Epic sunsets, cliff-top walks along the South West Coast Path, Bondi-style beaches and world-class surfing await those who choose a life in this desirable North Devon village, where many of the houses have views over the bay. Words: Lesley Gillilan

There’s almost something not quite British about Woolacombe. If it wasn’t for the tea rooms, the dry stone walls and the occasional thatched cottage, you might think the entire place has blown in from Australia. Aside from a long stretch of Bondi-style beach, there are hotels with sky-blue outdoor pools, surf shops, sand dunes, golf links and palm trees. When the sun’s out, it looks more New South Wales than North Devon.

Off season, it’s a slightly different story. The surfers are still out in force – good all-year-round surfing conditions means a long season – but by now all the bucket-and-spade holiday-makers are all but gone and the place is settling down for a winter snooze. Thankfully, however, there’s a lot more to this breezy Atlantic resort than beach breaks and surfboards.

Set in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, between two spectacular headlands – Morte Point and Baggy Point – the area is a wonderland for nature-lovers and escapists. Meandering coast paths set off across rocky cliff-top heathland, bright with heathers, gorse and autumn bracken. There are teeny hidden coves as well as vast runway beaches. In places, you can hear nothing but the sea. And the sunsets are epic. No wonder it’s as popular with house-buyers as it is with holiday-makers.

According to Lee Hussell from local estate agent Webbers, many people are looking for second homes – there has been a spate of new apartment blocks to serve that market – but there is also much to offer the permanent resident, he says. ‘It’s a great combination of fabulous beaches, National Trust landscapes and the South West Coast Path,’ he adds.

And if Woolacombe looks a little too racy, ultra-traditional Mortehoe village (stone cottages, a little church, two pubs) is only half a mile up the road.


The prime properties are on The Esplanade or a street away from the seafront (Rockfield Road or Sunnyside Road), but most of Woolacombe’s homes sit on the elevated terraces of a hanging valley so good sea views are fairly easy to come by – at a price. Most of the buildings are 20th century: Edwardian villas, 1930s semis and 1960s bungalows sit alongside 21st-century apartments. For a more traditional village atmosphere, Mortehoe, only a mile uphill from the seafront, is the place for slate-hung cottages, granite and history. It’s also worth looking at Lee Bay, a quiet little seaside village tucked into a verdant valley just three miles to the west of Woolacombe.


With prices well above the national average, this is not generally a budget option. Woolacombe is in the top 10 of the UK’s most expensive coastal towns – in prime locations, two-bedroom flats can sell for around £400,000 or more, and family homes often go for millionaire prices (a five-bedroom seaside house is offered at £995,000, for example). For more affordable options, head a little further inland: still within the boundaries of Woolacombe, terraced cottages sell for around £300,000.


Surfing is the big attraction here, but there are plenty of other things to do: paragliding, canoeing, golfing (there are two good courses nearby), cycling, horse-riding and, with or without the waves, Woolacombe’s three-mile beach is one of the UK’s finest. Sheltered Combesgate is another local beach (equally magnificent when the tide’s out) and there are other biggies nearby at Saunton and Croyde. Walkers are well served with a fabulous stretch of the South West Coast Path (try Mortehoe to Lee Bay via Bull Point Lighthouse) or explore the sand dune system at Braunton Burrows – the heart of the North Devon biosphere. There are some great places to eat and drink, too: the lively Red Barn café-bar is Woolacombe’s surfy social hub; Mortehoe is the place for cream teas and traditional country pubs (like the Chichester Arms). For fine dining, try the Pavilion restaurant at the Watersmeet Hotel or Noel Corston’s highly-rated restaurant, NC@EX34.


This is not the easiest place to get to, particularly if you hanker for regular doses of city life. For Exeter rail services, head to Barnstaple (10 miles south) where a slow train will take you to this city. Here you can pick up mainline services to London (the entire journey takes a minimum of three-and-a-half hours). The nearest motorway is the M5 (50 miles south), and the nearest airport (Exeter) – roughly one hour and 40 minutes by car. London is a four-and-a-half-hour drive.


Woolacombe’s closest secondary schools are Braunton Academy (seven miles away) rated ‘Good’ by Ofsted, and Pilton Community College in Barnstaple (10 miles), which ‘Requires Improvement’ according to Ofsted.


Be prepared to travel in order to access good shops and facilities. There are a couple of local convenience stores, but the nearest supermarkets can be foundin Ilfracombe (15 minutes away), while the nearest hospital is in Barnstaple (25 minutes’ drive).


The harbour town of Ilfracombe (which is only five miles north) tends to be seen as Woolacombe’s poor relation, however it’s going up in the world: Thomas Carr’s Michelin-starred restaurant, The Olive Room, is just one of the elements behind Ilfracombe’s perception as ‘the next St Ives’. Although a few premium properties have achieved prices on a par with Woolacombe, it’s generally much more affordable – up to £150,000 cheaper.

Pay a visit

Watersmeet Hotel (01271 870333, watersmeethotel.co.uk).

Superbly located on The Esplanade overlooking the bay towards Lundy Island, this family-friendly Edwardian hotel is a perfect combination of heated indoor and outdoor pools, a stylish bar and bistro, an excellent restaurant, cliff-top gardens, lovely rooms (recently upgraded with a pale, beachy New England look) and views to die for. Woolacombe’s hub is a 10-minute walk via the coast path; or there is direct access to Combesgate Beach.

Doubles from £120 per night B&B.