Thursday, 24 December 2015


I am a big fan of the Ward Lock Red Guides, a series of vintage guidebooks which give a fascinating insight into what tourism was like in Britain in past decades.  Looking at the entry for Ilfracombe in the 1966 edition of the North West Devon guide, I was astonished at the range of ‘steamer’ services available in those days.  The guide lists the following: “Steamer services and excursions to Lynmouth, Clovelly, Minehead, Bristol, Cardiff, Barry and Swansea etc., also channel cruises and trips to Lundy, Mumbles, Tenby, etc.”  Today, the only regular crossing still available is to Lundy during the summer months, and Ilfracombe is also one of the departure points for trips on the Waverley paddle steamer.  Ilfracombe also had a railway station in 1966, and there was a rail booking office in the High Street.  Those were the days.

The first thing that strikes the visitor to Ilfracombe is the stunning coastal scenery all around it.  Seen from an elevated position the harbour area of the town looks a lot like St Ives, complete with a little chapel on a crag at the harbour entrance.  St Nicholas Chapel, dating from 1321, once housed a lighthouse keeper and his family including 14 children, but fell into neglect.  It was restored in 1962 by the local Rotary Club, who still look after it today, welcoming visitors who want to have a look around  inside where there is a small local history museum – free to enter though donations are welcome.  Another feature of Ilfracombe which makes an interesting, and quite unique, destination for visitors is Tunnels Beaches, where there are two large tide-filled pools originally built in Victorian times for single-sex bathing.  As the name suggests, the pools are accessible via tunnels, chargeable; nowadays there are many more additions to the original attraction, such as a cafe bar, a shop and a play  hut. 

During recent years, the controversial artist Damian Hurst has started to make his mark in  Ilfracombe.  First a restaurant called The Quay appeared, which boasts original artworks by Hurst.  So far, so harmless; then in 2012 a sculpture by Hurst appeared in the harbour area.  Named Verity, the 25-metre tall structure depicts a naked pregnant woman brandishing a sword while carrying the scales of justice.  Not surprisingly, the sculpture has split the local populace right down the middle, with many decrying the grotesque nature of the sculpture.  The official webpage for the sculpture claims that Verity is an”allegory for truth and justice”. Back on more normal ground, the Ilfracombe Museum on the promenade is in Runnymede Gardens, and offers displays for all the family.  The Landmark Theatre occupies a cliff-top position, making its cafe bar a lively lunchtime venue during rough seas.  

For a list of events in Ilfracombe, follow this link.

Map of the area.