Saturday, 18 July 2009

Day 6 - South West Coast - Great roads that I've driven so far...

After almost a week, there are a couple of drives that offer GREAT views:

1) The coastline from Corfe Castle, near Bournemouth, going west to Chesil Beach. I am still thinking about St Catherines Chapel between Chesil Beach and Abbotsbury town.

2) The drive from Brixham, through Dartmouth, along the coast to Hope Cove. Dramatic, isolated coastline with cliffs and panoramic, high-up viewpoints. Go to Hope Cove, in particular.

3) The south Cornwall coast...Lizard Point to Mousehole. Not many villages, lots of space.

4) Tintagel to Clovelly - high cliffs, big seas when the wind blows.

5) Ilfracombe to Minehead, which takes you through Exmoor National park. Some BIG SKY views, and yes, more and more cliffs! Monotonously beautiful.

I'll keep adding to this list as I go...(I've just passed through Cardiff and Swansea, on my way to The Worm's Head hotel in Rhossili, and passed over the Severn Bridges on the Bristol Channel - very impressive.)

PS. There is no cell phone reception or internet access in Rhossili, so I'll be updating tomorrow evening only!

Day 6 - South West Coast - Ilfracombe - Night on an island, and living with wolves

Sharon from Collingdale Guest House has the following suggestions for visitors to Ilfracombe;

- Visit the Tunnel Beaches. These are proof that people will do almost anything to go on a beach holiday. Just to the south of town, these beaches used to be cut off from visitors by a rocky promontory. No worries, though, because Victorian engineers carved out four tunnels by hand so that the town folk could go sit on the beach, their bodies fully covered by Victorian dress. I am sure the guys who actually dug the tunnels would have preferred, after all that effort, to see a few bikinis...

- Take a day trip - or even better, spend two nights on Lundy Island, which takes its name from the Norse word for "puffin" (you can see these on the island). Check out on my Google Map where it takes about two hours by boat from Ilfracombe (£32 an adult), or you can go by helicopter (£92 an adult). You can go for a day, but rather stay on the island, says Sharon. She stayed at the bottom of the lighthouse, but you can also stay in a fisherman's cottage, a Georgian mansion or the medieval castle. I wish I had enough time to do it, but when I planned my trip, I kept to the original plan, which was to stay on the mainland. I think "Islands of Britain" should be the next adventure!

- The Ilfracombe Theatre looks like two small power plant towers, but they are in fact ingenious acoustic designs, and well worth a look. The theatre hosts shows almost every day of the year.

- If you're a surfer, Woolacombe Bay to the south of the town is a must. It often hosts international surfing competitions, and is one of the best breaks on mainland Britain.

- For something completely incongruous with the area, check out the Combe Martin dinosaur & wildlife park. I'm not one for things like these, especially when lions, meerkats, wolves and monkeys are involved, but it is home to Mr & Mrs Wolf (aka Shaun Ellis and Helen Jeffs). Shaun is a noted wildlife biologist, and in 2005 he spent 18 months in captivity, living side by side with the wolves. So it has a good reputation, apparently.

For more things to do, contact Ilfracombe's tourist office.

Day 6 - South West Coast - Ilfracombe - The 1 place to stay, things to do...

For excellent value for money, The Collingdale Guest House in Ilfracombe offers a smart, comfortable, laid-back, spacious and homely stay. It's a four-star, four-storey building overlooking the old town and harbour, as well as a nature reserve called the Hillsborough Leisure Area, which is a bad name for a beautiful high peninsula with great views itself.

The Collingdale has been a hotel or guest house since 1882, and owners Daryl and Sharon Furmston have owned it since then...only joking. They have owned it for seven years, and brought a freshness to what must have been a very old-fashioned and moth-balled Victorian building.

Views are unsurprisingly good from all nine rooms, and the downstairs lounge and bar area have big comfy leather couches, fire places, big sash windows, through which you can look down the hill onto the ocean and parkland. And prices are even better. You can stay for as little as £30 a night, including breakfast.

I'm off to bed now, but Sharon's given me a list of things to do in Ilfracombe...including staying in a lighthouse on an island out to sea!

View of Ilfracombe from harbour wall

View from the Collingdale Guest House

Room at Collingdale Guest House...that window looks out onto the harbour.

Click on this panorama of Ilfracombe to get a full screen version..

Day 6 - South West Coast - Ilfracombe

After going to Clovelly, Ilfracombe was always going to be a different experience. It's much more of a working town, with a fishing industry that supports the local folk. But it is similar in that it has some of the old soul from times gone by. There's an unofficial debate going on in town about whether Ilfracombe should develop a waterfront area. At the moment, the harbour and the breakwater are traditional...and I can imagine how it could be transformed into a glitzy eating and dining promenade.

But, Ilfracombe works for me. I think it offers just the right amount of authenticity, without losing the services that tourists need, such as nice (but not overly posh, thankfully) restaurant and pubs, and comfortable B&Bs. It does host Damien Hirst's restaurant, called "Number 11 The Quay." But it's the only nationally famous one, while the others seem to offer good food at really good prices. (If you're not from the UK or an art fundi, like me, then check out some Wiki info on Damien Hirst...he's a controversial, and very wealthy, artist.)

I ate a delicious sole at Take Thyme, on Fore Street, right next to the harbour. It was caught in the afternoon, and Tara O'Callaghan bought and cooked it for me a few hours later. Her restaurant hasn't been decorated by a professional, and it's not going to attract a trendy city crowd...however, the meal was the best - and most representative of the area - that I've had yet. And you can sit and look out the windows onto the street, watching locals - not tourists - walk by.