Woolacombe is a seaside resort on the north coast of Devon, which stands at the mouth of a valley (or 'combe') in the parish of Mortehoe. The beach is 3 miles long, sandy, gently sloping and faces the Atlantic Ocean near the western limit of the Bristol Channel.
This is a popular destination for surfing and family holidays, and is also part of the North Devon Coast 'Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty'. The beach has been owned and run by Parkin Estates Ltd for over half a century and has over the years continuously been recognized as one of the best beaches in Europe. It won the title of "Britain's Best Beach" in the "Coast Magazine Awards 2012" and continues to rank consistently highly in British and European beach ratings, notably the Tripadvisor Awards for excellence 2013 and 2014.
The winter population is very small (around 1,000), but during the summer large numbers of people come to the village for their holidays. Many are motivated to visit because of the excellent surfing conditions found locally. There are many hotels, holiday flats and bed and breakfast establishments, and most of the entertainment opportunities are aimed at tourists. The village is served by a local independent pharmacy which is open all year round and a satellite doctor's surgery. A long-established attraction in the centre of the village was a crazy golf course which featured North Devon landmarks for the holes, the unique model buildings being constructed from the various types of stone found in the local area. This attraction was demolished and rebuilt as a pirate themed crazy golf course in 2010.
Geology and wildlife
Woolacombe stands on the North Devon coast, which is renowned for its dramatic coastal cliffs and landscape. Due to Atlantic waves, the swell is at somewhat large and very clean making it a great benefit for surfing.
The beach also is flanked by sloping Sand dunes which are popular for climbing on, and can be observed undergoing Biological succession - The dunes are becoming populated by Marram grass and spurges at the top of the dunes.
Right across from the beach, there are panoramic views of Lundy Island.
Woolacombe has the benefit of low cliffs at either end of the beach which are home to the rare maritime heathland as well as sand dunes behind the beach. Much of the countryside close to the village is owned and cared for by the National Trust. The coast itself is part of the North Devon Voluntary Marine Conservation Area because of its diverse and rare species.
The several churches of the village include:
- Church of England:
- St Sabinus, consecrated in 1912
- Independent / evangelical: Calvary Chapel, established in 2000. In 2002 the chapel organised the first Creation Fest, a free Christian music festival, held annually on the outskirts of the village until 2008, when the festival was relocated to Cornwall.
Like a number of British beaches, it is privately owned and until 1948 the beach and much of the surrounding land was owned by the Chichester family, who acquired it in 1133 during the reign of King Henry I. When Lady Rosalie Chichester, the last of the line, died in 1949 it had been in her family’s possession for over 800 years. On her death the Chichesters' land in Woolacombe and Mortehoe and the family estate at Arlington near Barnstaple had been willed to the National Trust. However, the beach and some surrounding land had previously been purchased by Stanley Parkin, a family friend. Ray Parkin, the current chairman, has been closely involved with the development and management of the company since 1985 and took over as chairman on the death of his father in 1995.
During the Second World War, the U.S. Army Assault Training Centre was based at Woolacombe, where thousands of small boat crews and infantry practised amphibious landing assaults on the beach in preparation for the Invasion of Normandy in Operation Overlord. The long flat shape of the beach and the conditions of the hinterland were considered to closely resemble the Omaha Beach landing area.
There is a stone memorial to the soldiers, dedicated in 1992, sited on the grassy headland at the northern end of the beach.
The village had a joint railway station with Mortehoe on the Ilfracombe Branch Line which closed in 1970.
The South West Coast Path runs through the village, and gives access to the spectacular North Devon coast, with the walk out to and around Morte Point being particularly popular. There are several establishments in the area that provide opportunities for pony trekking. Some offer experienced riders the chance to ride along Woolacombe Sands.
| ("Wikimedia Commons" has material|
- Website of Woolacombe & Mortehoe Tourist Information Centre
- Woolacombe Bay Travel Information
- Parkin Estates
- Tales of Woolacombe at War – memories of wartime life in Woolacombe (gathered by the BBC)
- Cummins, Tony (21 April 2005). "Creation Fest: Devon's New Creation". Cross Rhythms (85). http://www.crossrhythms.co.uk/articles/music/Devons_New_Creation/14696/p1/. Retrieved 2013-10-11.
- "Training Areas". (U.S. Assault Training Center). www.assaulttrainingcenter.com. http://www.assaulttrainingcenter.com/TRAINING-AREAS.html. Retrieved 2008-08-12.
- "Richard T. Bass (Author)". (U.S. Assault Training Center). www.assaulttrainingcenter.com. http://www.assaulttrainingcenter.com/RICHARD-T-BASS.html. Retrieved 2008-08-12.