramatic. There is an entry fee as it is a private business and attraction. It is now also a wedding venue. For more information visit their website at www.tunnelsbeaches.co.uk.
Ilfracombe Museum was originally built as the grand Ilfracombe Hotel’s laundry. The hotel was demolished in 1976 and the Landmark Theatre now sits on the same site. The museum houses fascinating, and varied collections gathered over many years. You can spend hours looking through cabinets of drawers containing a myriad of oddities and wondering at their displays. Well worth a visit. It is close to the Landmark Theatre. To find out more go to their website at https://www.ilfracombemuseum.co.uk/.
The Landmark Theatre
This is the newest theatre in North Devon with a most unusual design. Nicknamed ‘Madonna’s Bra’ because of its two round cone-shaped, white-bricked towers. One tower houses the theatre, a horseshoe shaped 479 seated auditoria. The other the Pavilion, an open-spaced area enabling a wide variety of events to take place. Between the two towers is the Quarterdeck Café which is open throughout the day. A good selection of shows and events are put on throughout the year. You can find out what is on at their website https://northdevontheatres.org.uk/landmark.php.