South-West Coast Path: Combe Martin to Ilfracombe


This ill-fated expedition took place in September 2018.

Our original plan had been to walk through to Woolacombe, but the programme was curtailed following the sudden death of my father.

My own poor physical condition also prevented progress beyond Ilfracombe: I was struggling with depression-induced fatigue.

A GP appointment was completed in time for departure and we duly caught the 12:03 Great Western service from Paddington, so avoiding a rail replacement bus from Crewkerne to Exeter on the South Western line.

However, Great Western set up the wrong train formation which, with additional  signalling delays, made us 25 minutes late into Exeter St Davids. Fortunately the Tarka Line service was held and we arrived into Barnstaple on time. Our B-line taxi from there to Ilfracombe cost £30.

We stayed at the Seagrass Apartment, located in Montpelier Terrace, a Georgian terrace set well back from the seafront but with beautiful sea views from our second floor rooms. It cost £432 for Monday to Thursday inclusive and had everything we needed, including a cafetiere.


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It was a beautifully sunny late afternoon as we walked down into town to get our bearings. Our initial tour included an obligatory visit to the Harbour to admire Hirst’s statue of Verity.


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Many of Ilfracombe’s restaurants were closed on Monday evening so we eventually opted for steak and kidney pudding at the George and Dragon, Ilfracombe’s oldest pub.

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The walk

We decided not to wait for the two-hourly bus service and instead caught a taxi to Combe Martin, starting our walk from the car park behind the beach.

We soon passed the Sandy Cove Hotel and Broadsands Beach, both of which we had anticipated at the end of our previous stage.


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We followed the route on through a campsite then back to a road past Watermouth Harbour, with Watermouth Castle opposite. This was built in 1825-26 as a country house but is presently a theme park.


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The path leaves the roadside to head round Widmouth Head and Rillage Point, from which Ilfracombe can be seen about a mile away. Then back to the road to descend into Hele, where the celebrated Corn Mill tea room turned out to be closed.


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So we ascended up the steep paths onto Hillsborough and from thence down into the Town, past the Harbour and on to the steps behind the New Landmark Theatre, which is something of an eyesore.

On the way we passed Capstone Hill, where I learned of my father’s death two days later.

The route passes through the backstreets of Ilfracombe giving a good view of the Tunnels Beaches. We visited these on our rest day when they were cold and windswept. First opened in 1823, there are segregated beaches for gentlemen and ladies. Mixed bathing was not permitted until 1905.

The path next ascends up to Seven Hills and out to Torrs Point. We began this section on our second walking day but I had to give up pending our next visit.


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Back in Ilfracombe

On completing our walk we took coffee at the Naked Cake café where we purchased several postcards with this design.


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Our evening meal, taken in the extremely friendly Relish Bar and Bistro was excellent and very good value.

Other gastronomic highlights of our stay included: brunch at The Manor House , where we chatted to the owner about her memories of Surbiton Lagoon; dinner at The Terrace Tapas and Wine Bar; and a six-course sample dinner menu at the Michelin-starred Olive Room.

But, without doubt, the most memorable of all was a Devon cream tea at Nelly May’s Parlour which was, quite simply, the finest example I have ever tasted.


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The journey back home was largely uneventful.



July 2019


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RIP George Dracup 1926-2018

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