Low cost family activities in Ilfracombe this summer
Holidays are never cheap and most families have a budget, so we have come up with some top tips to keep the kids entertained for free or very little money in Ilfracombe this summer, come rain or shine.
Crabbing – catch nippers with the nippers
Crabbing is great fun for children and adults alike – and couldn’t be simpler! Head for the Pier or a corner of Ilfracombe Harbour, deploy your crab line and you won’t have too long to wait.
Lines are available from almost all seaside gift shops and these days tend to come with little mesh bags to put the bait in, rather than hooks, which saves any number of stabbed fingers!
Crabs are not fussy and will eat almost anything, but the best bait tends to be a bit of raw oily fish such as mackerel – which you can buy frozen from Ilfracombe Harbour Bait and Tackle, right at the entrance to the pier, or High Street Tackle.
If you’d rather not be cutting up fish, bacon rind is another traditional and popular crab bait, but anything fishy will certainly give you the edge over other crabbers!
There is plenty of space along the pier and there is always water below, or you can find a quiet corner of the harbour, but make sure the tide is in otherwise there won’t be any water there.
Please be considerate of anglers (they may well let you have bait scraps or a mackerel skeleton if you ask nicely!) and boats or other water users. There is room for everyone, so if the space you are heading for is full, just pick another.
Many crab lines come with a plastic bucket to keep your catch in. Ideally put a little seawater or weed in it, or at the very least keep it in the shade so the crabs don’t dry out. Crabs are hardy and will be fine for a few hours in the shade, but please return them to the water once you’ve had your fun.
They won’t survive for long if you take them away and the common shore crab is not worth eating!
You can pick them up too – grip the top corners or their shell with thumb and forefinger and they won’t be able to reach you with their pincers. But they are living beings too, so please treat them carefully and put them back when you’re done.
Roaming the rockpools
No visit to Ilfracombe and North Devon would be complete without a spell of rockpooling!
Tunnels Beaches has an abundance of wildlife in its many rockpools and was voted the third best in the UK for rockpooling by BBC Wildlife Magazine. There is a modest admission fee for entry.
Once you scratch the surface, it is amazing how many species of sea creatures can be found in North Devon’s rockpools, from crabs and fish to amazing anemones and much more besides.
Other spots in the town to find rockpools include Wildersmouth Beach, Rapparee and Hele.
Low water is the best time to view rockpools so check the tide times – Ilfracombe and the Bristol Channel has the second highest rise and fall of tide in the world, so ensure you can’t become cut off by the rising waters. Ideally, look for larger (spring) tides so more of the shoreline will be exposed, but any tide will do!
What do you need? Not much! Suitable clothing including shoes with a good grip, a reference book or app so you can see what creatures you are viewing and if you wish, a small container such as a bucket or takeaway container to view your findings.
It is really better just to watch and photograph the creatures in their habitat, but if you do want to study one for a short time, ensure the container has seawater in it and put your beastie back in its watery home once you have had a good look.
Nets are not advised because they can damage the weeds and more delicate creatures in a pool, but with careful use a small dip net may be useful, however only use it if you can carefully dip the animals out for a quick look – don’t spend several minutes chasing the poor fish around the pool!
Please do not walk in rockpools as this can cause a lot of damage. Place any creatures back exactly where you found them and if you lift any rocks, do it very carefully and also replace the rock gently in the same place.
What can you see?
Crustaceans you might find include common shore crab, velvet swimming crab, spider crab, edible crab and even lobsters. Please be aware it is illegal to take edible crab or lobster under the minimum size (15/16cm across the back of the shell for female/male edible crab and 9cm the length of the carapace from nose to the top of the tail for lobsters).
Fish including common blenny, tompot blenny, rock goby, rockling, pipefish, Cornish sucker and potentially fry of various species.
Anemones including strawberry anemones – if you can view them underwater they are a sight to behold.
Did you know Ilfracombe has its very own Fish Trail – it costs nothing and gives people of all ages a diverting walk around town, with quizzes and games for inquisitive youngsters.
A trail has been created around the harbour area, with eight interpretation boards that can be followed in either direction, starting at either St Nicholas Chapel, go around the Pier, along past Ilfracombe Aquarium, around the harbour and end up at the commercial fishing quay on the Cove opposite. Or of course you can follow it the other way.
Fishing has no doubt been carried out in Ilfracombe since the first people settled there during the Iron Age and it has always been a constant in the town, along with a strong maritime heritage.
As visitors follow the boards, they can learn more about its history and the important role fishing has played in the town for centuries.
Leaflets are available to download, one with background information to supplement the interpretation boards and another for children The Small Fry’s Trail Trial with quizzes and games – they can discover the answers by following the map and looking at the boards.
Ilfracombe Aquarium itself is well worth a visit, along with its café and gift shop, to meet the marine life large and small that lives in the waters of Ilfracombe, as well as in freshwater.
Explore Bicclescombe Park
Bicclescombe Park is on the outskirts of town but still within easy walking distance of the town centre.
Once known as Bicclescombe Pleasure Grounds, it opened in 1911 and is a great place for families, with a children’s play area, duck pond, boat pond, tennis courts and the charming Bicclescombe Mill and Tea Rooms.
The park has been awarded a Green Flag for high standards for many years and is a lovely tranquil spot of Victorian design.
There are peaceful gardens and paths to wander through, as well as a sturdy play area aimed at ages three to 13.
A boating lake is often used by the local model boat club and visitors can watch the various vessels plying the waves – or bring their own!
For more ideas do visit us at the Tourist Information Centre at the Landmark, where we are happy help and you can pick up leaflets, maps and books plus local gifts.
Kids get in free at Ilfracombe Museum
Ilfracombe Museum is the perfect way to really get to know the town and its history by browsing a truly mixed collection begun in Victorian times and continuing to this day. Children get in free, if accompanied by a paying adult and there is plenty to see and do. Take a journey into the rich history of Ilfracombe’s past, as well as marvel at the countless exotic specimens and artefacts from around the world, many brought back by Victorian travellers.
From natural history and archaeology, to art and photography, costume and domestic history such as Ilfracombe at war, there is something to appeal to all ages and interests.
The museum is open Monday to Saturday and runs free family activities throughout the year but especially during school holidays and there is always something to discover, to learn and things to make.
Go fly a kite
Kite flying is still great fun although not seen as often as it used to be, it seems. A kite costs very little and there is usually a good range to choose from in seaside gift shops.
On the North Devon coast, Ilfracombe is ‘blessed’ with more wind than most and there are plenty of places where you can enjoy a spot of kite flying.
The beaches are an obvious choice though they do become busy and care needs to be taken that you don’t upset other beach users – no one wants a kite crashing into their picnic!
The beauty spots such as Hillsborough, the Torrs or the Cairn are all good locations – and the grassy spot between the swimming pool and Hillsborough just begs for kite flying!
But make sure you have plenty of space and can easily retrieve your kite if it goes astray, as well as take home any litter or any bits of damaged kite.
It goes without saying, but please ensure you do not fly kites under or anywhere near overhead cables and powerlines. Or too close to residential properties or anywhere that might interfere with others enjoying the space.
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