Ilfracombe and Combe Martin Cottages
With rugged cliffs, handsome Victorian townhouses and villas, lanes that tumble down the hill to the sea, and a pretty harbour, Ilfracombe is a delightful seaside town. It’s a place to explore, with lots of independent shops, footpaths on the surrounding headland and amazing tunnels cut into cliffs. Not to mention Damien Hirst’s famous sculpture, his bar and restaurant and gallery.
Further along the coast, Combe Martin is a village with a significant quirk. The village consists of one long street that is wedged into the valley and runs for roughly one and a half miles. At one end of Combe Martin you can be in the countryside a stone's throw from Exmoor, at the other end you could be sat on the beach staring out into the ocean.
What’s there to do in Ilfracombe and Combe Martin?
One of the real pleasures of Ilfracombe is wandering its streets, enjoying the delightful Victorian and Regency architecture and browsing the town’s many independent shops.
A perfect example of this is The Cotton Tree on Fore Street, which sells exquisite handmade toys and organic cotton clothing for little ones. It’s the ideal place to buy an utterly unique gift for a child or grandchild. Also on Fore Street, The Periwinkle is Ilfracombe’s first knitting café, which mixes the joy of knitting with a good cup of coffee and a slice of cake. The café runs workshops, helping visitors get to grips with basic granny squares, cable and beading and other knotty knitting issues. All accompanied by a large selection of teas, coffees and home-made cakes. And if you need to stock up on wool, the shop has a huge selection of yarns, sourced both locally and internationally. An Aladdin’s cave for both knitting experts and beginners!
If you’re after a more energetic experience and keen to explore the coast, then why not do it aboard a 10m RIB travelling at 20 knots? Ilfracombe Sea Safari departs daily between April and October, taking passengers on an exhilarating and fascinating journey up along the coast. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot seals, porpoises and even dolphins. But even if you don’t, you’re sure to enjoy the magnificent cliffs, headlands, beaches and coves.
Equally exciting, a day at Keypitts offers heart-stopping fun and, without doubt, a good splattering of mud! The farm is famed for its quad-biking and 4x4 experiences. Participants get full training from qualified instructors and are then able to get out on the trails and tracks. You can also go mountain biking on the farm. Hours of fun and a real adventure.
For adventures of a less heart-pounding nature, visit the Tunnels Beaches back in Ilfracombe. Excavated by Welsh miners in the early 1830s, the tunnels in question put inaccessible Crewkhorne Cove within reach of swimmers, helping turn Victorian Ilfracombe into a prime tourist destination. Swimmers were initially segregated for reasons of propriety but now it’s open for all to enjoy. Children (and adults) will love the sheltered tidal pool, refreshed twice a day by the sea’s advance, as well as the rock pooling. There’s also the stylish Café Blue Bar at the entrance to the tunnels, where visitors can sun themselves on the sheltered courtyard while their kids play in the outdoor and indoor play areas.
For a most enjoyable theatre visit, with its most unusual and distinctive design, The Landmark Theatre offers spectacular arts and entertainment, right on the seafront in Ilfracombe. It hosts many screenings and plays and ‘Beer and Music’ feativals. Its Rendez-Vous Café also offers delicious meals and snacks throughout the day.
A mention should go to Verity. Many art lovers head to Ilfracombe simply to see her and, once you’ve clapped eyes on this striking sight, you’ll understand why. ‘Verity’ is a huge sculpture of stainless steel and bronze created by Damien Hirst, which depicts a pregnant woman holding a sword aloft while carrying the scales of justice and standing on a pile of law books. Perched on the pier overlooking the harbour, she is a full ten inches taller than Anthony Gormley’s Angel of the North and was, at the time of her installation, the tallest statue in the UK. Quite a sight.
Combe Martin is blessed with its own little beach. Sheltered from the elements, this sandy beach is very popular with families and locals. Most beaches in the UK can feel slightly detached from the village or town they are connected with, but not Combe Martin Beach. You can be sat on the beach, just a few yards away from the main high street, a unique experience, but that is not to say the beach will be a noisy, bustling environment.
On the edge of the village is one of North Devon’s largest attractions. Combe Martin Wildlife and Dinosaur Park is a popular family attraction set in 28 acres of beautifully presented gardens. The park is home to several exotic animals including: lions, meerkats, penguins and reptiles.
Where are the best places to eat and drink in Ilfracombe and Combe Martin?
From down-to-earth boozers to upmarket dining, Ilfracombe is full of treats.
If you’re a fan of contemporary art, The Quay is a must-visit. You’ll be treated to stunning views of the harbour and sea, while dining alongside original works by artworld enfant terrible, Damien Hirst (who also happens to own the restaurant). The menu takes its inspiration from British and European cuisine and prides itself on sourcing produce as locally as possible. Enjoy a drink in the bar or on the outside terrace facing the harbour, before moving into one of two dining areas. A slice of metropolitan sophistication in North Devon! And along Fore Street, you’ll discover many new eateries offering an array of cuisines, using only the best local produce.
By contrast, the Ship and Pilot is a more down-to-earth venue. A no-frills pub that only serves sandwiches, crisps and snacks, it nonetheless attracts a loyal following for its exceptional range of real ales and ciders. At any time, visitors can expect six ales on tap, which will have been carefully chosen from breweries in Devon and Cornwall – among them Exmoor, Otter, Wizard (in Ilfracombe itself), St Austell, Bays and Teignworthy.
At one point in time, Combe Martin was home to nine pubs, all scattered along the main high street. Today the number of pubs has been significantly reduced, but the quality of the food and drink still remains. Ye Olde George and Dragon is a tavern steeped in over 400 years of history, you will never be short of an ale or two inside. It is also home to the Quackers Restaurant, serving up delicious pub grub Wednesday-Saturday, and a speciality carvery on a Sunday.
And lastly, but certainly not least, no trip to Combe Martin is complete without a visit into the Pack O Cards Inn. Its unique shape, design and name are rumoured to have originated from a gentleman named George Ley. He reportedly built the inn following his successful gambling exploits, and in homage to his victory, he built the property to reflect a pack of cards. The inn originally had 52 windows, 13 rooms, and four floors. Today it serves up a tasty a la carte menu with locally sourced produce, complete with stunning riverside garden and fantastic children’s play area.
Take some time to browse through our collection of holiday cottages in Ilfracombe, Combe Martin and surrounding area. We’re sure you’ll find something just right for a truly special Devon holiday.