Ilfracombe – Commerce, Pleasure and Piracy in a Seaside Haven



World War II and Migration

The Tour / Experience:

Ilfracombe, on Devon’s remote Atlantic coast, has long been a safe haven for seafarers and fishermen. In the16th century the port became an important base for ships trading with the Americas and Africa and a refuge from the pirates who once plagued the Bristol Channel.

We begin our walking tour on the harbour side discovering stories of endeavour, enterprise and tragedy. Nowadays the fishing boats in this lovely walled port, share the waterfront with works of art, cafes and small shops set against a backdrop of rocky coves and steep Victorian terraces.

By the late 1700s graceful houses and public buildings began to spread along the cliffs as wealthy Georgians came to Ilfracombe to bathe and socialise. We explore the town as far as the tunnels cut through the cliffs so Victorian holidaymakers could reach the tidal bathing pools and uncover accounts of remarkable people; writers, explorers and even the Kaiser who came to this fashionable resort.

In WW2 Ilfracombe became a refuge for evacuees escaping the bombing of England’s industrial cities and Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi controlled Europe. The coast around the town was soon heavily defended against a German invasion and life under wartime restrictions became increasingly harsh. Then, in 1943, a friendly invasion of thousands of American servicemen, here to train for D-Day, brought a cultural revolution that left a lasting and poignant impact on the lives of locals.  We share the stories of these people and places during those remarkable times.

This leisurely walking tour of this intriguing and inspiring town will leave you with stories to ponder and memories to savour and, we hope, a wish to return.


The Highlights: 

  • A 2 1/2 hour guided walk led by a Blue Badge Guide
  • Fascinating walking tour exploring Ilfracombe’ s historic port and Victorian seaside resort on the spectacular north Devon coast.
  • Uncover Ilfracombe’s stories of exploration, endeavour and achievement and the rich cultural legacy left by her many visitors and occupants.
  • Use of personal radio receiver connected to Tour Guide wireless audio transmission system for improved audibility and social distancing on walk.
  • Optional extras (at extra cost) – Walk under the cliff to Tunnels Beaches; a unique Victorian bathing pool complex or enjoy ice cream or afternoon tea on the harbour side.
  • Accompanied by Blue Badge Guide with Covid safe measures in place.


Tour Details: 

Start & End Location: Ilfracombe Tourist Information Centre OS GR SS 518478


Tour Options:

  • Combine this with a guided walk on the sand dunes at Braunton Burrows, a UNESCO designated Biosphere reserve.
  • Explore the role Devon played in the defence of the realm through the darkest days of WW2 and the preparations for D-Day. Great technological advances such as radar, electronic warfare, P.L.U.T.O. and the ‘Great Panjandrum’ were tested on the coast. The seas were patrolled for enemy submarines and Allied troops trained on the sandy beaches for the Normandy Landings.


Contact Details: 


Tour gallery

About the guide

Name: Julia Morris

Qualifications: Southern England

Languages: English