Ilfracombe: A North Devon Gem
Published: Tuesday 27th May 2014
Written by: Alex Smith
On the North Devon coast lies Ilfracombe. A town that at times has been a fishing community, trade port, safe port, and pioneering holiday resort. After a decline in the tourism industry in the 1960s, Ilfracombe has regenerated in recent years and is now back at the forefront of holiday destinations.
The town’s natural harbour has always been the heart of Ilfracombe, and nothing has happened to change that in the 21st century. Fish and other seafood are landed here daily, and the waters teem with all sorts of sports and pleasure craft. You can join in the aquatic fun by joining a sea-life safari or a coastal cruise, trying some deep sea fishing on Blue Fin, or sailing to Lundy Island, a natural haven for a wide variety of wildlife. If you don’t want to venture onto the water then there are plenty of places to eat, drink, and explore alongside the harbour including Ilfracombe Aquarium, and St Nicholas Chapel which houses the UK’s oldest working lighthouse.
If you’re a gastronomic type then head to Fore Street, Ilfracombe’s foodie area. A wide selection of pubs, restaurants and cafes assail your senses as you walk past, tempting you with delicious smells and enticing foods. It’s also an area with history; The George and Dragon has been a pub since the fourteenth century while the Prince of Wales is the oldest building in Ilfracombe.
Back to the seafront, and Tunnels Beaches is one of Ilfracombe’s most unique attractions. Back in the nineteenth century it was recognised that Crewkhorne Cove would be an ideal place for sea-bathing, the new craze in those days. There was only one problem – the bay was nearly inaccessible. As it was the Victorian era the challenge was eagerly accepted, hundreds of Welsh miners were hired to cut six tunnels through to the cove, and Tunnels Beaches was born. Two hundred years later it’s still a popular tourist destination. Thanks to the tall cliffs acting as a barrier to contamination the sea water is clear, and the rock pooling has been declared the third best in the UK. The scenery is spectacular, and if you want facilities there is a café, shop and indoor play area there as well.
When you want some indoor entertainment, Ilfracombe has that covered too. The new Landmark Theatre, with its distinctive double tower design, is an arts and entertainment complex on the seafront. The varied programme features drama, opera, children’s shows and ballet, amongst many others performances. It’s also a cinema and has a fine café/bar where you can enjoy a bite to eat while looking out over the sea. Ilfracombe Museum is next door, and the range of exhibits and curios on show will intrigue you.
And of course, one of Ilfracombe’s great attractions is that it is a great base to go exploring the surrounding area. Croyde – surfertown – is a few miles along the coast, while you can just as easily reach Exmoor National Park in the other direction. Ilfracombe is surrounded by the North Devon Heritage Coast, and attractions such as Exmoor Zoo, Watermouth Castle and Chambercombe Manor are all within half an hour’s drive, great places for you to enjoy a day trip.