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Travel & Holidays in later life


Exploring North Devon's Heritage Coast.

Dramatic views from Ilfracombe's cliff promenadeThe queen of the North Devon coast is Victorian-style Ilfracombe. Like so many other West Country seaside towns it started as a simple fishing village, but was slow at first in developing holiday business because access was difficult. 

In early 19th century, the roads were dreadful, taking 12 hours for the 39 miles from Exeter to Barnstaple. South Devon prospered with early arrival of the railways, but Ilfracombe wasn't connected until 1874, after a long fight to get a line. 

Then expansion came rapidly, which explains why most Ilfracombe buildings are pure Victorian. During June every year the town holds a Victorian Week, when locals wear period costume, ride in horse-carriages, and enjoy street fairs. Ilfracombe Museum is very Victorian in its varied collections. 


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How to get there

By car:

M5 to Exit 27 and follow A361 to Barnstaple. 

By public transport:

train or coach to Barnstaple and then by bus to the resorts. 

Victorian Week



Ilfracombe Tourist Information


North Devon

Tourist Information

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The most colourful and lively area is around the old harbour, where a full range of traditional shops await the visitor. Ilfracombe is famed for its floral displays and has won many awards in the `Britain in Bloom' Competition. The streets are brilliant with colour until October, with hanging baskets, tubs and planters everywhere. 

Entrance to the Tunnels Beaches For bucket and spade business, the Tunnels Beaches are the family favourites. You can explore the town aboard a vintage bus, or hire four-seater bikes. The cliff promenade is spectacular, with gorgeous views every hundred yards. 

Entertainment focuses on the Landmark Theatre, providing a broad range of shows including Old Tyme Music Hall every Monday through the high season, and concerts, musicals and stage plays the rest of the week. 

Plenty of transport around Ilfracombe and beyond The summer season kicks off in style on the May Bank Holiday weekend with the Landmark's Annual Beer Festival, serving around 30 kinds of real ales from the West Country and around the UK. 

The events calendar is well packed during the summer months, including a full programme for youngsters, and the North Devon Walking Festival also in May.  The wide choice of different guided walks include the South West Coast Path, Exmoor National Park and the Tarka Trail. 

Meanwhile all the other towns and seaside villages of North Devon are wide open and eager to welcome visitors with a huge range of attractions. 

The finest beaches are at Woolacombe (rated among the world's top ten for soft golden sand), the surfing centre of Croyde, Instow (a great playground for children) and Westward Ho! They're all within easy reach of Ilfracombe, by car or bus.

An ever-popular excursion is aboard M.S. Oldenburg to Lundy Island, twelve miles off the coast and now a National Trust property. It's famed for bird-watching, Sika deer, ponies, seals and a colourful history of Vikings, pirates and a more recent self-proclaimed "King of Lundy".

Otherwise, top of the day-trip pops is the fishing village of Clovelly. If you have never been there, you have probably seen its picture many times on chocolate boxes and calendars.

The steep cobbled main street is barred to wheeled traffic. Flowers drip from every window, wall and railing of the whitewashed houses, and donkeys pose for photos. Clovelly wins tourism trophies with great regularity. 

Schedule at least a couple of hours, to pick your way from the car parks above the town, down to the boat harbour several hundred feet below. 

With a camera, your progress will be slowed by the need to photograph every picturesque corner. On summer afternoons, when the coach tours pour in, you almost need to queue for photos at each favoured angle. 

There are plentiful souvenir stores, craft shops and ample chances to eat fudge, home-made ices and Devon teas with clotted cream. At the harbour, fishermen offer freshly-caught mackerel or suggest a boat-ride. 

In high summer, the best crowd-dodging tip is to arrive before 10 a.m., or after 5.30 p.m. The same advice applies to almost all other West Country scenic highlights. It's certainly worth re-arranging your daily touring itinerary, to avoid the main stream of tourist traffic. 

Even in the honey-pot areas, it's possible to escape the crowds by a few minutes' leg-work. The main streets can seem like conveyor belts, with holidaymakeLynton's Swiss-style Town Hallrs shoulder to shoulder. But side lanes can be totally peaceful. Hike a few hundred yards along a cliff path, and you can picnic in tranquillity.

East of Ilfracombe are the twin sisters of Lynton and Lynmouth, linked by a water-powered cliff railway built in 1890, saving you a 600-ft climb. A narrow street up from Lynmouth harbour is lined with souvenir shops, tearooms, pubs and restaurants. Lynton itself is a town built mainly in Victorian times, when the area became popular as a Little Switzerland. 


Check out these alternative West Country destinations:

BATH - weekend in Jane Austen territory

CORNWALL - choosing low season

CORNWALL - NORTH for beaches, cliffs & legends

DARTMOOR - Freedom to roam and explore

DAWLISH - Pioneer railway age resort

EXETER/EXMOUTH - Tour base for South Devon

LYNTON & LYNMOUTH - Devon's Siamese-twin resorts

SIDMOUTH - Devon's Regency gem

SOMERSET - Choosing a farm cottage for a walking holiday

UP THE OTTER IN DEVON - A winter cottage haven


Books to read - click on the cover picture or click on the links below

The Rough Guide to Devon and Cornwall  - Robert Andrews - Covering the wider West Country region, and packed with accommodation recommendations, especially in the lower-cost sector.

Exmoor - High-quality text and photographs by Brian Pearce, in this official guide to the National Park. 

AA Leisure Guide Devon & Exmoor - Features ten recommended walks and two car tours, with information for cyclists. A handy pocket guide suitable for a short stay.



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