146a Ilfracombe

Back in Ilfracombe, I cross the small beach and begin heading up to Capstone Point. Looking back, I can see the way I walked yesterday – the tourist office set in the base of one of the strange kiln-like buildings and, beyond, the sunlit green slopes of Torrs Park.

Ilfracombe, view over tourist office from Caspstone Point, Ruth walking the coast

I am heading east today, into the rising sun.

In this direction the light is hazy, with clouds still lying across the tops of the distant hills.

On the other side of the bay there is a cliff that rises high above the sea. But I am not sure what I am looking at. Is that Widmouth Hill and Hillsborough Fort?  In the foreground is a grassy outcrop of rock with a road that corkscrews around its slopes, making it look like a giant helter-skelter. Perched on the top is tiny white building. It looks like something out of a child’s fairy-story book. Magical

 Ilfracombe to Widmouth Hill, Ruth's coastal walk, north Devon
[Later I learn the white building is St Nicholas Chapel, which also functions as the oldest lighthouse in the country.]

flag, Ruth's coast walk on Capstone Point, IlfracombeTelescope, Capstone Point, Ruth on SWCP, IlfracombeI climb up to the top of Capstone Point. It is only just 10am and there is nobody else up here on this lovely morning. So I have the view to myself.

A Union Jack flies in the breeze. Far below is a tiny ship and I am tempted to put some money in the telescope and take a closer look. I am never sure if these contraptions are in working order or not.

Blythe Spirit, Capstone Point, Ruth in IlfracombeAnd close to the flag is an elegant statue of a female figure. I don’t manage to get a decent photograph – the features are too dark against the bright sky. Neither do I stop to read the plaque below the statue and so it is only later that I find out this was placed to commemorate the death of a young Russian girl in 2000.

Ekaterine (Kate) Frolov was studying English at a local language school. She became lost in the fog while out on Hillsborough, and was killed when she fell off the cliff. She was only 13 years old. Her parents erected this beautiful statue in her memory.

You can find a better photo of the statue, taken by Pete Taylor, on Google Maps Panoramia site.

Coming down off Capstone Point, I walk through Ilfracombe, heading towards the harbour. From here there is a passenger ferry service to Lundy Island. In the distance I can see the blue outline of Wales.

ferry ship, Ilfracombe, Ruth walking the coast
I wander along a sea wall and watch some fishermen. This particular detour leads me through a car park and to a dead-end. I have to retrace my steps.

fishermen, Ilfracombe, Ruth Livingstone

I find the road that leads to the pier, running along the edge of the harbour. There are some nice yachts moored here.

Ilfracome Harbour, Ruth's coastal walk

When I get to the pier at the harbour entrance, the first thing I notice is another statue. This one is huge. Approaching from the rear, I get the impression it is a female figure. She appears to be wearing thigh-high boots, although I can’t see the details clearly because I am squinting into the sun, but I am struck by the assertiveness of the pose and the fact that the figure is holding a pair of scales behind her back. Unusual.

I walk to the far side of the sea wall to get a better view and it becomes clear the statue is pregnant. A huge, naked pregnant woman holding a sword in her hand. How bold!

Pregnant statue, Ruth in IlfracombePregnant statue from behind, Ruth Livingstone, Ilfracombe09 Pregnant statue, from other side, Ruth in Ilfracombe

But then, as I walk round to the other side of the statue and along the pier, I realise the sculpture is even bolder than I first thought. This side of the figure has had its ‘skin’ peeled back to reveal the anatomy within. The thigh high boots turn out to be flaps of peeled back flesh. You can see muscle layers and, within the uterus, the curled-up foetus inside.

The statue is standing on a pile of books. Theory of Evidence in the Civil Court reads the title of one, dated 2012. Law books.

Statue stands on books, Ruth's coastal walk in Ilfracombe

You can see how enormous she is (25 tons and 20 metres tall) by comparing her feet to the cyclists who are standing just on the other side of her.

Pregnant statue, close up, Ruth LIvingstoneShe is certainly bold. Beautiful when seen from the other side, with her skin intact. Rather grotesque when seen from this angle with her skin peeled back.

I am not sure what to make of her.

Interestingly the pier is crowded with families with small children and you would think the kids would be pointing and asking questions about her. But they seem more interested in the waves splashing over the lower levels of the pier as the tide comes in.

The adults almost ignore her. I am the only one who stands and takes photographs of her. This seems odd.  She certainly is a statement piece and worth looking at.

Later, on the other side of the harbour and in a small park on the way out of town, I learn that this huge bronze is called Verity and was created by Damien Hirst. Ah. Suddenly the grotesqueness of the piece makes perfect sense. The artist gave her to the town in 2012 as a loan, for 20 years. What will happen to her after 20 years? I don’t know.

[You can see a video of the sculpture being erected, and hear some of the controversy surrounding it, on the BBC website.]

After admiring Verity – and I do admire her as I think nudes of pregnant women are extraordinarily beautiful, although I have to admit I would prefer this one if she’d kept her skin on – I walk through the harbour and across its little beach to pick up the South West Coast Path on the other side.

Ilfracombe harbour, Ruth's coastal walk, North Devon

Below me is a slipway and I watch a family helping granddad embark in what looks like the tiniest dinghy of all time.

launching the dinghy, Ruth's walk through Ilfracombe

They manage to get him afloat without getting his feet wet.

he's off, Ruth's coast walking, Ilfracombe

And he paddles off, presumably to go aboard one of the yachts moored in the harbour.

across Ilfracombe harbour, Ruth walking through Devon

This side of the harbour has a working dockside, with pots and nets and pieces of machinery. I love these working quays, and spend far too long taking photographs.

 working harbour, Ilfracombe, Ruth walking the coast of Devon

Today, my plan is to get to Combe Martin for lunch and then go onwards to the Hangman hills. It is only a short walk, but I have already spent over an hour looking around the harbour. Time to hit the trail.

 walking the wrong way, Ruth in IlfracombeThe South West Coast Path, as it passes through coastal towns in north Devon, is often marked by metal footprints set in the pavements. This is a neat way of delineating the path. You simply follow the footsteps. But, as I am heading the ‘wrong way’ around the SWCP, all the footprints are pointing the wrong way from my point of view.

These prints mark the SWCP as it leaves Ilfracombe and they carry the familiar acorn sign, but have an added message:

“Ilfracombe: curious coastal charm”

It seems an odd phrase to use when describing a town, but then there have been many curious things about this place – including the massive Verity – and so the statement seems fittingly accurate.

About Ruth Livingstone

Walker, writer, photographer, blogger, doctor, woman, etc.
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12 Responses to 146a Ilfracombe

  1. I spent a while Googling Verity (as much time as I could spare) but I couldn’t find anybody commiting themselves to an interpretation, much less whether it had any relevance to Ilfracombe. Usually the worst person to offer enlightenment is the artist himself – they usually utter loads of gobbledygook that nobody can understand. Verity is undoubtedly a work of art and very powerful, and I would certainly go out of my way to view it if I was anywhere near the location.

    • It certainly is a powerful piece, although I would have preferred it if she’d kept her skin intact! My own interpretation? The power and vulnerability of women? Or a symbol of the injustice of the justice system? Or a reminder that, if you strip us all down, we are nothing more than flesh and bones? I am surprised not to find more commentary on the work.

      • Once an artist (in general) has placed his/her work in the public domain interpretation is in the mind of the perceiver whatever the artist intended. Your interpretation sounds convincing. Another facet that occurred to me was that it may be a statement relating to abortion and it’s attendant legislation.

  2. Brian Britten says:

    Maximum muscle power required very soon!
    Best wishes, Brian

  3. mariekeates says:

    Ilfracombe has changed a little since my last visit. I love Verity though and the girl on the cliffs. Like you I’m sure I’d have spent far too much time in the harbour.

  4. grahambenbow says:

    Hi Ruth, glad you enjoyed your walk through The town, and I’m glad it’s lost it’s ‘gloom’ status!

  5. Judith Holt says:

    A recent visit with the family left us very happy to have seen both Verity and Kate and the fabulous coastline and Harbour in Ilfracombe, just beautiful, Chambercombe Manor and Hele mill also were a great place to visit the Mill has a great tea room it is a must see if in the area .

  6. Karen White says:

    Ilfracombe looks a delightful town, the harbour and boats especially. Verity does seem typical of Damien Hirst and his desire to shock the viewer, however I do prefer Verity to his cows in formaldehyde. The statue of Kate is another sad reminder of the dangers of cliff tops and fog.

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