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Sunday, 1 May 2016

Walk 176 Ilfracombe to Coombe Martin (Devon)

Walk 176 Ilfracombe to Coombe Martin (Devon)

(Third leg of English coastal walk – Lands End to Bristol)

Map: L/R 180
Distance: 6 miles or 11 km approx
Difficulty: Lots of ups and downs but quite a short walk
Terrain: road and coastal path
Access: Parking at both ends.
Public transport: 301 bus runs between the two places every hour.

Follow the coastal path to Hillsborough which is an area of common land away from the sea. It is a nature reserve and is on the site of two iron age forts. In Victorian times it was used for army practice.

From here the path works its way on to Beacon Point where there are good views back to Ilfracombe. It is only a short walk to Hele Bay. This was the site of the Hele Bay gas works which was once a major employer in the area. Production started in 1905 and finished in 1963. Coal would be brought in by sea to help make the gas. Holiday parks and camp sites have been built here in later years. Look out for the restored Hele Corn Mill which has been here since 1525 and is powered by water. A mile offshore are Buggy Pits where spectacular waves on the reefs are caused by winds blowing against the tide.

This part of the walk is quite rugged and passes near Rillage Point and Samson's Bay- areas popular with bird watchers. Then the path goes inland alongside Water Mouth. The rocks here have smugglers tunnels and caves and sandy beach at the end of the mouth. Trials for Operation Pluto were carried out here in World War 2. As a result, the Pluto oil pipeline was laid across the English Channel to supply allied invasion forces with fuel.

Alongside the beach at the end of Water Mouth is Watermouth Castle and family theme park. The mock Gothic castle was built in 1825 and, I was told, includes smuggler tunnels.

The walk ends at the very attractive coastal village of Coombe Martin. The village dates back to Saxon times and is mentioned in the Domesday Book. It has probably the second longest main/high street of of any village in England, approx 2 miles. Until the end of the 19th century horses, carts and pack ponies were used to carry goods from the ships in the harbour. Mining for silver was once very important and evidence of silver mines and lime-kilns can still be seen.

The museum in Coombe Martin is excellent with people very happy to interest you in the exhibits. One of the things I learnt about was an annual weekend procession concerning a legend about the Earl of Tyrone who fled Ireland and was shipwrecked here in 1607. The procession was actually banned in 1837 due to drunken behaviour but was reinstated in 1970. This reputedly loud event includes a hobby horse, a fool, grenadiers, drummers, music and dancers. The museum has more information.

There are some interesting buildings in the village. These include the church with the unusual name of St Peter ad Vincula (St Peter in Chains) which rises in four stages to 99 feet and has a Norman nave. It is a walk inland up the main street. Near here is The Pack of Cards pub which was built by a man to celebrate his large win in a card game. It has 4 storeys, 13 doors on each floor and 52 windows thus representing a pack of cards. It is a good place for a pint and meal as well. Look out for shops selling local strawberries which, during the season, are much sought after.

Photos show: the beach at Coombe Martin; Water Mouth looking towards the castle.

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