Taken from "A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places" published in 1803 by Sir Richard Phillips:
(The population in 1801 was 1, 838)
"Ilfracombe is a seaport town on the north coast of Devon. It has a pier, within which there is a larger commodious harbour, where ships of any burden may ride with perfect safety, in the most violent storms. The harbour is a semicircle, surrounded with hills, from the summits of which there are delightful views to the east and west; and on a clear day, the coast of Wales may be distinctly seen. The town consists, for the most part, of an irregular street, above a mile in length; at the upper end of which is the church, a large plain structure, remarkable for nothing but a monument to the memory of Captain Thomas Bowen, who was killed in the attempt upon Teneriffe, where he acted with Lord Nelson.
Outside the pier there are several coves, admirably adapted for bathing; for which purpose there are many convenient machines.
There is a good market here; and provisions are plentiful and cheap, especially fish. The Britannia Inn has good accommodations and the lodging houses are very convenient; while the persons who keep them are at once reasonable in their charges and obliging in their behaviour.
There are several genteel families in the town and neighbourhood, so that, of late years, it has become a fashionable place of resort in the summer months.
Packets constantly pass from hence to Bristol, Swansea and Milford, and very excellent and fast-sailing skiffs may be hired here at a moment's notice.
A coach goes two or three times a week to Barnstaple, a large handsome borough-town where there are weekly assemblies and a summer theatre. The road from Ilfracombe to Barnstaple affords a delightful ride with a view of the sea and the continually-varying scenery of this "fractured county" as Devon has been aptly called.
To the eastward, the rides and walks are equally pleasant, though very hilly. At Combmartin are the remains of some mines, from which, so lately as the reign of Queen Elizabeth, silver was extracted.
If the lovers of nature wish to be gratified with the sight of one of the greatest natural curiosities in the kingdom, they will not grudge the fatigue of visiting the Valley of Stones, in the Parish of Linton, about fifteen miles from hence. If this will fill the beholder with awe and astonishment, he will be most agreeably relieved by the sweet scenery around the village of Linton and the neighbouring parish of Countisbury, which, in pleasing views, will not yield to any part of the kingdom.
Near Southmolton, on the road to Barnstaple , is the delightful seat of Castle Hill, belonging to Earl Fortescue, who, with his lady, is always happy in exercising his hospitality to strangers.
Beyond Barnstaple, to the west, is Tapley, the beautiful seat of John Cleveland Esq., near which is a village called Instow, on the River Torridge, which possesses several advantages for bathing, and has some good lodging houses, erected by the late Dr. Sibthorpe, Lord of the Manor.
A little above this place, on the same river, is Bideford, a handsome town, inhabited by a number of genteel families, who have regular assemblies and other amusements. Provisions, house-rent &c. are remarkably cheap in this neighbourhood. Over this river is the longest bridge in the county."