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March 16, 2011

Ilfracombe had never really been a place that featured on my radar as somewhere to visit. The first time I stopped and paid attention to its name and location was on scanning in old photographs from my late mother. It turns out that my grandparents (or was it great grandparents) holidayed there in the 1920s.

Feeling in need of a quick break for the weekend the family limey headed off to Ilfracombe early Saturday morning. Getting to Ilfracombe isn’t especially difficult, a cruise along the M4 and M5 motorways, followed by a jaunt along A and B roads. Total journey time from our home in Hampshire was under 4 hours.

The first thing to be clear on is we were visiting Ilfracombe in low season. This was intentional and we knew it would be quiet, quiet is what we wanted. First thoughts on parking up and having a wander around, is that it certainly was quiet. Many shops and restaurants and other entertainment spots were closed. Some for the season, others had reduced opening hours. A pizza place we had hoped to return to later for an early evening meal turned out to be closed from 3pm. Other restaurants opened for the evening from 6pm and only at the weekend. Socialising here during the winter months would definitely be a more personal thing.

The parts of the town that directly face the sea front are the nicest and most pleasant to be among. The sea views are great and the public areas have obviously had much effort put into them. They are all pleasant to be around. It was further away from the sea front that the town was disappointing. There is a plethora of B&Bs, not in itself a bad thing, but that many of them looked grotty and unloved was off-putting. Add to that the huge levels of dog shit littering these streets and it was enough to make me have to pay more attention to the pavement than the town and the views it offers. The level of street uncleanliness was major disappointment.

The Capstone

There was one establishemtn that stood out for us on our afternoon amble and that was The Capstone. On wandering past it looked well loved and elegantly decorated, it stood out as an inviting place amongst the averageness that surrounded it. So with tired, hungry and grumpy child in tow, we sat it out until it opened at 6pm. We were not disappointed.

The owner welcomed us in and made good conversation with us during our meal. It turns out he had relocated there a few years previously and was very enthusiastic about the town. Enthusiastic to the point that I forgot about my previous issues with the town; until he mentioned how busy the street outside gets in high season.

In summary

Ilfracombe is not a bad place. Its in a beautiful location, not far from a variety of beaches and wonderful undulating scenery. The highs and lows of the winter and summer months are probably too much for me. Parts of the town are great and parts of it are unloved. For me the town has too many extremes and not enough balance. It’s a shame and I actually wanted to love the place.


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