Ilfracombe – North Devon (29 June – 6 July)

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July 8th 2016
Published: July 9th 2016
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Well that’s Ilfracombe almost done and dusted. We arrived here almost a week ago after spending most of the day in Exeter followed by a slow, wet drive across the moors to Ilfracombe. When we arrived our AirBnB hosts had the fire on!

Exeter was pleasant but uneventful. It wouldn’t be an overseas trip unless Terry was trying to find something – a tiny screw driver in rural France, shoe polish in rural China and a replacement camera battery charger in Devon. We spent a bit of time trying to do that but eventually found success and saw parts of Exeter that we hadn’t counted on. Exeter is a relatively small city and was easy to negotiate by foot once in the centre of town – we left our car at the Park ‘n’ Ride. Lunch was a pasty enjoyed sitting on the walls surrounding the cathedral, watching school kids play and listening to the bells. During our visit to the cathedral we enjoyed an organ recital as we walked around. We also visited the quay and the Guildhall before returning to the car to head north to Ilfracombe. I was pleased to arrive as much of the journey was through cloud/fog/rain with visibility of 100 metres in places.

I’m not sure how to describe Ilfracombe. It’s a relatively large town that had its heyday in the early 1900s, so much of the town’s building stock is large, ornate Victorian-era mansions and hotels. Unfortunately, its heyday is long gone, and many of these building have deteriorated and are now used as inexpensive flats and small, grotty-looking hotels. The high street must have been quite grand at one stage but now is a bit down-at-heel. The area around the harbour is much busier with an array of pubs, fudge and ice cream shops catering to holidaying Australians. I suspect that in a few years it may look quite different and have had a bit of a turn around as there is quite a lot of scaffolding adorning the facades of many old hotels. For example, somebody has purchased the old hotel across the road from our B&B and is now restoring it to its original grand state. This part of the coastline has the second largest tidal range in the world, up to 13 metres but only 7.5 metres during our visit. This means that at low tide the boats in the harbour rest on their keels but happily bob about at wharf level at high tide. We had to smile at the yachtie couple dragging their inflatable dingy across the mud and then tethering it to the bollard some 6 metres or so above them. One of the most interesting parts of our visit to Ilfracombe was a visit to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution boatshed to see their lifeboats. One is a huge tractor and lifeboat affair which traverses the mudflats at low tide to launch and/or retrieve the boat. The tractor part had a huge turntable that rotated the boat 180 degrees to get it in the correct orientation after retrieval. We also enjoyed our visit to Tunnels Beach, a swimming area originally built for women at the end of series of tunnels through the cliffs. When built the men bathed in a separate area on the other side of a small headland.

Once again our time has been spent walking, visiting old towns and historic houses and gardens. Ilfracombe is on the South West Coast walk and so some of our trips have been to locations a bit outside town and then a walk. We’ve walked to and from the nearby village of Lee, stopped at a location called Croyde and walked to Baggy Point and went to a place called Heddon Mouth or Hunter’s Inn and did a circular walk. In contrast to the cliffs on the south coast, the cliffs here are quite rugged, dark and a bit foreboding - they're composed of slate. Our walk to Lee was meant to be a short day with a bus home from the village. Unfortunately buses only run twice a week to/from there so that didn’t work. Much of the coastline in this part of the UK is owned/managed by the National Trust and that’s the case at both Baggy Point and Heddon Mouth. The coastline around Croyde is known for its sandy beaches and on our sunny Sunday visit they were packed with people enjoying the beach, swimming and surfing. At Baggy Point itself, technical rock climbing was all the go with at least two groups hanging from ropes on the cliff faces. Heddon Mouth was a pleasant day with a walk that had sections through both forest and along exposed cliff face. Hunter’s Inn is a pub/accommodation next door to the National Trust
Launching the LifeboatLaunching the LifeboatLaunching the Lifeboat

The lifeboat is launched bow first
headquarters and was a very pleasant place to finish our walk – Terry enjoyed the Exmoor Beast draught porter but tonic for me unfortunately as I was driving. One of its claims to fame was that Mick Jagger once stayed there – wonder if he went for a walk.

Our first few days in Ilfracombe were not great weatherwise and so we spent our time visiting historic houses and towns. One of the reasons that we ended up in Ilfracombe is because I thought the region attractive when we drove through four years ago. I remembered the villages of Lynton-Lynmouth and Dunster and we returned to both for a longer visit this time. Like most visitors to Lynmouth we rode the old cliff railroad, a funicular that traverses the cliffs making it much easier to return to your car parked in Lynton. Dunster is a medieval town on the northern edge of Exmoor and was known for its wool and yarn production from the 13th Century. There’s an old yarn market building in the main street and an old tithe barn (now the community hall), dovecote and parish church tucked away in a quieter back street. Most people visiting Dunster go to Dunster Castle which was owned by a family called Luttrell. The last Mrs Luttrell to live at the castle was an Australian woman who met the heir to the castle when he was working as Private Secretary to the Governor General before WW1. Like many old houses/castles the family were unable to afford to maintain the castle and her son donated it to the National Trust after she died. It was difficult to see much scenery on our drive to Dunster as we drove through cloud for much of the journey. On the way home the weather was magnificent and we had wonderful views over both Exmoor and the Bristol Channel.

My favourite house been Arlington Court. This wasn’t a particularly attractive building but the interior of the house seemed as if the previous owners had just left. It had been owned by the Chichester family and the last resident was a lady called Rosalie Chichester who donated the building and grounds to the National Trust. Rosalie must have been quite a character as she lived quite frugally to pay off the family debts and afterwards embarked on a couple of long tours. She was an avid collector and there are some magnificent model sailing ships built by French prisoners of war during the Napoleonic-era in her collection. She was a lover of birds and kept parrots and peacocks. The parrots were allowed to fly free in the Drawing Room and the peacock could come and go as he wished also – apparently it took a bit of cleaning up to restore that room to its former glory. The 3 rooms that make up the formal part of the house are quite lovely and I could imagine sitting there with a good book enjoying the peace and view. The entrance hallway is dominated by a huge staircase which I thought pretty magnificent.

We've now made our way to Pembrokeshire in Wales after stopping for a couple of hours at Cheddar Gorge. We did half of the Gorge Walk. The views were lovely from the top but only visible after we climbed over two fences to access the cliff edge. Perhaps it would have been better on the side that we didn't walk.

Additional photos below
Photos: 26, Displayed: 26


Ilfracombe Harbour looking east with VerityIlfracombe Harbour looking east with Verity
Ilfracombe Harbour looking east with Verity

Verity is a huge sculpture by Damien Hurst and lent to Ilfracombe by him for the next 20 years
Baggy PointBaggy Point
Baggy Point

There are rock climbers on the rock face

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