Ilfracombe is north Devon’s most popular resort, set in a wonderful natural harbour space. Wedged between the cliffs and surrounding hills, you get the impression that the feel of the place has not changed much since the Victorian era, when a steady influx of visitors arrived by impressive steamships and railway to this family holiday destination.
The expansion of the town has occurred over the last 100 years or so to present a more contemporary feel, set as it is in a natural harbour from where fishermen have gone to sea since the 12th century.
Visit the striking Landmark Theatre (claimed in these parts to have been modelled on Madonna's Bra!) Or take a lazy lunch at S&P Fish who have the fishing boats that unload at the quayside here. The harbour is the largest on the North Devon coast and experiences the world’s second highest tidal rise and fall, so some watching of the dramatic harbour movements is a must. Around the quay there is an Aquarium and next to the theatre, a Town Museum housed in a former hotel laundry room, crammed with photos and Victoriana, alongside the stuffed birds and collections of insects you’d expect to find from travelling academics in the early 20th century.
Up in the town wander the old cobbled Fore Street and in amongst the shops and galleries on the High Street is Ilfracombe Chocolate Emporium, with a chocolate museum upstairs and cafe selling a range of hot chocolates and snacks.
One of the advantages of staying in Ilfracombe is the chance to explore Tunnels Beach, with its tidal bathing pools hewn from a sheltered and previously inaccessible cove by Welsh miners brought in to carve passageways through the rock. There were two tidal bathing rock pools then - for segregated bathing of course. Apparently, a bugler was positioned to issue an alarm if any men tried to cross between the two pools. One pool still survives today along with some evocative displays conjuring images of the woollen clad swimmers and signs, such as “gentlemen who cannot swim should NEVER take ladies upon the water”!
There is a good beach cafe here well worth a look and you can also hire kayaks for a paddle. For those taking a rest day here - it's a town with good facilities, excellent restaurants and if you time it right the chance to take a ferry to Lundy Island one of the South West's most amazing locations.
Finally, before that well-earned evening meal, it’s worth taking the time to have a stroll up to St Nicholas Chapel on the top of Lantern Hill overlooking the harbour. Said to be the oldest lighthouse in the country, built in 1320, a lantern burned for centuries to show sailors the entrance to the harbour. Also from there you will have great views of offshore Lundy Island
and can use the local science to forecast the weather for tomorrow's walk.
"Lundy High - will be dry, Lundy Plain - sign of rain, Lundy Low - sign of snow"
Its a simple as that apparently!