My love affair with Woolacombe began one frosty morning in Spring 1981. My (now) husband Neale had spent many summers holidaying in Woolacombe in the 70s and had talked about it endlessly. So, as we were staying in Somerset for a week, and were in easy drive of North Devon, a trip to see what the fuss was all about seemed too good an opportunity to miss. As we turned the corner, just past the Ossaborough turning, I was told to close my eyes. A minute later I opened them and was greeted by one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen. The sea was azure blue, edged with a frothy white shoreline breaking onto an endless golden beach. This was VERY different to the beaches I was used to as I’d holidayed on the north-east coast of England. After a long walk listening to Neale’s tales of sand dune surfing and rock climbing we escaped the biting wind and sought refuge in a very different Red Barn to the one we visit today. It was here I had my very first cream tea while sitting in the steamed up window that perfectly framed the view beyond. I was in love!
Over the next 20 years we visited Woolacombe at least once a year, more when we could afford it. From discovering the remains of shipwrecks during walking weekends with friends, to enjoying the traditional bucket and spade holiday with our young family we experienced all the delights Woolacombe had to offer. We stayed at most of the campsites, rented cottages and had weekends in B&Bs, none of which disappointed. There were summer days when it rained, so we’d hire out one of the traditional named beach huts where we would use the slope in front to create crazy ball runs to amuse our toddlers. There were many days when it was so hot our beach tents would be like greenhouses. We’d arrive early and set up our camp on the right hand side of the beach meaning the children could explore the numerous rock pools easily and still be in sight. Rarely would we leave until we witnessed one of the beautiful sunsets. We explored Baggy and Morte Points in the quieter months and pottered around Mortehoe in the fog. Each time we visited it became harder and harder to leave.
And then in 2001, it happened completely out of the blue. Neale had an opportunity to relocate to North Devon. We didn’t hesitate. Our children, Tom (then 11) and Alexandra (5) were at key points in their education and the chance for them to grow up in the North Devon community with it’s clean air and laid back attitude was too good to miss. It was a now or never moment.
July 6, 2001 we said tearful goodbyes to friends and family and headed west to begin our new lives. As my mobile phone pinged continuously with the farewell messages the reality of our new adventure finally hit home. I cried the entire length of the M4 and looked ridiculous wearing sunglasses under an overcast sky. When we arrived in our new home in Braunton it still felt very strange but at least I had stopped crying. Neale knew exactly what to do, after unpacking we drove the oh so familiar road to Woolacombe. As we turned the corner my heart felt lighter and after a drink (or two) in the Red Barn it felt so much better. That first year was both exciting and difficult, although a constant stream of visitors made life easier. We spent most days of that first hot, long summer at Woolacombe.
We watched pods of dolphins playing in the sea, got used to watching Concord fly over us 5 PM each day booming as it hit the sound barrier, and witnessed numerous rescues by the big yellow Chivenor helicopter, now sadly gone. The biggest turning point for me was when I found a job at our local secondary school, where I still work to this day. We’re all now very much established in our community and have made many friends some of whom live in Woolacombe. 16 years later our camp on the beach is considerably smaller and our car far less loaded when we make that 15 minute drive from home to our favourite beach. We continue to find Woolacombe a very special place despite having the luxury of visiting whenever we wish. In 2008 we celebrated our silver wedding anniversary by spending a wonderful luxurious weekend at the Woolacombe Bay Hotel. We do use other beaches in this area but we inevitably end up at Woolacombe. It is impossible to count the times we have visited our special place however the one thing that has never changed is that little leap my heart makes as we drive around that corner.