Statue of Verity in Ilfracombe

Ilfracombe: Coastal walks & controversial art in North Devon

We try and get up to North Devon as often as possible. It’s one of our favourite camping spots and when we have a free weekend we often take our van up to Mortehoe, a little further west along the coast from Ilfracombe.

Campsite in Mortehoe
The views from North Morte Farm campsite are spectacular

When the sun is shining North Devon is truly beautiful and the only hardship comes in choosing how to divide your time between spectacular coastal walks, the golden sands of Woolacombe beach, and the many delightful beer gardens in the area. But as with any weekend break in the UK, there is always the risk of a rainy day. So when the clouds came in on our latest trip to North Devon we headed to Ilfracombe.

A long established coastal resort, Ilfracombe has a pretty setting, with a small, enclosed harbour flanked by impressive cliffs. It’s a lovely spot to start or finish a coastal walk. The charming St Nicholas’ Chapel, on Lantern Hill, provides a lovely view over the town and is accessible by a short (and rather steep!) walk.

However, our most recent trip to Ilfracombe wasn’t just for the coastal views, or the fish and chips we enjoyed (as good as they were). We had a date with a rather interesting lady – Verity.

Standing at over 20 metres tall Verity dominates the landscape of Ilfracombe Harbour. The sculpture by Damien Hirst has divided public opinion since its installation in 2012. Cast in bronze and holding a sword aloft, Verity is a striking figure, not least because there is a something very unexpected waiting behind the bronze profile of the pregnant figure.

We don’t want to ruin the surprise for those planning on going themselves, so we’ve only shown Verity from one angle (as you initially approach her from the harbour). But if you’ve already been (or just don’t like surprises) here’s the full statue reveal.

Public art often stimulates controversy and Verity is no exception. During the planning process, North Devon Council received 100 letters of objection and 177 letters of support.

Whether you love it or hate it it’s hard to imagine anyone being disinterested by Verity. The placement of the sculpture; standing on the harbour but looking out to sea is surely a nod to the legendary wonder of the Ancient World: the Colossus of Rhodes. Yet the statue is undeniably modern, in texture, appearance, stance and impact.

Hirst has loaned Verity to Ilfracombe for 20 years and the statue is already a quarter of a way through its tenure. Whatever the next fifteen years have in store there’s no doubt that the sculpture will continue to draw visitors to the town. With all the challenges our seaside towns face; appealing to tourists despite the draw of cheap flights and sunny resorts in Europe, this is no small feat. The appeal of Verity, to challenge, enthral and instil emotion on even the rainiest of winter days, can only be a good thing.