On the north side of the Capstone Hill a building was erected in 1888, called the Victoria Parade, where a band plays in the evening - a time when the quiet summer sea and setting sun add charms even to music.
The Tors Walk, extending along the seaward heights, is beautiful, and there is a promenade pier on which also a band plays. Ilfraccombe is a delightful holiday sojourn, and the bathing, once dangerous from the dashing of the waves against the rocks has now been improved.
The sands and beach have beautiful pebbles on them, and other sea spoils, and the Wildersmouth, which is the name given to a series of recesses formed by the rocks and open to the sea, is well worth visiting. But the visitor must be careful to ascertain whether the tide is near running in, as otherwise the expedition might be attended with danger, as the caves can only be entered by way of the sands, and the tide comes in rapidly.
Madame D'Arblay, the celebrated author of "Evelina," was nearly lost in the last of these recesses in 1817. We think her narrative pictures the coast and its dangers so well that we will let her tell her own story, premising that she had a little dog with her while she explored a cavern in the last recess. This little animal called her mistress's attention to her danger, pulling her by the dress and whining.
"When I descended," writes Madame D'Arblay in her diary, - "for this recess was on a slant, - how was I confounded to find the sands at the bottom opening to the recess, whence I had entered this marine chamber, were covered by the waves; though so gentle had been their motion and so calm was the sea that their approach had not caught my ear. I hastily remounted, hoping to find some outlet at the top by which I might escape, but there was none. . . . I now rushed down to the sea, determined to risk a wet jerkin, by wading through a wave or two, to secure myself being shut up in this unfrequented place; but the time was past! The weather suddenly changed; the lake was gone and the billows mounted one after the other as if with enraged pursuit of what they could seize and swallow. I eagerly ran up and down, from side to side, and examined every nook and corner, every projection and hollow, to find any sort of opening through which I could pass-but there was none. . . . This was an alarming moment. Alone, without the smallest aid or knowledge how high the sea might mount, or what was the extent of my danger, I looked up wistfully at Capstone and perceived the iron Salmon; but this angle of the promontory was so steep as to be utterly impracticable for climbing by human feet, and its height was such as nearly to make me giddy in considering it from so near a point of view. I went from it, therefore, to the much less elevated and less perpendicular rock opposite; but there all that was not slate that crumbled in my hands, was moss from which they glided. There was no hold whatsoever for the feet. I ran therefore to the top, where a large rock, by reaching from the upper part of this slated one to Capstone, formed the chamber in which I was thus unexpectedly immured. But this was so rough, pointed, sharp and steep that I could scarcely touch it. The hole through which Diane (the dog) had crept was at an accidentally thin part, and too small to afford a passage to anything bigger than her little self. . . I darted about in search of some place of safety, rapidly and all eyes, till at length I espied a small tuft of grass on the pinnacle of the highest of the small rocks that were scattered about my prison; for such now appeared my fearful dwelling-place. This happily pointed me to a spot that the waves had never yet attained; for all around bore marks of their visits. To reach that tuft would be safety; but the obstacles I encountered were terrible. The roughness of the rock tore my clothes; its sharp points cut now my feet and now my fingers, and the distances from each other of the holes by which I could gain any footing for my ascent increased the difficulty. I gained, however, nearly a quarter of the height, but I could climb no further; and then found myself on a ledge where it was possible to sit down, and I have rarely found a little repose more seasonable. But it was not more sweet than short; for in a few minutes a sudden gust of wind raised the waves to a frightful height, whence their foam reached the base of my place of refuge and threatened to attain soon the spot to which I had ascended. I now saw a positive necessity to mount yet higher, coute qui coute; and little as I had thought it possible, the pressing danger gave me both means and fortitude to accomplish it; but with so much hardship that I have ever since marvelled at my success. My hands were wounded, my knees bruised, and my feet were cut; for I could only scramble up by clinging to the rock on all fours. When I had reached to about twothirds of the height of my rock, I could climb no further. All above was so sharp and perpendicular, that neither hand nor foot could touch it without being wounded. My head, however, was nearly on a level with the tuft of grass, and my elevation from the sands was very considerable. I was rejoiced to have reached a spot where there was sufficient breadth to place one foot at least without cutting it, though the other was poised on such unfriendly ground that it could bear no part in sustaining me. Before me was an immense slab, chiefly of slate, but it was too slanting to serve for a seat-and seat I had none. My only prop, therefore, was holding by the slab, where it was of a convenient height for my hands. This support, besides affording me a little rest saved me from becoming giddy, and enabled me from time to time to alternate the toil of my feet."
Whilst Madame D'Arblay was in this terrible position the little dog returned to her, and in her care for the animal she partially forgot her own danger.
While she was soothing the terrified dog, however, she tells us that the sea had gained a considerable height, and a few minutes afterwards all the horrors of a tempest seemed impending. "The wind roared around me, pushing on the waves with a frothy velocity that to a bystander, not to an inmate amongst them, would have been beautiful. It whistled with shrill and varying tones from the numberless crevices in the three immense rocky mountains, by whose semicircular adhesion I was thus immured; and it burst forth at times in squalls, reverberating from height to height, or chasm to chasm, as if the ' big mouthed thunder
A wave, at length, more stupendous than any which had preceded it, dashed against my rock, as if enraged at an interception of its progress, and rushed on to the extremity of this savage chamber with foaming impetuosity. This moment I believed to be my last of mortality, but a moment only it was; for scarcely had I time, with all the rapidity of concentrated thought, to recommend myself, my husband, and my poor Alexander humbly but fervently to the mercy of the Almighty, when the celestial joy broke in on me of perceiving that this wave which had bounded forward with such fury was the last of the rising tide. In its rebound it forced back with it, for an instant, the whole body of water that was lodged nearest to the upper extremity of my recess, and the transporting sight was granted me of an opening to the sands but they were covered again the next instant, and as no other breaker made a similar opening I was still for a considerable time in the same situation, but I lost hope no more. The tide was turned."
It was night, however, before the lady was rescued. Then her son, his friend, and a boatman discovered her, but for some time found it impossible to help or to reach her. At length, however, she was able to descend from her unpleasant and dangerous position.
The recess has since changed entirely, as these nooks of rock and caves constantly do from the action of the sea.
Ilfracombe had a market granted to it by Edward I., and it contributed six ships and eighty-two seamen to his fleet in 1346.
It was from Ilfracombe that Colonel Wade and the fugitives from the lost battle of Sedgemoor, in 1685, endeavoured to escape, but were prevented by the arrival of a man-of-war.