For lovers of the sand, sea, and surf, Ilfracombe is the place to be. The town itself is home to a handful of bays great for sunbathing and swimming, whilst just along the coastline you can find great places to surf, kayak, and paddle board. We know your tufty-pawed pal enjoys a beach day just as much as you do (or perhaps more so!), which is why some of our local self-catering holiday cottages welcome dogs, and we have listed some stick-chasing hotspots for you below. We suggest checking the tide times before visiting Ilfracombe’s beaches as many of its coves can get cut off by the high tide.
Sitting beneath the towering hill of Capstone, Wildersmouth beach is close to town, perfect if you don’t fancy hopping in the car to enjoy a day by the sea. Its shingle sands are sheltered by the surrounding cliffs so you can lay down your blanket and find a quiet spot to settle down in out of the wind. Wildersmouth welcomes those with four legs all year round, so dogs can enjoy sniffing out sticks and splashing in rockpools to their heart’s content. The West and East Wilder streams make their way into the sea via a tunnel at the beach, which almost disappears at high tide so make sure you take a look here before packing up your picnic!
If you’re arriving by car, park in one of the town’s nearby car parks. Jubilee Gardens and the Promenade car parks are very close.
Arrive at Tunnels Beaches and make your grand entrance as you walk through hand-carved tunnels dating back to the 1820s. Taking two years to carve, the total length of the tunnels is 160 metres, but don’t worry, you don’t have to walk very far to get to the beach! Though the Gentlemen’s Beach is often closed due to weddings, Ladies’ Beach remains open to the public and is home to a beautiful tidal pool. The two beaches get their names from a time when Ilfracombe was a popular Victorian seaside resort and integrated swimming was simply not allowed, men were directed to the aptly named Gentlemen’s Beach, and women were pointed in the direction of Ladies’ Beach. Both beaches boast spectacular views across the glittering Atlantic, and rugged surrounding landscapes.
Waggy-tailed guests are not welcomed at Tunnels Beach, so you’ll have to leave them at home this time. However, the beach is great for little ones as the tidal pool (visible three hours before and after low tide) is a safe place to swim (though still keep an eye on your little swimmers), and the rockpools are teeming with interesting wildlife.
A small pay and display car park is located on site or you can park on the roads nearby. There is a small admission charge for Tunnels Beaches.
Tucked away on the eastern side of the town, Rapparee Cove is a charming little bay which was once a popular Victorian bathing beach. Access to the beach is via steep steps which wind their way down the cliff, on arrival spot the old Victorian shelter at the back of the beach where you can huddle inside if the heavens open! Dogs are welcomed all year round so they can chase sticks, wag their tails, and scatter the sand with pawprints whilst you lap up the sun, go for a refreshing dip, or clamber across the rockpools in search of marine life.
Besides its Victorian history, Rapparee Cove made the news in 1796 when a ship named ‘London’ got into trouble in a storm and sunk off its shore. Tales surrounding the shipwreck are rife and the ship is thought to have been carrying slaves who were on their way to Bristol.
If accessing Rapparee Cove on foot, simply follow the South West Coast Path towards Hele and look out for signs to the beach. Parking is available nearby at Larkstone.
Sitting in front of the harbour, Cheyne Beach is a small bay backed by the sea wall. Crystal blue waters lap at the sand where dogs are welcome along so all the family can enjoy a day out together. At Cheyne Beach, you are not far from the harbour and its fish and chip and ice cream shops, order some tasty treats for lunch and dine alfresco on the beach (beware of the seagulls!).
Park in the car park on the harbour and then make your way down the small set of steps to reach the beach.
A delightful cove with calm waters and an abundance of rockpools, Hele Bay lies less than two miles east of Ilfracombe. Hunt out the smugglers’ caves, splash in the sea, and keep your eyes peeled for marine life before venturing into the village where there are plenty of places to buy picnic treats to keep you going. A popular spot for kayaking and coasteering, contact H2Outdoor, Coastal Adventures North Devon, or Active Escape and make a splash in the water.
Leave no one at home as your canine companion is allowed at Hele Bay all year round. Access to the beach is via slipway and there is plenty of parking in the small village.
Once home to a notorious smuggler, Lee Bay is a picturesque village with a peaceful atmosphere and charming beach. Sheltered by dramatic cliffs and headlands, the bay is a perfect spot for kayaking, sea swimming, and enjoying a day by the ocean.
To reach neighbouring Sandy Cove, hop on the South West Coast Path, over the Damage Cliffs and down the steep steps which lead you to a truly stunning location away from the crowds. At low tide you can walk between the two coves but be wary as the tide can soon cut you off.
Both Lee Bay and Sandy Cove are home to many rockpools when the tide is out, and the pink pebbles which scatter the sand add a touch of magic and burst of colour. Dogs are welcome at both beaches and you can park in one of two car parks in Lee.
If you’re staying at one of our dog-friendly self-catering holiday cottages, we’re sure you’ll be heading out on lots of stick chasing adventures and will want to get those paws wet! There are plenty of beaches which welcome your waggy-tailed pal all year round including Wildersmouth Beach, Rapparee Cove, Cheyne Beach, Hele Bay, Lee Bay, Sandy Cove, Putsborough, and Saunton Sands.
Restrictions are in place at Tunnels Beach where dogs aren’t welcome at all, and at Croyde where they are banned between between May 1st and September 30th. At Woolacombe, no dogs are allowed in Zone A (between the rocks at the north of the beach and the stream) from April 1st or Good Friday to September 30th, and must be kept on leads on Zone B (between the stream and Mill Rock) from May 1st until September 30th.
You cannot surf in Ilfracombe but you don’t have to travel far to find good waves and welcoming surf schools. The nearest surf spot is Woolacombe, a 6.5-mile trip from Ilfracombe. Local equipment hire and lesson facilities are available from Hunter, Woolacombe Surf Centre and The Bay Surf Shop. At the southern end of Woolacombe is Putsborough Beach where you can find sheltered waves and jump in the water, contact Nick Thorn Surf School or Barefoot Surf School for lessons and surf hire. For some of the best waves in the country, continue on to Croyde (9.5 miles), a must-visit destination for confident surfers. Contact Surf South West, Surfing Croyde Bay and Croyde Surf Academy for lessons and hire. A little further along the coastline is Saunton Sands (10 miles), perfect for beginners this long stretch of sand and sea has long slow waves, contact Surf Saunton, Walking on Waves, and Saunton Surf Hire to make a splash in the water.