Days out: Damien Hirst’s Verity, things to do in Ilfracombe & the beauty of Tarr Steps, Exmoor

I first spotted Verity on my Twitter feed. Brazen, bold and bronze, she quickly made my list of ‘things to do’ in Devon.

During half term, we had the free loan of a Lexus NX from Snows Exeter and we thought it was a great opportunity to cruise from Exeter to Ilfracombe to find out for ourselves.

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First a little background on the popular holiday town of Ilfracombe

Ilfracombe started life as a small fishing village, during the Victorian era – after the arrival of the railway – it expanded into a popular beach resort.

The high cliffs around the town boast impressive views of the rugged coastline. North Devon is renowned for its natural beauty and surfing, there are plenty of beaches to choose from around Ilfracombe, including Ilfracombe’s own beach. From the harbour you can take a boat to Lundy Island or go on a sea safari to spot seals and dolphins.

Damien Hirst’s Verity

Loaned to North Devon Council for 20 years by world famous Brit artist Damien Hirst, Verity is a bit like marmite locally; some say she is beautiful, she enhances tourism in the area and is a big draw for visitors, critics say she is a monstrosity, isn’t befitting the town and is a publicity stunt to promote Hirst’s local restaurant The Quay (which I only found out about after our trip).

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Guarding Ilfracombe harbour like the UK’s own Statue of Liberty, Verity is a semi-flayed naked pregnant woman holding a sword aloft in one hand and the scales of justice in the other.

“I had made the sculpture of the pregnant woman already and it was based on the Degas ballerina, and for Ilfracombe in the harbour, I wanted to take this existing sculpture and change it to make it stand for something important – for truth,” Mr Hirst explained.

“After looking at the statue of liberty and the justice figure on the old bailey and many others, I came up with Verity.” (Damien Hirst from the North Devon Gazette)

I went to see her with no knowledge of her background and after researching it I have to say that I was a bit disappointed in Hirst’s explanation of Verity. In the wake of Trump’s victory, the inequalities for women all over the world and the recent worldwide women’s marches, I wanted her to be a figure of female empowerment – Ilfracombe’s own Boudicca if you will.

Love Verity or loath her one thing is for sure; she is incredibly arresting. You can’t help but be awed by her powerful, dramatic presence over the harbour – she is HUGE (65ft in fact) and (in my humble opinion) she is perfect for the craggy landscape of Ilfracombe harbour on a stormy day.

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After seeing Verity, we had a quick lunch at The Pier Brewery Tap & Grill (kid friendly boozer, serving standard pub grub) and popped into the Ilfracombe Aquarium.

“The aquarium provides a fantastic insight into the wonders of the aquatic world found locally around North Devon.” (Ilfracombe Aquarium)

It’s teensy and contains live exhibits from the source to the sea. It costs £16 for a family of four (price as Feb 2017) and we thought it was a little expensive for what it was – having said that, if the money goes into conservation we don’t mind so much.

More information on times and prices here.

Other things to do and see in Ilfracombe:

The Landmark Theatre – Even if you’re not seeing a production, it is worth a nose for the architecture. It’s controversial double conical design is locally referred to as Madonna’s Bra (maybe Verity isn’t out of place in Ilfracombe after all – there seems to be a theme here).

Ilfracombe Museum – Holds Victoriana, period costumes, photographs and china.

St Nicholas’s Chapel – Found in a prominent position on Lantern Hill by the harbour, it was once used as a lighthouse. Built back in 1361, it is reputed to be the oldest working lighthouse in Britain. A light or beacon has been displayed there for over 650 years.

More things to do in Ilfracombe on Trip Advisor

Tarr Steps on Exmoor

On the way home we took a bit of a detour on the advice of Devon Life Editor, Andy Cooper and visited Tarr Steps.

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We crossed the border into Somerset and cruised through beautiful Exmoor, Kate Bush’s ‘Wuthering Heightswouldn’t have been out of place on the stereo.

There is a pay and display car park about a 1 km walk away from the steps and there is a pub and B&B very close to the steps that I have heard is very nice in the summer.

“Tarr Steps is a 17 span clapper bridge (a bridge made of unmortared stone slabs), the longest of its kind in Britain. It was first mentioned in Tudor times but may be much older.

The river has silted up over the last century and often now comes over the stones in times of flood. The bridge has had to be repaired several times as stones of up to two tonnes have been washed up to 50 metres downstream.” (Exmoor National Park)

It is a pretty, peaceful place, naturally beautiful and worth a visit for a walk or a paddle (when it’s warmer or in your wellies). Here’s a lovely idea for a walk from Dulverton to Tarr Steps, if you want to make a day of it.

From Tarr steps it took us around 45 minutes to get back home to Exeter.

Have you got any tips on places to go nearby? We’d love to hear about them below!

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