Walking Ilfracombe to Woolacombe along the South West Coast Path
21st October 2018
Walking Ilfracombe to Woolacombe along the South West Coast Path in north Devon is a mostly moderate (though strenuous in some places) 8 miles of soaring clifftops and hidden rocky coves. It feels wild and remote, and I barely saw another person for most of the day.
After my 3 days walking the South West Coast Path in Cornwall last year, I was well and truly hooked. For my short break exploring the coast of north Devon this year I planned only one day’s walking along the South West Coast Path but – despite the unsettled weather – it was a gorgeous day out in the wind and the wild.
From OS Map
The signs for the South West Coast path from Ilfracombe to Woolacombe are actually not easy to spot in the town. I headed to the seafront and in the direction provided by my OS map but still had to stop a dog walker to ask. The best way to find the path is to head past Tunnels Beach towards the Granville Hotel, which is on the hill at the back of the town on Granville Road.
Ilfracombe Torrs to Lee
Towards the end of Granville Road the path is signposted by the National Trust Torrs Walk sign. The climb out of Ilfracombe to the top of the Torrs is a steep zig-zag path carved into the cliff face during Victorian Times and today is well-maintained by the National Trust. It’s a strenuous climb but not difficult and from the top of the Torrs the views both east and west are fantastic. To the east you can see down into Ilfracombe and on a clear day I’m told you can see all the way to Exmoor.
To the west you can see as far as Bull Point across gently sloping countryside.
At the top of the hill take a short detour to the topograph – a small circular plaque mounted on a plinth at the edge of the cliff showing the points of the compass and the notable landscape features. It was a misty morning and I was treated to a spectacular, though short-lived, rainbow.
Returning from the topograph back onto the path, turn right following the Coast Path signs. All the land from here over the 3 miles to Lee Bay is open access, though the path is obvious, and you’ll wind your way through herds of cows along the path. I didn’t find this part of the path particularly interesting but it was wonderful being out in the wind and the wilds.
The last mile into Lee is down a narrow (and steep) hard-top road with a few small houses, but no traffic. The National Torrs Walk ends at the bottom of the road as it turns sharply right into Lee.
Lee Bay is situated in a Designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, tucked away in a dense combe and surrounded by rolling hills and woodland. There are only about 100 properties in the village, including a pub, a tearoom, a church built in 1835 and a craft gallery. It must be bustling here in summer but I didn’t see another soul as I walked along the bay; it felt utterly deserted and untouched by time.
The highlight here really is Lee’s small rocky cove, nestled against an imposing coastline. I was there at low tide and I could have spent hours exploring the rock pools.
From Lee to Bull Point
The path goes steeply out of Lee on the road but just past a small carpark and lookout it’s signposted to the right. The climb here is again quite steep but with magnificent views of the coastline.
This part of the path is also part of the Tarka Trail which runs over much of North Devon.
The path winds along the clifftops…
…down to rocky shoreline…
…and back again to the clifftops.
Soon after Lee Bay you reach Bull Point, where there is a lighthouse, though not a particularly pretty one.
But the view from the point is stunning in all directions.
Bull Point to Rockham Bay and Morte Point
I really loved this part of the walk. The path heads south from Bull Point winding among the hills…
…until you head down towards Rockham Bay.
This is a National Trust beach and it’s a steep climb down a wooden staircase from an open grassy valley to the bay itself and the rocky beach, though there is quite a bit of sand at low tide. It has a wild and hidden feel to it, and I didn’t see anyone there or along this part of the path.
The path climbs up and out of Rockham Bay with a dramatic look back at the bay. The sun started to peek through the clouds and with the stiff breeze the rapidly changing light lit up the sharp granite rock formations.
The sun continued to emerge from the clouds and the walk to Morte Point was a moderate one along the clifftops.
There’s also a fantastic view back towards Bull Point and the lighthouse in the distance.
As you approach Morte Point, keep an eye out for Atlantic grey seals in the waters below. I didn’t have my long lens with me but you can just make out the heads of 4 seals in between the rocks and the cliff in this photo.
Morte Point to Woolacombe
It’s easy walking all along this part of the path to Morte Point. At the tip of this extraordinary headland you climb over rocks and make a sharp left turn for the final stage of the walk and where you get a first peek of Woolacombe.
There are some stunning rock formations here.
The wind was fierce and it almost felt like I would be blown off the headland! But the sun was fully out now and it was glorious.
The path winds through the rock formations and becomes flat and grassy as you catch a full view of Woolacombe and its wondrous beach.
It’s a short walk from here into Woolacombe, with one very steep section up to the road from where the path is closed due to erosion. Woolacombe has an amazing beach, 3 miles of soft golden sand. The beach is west facing and waves can get really big, making it popular with surfers. The village is quite small, but is a popular resort with hotels, pubs, and shops.
Though uninhabited at the time, Woolacombe is in the Doomsday Book, as ‘Wolnecoma’ – Wolves Valley – most probably a reference to the thickly wooded valley that once existed here and which would certainly have been home to wolves.
Back to Ilfracombe
I spent much longer walking the path than I had intended – with too many stops for photographs and walking up and down to the beaches – and it was 5pm by the time I arrived in Woolacombe. In fact, I barely caught the last bus back! Be sure to bring cash to pay for the bus as they don’t take cards like they do in London! The bus ride is an easy 20 minutes and dropped me right on the main street in Ilfracombe a block from my B&B. I have to admit I was very, very tired. Though the walk itself is listed as 8 miles, from start to finish my GPS reflected 10 miles!
About the South West Coast Path
The South West Coast Path is a 630-mile walking route that follows the coastline of the entire South West Peninsula in England. It has stunning scenery, an abundance of wildlife and some extraordinary geology. Whether you want an afternoon walk, a challenging hike or a multi-day trip, the must-have resource is the South West Coast Path website – https://www.southwestcoastpath.org.uk/ . This site has everything you might want to know, with day-by-day guides including detailed maps and descriptions for each section of the trail, a trip planner and distance calculator, as well as suggestions for accommodation, baggage transfer, companies that provide guided walks, and so much more.
Next post: A change in plans and an unexpected discovery – BroomHill Sculpture Garden
And be sure to check out more photos in my Ilfracombe to Woolacombe Photo Album