• Start: Ilfracombe Quay (grid ref SS526479)
  • End: Ilfracombe Quay (grid ref SS526479)
  • Country: England
  • County: Devon
  • Type: Country
  • Nearest pub:
  • Ordnance Survey: OS Explorer 139 or Landranger 180
  • Difficulty: Medium
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Stories from the past bring the North Devon coast to life for Alex Green as she steps out on the South West Coast Path from Ilfracombe to Woolacombe

This section of the North Devon coast is renowned for its short steep climbs from one headland to the next and walking it is well worth the effort. As you reach the top of each mini mountain youre rewarded with magnificent views of the landscape ahead and on a clear day, Lundy Island and even the Welsh coast are visible on the horizon.

Between climbs, long gentle descents provide time to catch your breath and shelter from the onshore winds. Theres a variety of options either to shorten or to lengthen the route depending on conditions on the day, all of which make for a great walk at any time of year.

It was a bright early summers day when my partner, Andrew, and I stepped out on the Coast Path. We hoped to find out more about the landscape loved by surfers today yet feared by sailors in the past, many of whom lost their lives in shipwrecks caused by accident and sometimes malice.

Our journey began in Ilfracombe, where we grabbed some breakfast before setting off along the Quay and onto Capstone Road. This led us onto Capstone Parade and the impressive St Nicholass Chapel perched on top of a large mound known as Lantern Hill. This 15th-century seafarers chapel had a lantern tower added in 1800, which was a help for sailors. In fact, its reputed to be the oldest lighthouse in the UK.
We made our way through the town, following the acorn signs for the Coast Path, past the cone-shaped Landmark Theatre, and soon found ourselves on the Torrs Walk. Here the path zigzags its way through green pastures, set high above the sea and a safe distance from the cliff edge. This tranquil scene is flecked with yellow gorse, which sparkles against the blue backdrop of sea and sky. As we ambled through the gorse flowers, we saw buzzards circling overhead and butterflies skitting about as though showing us the way.

With the Atlantic Ocean almost surrounding us and little wind to speak of, all was peaceful and still. Catching sight of waves crashing into rocks below highlighted the forces at work wherever land meets the sea, leaving wonderful rock formations in its wake. An example is the slate beach at Lee Bay, a rock-pool haven in the secluded cove at Bennetts Mouth and the rounded rocks of Rockham beach with a smugglers cave cut out by the tides.

From Lee, the route gets more challenging towards Bull Point lighthouse, which was built in 1879 after calls from locals to ward off the lawless wreckers who would lure passing ships onto the rocks with misplaced lights so they could plunder the cargo.
Past this headland we took a short-cut via the inland path to Mortehoe. Here we met Jonathan Fairhurst, the local area warden for the National Trust, who introduced us to a new GPS-activated device helping to interpret the site the Ship Aground! tour. As you make your way around the Trusts estate listening to the recording, it tells the story of the people who lived on the land 200 years ago, as seen through the eyes of local girl Sarah, and we meet various characters along the way and hear how they survived in this wild and rugged landscape. The GPS units have been developed to mark the estates centenary and are available to hire from the Heritage Centre. Jonathan said: Its a great alternative to reading straightforward information points and its entertaining.

Morte Point was once described as the place God made last and the devil will take first and for good reason. It looks like a dinosaurs back emerging from the sea. Just offshore is the Morte Stone or the Rock of Death, aptly named for obvious reasons.
Rounding the corner, the landscape softens once again as the sandy beaches of Woolacombe roll into view. We arrived at our final destination and were ready to rest before the next days walk, which would take us on to Braunton Burrows, the UNESCO-designated Biosphere Reserve thats a haven for wildlife and nature.

Alex continues her walk along the Coast Path next month.

Fact File
Start: Ilfracombe Quay
(grid ref SS526479)
Finish: Woolacombe
Directions: The path is waymarked with acorn symbols; simply head west and keep the sea on your right
Distance: 8 miles (13km)
Time: 5 hours (including rest stops)
Maps: OS Explorer 139 or Landranger 180
Public transport: First North Devon service 3B runs between Ilfracombe and Woolacombe every hour; mainline trains from Exeter to Barnstaple; bus service 308 between Barnstaple and Ilfracombe.; 0871 200 22 33
Parking: All-day parking at Brookdale car park, Ilfracombe for 3.10; just a short walk from the Quay and from the return bus stop outside Wilder Road car park

Refreshments: Various bistros, cafs and pubs in Ilfracombe; The Grampus Inn at Lee Bay; The Ship Aground in Mortehoe; The Boardwalk in Woolacombe with alfresco seating for great sea views
Luggage carrying: Get your bags carried from just 13 for two. Drivers will pick up from your B&B or campsite at the start of the day and deliver to your next destination.

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