Ilfracombe really is the hub of North Devon's dramatic coastline. It's Victorian roots shine through, notable particularly in the character old hotels and Ilfracombe's layout, with it's many green spaces and park areas up on the hills. Much of it's character comes from the fact that it is built on steep sided hills which dip and rise to the seashore. Ilfracombe's tunnel beaches have given pleasure to many North Devon holidaymakers through the years!
Ilfracombe's Victorian heritage is celebrated annually every July in Victorian Week when Ilfracombe residents dress up in Victorian garb and there are Punch and Judy shows and a costume gala ball, as well as a massive fireworks display. As a North Devon family resort, Ilfracombe fits the bill with lots of outdoor activities including a selection of golf courses, an aquarium, Ilfracombe Museum, it's spectacular Tunnel Beaches, a castle and family theme park nearby, various promenade amusement arcades and beach activities such as toy train rides and it's got a delightful town centre with lots of quirky specialist shops, particularly health food shops!
It was the arrival of the railways during the Victorian era that really saw the start of Ilfracombe's holiday seaside boom. However, way before this period Ilfracombe was a fortified Celtic settlement.
Ilfracombe Tourist Information Centre, The Landmark, Sea Front, Ilfracombe EX34 9BX. Tel: 01271 863001.
Fancy a bit of a laugh, and some serious maritime social history as well! Check out Ilfracombe's quirky local museum then, adjacent to the Landmark Theatre on the seafront. There's an assortment of the weird and wonderful here, must be a legacy of that Victorian eccentricity which seems to pervade Ilfracombe and give it the character it has. There's a two headed kitten in this museum, plus pickled bats, and birds, butterflies and Buddhas! The kids can get down to a bit of brass rubbing or one of the many quizzes.
There's lots of information on the maritime history of Ilfracombe, which still has an active harbour for fishing. Other exhibitions include information on wartime Ilfracombe, Lundy Island and childhood memories. There's a little gift shop on-site too, and pre-booked school groups can access the museum free!
Ilfracombe Museum, Wilder Road, Ilfracombe, North Devon. EX34 8AF. Tel: 01271 863541
Ilfracombe's fascinating tunnel beaches were established as far back as 1823, and are an integral part of seaside history and development on the North Devon Coast. Ilfracombe was the first North Devon coastal local to develop as a seaside resort, and the hand carved tunnels, hand carved by skilled Welsh miners in the 1820s, enabled segregated access to the beaches and tidal pools were created. Before the tunnel beaches were carved the ladies would frequent Wildersmouth Beach and the 'gentlemen' and their nude bathing via a boat trip went to Crewkhorne Beach.
There's a small fee to enter the tunnel beach complex at Ilfracombe, but it's well worth it for what there is to see and do. The old Greek inspired Bath House, built in 1836, still remains intact in all it's splendid glory, as does the original wood fuelled pump house which served to feed sea water to the Bath House for cold and hot sea water baths. Perfect, in the days when bathing was still viewed as something you do for health only, rather than pure leisure pleasure.
The story of the Ilfracombe Tunnel Beaches is the story of Ilfracombe's growth from a small fishing village, to a popular Victorian seaside resort. Local entrepreneurs developed both the tunnels and pools, and development and modernisation has continued up to the present. What you've got on the contemporary Ilfracombe tunnel beaches complex is a variety of facilities including historical information boards everywhere, with photographs of North Devon holidaymakers of old, a superb tidal sea water swimming pool popular with the kids, and access to various beaches which are more like coves (for the endless golden sands you need to head off to Woolacombe and Croyde!). Also on the complex is a Flip Flop Shop, the Cafe Blue bar, a Picnic area, sun beds and deck chairs for hire, numerous rock pools perfect for snorkelling, table tennis and a kids play area. Ilfracombe Tunnel Beaches is also totally accessible to wheelchairs. Superb North Devon coast family holiday fun all round!
Ilfracombe Tunnel Beaches, Bath Place, Ilfracombe, North Devon. Tel: 01271 879882. Please note, not dogs are allowed on the beaches from 1st May-31st October. Check the Ilfracombe Tunnel Beaches weblink for more details.
Usually held in mid June annually, Ilfracombe's Victorian week is a really good time to visit this historic North Devon Victorian seaside resort. A host of entertainment treats take placed during this week, including fireworks, local costume celebrations with local residents and visitors getting on their Victorian garb and wandering down the promenade. There are usually Victorian style fairground rides along the promenade as well.
Other Victorian styled events run throughout Ilfracombe during Victorian week, tapping into music hall and so forth. Fabulous fireworks, numerous processions, a host of garden parties, steam engines, a carousel and town criers are what the visitor can expect during Ilfracombe's delightfully kitsch Victorian week every year - don't miss it!