The Holiday Guide to Lee Bay

What Makes Lee Bay Special?

  • ‍Peaceful village in a wooded valley
  • Stunning beach with rockpools and sandy shores
  • Wild stretch of coast with history of smuggling and shipwrecks
  • Great pub with its own ale, gardens and live music
  • Short drive to the wild moors and coast of Exmoor National Park
  • Stone’s throw from the sandy surf spots of Woolacombe, Croyde and Saunton
  • Next to the Victorian resort of Ilfracombe
  • Southwest Coast Path and woodland trails from the village

What Can We Do in Lee Bay?

  • ‍Hunt for crabs, sunbathe and swim at the beach.
  • Enjoy incredible starry skies at night.
  • Walk to Mortehoe or Ilfracombe on the Southwest Coast Path.
  • Book a surfing lesson at Woolacombe.
  • Have a pint of Devon cider or ale at the Grampus.
  • Cycle or Walk the Tarka Trail.
  • Take the cliff railway from Lynton to Lynmouth.
  • Meet the wild ponies in Exmoor National Park.
  • Visit Ilfracombe’s art galleries and Damien Hirst sculpture.
  • Board MS Oldenburg to Lundy Island.
  • Shop for fresh produce at Barnstaple’s Butchers Row.
  • Walk along two miles of sandy shore from Woolacombe to Putsborough.
  • See wolves and lions at Combe Martin Wildlife and Dinosaur Park.
  • Pick up a carton of traditionally produced cider from Indicknowle Farm.
  • Play crazy golf and arcade games in Woolacombe village.
  • Watch a show at Ilfracombe’s Landmark Theatre.

Where Can We Stay in Lee Bay?

  • ‍Pitch a tent at Lower Campshott Farm.
  • Book a room at Shaftsboro Farm Bed and Breakfast.
  • Pick a family holiday park in neigbouring Woolacombe or Ilfracombe.
  • Stay in a holiday cottage in the village.

All About Lee Bay

Lee Bay is a small village between Woolacombe and Ilfracombe, on the North Devon coast. It lies in a deep, wooded combe, known locally as Fuchsia Valley thanks to the scarlet flowers which burst into life every spring. A stroll from the village through a field brings you to a craggy cove, where low tide reveals rockpools and stretches of sand. The village itself consists of a scattering of old, stone cottages, a neo-Gothic parish church, the Old School Room craft gallery and a friendly pub. From Lee Bay, the Southwest Coast Path heads east and west along a particularly rugged stretch of coast, where many ships have wrecked and smugglers once hauled their contraband ashore. A series of footpaths also head inland from the village, following gentle streams into thick woods, where deer are often spotted. The coast and countryside surrounding Lee Bay is some of North Devon’s most idyllic, with rolling hills, tranquil pastureland and vast, sandy bays, backed by dunes. The Victorian resort of Ilfracombe is just to the village’s east, and a few miles further, Exmoor National Park is a captivating expanse of windswept moors, where wild ponies roam. Holidays in Lee Bay give visitors with the chance to unwind by the ocean, in a quiet haven, well away from busy roads or large developments. Thanks to the lack of light pollution, the starry night skies are breathtaking, and the only sounds you are likely to hear at night are the trickling of a nearby stream or the distant roar of the ocean.

In the heart of Lee Bay, the Grampus is a welcoming pub with a lovely garden. It serves good food and local cider, as well as brewing its own ales and hosting regular live music sessions. The village is roughly 350 metres from the coast, so you can walk to the beach for a swim or picnic, or to join the Southwest Coast Path. Heading westward, you will pass the lighthouse at Bull Point before reaching Morte Point and the village of Mortehoe, perched on a clifftop overlooking Woolacombe’s sandy bay. Heading east from Lee Bay, you will walk over soaring clifftops with uninterrupted views of the Atlantic, where seals and dolphins are often spotted. You will soon reach Ilfracombe, a lively resort with a working harbour, art galleries, cafes, restaurants and a striking sculpture by Damien Hirst overlooking the waves. There’s plenty to see in Ilfracombe, including the Tunnels Beaches, an excellent aquarium, a cinema, a theatre and a variety of nostalgic seaside amusements.

Lee Bay is a stone’s throw from the renowned surf spots of Woolacombe, Croyde and Saunton. All three have excellent conditions for beginners, and a number of surf shops and schools offer equipment to hire, and lessons if you need a little guidance to catch your first wave. A holiday in Lee Bay would be incomplete without a trip to Exmoor National Park, a short drive from the village. The park is a paradise for walking and wildlife-watching, with unspoiled moors, woods and pastures, and a dramatic, rocky coastline. The twin villages of Lynton and Lynmouth cling to the sides of a steep, wooded valley, overlooking a pebble bay and harbour. There is a Victorian cliff railway, antique shops and a handful of charming places to eat and drink. 15 miles south of Lee Bay, the market town of Barnstaple sits on the banks of the River Taw, with a historic pannier market, Butchers Row and a variety of independent businesses to explore.

Lee Bay History

The main industries in the rural area of North Devon surrounding Lee Bay have traditionally been agriculture and fishing. In the Victorian era, neigbouring Ilfracombe became a popular resort and the number of locals working in tourism rose. Of 64 parishioners who fought in the First World War, 16 died, and in July 1921, a war memorial was unveiled outside the church by Charles Derbyshire.

The construction of Lee Bay’s parish church began in 1833, and it remains an important landmark in the heart of the village. On September 21, 1835, the church was dedicated and consecrated by the Bishop of Exeter. It is a fine example of a small, early Victorian church in the neo-Gothic style, and is estimated to have cost £300 to build. The woodwork inside, including the pulpit and carved choir gallery, is considerably older than the church itself. Much of it is believed to date back to the 16th and 17th centuries, and to have been collected from old buildings in the area.

Lee’s Memorial Hall stands opposite the church and is considered one of the finest in the area. The foundation stone was laid in 1923 and inside, there is an inscription dedicated to those who fought in the war. The hall has served a variety of functions over the years and remains a focal point for social life in the village.

During the 18th and 19 centuries, smuggling was rife along the North Devon coast, and there are records of contraband having been landed at Lee, including hundreds of gallons of rum, gin and Portuguese red wine.

How Do You Get to Lee Bay?

To get to Lee Bay using public transport, take a train or coach to Barnstaple, then take a local bus or taxi to the village. Direct coaches run regularly from London to Barnstaple. Change in Exeter if you are travelling by train.

To drive to Lee Bay from the east or south, follow the M5 and take the exit onto the A361 for Tiverton and Barnstaple. Continue on the A361 through Braunton, take the first exit at Mullacott Cross, drive towards Woolacombe and take a right signposted for Lee. Alternatively, follow the scenic A39 through Exmoor National Park and turn right onto the A399 at Blackmoor Gate. This is a slower route but avoids Barnstaple, where traffic can be heavy during rush hour. Travellers from the south should follow the A39, A386 or A377 to Barnstaple and follow the above directions from Barnstaple.

Lee Bay’s nearest airport is Exeter, approximately 90 minutes by car, with routes to cities across Europe. Bristol Airport is a two-and-a-half-hour drive away, with a greater range of routes. London can be reached in roughly four hours. Travellers from Europe can also take the ferry from North Spain or France to Plymouth or Poole, which are roughly two and three hours from Lee Bay respectively.

Walkers on the Southwest Coast Path will pass through Ilfracombe shortly before arriving in Lee Bay. Those walking from the south will reach Woolacombe and the village of Mortehoe before embarking on a particularly hilly stretch to Lee Bay. There is also a path from near the Fortescue pub, at the top of Woolacombe, to Lee Bay via Lee Farm Camping and the wooded valley descending to the coast.