Subscribe      List an Event or Business      Invite a Writer      Write for WN      Writers      Other Locations      HubGarden      Recipes

Woolacombe, North Devon

Home > Devon > Walks | Outdoor | Family | Beaches
by Heather Winlow (subscribe)
I live and work in Bath and have done for 12 years. I hope to inspire visitors and those new to Bath to explore the city.
Published March 21st 2013
Sea, Surf, Sand (and sometimes Sun)
beach, surfing, walking, pubs
Woolacombe from beach, copyright Heather Winlow Feb 2013

Woolacombe, a small town and seaside resort on Devon's North coast, is very popular with visitors and tourists during the summer months but it is interesting to experience the area out of season. The town is located at the northern end of Woolacombe Sands, which is the main attraction, as it is a three mile sandy beach with Blue Flag and Premier Seaside Beach status (based on cleanliness, water quality and facilities). In the 2013 Travellers' Choice Beaches Awards (as nominated by TripAdvisor) the beach has been ranked as the second best beach in the UK and fifth best in Europe. The beach is backed by mature dunes and is overlooked by Woolacombe Down, which is popular with paragliders.

This stretch of coast is part of the North Devon Coast Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). The landscape is characterised by steeply sloping narrow valley systems, known as combes, as reflected in settlement names such as Ilfracombe, Woolacombe and Combe Martin. As a result of this landscape settlements also tend to be linear in form. Beach Road, which is the main road into Woolacombe follows the combe and the river meets the beach close to the northern end.

beach, surfing, walking, pubs
Woolacombe Sands and Baggy Point, copyright Heather Winlow Feb 2013


Woolacombe Sands is popular with dog walkers, families and surfers and has a number of access points, including from the main car-park and through the dunes from the National Trust car-park on Marine Drive. For surfers the mellow beach break means conditions are suitable for both beginners and more advanced surfers. If you have the right equipment (winter wetsuit, gloves, feet and head protection) you can surf here throughout winter, depending on tides and weather conditions. Combesgate Beach to the north of the main beach, overlooked by Watersmeet Hotel, is also a good spot but it is best to surf here within a couple of hours either side of low tide as the tide comes in quickly onto sharp rocks (NB my OS map shows this beach as part of Barricane Beach, but signs indicate Barricane and Combesgate as two separate beaches).

There can be up to a dozen hardy surfers (and a few foolhardy beginners such as my husband and I) at either Woolacombe Sands or Combesgate Beach in February (considerably more in the school half-term). We found that forgetting your head protection at this time of year was not such a good plan, resulting in ice-cream headaches and/ or an aching jaw. With all the suitable gear it doesn't feel that cold in the water, although it is advisable to stay in for shorter periods than you would in summer. Getting changed outside on a cold February day is perhaps more of an issue.

beach, surfing, walking, pubs
Combesgate Beach and Morte Point, copyright Heather Winlow Feb 2013


beach, surfing, walking, pubs
South West Coast Path towards Morte Point, copyright Heather Winlow March 2013


A significant attraction for walkers is the South West Coast Path which tracks along the back of Woolacombe Sands and heads north to Morte Point and then on to Bull Point and along a rocky coastline to eventually reach Ilfracombe (c. 8miles from Woolacombe), and south to Baggy Point and Croyde Bay. Morte Point and Baggy Point are the two headlands of Morte Bay, in which Woolacombe Sands sits. Walking further around the southern headland you will reach Croyde Bay, which is popular with advanced surfers.

Croyde itself is an attractive Devon village with good amenities. Pub grub and a friendly atmosphere can be found at The Thatch, which also provides good quality accommodation with breakfast. Transport links mean that it is possible to walk stretches of the coast path and then catch a bus back to your origin, but it is especially important to check bus timetables out of season. Paper timetables for the area can be picked up on the buses and the council website provides a list of online resources relating to bus transport.

beach, surfing, walking, pubs
Shopping and Bay Hotel, copyright Heather Winlow Feb 2013


Woolacombe has been awarded the 'England for Excellence Gold Award' for best family resort. It has a range of accommodation types, including holiday apartments, hotels (including the traditional Woolacombe Bay Hotel and the Watersmeet hotel, both of which are upper end and also offer spa treatments), guesthouses and holiday parks. Camping is available at North Morte Farm close to Morthoe, on the northern edge of Woolacombe.

Shopping in Woolacombe is a bit specialised. Besides the good post office, which also sells maps and guides, the Londis for food, and the chemists, shopping is dominated by surf shops, most of which are open all year round, and from where you can pick up excellent bargains in winter, before the summer stock comes in (in time for Easter). Wetsuit and board-hire is also available all year round, but you need to enquire within the surf-shops. Many eating establishments are closed out of season, but a focal point for locals and winter visitors is The Red Barn which is open all year round all day and is located just opposite the main carpark. The Boardwalk on the Esplanade is open at mealtimes and has excellent views across Morte Bay. From Woolacombe, on a clear day, there are also great views across to the island of Lundy, beckoning in the distance.

beach, surfing, walking, pubs
Sunset over Lundy Island, copyright Arnaud Mamier March 2013


There are events scheduled out of season, with music gigs held in the Red Barn (on Fridays from 1st March) and in Woolacombe Village Hall (alternatively known as Hall 70 it took me a week to work out that these are two names for the same venue as there are some large orange letters which say 'Hall', but the '70' has dropped off the building). Accommodation, activities and events listings for Woolacombe and the surrounding area can be found here.

It is true that out of season many of the shops and eating places are closed, it is very far from sunbathing weather and, as with other British holiday resorts in winter, there is not such a holiday vibe. However visiting out of season allows you to enjoy the beaches, the coast path and the beautiful scenery without the overcrowding of summer. Enjoy the drama of the sea in winter and then warm up in the places that are open and meet the locals.

beach, surfing, walking, pubs
Woolacombe Sands and Baggy Point, copyright Heather Winlow Feb 2013
Help us improve  Click here if you liked this article  37
Share: email  facebook  twitter
Where: Woolacombe, North Devon EX34
Your Comment
yes I would agree with the ice-cream head! surfing in February without head protection but the mellow break is most definately worth it
by heath (score: 0|2) 1725 days ago
Articles from other cities
Popular Articles
Categories
Lists