Ten of the best hidden coves in and around Ilfracombe

Ilfracombe is surrounded by stunning hidden beaches and coves where you can get away from the crowds and enjoy a bit of peace – even in high season.

Whether in the town itself or further afield in North Devon, enjoy some amazing sun traps with crystal clear waters, rock pools to explore, rocks to climb and wild swimming.

Please be safe though. North Devon has the second highest tidal range in the world and many beaches can become cut off or disappear altogether on large spring tides, so please check the tide times first.

This site is accurate and gives free tidal information for Ilfracombe up to a week ahead – https://www.tidetimes.org.uk/ilfracombe-tide-times

The sea temperature this July is approaching 17 degrees and a swim during the heatwave is very pleasant, but again, please ensure you stay safe, don’t go out of your depth and be aware there can be dangerous currents, especially around features such as rocks and sand banks.

Many of the local beaches need a bit of a hike to get to, but are perfectly accessible for those who are reasonably fit and healthy.

Ensure you have suitable footwear for climbing up and down coastal paths or over rocks – and be aware that such areas can be particularly slippery in wet conditions.

Also make sure you take everything with you that you need for a day at the beach, so plenty of water and drinks, food, sun cream, suitable clothing including something to cover up with if the sun is too strong or the weather turns chilly.

Please remember – none of these beaches have lifeguard services and mobile phone signals can be patchy, so please make sure you swim, climb or explore within the limits of your ability and always be aware of the tide times.

So what beaches can you explore in North Devon this summer? There are several options within walking distance of Ilfracombe’s town centre or a short car journey or bus ride away.

 

Tunnels Beaches

The most famous of all Ilfracombe beaches, the Tunnels is definitely unique, with a network of tunnels hand-carved by the Victorians in the 1820s, leading to a rugged and stunning cove with tidal bathing pools where children can play safely under the eyes of their parents.

Tunnels Beaches – credit Collingdale Guest House
Tunnels Beaches – credit Collingdale Guest House

The modest Victorians ensured they built separate bathing pools for gentlemen and ladies, of course! Visitors to the Tunnels can learn about the history of the beach and the hilarious Victorian bathing etiquette for the sexes.

The beach is fairly rocky and rugged, as is most of North Devon’s coastline, but it is definitely a must for visitors to Ilfracombe.

The Tunnels is also a world class wedding venue and the Gentlemens’ Beach is often closed for weddings but the Ladies’ Beach is always available.

Admission is £3 for adults and £2.50 for children (three to 15 years, under threes are free) and the beach is open from 10am-6pm between May and August, closing at 5pm in September and October, and not open during the winter months.

Sorry, no dogs allowed.

Getting there: The Tunnels entrance is in the middle of town at Bath Place, by the traffic lights at the bottom of Torrs Park Road, just off Wilder Road. For directions CLICK HERE

 

Rapparee Cove

Rapparee Cove

Nestled below the cliffs of Hillsborough (Ilfracombe’s ‘sleeping elephant’) and at Larkstone across the harbour from the pier is Rapparee.

This small and sheltered cove with some sand and rocks either side was a big favourite with the Victorians as a bathing beach.

It is easy to walk to from the harbour or from Larkstone (by the swimming pool). The walk is not difficult but access is a little challenging with steep steps down to the beach and may prove a problem for those with mobility issues.

Due to its close proximity to the harbour, Rapparee is likely to be fairly busy and also has some limitations, as it is sheltered from the sun for some of the day and all but disappears on larger tides, so visits need to be planned accordingly.

But it is still a lovely spot and offers wonderful views of the harbour and North Devon coastline, with rock pools to explore.

Dogs are allowed but please consider other beach users as the space is fairly limited.

Getting there: There is long stay parking at Larkstone and Marine Drive car park, currently not accessible from the harbour end while construction carries on with the new watersports centre.

Alternatively, it is an easy walk from Larkstone by the swimming pool or along Marine Drove from the harbour.

 

Hele Beach

Heading out of Ilfracombe on the Combe Martin road, you will find Hele, which offers a useful beach location with very easy access, with a large pay and display car park just behind the Hele Bay public house.

The picturesque beach has sand at high water, giving way to low level rocks and pools. It is safe for swimming and a very good spot for snorkelling and kayaking too.

Hele Bay – credit Collingdale Guest House

It is a big favourite with dog walkers due to seasonal restrictions on the town centre beaches and so can become quite busy with numerous four-legged friends, mostly all well behaved but something to bear in mind if you feel this would be an issue.

It is nonetheless a very pleasant beach and offers easy access for all, when compared with some of the more rugged spots along the coast.

Getting there: Hele beach is at the bottom of the hill just before you leave Ilfracombe, heading towards Combe Martin. Parking (pay & display) can easily be found in the large car park just behind the Hele Bay public house.

 

White Pebble Beach

Named for its white quartz pebbles, which vary in number depending upon the will of the sea, White Pebble is accessed from the Torrs and is fairly secluded but only a relatively short walk from the town.

White Pebble Ilfracombe credit Viral PR

 

If you are driving, park at the parking area at the top of Torrs Park Road and take the lower footpath that will take you around the Torrs, with some stunning coastal views.

A steep and often muddy path is easily visible, leading down to the beach. It should not be a problem for most with a reasonable level of fitness but the climb back is hard work!

The beach is mostly rocky with some patches of traditional North Devon grey sand at the high tide line and bathing is possible with the normal precautions, especially at high tide.

Be warned! This beach is an unofficial naturist beach, so you may see some naturists, especially in the summer!

But there is plenty of room, rocks and pools to explore and a dramatic rugged coastline to admire.

Dogs are allowed.

Getting there: The National Trust car park at the top of Torrs Park Road is about a 20 minute walk from Ilfracombe seafront, or a short drive. Parking is free.

 

Lee Bay

The charming village of Lee is very close to Ilfracombe, just a 10-minute drive and Lee Bay is a popular alternative destination for beach goers.

The beach is incredibly craggy with stunning rock formations and is best described as a series of hidden coves which can be accessed depending upon the tide – be warned, these do get cut off!

Lee Bay – credit Viral PR

From the main beach entrance, visitors can walk to the right, across and in between the many rocks to find various places and coves to lay their towel. The foreshore is very rocky but swimming is possible with care and it is a haven for paddle boarders and kayakers.

These ‘hidden coves’ do get cut off and completely covered on the largest tides, so please be aware and plan accordingly. Climbing across the rocks is possible for most with a reasonable level of fitness but be aware too that some are very slippery.

This stretch of the beach offers plenty of rock pools to explore too!

Heading to the left of the main beach entrance will take you to a hidden beach much beloved by the Victorians. As you walk left across the main beach, you will see the beginnings of a path and steps cut into the rock in the 19th century.

The path is relatively easy but can be slippery in places. It winds between and over the rocks until you emerge overlooking a secluded cove. This veritable sun trap is a lovely little cove off the beaten track.

Space is relatively limited so if you want to spend a day here, arrive early. It is not accessible from the main beach at high tide but does not become cut off, as there is a footpath from the cove which leads up over the fields and back to the main road.

It is rather steep and a fair walk, so bear this in mind if you have already spent a tiring day at the beach!

Dogs are allowed.

Getting there: Parking is free just off Lee seafront but space is limited and it can become quite hectic at times as people search for a space. Please park neatly and do not block others in or obstruct access for local residences and businesses. More parking can be found further back in the village.

 

Watermouth

Halfway between Ilfracombe and Combe Martin is Watermouth Harbour, a rare fully natural harbour which has been named as one of the most picturesque harbours in the UK.

Watermouth – credit Collingdale Guest House

 

Here you will find a shingle beach with a stream to the right of the moored boats, the other side of which you can find rocky coves where you can sit and at low tide you can walk out to a sandy beach.

There is a boat that has been converted to a cute ‘boat café’, called Storm in a Teacup and it is the ideal place for breakfast, picnic lunch or cream tea.

Getting there: If driving, turn into Watermouth Cove and then bear to the left to drive towards the harbour. Parking costs £1 per hour and please be aware it is now camera controlled with number plate recognition, so buy your ticket promptly and don’t get caught out if it runs over!

Alternatively catch the bus and alight opposite Watermouth Castle or it is around 3 miles to walk along the South West Coast Path from Ilfracombe.

 

Broadsands

With views to die for an often nicknamed ‘little Thailand’, Broadsands lies near Berrynarbor between Ilfracombe and Combe Martin, the perfect idyll for a day at the beach on a summers day.

Broadsands Beach – credit Collingdale Guest House

 

The scenery is absolutely stunning and the beach itself offers a reasonable amount of space and sand or shingle to sunbath on, with a safe and sheltered area for bathing plus a tidal island and plenty of rocks to climb and pools to explore.

Nothing worthwhile comes without effort and Broadsands is only accessible via more than 200 very steep steps, requiring a reasonable level of fitness – or at least plenty of stops on the way back up!

Despite this, it is very popular and is unlikely to be a beach you will have to yourself, although there is a reasonable amount of space, but you can expect it to be relatively busy in high season and during good weather.

Be aware that due to the high tidal range, the beach all but disappears on larger spring tides, with the water pushing up almost to the base of the cliffs, so check the tides and plan your visit with this in mind.

Getting there: Broadsands is accessed from the South West Coastpath on what used to be the old coast road that runs behind Sandy Cove Hotel. Vehicles can NO LONGER drive down this road, which in any case is rutted with few parking options.

The best option is to get the bus from Ilfracombe, get off at the Berrynarbor stop on the main road at the top of the hill and then follow the public footpath towards Sandy Cove. Or those who wish to walk can do so from Ilfracombe on the coast path, though it is a walk of several miles.

 

Further afield…

Wringcliff

Hidden below the stunningly picturesque Valley of Rocks near Lynton is Wringcliff Bay. It is a 20-mile drive from Ilfracombe but worth the effort for those who like a little seclusion.

Wringcliff Bay Lynton credit Viral PR

The beach is mostly a jumble of boulders that have fallen from the rocky crags above (do not stand directly under the cliff!) but the scenery is amazing.

There is some limited sand and shingle to lie upon, as well as various rocky perches, but the mid to low water line is festooned with boulders and swimming is not advised due to the treacherous nature of the rocks under foot.

It is accessed via a very steep and rugged path that certainly tests the lungs on the way back!

There are no facilities or toilets on the beach and most of it will disappear on larger tides.

Getting there: The closest parking is beside Mother Meldrum’s Tea Rooms halfway along the valley and the beach is some 20-25 minutes’ walk from there.

 

Rockham Bay

This stunning bay at Mortehoe is nestled against the craggy headland of Morte Point and is another opportunity to get away from the worst of the crowds.

Rockham Beach – credit Collingdale Guest House

Rockham is, well, rocky… the high tide mark is shingle, giving way on to some patches of sand and at low water there are many rock pools to explore, so plan your trip around the tide times, depending upon what you want to do.

Alternatively, you can walk up beside the church and follow the coast path down on to Morte Point, turning right at the bottom for Rockham – a longer route but certainly scenic and you may well spot some seals too!

Warning: The path and steps down to the beach have been periodically washed away or affected by rock slides, so access isn’t always guaranteed.

Dogs are allowed but there are no toilets or other facilities on this beach.

Getting there: Unless you are staying nearby, the only way to get to the beach is to park in the centre of Mortehoe in the pay & display car park. The most direct option is to park up and walk along North Morte Road for some half a mile until you turn left onto a footpath which brings you out above the beach.

 

Grunta

Below Mortehoe and up the hill at the end of Woolacombe Esplanade lies Grunta Beach, giving the illusion or even the fact of seclusion right in the heart of one of North Devon’s busiest tourist spots.

Grunta Beach – Geograph credit Roger A Smith

Local legend has it the beach gained its name when a ship full of pigs was wrecked on the rocky coastline!

This is hardly your typical sandy beach, though there is some sand at low tide, but rather is dominated by rock pools and many gullies to explore.

It is safe enough to swim and paddle but look out for rocks. The pools off to the sides of the beach offer a profusion of marine life to explore.

Be aware though, the beach will disappear on larger tides and it is possible for the access path to be cut off, so plan your trip accordingly. Dogs are allowed but the beach has no toilets or other facilities.

Getting down to Grunta is via a very steep path with some rocks to clamber over, so a reasonable level of mobility is required. There is also no parking near the beach so visitors would need to either walk up from Woolacombe Esplanade or park in Mortehoe and walk down to it.

Getting there: Park in the centre of Mortehoe at the pay & display car park and walk down the hill, or take the longer route by walking down Morte Point and then going left along the coastpath.

 

Sun and sand

Those who prefer the more traditional ‘sun, sea and sand’ beaches need look no further than the golden sand beaches of Woolacombe, Putsborough, Croyde and Saunton.

All of these beaches are easy access with parking nearby and have plenty of facilities including RNLI Lifeguard patrols at Woolacombe and Croyde.

Bear in mind these beaches are incredibly popular and you may need to walk a bit to find a space in high season. The beaches are also very busy with surfers all year around.