Woolacombe Beach, viewed from the north
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Woolacombe is a seaside resort on the coast of North Devon, England, which lies at the mouth of a valley (or 'combe') in the parish of Mortehoe. The beach is 3 miles (4.8 km) long, sandy, gently sloping and faces the Atlantic Ocean near the western limit of the Bristol Channel.
It is a popular destination for surfing and family holidays and is part of the North Devon Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The beach has been managed by Parkin Estates Ltd for over half a century and has over the years continuously been recognised as one of the best beaches in Europe. It won the title of Britain's Best Beach in the "Coast Magazine Awards 2012" and was awarded the same prize of Britain's Best Beach in 2015 by TripAdvisor, also ranking in their polls as 4th in Europe and 13th best in the world. The beach water quality is monitored regularly by the environment agency and meets its highest standards.
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, holiday parks, campsites 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 doctors 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.
- Family Resort of the Year – Gold Award (England for Excellence – 1999):
"A beach that is everyone's ideal - golden and sandy - perfect for a traditional bucket and spade holiday"
- Best Beach (2nd place) (The Observer – 2000)
- ENCAMS Seaside Award (2003)
- Tidy Britain Seaside Award (2005)
- Blue Flag beach (2005, 2006, 2007 and others)
- Coast Magazine Awards 2012 - Winner - Britain's Best Beach
- TripAdvisor Best English beach 2013
- TripAdvisor 5th Best Beach in Europe 2013
- TripAdvisor Best English beach 2014
- TripAdvisor Best British beach 2015
- TripAdvisor 4th Best Beach in Europe 2015
Geology and wildlife
Woolacombe lies within the North Devon Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, 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 sea spurge 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.
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 Chichester's 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, part of 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 main way to get to Woolacombe is by road. During the summer the roads, which are largely very rural and quite narrow, can become very congested as people queue up to get into one of the two large car parks which are situated close to the beach.
A bus service runs from the village to Barnstaple (303), Ilfracombe, Combe Martin and Mortehoe. The village had a joint railway station with Mortehoe on the Ilfracombe Branch Line which closed in 1970. There is also a locally operated bus by one of the holiday park companies which ferries holidaymakers from their four caravan and camping parks to the beach which helps ease congestion at peak times.
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.
There are several places of worship in Woolacombe, all Christian. The most obvious of these is the Anglican Church of St Sabinus, consecrated in 1912, and which is sited on the main road into the village centre. The church was built to cater for the growing number of tourists visiting the village every year after the opening of the local railway station in 1874. The church is dedicated to St Sabinus, a canonised Italian bishop; local stories claim it was named after a missionary from Ireland who was ship-wrecked at Woolacombe but there is no evidence to support this. St. Sabinus church was designed by the architect W. D. Caröe and built in 1909-12.
A branch of the California-based Calvary Chapel was established in 2000, meeting at the time in the village hall, now meets in the old Methodist Church, Beach Lane; and 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.
- "Best Beaches in the World - Travellers' Choice Awards". TripAdvisor.co.uk. Retrieved 5 May 2015.
-  Archived 28 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine
- O'Connell, Dee (16 July 2000). "Observer best beaches". The Guardian. London.
- "Devon beaches scoop awards". BBC News. 17 April 2003.
- "Devon - Discover Devon - Lucky 13 for Devon's beaches". BBC. Retrieved 19 May 2014.
-  Archived 27 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine
- "Our Beach Awards". Parkin Estates. Retrieved 19 May 2014.
- "Best Beaches in the United Kingdom - Travellers' Choice Awards". TripAdvisor.co.uk. Retrieved 5 May 2015.
- "Best Beaches in Europe - Travellers' Choice Awards". TripAdvisor.co.uk. 27 April 2012. Retrieved 5 May 2015.
- "Training Areas". (U.S. Assault Training Center). www.assaulttrainingcenter.com. Retrieved 12 August 2008.
- "Richard T. Bass (Author)". (U.S. Assault Training Center). www.assaulttrainingcenter.com. Retrieved 12 August 2008.
- "North Devon Holiday Parks - Woolacombe Bay". Woolacombe.co.uk. Retrieved 5 May 2015.
-  Archived 13 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine
- Cummins, Tony (21 April 2005). "Creation Fest: Devon's New Creation". Cross Rhythms (85). Retrieved 11 October 2013.
- Website of Woolacombe & Mortehoe Tourist Information Centre
- Woolacombe Bay Travel Information
- Parkin Estates
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