My family lives there in Combe Martin. I wouldn’t. Combe Martin is an acquired taste and an elephant’s graveyard; it can be “the most depressing, hopeless and generally futureless place on earth” not least between October and May each year, when it’s dark and stormy, wet, depressing and deserted. My relatives would perish without a car in that village. Local developers have turned the village in to a holiday and transit town; the history is all but wiped out; the “top village” (Combe Martin was once a twin village thriving with artisans and shops) has been reduced to housing. Its Church is an interesting building with a “fine, rare medieval rood screen” or so they claim. Outsiders and locals alike have said ” if you’re not local (centuries of local family) you’re invisible and also excluded”. Nice, or not.
The village has been called “Trumpton Vasey” by visitors, a cruel but comical title. Yet it has two of the finest Pubs serving Sunday lunches in the entire country, and it’s infinitely better than its neighbouring infamous chav doom and drugs town, Ilfracombe. Combe Martin has a local museum packed full of history but it’s also hugely monocultural, egocentric and insular.
A word of warning, newcomers must convey class, respectability and be hardworking; the village is extremely judgemental and very far up its own backside. It is run by a Dickensian local council; there is a Library which rarely opens and never for more than a few hours a week. The book catalogue is adequate for a library of its size.
In the summer Combe Martin is invaded by noisy drunks, supping to excess on the Seaside road and often on Castle St which opens late. They are a curse, frequently misbehaving on the High St in the early hours. In consequence, villagers have been known to move to the back of their homes for the holiday season; houses are constantly up for sale. The village is not policed, although – apart from summer – local crime is among the lowest in the country and criminals, including notorious drug dealers, are apparently regularly moved out fairly quickly.
Best to buy your groceries from the many supermarket services because the shopping is absolutely dire. The village bakery is fantastic. The good and safest Pubs are the George and Dragon, and the Pack O’ Cards Inn. One cannot buy ordinary clothes, shoes or much of anything else except beach or sailing gear for half the year. However, cigarettes, newspapers, microwave meals and junk food are in abundance. There is a hairdresser, an electrical store, and an expensive butcher in the “green welly” mode (though better than the last character), and a wool shop. One excellent little shop near the sea sells Devonshire ice cream and ethnic Westcountry goods.
Having no evening Bus service nor any Sunday and Bank Holiday services, and no services to Lynton-Lynmouth whatsoever, Combe Martin is quiet and remote, but it features excellent walking paths, hills and cliffs; excellent scenery. The village is awash with invisible history but it’s entirely anonymous, an ideal retreat for writers, recluses, former spooks, and celebrities. Bill Bailey is not “the only famous Combe Martin personality”: actor and cinematographer Gordon Lang (Innocents in Paris et al) was born there on June 27, 1912. Terry Thomas visited Combe Martin a lot during his life and holidayed in his home there. Celebrities and sports personalities escape to the village. Peter Sellars visited Combe Martin when he was working at Ilfracombe Theatre and Pavilion. The village’s WW2 history is fascinating, including PLUTO, the project which supplied D-Day with fuel. The only attraction is Watermouth Castle.
Combe Martin homes and Pubs have stood for over a century; nearly all of the WW1 soldiers’ homes still stand (visit Combe Martin Museum for several books and locally authored Combe Martin histories including an amateur historian’s thesis). It is a great shame that one of the most popular Pubs, The “Royal Marine” on the Seaside, was made in to a shop. It had stood for longer than any centenarian local, and it was the heart and soul of the village Seaside area, with an excellent kitchen. Incomers and developers have completely eradicated the village history but there are still a few indications of a vibrant fruit early 20th century economy. Local fruit is no longer sold there, what fruit there is , is risible. “Traders” are of the yuppie school and “artists” selling fantasies. Luckily, Tesco’s and Lidl are a short drive from the village.
The thing to bear in mind is that Devon is generally an idle, lethargic county that generally works half the day and mostly half the year, when it attempts to take a year’s takings and opens evenings when nobody goes shopping. No wonder it is so poor. It’s also the wettest. North Devon in particular has almost nothing to recommend it, even in summer; yet it provides quiet and peaceful areas. Combe Martin may be the most depressing place in Devon, yet it’s also treasured by those who’ve left the rat race and prefer to keep their children safe from the terrible prolific CSE crimes committed in the north of England and elsewhere. You can’t put a price on that.
Mark S, February 2016