Devon Coastal Walks - 5


Climb the magical zigzag path, cut more than a hundred years ago, up to The Torrs and then follow the high level Coast Path almost to Flat Point, returning via the delightful dismantled Barnstaple to Ilfracombe railway.

Ilfracombe sits in a deep basin enclosed by steep-sided hills and cliffs, the latter breeched by the sea in only two places. The cliffs were tunnelled through in the townís heyday to allow access to two sandy beaches for swimming - one for men and one for women. Any fellow who attempted to creep round the rocks to view the ladies was stopped from such unseemly behaviour by a guard blowing a bugle. Many of the guesthouses, cottages and hotels were built to cater for the Victoriansí desire to visit the sea. The buildings contour the surrounding slopes and the number of tourists increased rapidly when the railway came to Ilfracombe in 1874. Today the town retains its popularity and charm. Its harbour was once the fifth port in Britain and sent ships to support Edward IIIís siege of Calais in 1346. It is one of the harbours from where the MS Oldenburg sets sail regularly in the summer months for the Island of Lundy.


Start/finish: Granville Road (Cliff road) opposite the Granville Hotel, Ilfracombe, grid ref 516478

Distance: 7 1/2 miles/12.1km   Time 3-4 hours    Height gained 810ft/246m

Terrain: Good paths, reinforced railway track, narrow Devon lanes. Well-contoured path up cliff face with a short section along the cliff edge.

Refreshments: Spoilt for choice in Ilfracombe.

Toilets: Down the hill from the parking area and at the harbour.

Map: OS Explorer 139

Public toilets: Down the hill from the parking area and at the harbour.

Public transport: Traveline 0871 200 22 33

For further information on the Tarka Trail and the South West Coast Path, click here. To order books and leaflets on Devon paths and trails, click here.

1 From the cliff road walk west, following the National Trust Acorn signs. At a division of ways, take Torrs Walk Avenue, which climbs uphill. Turn right as directed by the signpost and, when level with the last house, wind left to take a narrow path. Follow it as it bears right and then go on below towering cliffs. Gradually the reinforced path begins to zigzag upwards. When it was first cut walkers were charged an old penny for admission. Look for traces of horizontal grooves cut into the exposed stone, which gave grip to horses pulling carts laden with goods or people up the steep gradient.

2 At the signpost visit the limekiln, unusual in standing so high above sea level. Coal and limestone were hauled up the cliffs after being imported from South Wales. The quicklime produced was used to sweeten the inland pastures. Continue on the good track to a gate. Turn right to climb to the summit cairn on The Torrs. From here you can see Lundy Island, Combe Martinís Hangman Hill and a panoramic view of the Welsh Coast. Go on from the summit down a wide trod to a stile and walk the clear path stretching ahead. Go on round a dramatic headland (a bit white knuckle) and then on to a gap in the wall. Stride ahead, join a wide cart track and walk right, with the sea now a little away to your right. Continue on along the lovely way, gently descending, to pass through the gate.

3. Beyond, stroll the very narrow lane to pass the Blue Mushroom cottage and on to take the second signposted stile on the left. Beyond the next stile, look for another in the fence on the left. Turn right and descend another lane at Lee. Turn left. Notice as you go the vertical slithers of slate used for walling. Continue to the signposted footpath on the right, just before a house called White Cleys, and continue to cross a footbridge. Go through a gate into woodland. Climb the waymarked track to emerge onto a pathway between firs.

4 Once over the next stile, go ahead across the pasture and take a waymarked gate on your right. Beyond walk ahead and follow the track as it swings left to pass behind a barn. Pass Lower Campscott farmhouse on your right and walk on to take a track on your right. Go on ahead over two fields, following the waymarks to take a stile onto a cart track. Turn left to join a lane, where you walk right. Remain on the metalled way to just before a bridge, where you descend a stiled path to the dismantled railway track (part of the long distance Tarka Trail). Turn left.

5 Stride the pleasing way. Pass below rock faces. Glimpse the Slade reservoirs through the trees to your left. Pass through a tunnel and stroll on. When the track divides into two narrow paths, take the lower one and go on as it climbs a slope by steps. Continue on the high level path all the way to Station Road. Descend steadily into the centre of Ilfracombe. Look for the many-storeyed Granville Hotel on the skyline and make a bee-line for it to return to where you have parked.

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