Tuesday, 26 April 2016
Walk 175 Woolacombe to Ilfracombe (Devon)
(Third leg of English coastal walk – Lands End to Bristol)
Map: L/R 180
Distance: 10 miles of 16 km approx
Difficulty: challenging – lots of ups and downs
Terrain: mainly cliff coastal path
Access: Parking at both ends.
Public transport: Buses 32 and 31 run between the two towns about once an hour.
Follow the path out of Woolacombe to Barricane Beach which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) mainly for the shells and fossils within the slate.
From here on the views and terrain are very rugged and include Morte Point with the dreaded Morte Stone on its north side.The Morte Stone, with its sunken reef, was called The Death Stone by the Normans because of the number of ships wrecked trying to get round it.The area is a SSSI because of the fauna and flora on the heathlands. It was also used for military practice in World War 2.
About a mile further around Rockham Bay is Bull Point and lighthouse. Due to subsidence, a new lighthouse was built in 1972 to replace the 1879 original. The old keepers cottages which surround the lighthouse are now used for holiday lets.
Continue along the coast path, which is also part of The Tarka Trail (named after the otter in Henry Williamson's book), to Lee Bay a place which was renowned for smuggling in the past.
After this point the path goes inland and soon you get good views of Ilfracombe. The walk continues along The Torrs; the path here zig-zags and was laid out by the Victorians to enjoy in their leisure time.
There are several points of interest in Ilfracombe. The Jubilee Gardens include the Town Museum which is worth a look around. Opened in 1932, it is housed in the laundry of the old Ilfracombe Hotel. Here you can learn about the many fires in the town over the years put down to the old 'jerry built' hotels.
The strange large chimney-like towers are part of the Ilfracombe Landmark Theatre. Although they have won design awards, the locals I spoke to in the museum are far from impressed and told me that some call them 'Madonna's Bra'.
A number of well known people have been associated with Ilfracombe including Joan and Jackie Collins who went to school here, Peter Sellers who made his first stage appearance at the theatre and Damien Hurst who has erected a large bronze statue in the harbour called Verity. The bizarre sculpture of a pregnant woman holding a large sword splits opinion in the town (I was told).The artist lives locally and has a restaurant here. Look out for the mosaic on the park near sea front which celebrates the achievements of champion triple jumper Jonathan Edwards who lived here for several years.
Capstone Point looms up prior to walking around to the harbour. Ilfracombe is referred to in the Domesday Book of 1086 when it refers to a watchtower that once overlooked the harbour. For many years the town was just a fishing village but today it is the leading holiday resort in North Devon.
Continue the walk around to the harbour where there is much to look at. In the 1300s the harbour was used as an embarkation point for the wars in Ireland. A couple of centuries later both men and ships were sent from here to fight the Spanish Armada. Paddle steamers came here in Victorian times bringing tourists from Bristol and South Wales. Larger passenger ships still leave to visit Lundy Island. Lundy is now owned by the National Trust. It is rich in wildlife and includes a small village with an inn, a Victorian Church and a castle (but no cars allowed).
On the left, walking into the harbour, is an aquarium and the imposing Lantern Hill topped by St Nicholas Chapel. The chapel was built around 1300 and was once used as a lighthouse during the reign of Henry V111. St Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors. Look out for Ropery Road, an area in the past devoted to making rope.
Across the harbour towards Beacon point is Rapparee Cove. In 1796, a ship carrying British troops and French prisoners of war was wrecked and 50 people drowned. In Victorian times it was a ladies bathing beach. In 1878, Alfred Price, a local boy, had an argument with the Crown Prince of Germany in this area. The future Kaiser, Wilhelm 11, was sent to Ilfracombe to be educated and during an altercation was punched on the nose by Alfred. It is alleged that his hatred of the English stemmed from this incident.
Photos show: the theatre 'towers' in Ilfracombe; Lantern Hill with St Nicholas Chapel, Ilfracombe; Verity, Damien Hurst sculpture in Ilfracombe Harbour.