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what are the Tunnels Beaches?

  • places to visit
February 8, 2019

The Victorian belief of bathing helping to heal ailments helped to create the wonderful Tunnels Beaches in 1820’s


The Tunnels Beaches are around a 30 minute walk (or a 10 minute drive) away from our beautiful Beach Cove Coastal Retreat, where you can enjoy a romantic getaway to Hele Bay, Ilfracombe in picturesque North Devon. The Tunnels are an award-winning and must-see tourist attraction in Ilfracombe, with subterranean tunnels carved in the 1820’s leading to bathing pools and fabulous coves.


The Tunnels’ history

Local entrepreneurs helped to transform Ilfracombe from a small fishing village in North Devon into an extremely popular seaside resort by employing a team of hundreds of Welsh miners to hand carve 6 tunnels, leading to 3 tidal bathing pools. Four tunnels are still in use today, with the coastline virtually unchanged from the 1800s, but it is now an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and marine conservation area.

Before the tunnels were carved, the surrounding coves and caves were known to be used by smugglers, and one was even the site where famous Knight William De Tracey hid after the murder of Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1170.

The Tunnels took two years to build, with 950 cubic metres of rock removed by the Welsh miners and you can still see the pickaxe marks today all throughout the tunnels.


The Bath House

The Victorian cities were home to beautiful bath houses, and with Ilfracombe now a favourite tourist spot of city dwellers, the local population saw the need for an indoor bathing house.
The Ilfracombe Sea Bathing Company commissioned and built a large and elegant Bath House in 1836. There was sea water sent from the Tunnels Beaches by a wood fuelled boiler that powered a pump, baths were taken inside a labyrinth of small enclosures beneath the house for privacy.

It is key to remember that during this time, bathing was seen as an aid to health and doctors often prescribed ‘bathing’ as acute to medical ailments, it was not seen as something that was done for pleasure at the time.

Bathing, either inside or outside, was segregated and tightly enforced with any man attempting to spy on the women promptly arrested. Mixed bathing was eventually allowed in 1905.


rock pooling

Ilfracombe was made world famous for rock pooling during the Victorian era by a renowned biologist called Philip Henry Gosse, who was a friend of Charles Darwin. Gosse discovered several new species of marine life at the Tunnels Beaches, which made thousands of tourists head to the area to enjoy the new fashionable hobby of rock pooling.

The Tunnels Beaches is still a very popular rock pooling destination and is rated the 3rd best beach for rock pooling in the UK by the BBC Wildlife Magazine. The unrivalled rock pools are perfectly placed to make the most of the rugged coastline and are always teaming with sea-life of rare species and even rare sea coral.


Victorian etiquette

The Victorians are known for their manners and importance on politeness, the Tunnels Beaches had ‘etiquette guides’ for boating, as well as boys and girls habits. We have collated a few lines from each below to see what life was a little bit like in the Victorian era…

Etiquette for Boating

  • men who cannot swim should never take ladies upon the water
  • Great care must be taken not to splash the ladies, either in first dipping the oars or subsequently
  • Neither should anything be done to cause them fright

Etiquette for Boys

  • Respect your father and mother, and give them their proper titles at all times
  • Guard against a profusion of slang that would do credit to a pickpocket

Etiquette for Girls

  • When you talk, keep your hands still
  • Get up in time for breakfast
  • Be natural: a pure diamond is better than a good imitation
  • Be reticent: the world at large has no interest in your private affairs

opening times & prices

Always check the Tunnels Beaches website for the most up to date times and prices.

Month Times
November – March Closed
Open from April 6th 10am – 5pm
May & June 10am – 6pm
July & August 10am – 7pm
September 10am – 6pm
October (closes Oct 27th) 10am – 5pm



Ticket Type Cost
Adult £2.50
Children (3 – 15) £1.95
Family of 4 £8.50
Family of 5 £9.50

The Tunnels Beaches is a Blue Flag award-winning location, with a rich history in the local area. They are also a popular wedding venue located on the private beach of the Gentlemen’s Pool, there is an option of a beautiful thatched gazebo overlooking the sea or have your ceremony inside the stylish and bespoke venue building also with wonderful sea views.

Beach Cove Coastal Retreat offers a romantic getaway in our beautiful boutique Beach Hut accommodation, which only sleeps 2 for the ultimate break in Devon. Our Beach Huts have everything you could need for a self-catering holiday, including essential kitchen facilities, the comfiest of beds and wonderfully sumptuous sofas, as well as a range of hot tub accommodation to add a little extra to your holiday.

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