We’ve put together a list of the top 10 things you really must see to make any visit to Ilfracombe complete – many of them are free too.
Verity by Damien Hirst
No visit to Ilfracombe would be complete without marvelling at the 66-foot-high bronze sculpture Verity, standing at the entrance to the harbour – in fact, you can hardly miss her!
Loaned to the town by sometimes controversial artist Damien Hirst for 20 years, Verity continues to divide opinion, as most good artwork does.
She is certainly a striking figure as she gazes out to sea, sword held aloft and has been the subject of millions of photographs beside the ever-changing sea – every day is different!
And don’t forget to take a selfie with the lady, otherwise she might feel unappreciated!
St Nicholas Chapel
The charming 14th century St Nicholas Chapel on Lantern Hill at the pier is thought to be the oldest working lighthouse in the country.
It is well worth a visit and the views are spectacular from the top of the small but steep hill. The chapel was built as a place of worship for the sea folk living around the harbour and a light has been guiding shipping into the harbour since the middle ages.
In the mid-19th century lighthouse keeper John Davey lived in the tiny building with his wife Elizabeth and their 14 children!
The chapel was much neglected until the 1960s when Ilfracombe Rotary Club members restored it and today it is a visitor attraction.
Volunteers open the chapel daily in season and admission is free, but donations are welcome, with all proceeds going to charity.
Dolphin watching amid stunning scenery
There is an excellent chance of spotting dolphins, porpoises, seals and marine wildlife on board one of the many regular boat trips from Ilfracombe Harbour.
Leave the land behind for a variety of trips along the Exmoor coastline as well down to Lee Bay and Woolacombe plus Lundy Island trips to swim with the seals.
You will find a number of kiosks on the pier offering various boat trips – from exhilarating fast rib boats on the Ilfracombe Sea Safari or more sedate cruises on the Ilfracombe Princess which is easily recognisable as a large, bright yellow catamaran, plus Adventure RiB trips.
Standing by Verity you can look across Ilfracombe harbour and see the ‘sleeping elephant’ of Hillsborough Nature Reserve, also the site of an Iron Age hillfort.
Nestled below is Rapparee Cove, reached from the Larkstone side of the harbour at the top of Marine Drive (due to construction work in summer 2022 it is not possible to drive from the harbour, vehicles need to park at Larkstone car park or by the swimming pool).
This sheltered cove was much loved by the Victorians as a bathing beach and is a lovely spot away from the worst of the crowds to enjoy a swim or sunbathe.
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.
Jonathan Edwards Triple Jump Sculpture
Can you jump 18.29 metres? Ilfracombe’s own triple jump world record holder Jonathan Edwards can!
A sculpture celebrating the home town boy’s incredible achievement can be seen on Ilfracombe seafront, beside Wildersmouth beach – have a go and see if you can get anywhere near it!
Jonathan grew up in the town and went to West Buckland School. In 1995 he set the triple jump world record at the World Championships in Gothenburg and it is still standing to this day.
See Katy’s tribute on Capstone
Climb Capstone Hill on the seafront for panoramic views of the whole town and amazing sea views (you might even spot dolphins or porpoises).
At the top, pause by the statue dedicated to Russian teenager Katy, whose inscription reads… ‘Ekaterine (Kate) Frolov – Born Moscow, 23rd December 1986 – A beautiful girl, full of life and energy, who tragically fell to her death from Hillsborough, 19th July 2000 – This statue was commissioned by her family and dedicated to her memory’.
See the Victorian bathing pools at The Tunnels
No visit to Ilfracombe would be complete without going to the famous Tunnels Beaches, hand carved from the living rock by the Victorians in the 1820s.
The tunnels lead to a rugged and stunning cove with tidal bathing pools where children can play safely under the eyes of their parents.
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 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. Visit the Tunnels.
Sunset over the Torrs
The Torrs offers and incredible stretch of rugged coastline that seems to stretch off into infinity at sunset and is well worth seeing.
It is a 15 or 20-minute walk from the seafront or if you wish to drive, park at the National Trust car park at the top of Torrs Park road and follow the footpath at the bottom towards the sea. You will soon see some stunning coastal views that look spectacular at sunset, but amazing at other times too – the mood of the sea is ever-changing.
Watch Ilfracombe’s RNLI Lifeboats put to sea
Summer is a busy time for Ilfracombe’s two lifeboats, so you may well see them launch at any time of the day or night, but there is a guaranteed time you can watch the launch too – Thursday training night.
Each week at around 6pm, the all-weather Shannon class lifeboat, The Barry and Peggy High Foundation, will be towed down the slipway by its state-of-the-art launch £1.5million launch vehicle to wherever the water is, depending upon the tide. Ilfracombe’s inshore lifeboat, The Deborah Brown III, is often launched at the same time.
The slipway and Marine Drive by the lifeboat station will be closed to traffic and foot access while the launch is taking place, but if you arrive early, there is a great spot for viewing the launch a little further along the Cove (this is a working harbour so please be careful of the drop).
The lifeboat station is open to visitors most days from May until the end of September from 11am to 4pm, with group visits at other times possible by arrangement – find out more on the Ilfracombe RNLI page.
Encounter a drawer full of tarantulas and a camel’s head!
Don’t worry – the spiders don’t bite (usually!) but to see some real oddities and items of interest, it is well worth a visit to Ilfracombe Museum to browse its huge collection of artefacts and local history displays.
As with most of the natural history specimens at the museum, the tarantulas probably formed part of Mervyn Palmer’s original collection, though some were donated by other people, including one dated 1889 and hailing from California.
Museum staff report the best thing about the spiders is being able to close the drawer!
There is also a Somali camel head, which was donated to the museum in May 1932, making it a very early acquisition for founder Mervyn Palmer, as the museum did not open its doors to the public until August of that year.
The camel is generally very well behaved, guards the office and doesn’t spit (very often!). There is also a fascinating cupboard of pickled bats that visitors can open (if they dare!) plus an 18-foot-long African python, an Exmoor pony’s skull and a wandering albatross (that’s its name not what it does in the museum!). There are drawers of moths and beetles that can be explored and you even choose a British bird and listen to its song.
On Saturday, September 17, as part of Heritage Open Days, Ilfracombe Museum will be open free all day from 10am to 5pm.
The theme this year is ‘Amazing Inventions’ and there is a free interactive children’s trail and a self-guided invention trail for adults, exploring at the differences new inventions have made to our lives through various museum artefacts.
Full details of all our recommendations and more can be found on the Visit Ilfracombe website.
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