Verity gives her new home town a boost as it shakes off its old image
A resort many dismissed as past its sell-by date is enjoying an extraordinary renaissance thanks to a 66ft-tall, sword-wielding pregnant lady called Verity.
Ilfracombe on the North Devon coast is vying to wrestle the Westcountry's arts and foody crown off St Ives, down the coast in West Cornwall.
On the face of it, there is common ground shared by the two pretty harbourside towns. St Ives has its own branch of the Tate Gallery and is home to a school of art which enjoyed a heyday in the 1950s and 1960s with luminaries such as Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth. Meanwhile, Ilfracombe's resurgence has more modern roots, being founded on Damien Hirst, darling of the Young British Artists movement, and arguably his enormous statue of Verity at the harbour mouth.
North Devon district councillor Philip Webb, chairman of Ilfracombe Tourism Group, said the town was a buzzing place.
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"I think a lot of people have an old-fashioned view about Ilfracombe. They came here ten or 15 years ago and haven't been here since. Now it's a happening place."
He said the installation of Verity in October had crystallised efforts to turn Ilfracombe into a magnet for tourists and investors.
"There are definitely more people coming to see Verity and I know businesses along the quayside will confirm that.
"In the first six months of Verity there were 6,000 more car parking tickets sold on the pier than at the same time in previous years. It's all down to the Verity effect."
Mr Webb said that when he first arrived in Ilfracombe, there was only one decent restaurant, but now there are six or seven, including Mr Hirst's successful harbourfront venue.
"We have built up a reputation with our good food and we are doing the same with arts. There was only one art gallery here a year ago, now there are five."
He said there was no reason Ilfracombe couldn't be another St Ives.
"We are going to be an alternative venue for people who like the arts and they like good food," he said.
House sales are also booming and high-end investments are being made for the first time as more people discover the town's charms.
The average property price in Ilfracombe according to Zoopla is around £199,874, compared to £190,676 in 2012.
Robyn Houlford, sales negotiator at Turner Carr in Ilfracombe, said houses were "flying out the door".
"Prices are going up," she said.