16. Ilfracombe to Woolacombe

March 2000

As with the previous walk, this is another one I took some time ago whilst living in Exeter, and as before I am only using a cheap film camera, so the photos are poor quality, although I have added some more recent photographs of Lee Bay, when I visited there again a few years later.

I walked down to Exeter St Davids station and took the train from there to Barnstaple along the Tarka Line. This line hugs the River Taw for much of it’s length and is quite a pleasant ride, although not as spectacular as some other branch lines in Devon and Cornwall. This takes a little under an hour. From the station in Barnstaple I then walk through the industrial estate around the station and over the town bridge, which crosses the River Taw and was at the time of the walk, the furtherst down-stream crossing of the river.

The bus soon arrives and heads to Ilfracombe via Braunton. The traffic is slow out of Barnstaple and around Braunton but after that progress is a little quicker and I arrive in Ilfracombe around 2 hours after I left Exeter and I’m still in the same county – getting to North Devon from the south can be rather time consuming! I get off the bus at the bus station (which has now closed down) and head from there to the sea front. It is a cool and rather overcast day. The tide is out and there is more of a beach at Capstone Point than there was last time I was here. I also wander around to the harbour before I start the walk.

Ilfracombe Harbour

Ilfracombe Harbour

To begin the walk I head along the path behind the Landmark theatre. I like the fact the developers here tried to do something different although at the same time the building is not entirely in keeping with the rest of the town. However it is good that Ilfracombe has been able to retain it’s theatre. The coast path soon brings me out onto Granville Road. I’m not sure if the hotel here (The Granville Hotel) was named after the road or the road after it, but in any case it has now closed and was converted to flats (Granville Point), but at least the grand building remains. The road continues to climb as I pass the Tunnels Beach, far below. These are still private beaches, accessed via tunnels (for a fee), hence the name. As the road forks, I fork right onto Torrs Walk Avenue. A short distance along this road it forks and I head right to come to a good path along the cliff top, the last houses of Ilfracombe being the ones I just passed.

This is a National Trust owned area and follows a walk known as the Torrs Walk. This was, like in Lynton, another victorian construction, cut into the cliffs. Torrs is a common name for a hill in this area and hence this walk goes up and down a number of hills. The walk continues to climb and I soon get good views back down to Ilfracombe and of the rocky shoreline far below.

The Torrs Walk

The Torrs Walk

The Torrs Walk

The Torrs Walk

Sadly the Victorian part of the path soon ends and the coast path straightens out to run a fields distance back from the cliff edge, limiting the views a bit.

The South West Coast path was originally formed by the customs men walking the cliff tops looking for illegally smuggled drink (amongst other things), which was very big business at the time (largely due to very high duty) and the remenants of that smuggling can often be seen in the place names and here I pass Brandy Cove Point and beyond that Breackneck Point. I can guess how that got it’s name too, but it probably tells a sadder story.

The coast path soon joins a wider track away from the coast a little again, although I notice the area between the coast path and the cliff edge is now designated access land, so you could take a route closer to the cliff now if possible. Despite the fact this part of the coast path is not right on the cliff top it is still beautiful with the gorse and heather around here. This track soon becomes a road, but again I love many of the names I see on the map “Flat Point”, “Windjammer” and “Blue Mushroom” being just some I can spot. The road heads downhill, quite steeply in places, towards Lee Bay. There is a surpisingly large hotel here on the cliff top (since closed down) and a beach which is made up mostly of lose slate type rock mixed in with some sand.

Lee Bay

Lee Bay

This must be a great beach for rock-pooling as there are many rock pools in the rocks and it is also a very sheltered and peaceful beach. I can certainly see the attraction of staying here, it must be very peaceful.

Lee Bay

Lee Bay

I stop and have lunch on the beach here and then make my way back to the road to continue my walk.

The road out of Lee Bay is very steep and the coast path soon branches off the road to the right. This is more like it, the path now goes right along the cliff top. I’m soon dropping height again, down to a little valley with a stream flowing along it. West of here the coast becomes noticeably flatter as I continue west along the coast path to the reach the Lighthouse at Bull Point. The lighthouse itself is not as tall as many I have seen but is obviously still high enough to be seen by ships.

Bull Point Lighthouse

Bull Point Lighthouse

Here I’m noticing a change in the coast. As I begin to turn west, so the sounds of the sea gets louder and the waves larger. This is because I’m turning to head west and here there is nothing between us and the east coast of America – a vast expanse of sea which often gets whipped up into some large waves.

The coast near Bull Point

The coast near Bull Point

After around half a mile I reach the rock and sandy beach at Rockham. This beach reminds me why I love walking the coast path so much, to come across these lovely unspoilt and, in this case, deserted beaches. I head down the steps onto the beach and I’m the only person on the entire beach.

Rockham

Rockham

I enjoy a sit down on the rocks and a little rest here, before I begin my walk ahead. The cliffs ahead are quite hilly again as I now head up to the large headland of Morte Point.

The path here is good, right on the cliff tops and it is not too steep, but still high enough to get good views. As I near the end of Morte Point I wonder how it is decided which headlands to put a Lighthouse on. Bull Point has one, but Morte Point does not, although it sticks out quite far. The cliffs are also very jagged, and you can certainly see why a lighthouse is needed on this part of the coast.

Jagged cliffs of Morte Point

Jagged cliffs of Morte Point

The coast path then heads around the other side of the headland, another area of gorse and rocky cliffs. This soon brings me to Grunta Beach and then to Barricane Beach.

Here the change is noticeable. For a few miles I’ll be heading south towards the Taw estuary, meaning this coast faces west and gets the full force of the Atlantic. As a result, these beaches are renowned for their surfing. For the walker it also makes for a lovely views, as you can see breaker after breaker rolling in. The sound too is wonderful, you can hear the sea far more now the waves are bigger. Barricane Beach itself is a small but pretty beach but unusually rather than sand it is mostly made up of small shells, presumably they get washed off the rocks at Morte Point and end up here.

From here the rest of the walk is simple, I just follow the grassy paths along the cliff tops in front of the coastal road, the coast now being pretty flat. Soon I am rounding the cliff to the beautiful Woolacombe bay ahead. The size of the car parks here gives a hint as to the popualrity of Woolacombe and I know from experience this end of the beach gets very busy in the summer. Woolacombe itself is mostly dedicated to the holiday trade, many hotels and beach shops.

Woolacombe Beach

Woolacombe Beach

The standout feature of the town though is it’s beach. I’m often asked what is the best beach, but really it’s a question that is impossible to answer as people often like different things about beaches. I’ll certainly say though that in my opinion this is the best beach in North Devon. A gorgeous sandy beach, backed by the small town at this end, and it stretches for nearly two miles to the village of Putsborough at the other end. This means if you want the facilities and bustle of a town nearby you can find it at the Woolacombe end. Head further south and the beach is far more rural, backed by a large dune system and totally unspoilt, you soon get away from the crowds even in the summer. I suppose families with young children might find the sea a bit rough, but I find it exhilarating to see the power of the sea, as wave after wave crashes in. The surfers love it too, this part of Devon, like much of Cornwall has a large surfing community and it seems no matter what the weather there’ll usually be a number of surfers bobbing about in their wetsuits waiting for the big wave.

Woolacombe is a great place to end the walk and this has been a wonderful walk, with the rocky beaches and cliffs at Ilfracombe and Lee Bay, the craggy headlands of Bull Point and Morte Beach and the cracking sandy beaches at Rockham and Woolacombe. There is really something for all coast lovers on this walk!

At the time I did this walk there was not a direct bus between Woolacombe and Barnstaple (there is now). I find the bus stop near the access road to the beach and wait. The bus arrives more or less on time and takes me to Ilfracombe Bus Station, where I change onto another bus to Barnstaple. I then walk from the bus station in Barnstaple to the railway station and finally take the train to Exeter. It takes me nearly 3 hours, but it has been worth it for this wonderful walk.

The public transport needed for this walk is detailed below :

Here are the photographs from this walk : Main Link | Details | Slideshow

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