Category Archives: Ilfracombe

Ilfracombe is the jewel in the crown of North Devon. It needs a little polishing, quite a lot of polishing, but its natural beauty is undeniable and its community beats like a human heart.

My life’s essentials 14: Ilfracombe

Ticket to ride

This ticket started me on a journey 50 years ago on Saturday, 2 August 1969.

I didn’t know it at the time, but that train journey from Paddington to Ilfracombe, on the north coast of Devon, would bring me to the place where I would live 50 years later.

We had a marvellous fortnight’s family holiday, magical even, before returning home to resume everyday suburban life. That, it seemed, was it. But my family loved railways and I remember in my teen years daydreaming in school lessons about modelling the station at Ilfracombe. It seems the place had caught hold of me.

Now, I’ve always been a dreamer. Sometimes, when people ask me a straightforward question, if my mind isn’t in gear, I struggle to come up with an answer there and then, only working it out later on. However, deep down I’ve always known what I’ve wanted to do – write, create and communicate – although back then I didn’t realise I would do this with computers and the internet. 

What has started me thinking about my journey, in terms of my home, my work and who I am, is finding this ticket from all those years ago. I didn’t think I had mapped my future out, but, looking back, I took definite steps to get here. I started out in the corporate world, but after 10 years realised I did not fit. I remember, when working at British Airways, I visited the North American Air Fares department about a job there, which would have been a big promotion. As the chap talked, I felt my eyes glaze over and realised how stifled I would be in that role. I didn’t apply, but he rang me up after applications had closed to see where mine was. The job would have been mine, but I could never have stood it. And that’s how my career progressed, from Cromwell Road, Earls Court to Heathrow Airport to the Aldwych in London, back to a soulless business park in Maidenhead and then, when I jumped off the corporate ladder, to our spare bedroom in Windsor. Here I established our communications partnership with my brother Simon.

15 years ago, when Mrs Z and I wanted to escape the Heathrow noise pollution and mindless rush of the South East, I suggested moving to Ilfracombe. I thought she would tell me not to be so stupid. She didn’t and we moved. As with the rest of my career, it wasn’t easy. The telephone exchange had only just been upgraded to ADSL and the small population restricted, as it does still, the size of market for many sectors, especially mine. But with the internet, I worked virtually for clients across the country, some of whom I never meet. 

Am I happy? Apart from reaching the age where I often feel melancholic because of all the dear souls no longer present, I am content. I’m now close to celebrating working for myself, at home for 25 years, am just about to complete my dissertation for my History MA, launched a business magazine this year, which is giving me the most fun ever, and am organising a business exhibition in October. All in the loveliest place I can think of living. 

In summer, I start the day early with a walk on Woolacombe Beach with our spaniel, while in winter the two of us brave the winds as we crawl round Capstone Hill in a storm in December darkness. Mrs Z is content and our spaniel arranges our life so that we exercise and relax every day. What more could we ask?

Some say that Ilfracombe and North Devon are 30 years behind everyone else. I see them being 30 years ahead, because here many people value time more, are closer to nature, which I interpret as life and death, are more generous with their help, and appreciate what we all have. I think many businesses have forgotten these values, but perhaps more people are slowly realising how important they are. 

I do not have as much monetary wealth as I might have had from staying in the corporate world in the South East, pursuing opportunities purely because they were lucrative, but I am doing what I always wanted to do. And I am doing them where I have wanted to be for 50 years since the date on that ticket: Ilfracombe.

Posted in a musing, history, Ilfracombe, my life's essentials.

Sun or rain, heat or cold, fulfilment or regret?

Woolacombe, North Devon | @robertz

I paddled in the sea at Woolacombe again this morning, throwing a tennis ball for our dog, before starting work. What a blessed life. But it’s not always sunny. On wintry days, we’re struggling along the beach in wellies with our faces sandblasted by the wind. But still it’s a blessed life.

We moved from South-East England to North Devon 14 years ago and I can’t think of anywhere I would rather live. That doesn’t mean that we left all of life’s problems behind. We still have many of the same problems as anyone else, but the compensation of the magnificent natural environment makes life a lot sweeter.

Moving home usually involves swapping some benefits for others. Living within reach of London gave us access to so many facilities that we don’t have here, although now we have no traffic or aircraft noise and can lose ourselves in tranquillity.

We didn’t know whether it would work out, but we went for it. I’m so glad that we moved when we did, rather than waiting until retirement. It means we can enjoy walking up the hills and over the dunes while we have the strength and energy. Some day when we’re less mobile, we’ll look back on these times fondly, but we won’t regret not having done anything.

Longing for something and not taking steps to achieve it can sometimes take up more energy and effort in putting up with what we don’t want to find that all we are left with is regrets.

It’s made me realise how important it is to do what we really want to do.

It won’t always work out, but how will we know if don’t try to make changes?



Posted in a musing, Ilfracombe.

Theatre to make you think: Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune

Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune | the SPACE Ilfracombe
Whatever happened to serious theatre? By that I don’t mean plays without jokes, but writing with depth that leaves you thinking and searching for answers the next day.

Last night I had the pleasure of seeing Terrence McNally‘s Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune at the SPACE in Ilfracombe. Now here I have to confess to being a director of the venue, but apart from that I had no involvement with the production. So, as I took my seat for the performance, I knew as much or as little as any of the other 50 or so people in the room.

Over the following two hours, Debbie Hadley and Neil Rudd, who masterminded the production with assistance from Jay Moore, lured us into the lives of two lonely, middle-aged co-workers in New York in what is described as a ‘modern fairytale for midlife lovers’.

I also have to confess to not being a fan of the British attempting American accents – probably due to too many phoney drawls which fail Radio 4 dramas – but, getting over my prejudice, Debbie and Neil convinced us that we really were across the Atlantic in a lonely apartment in the middle of a big city in the early hours of the morning.

The pace of the play is unpredictable, unlike many popular pieces with an obvious start, middle and end. In some ways the writing appears flawed, because there are whole sections which appear flat before a sudden burst of frenetic dialogue, but, on the other hand, isn’t that what all-nighters are like? The excitement, joy and freedom often give way to tiredness, a withdrawal to simple comforts such as food, in Frankie’s case a sandwich, and the desire to give up and go to sleep. Perhaps the play is simply realistic.

Debbie and Neil both gave tremendous performances with no supporting cast, an impressive achievement, and created incredible intensity as they put their characters under the spotlight with literally nowhere to hide. They experience joy, anger, despair, laughter, confusion and more in a touching depiction of the difficulties of simply connecting with other people in modern urban life.

As I said, 50 or so people turned out to watch this performance, laughing and applauding, and seemingly enjoying the evening. Several years ago, when I got a phone call asking if I would join in getting the SPACE up and running, it was with the vision of providing a venue to support the widest possible range of performance.

Last night Debbie and Neil not only proved to us what is possible, but also demonstrated the value culture plays in opening our minds and stimulating thought.

We want to see more productions like this at the SPACE and if you didn’t catch this one, I recommend you book to see Debbie Hadley and Neil Rudd when once again they perform Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune next week at The Plough Arts Centre in Torrington on Wednesday 8 November.


Posted in Ilfracombe, performance.

Grateful for a holiday life

Today is the 13th anniversary of moving to Ilfracombe in North Devon.

After locking the door of our house in Windsor, we posted the keys through the letterbox and set off in our two cars, with our cocker spaniel, Felix, wondering how our adventure would unfold.

Not much went to plan, as we forgot that life throws challenges at us from all angles, but what is most important is that we would not want to live anywhere else.

I have discovered the importance of solitude, which I need to recharge my energy after dealing with people. And there’s no better place in the world for a solitary walk.

We celebrated today, as we do each year, at Maddy’s Fish and Chip Restaurant followed by a walk along the beach from Woolacombe to Putsborough and back. The beach, sea, sand, sun with a dog, fortified by a cup of tea half-way.


How grateful we are to be so blessed. We never take it for granted.

Posted in a musing, Ilfracombe.

Take a walk and see a different view

It’s a strange thing, grief. Just when you think you’ve worked through a stage, it strikes again.

Fortunately, I’ve got some wonderful people to talk to and, of course, there’s the calming magic influence of dogs.

The past couple of days have been tough, but after a deep chat this morning, I decided my brain needed to go for a walk to reset itself. Accompanied by my four-pawed minder, I set off.

I started to see different views of walks I take regularly.

Through two trees I saw the East Wilder Brook from a completely new perspective, flowing down towards me from the distance:

Then we trotted down to the seafront and climbed Capstone Hill, looking over Ilfracombe.

Looking east over Ilfracombe from Capstone Hill

And there, set against the majesty of Hillsborough, was St Nicholas Chapel, the oldest working lighthouse in England.

St Nicholas Chapel. Ilfracombe, North Devon

We walked back up Fore Street, popping into several shops and chatting with the shopkeepers  – some of us getting fed dog biscuits – before heading back home.

This afternoon I got lots done.

I’m so glad we went for that walk.

Posted in a musing, Ilfracombe.
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