I really liked the North Devon coast (and the bit of Somerset coming West from Minehead). It is the only coastline I’ve seen that has cliffs covered in beautiful deciduous woodland, so it felt rather unique. The woodland pretty much stretches right from Minehead through to Hartland Point, except for the section of sandy beaches between Woolacombe and Westward Ho!.
The added bonus of walking through woods day after day in springtime has been the proliferation of bluebells. It really has been a beautiful section of the walk.
This week I was forced to change my walking t-shirt as the one I’d been wearing every day for several months just became too smelly. My spare was promoted to walking t-shirt and I now have a new spare.
There has been a lack of accessible campsites so far on the SW Coast Path. Oftentimes the campsites are a couple of miles inland (and always up a hill!) e.g. In Ilfracombe, or else there just aren’t any e.g. between Westward Ho! and Hartland. Fortunately I don’t mind staying in B&Bs!
After 3 tough days my legs could do with a rest and it seemed like Bude was a good place to spend a day. (Really I just wanted an excuse to stop so I could swim in the sea pool.)
I spent the day sitting in cafes and on the headland, reading the Sunday newspaper and catching up on my blog (which was made difficult by the lack of access to plug points and wifi in Bude establishments). It was very relaxing on a sunny, but slightly chilly, day.
Bude seemed nice. There were lots of surfers in the sea and some big waves. At 4 pm I went for a swim in the sea pool, a fantastic facility maintained by a local group that relies on donations. The kids seemed to love it.
I also managed to launder my clothes ready for the week ahead.
It had rained all night and was forecast to rain all day. Had the youth hostel been nicer and had any phone reception or Internet connection then I might have been tempted to stay put. Instead, I set off after a deluxe breakfast of porridge with drinking chocolate, this time with added nuts and tinned rice pudding on the side. Oh how I love a full English!
I had been warned that today was a hard section – I counted 9 steep scrambles down followed by an immediate steep scramble up. It was unrelenting, but fun. The first one of these was at Welcombe Mouth.
The tide was out and all along this section of coast a wave-cut platform of sandstone ridges was visible jutting out from the base of 300+ million year-old cliffs. Regardless of any opportunities to access the sea where the rivers flowed out, swimming around here was clearly not a realistic option until Sandy Mouth.
I came across 2 huts on the cliff top where one could take shelter and admire the views. The first was Ronald Duncan’s Hut, overlooking Marsland Mouth, the Marsland River being the Devon/Cornwall border. In the hut was a writing table, complete with paper and pens, for inspirational thoughts and poems. I didn’t stop here for long.
I crossed the Marsland and stepped into Cornwall.
It started raining heavier and I was getting soaked. It wasn’t cold though and, due to high exertion, I didn’t bother wearing a waterproof.
I stopped for a break from the relentless rain, and some much-needed chocolate, in the Hawker’s Hut high on Vicarage Cliff. What a view from this tiny little shelter. It had lots of graffiti and the oldest I could find was from 1952.
The wind picked up and I was finally forced to don my jacket. I knew I was in Cornwall because I was suddenly enveloped by a thick mist. I think it was GCHQ trying to obscure my view of their impressive-looking listening post (at least I think that’s what it was).
Sandy Mouth has a cafe and I was grateful for a break, a coffee and some lunch. It was still raining so I followed up with tea and cake until the rain eased.
It was only a short walk to Bude but the rain came back. Bude has 2 sandy beaches and a tidal pool at the base of the cliff in between them.
I liked the look of this town as I crossed the beach, the river and the canal. I made my way slowly to the campsite just outside town as I could see blue sky heading my way. Hurrah.
I returned from a hot shower to find 5 guys pitching their tents near me. They had walked from Boscastle and I met them for a drink in the pub later. They have been doing a walking weekend every year for 24 years and we swapped stories over a couple of pints. I enjoyed their company.
After a very wet and miserable day, there was a lovely sunset.
It rained all night but eased off in the morning. Chris cooked me a really good breakfast and we chatted for a while. I finally left at 10 am, heading into the damp. I hadn’t even made it to the coast when I came across an old lady with dementia walking up the road, cue an about turn and I had to escort her and her dog up the hill to the nearest house. Fortunately they knew her.
At Clovelly Court I was back in the woods again and walking along more cobbled paths courtesy of the Hamlyn family. I passed the Angels’ Wings (built 1826), which I presumed was just a folly, and headed on to the cliff above Mouth Mills. Here there was a beautiful summer house nestled in the trees but overlooking the bay. It was built for Diana Hamlyn in 1820.
This was where I left the Hamlyn influence behind, and also the woods, as I embarked on the last cliff-top stretch to Hartland Point. Despite the low cloud I could still (just about) make out Lundy and also see right across Bideford Bay.
Hartland Point is significant for several reasons:
1. It is the most extreme Northwesterly point in Devon, locally quoted as “furthest from the railways”.
2. It is the Westernmost end of Bideford Bay.
3. It is the Southwest limit of the Bristol Channel (the Northwest limit being St Ann’s Head near Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire).
4. It marks the turning point where the SW Coast Path ceases to head broadly West and instead turns South.
I contemplated all these facts over coffee and a flapjack at the refreshment hut.
It looked like it might rain as I headed South, waving goodbye to the Bristol Channel after 6 weeks alongside it. I was amazed by the sudden change in the landscape; gone were the wooded cliffs, replaced with much sharper, blacker, jagged rocks being pounded by a much rougher-looking sea. It seemed more dramatic.
Suddenly the terrain seemed to get tougher; lots of steep downs (into the valleys with rivers running out to sea) followed by steep ups. I did 5 of these over the next 3 miles; each one seemed to get prettier.
Black Pool House sat alone by the outflow of the Abbey River. It was available for rent and was a location for the 2007 film, Sense and Sensibility.
Hartland Quay consisted of a tiny street perched on the edge of a low cliff. Just as I reached it I saw a peregrine falcon fly into the cliff. I crawled to the edge but couldn’t see it, just a trail of droppings coming from a ledge that I couldn’t quite see so I guessed it had a nest there.
The hotel at Hartland Quay was my only chance for food today so I stopped for an early dinner of pasty and chips washed down with a half pint (I was too early for the proper menu). I sat for over an hour before I decided I had to make a move to try and reach the youth hostel before the predicted rain arrived. I made it with 10 minutes to spare.
It was a lonely evening in the youth hostel. It was a strange place and there was only a German family about. It had a damp, weary smell about it.
Porridge with drinking chocolate powder mixed in it made for a good breakfast as I packed my tent away. It was 9 am when I set off down into Appledore and around Northam Burrows. I had intended to camp again tonight but closer investigation revealed the only campsite within any decent range had closed last year. Fortunately it wasn’t hard to find a reasonably priced B&B with space for me.
This spit of low-lying land seems to be stuck onto the end of the cliff that leads up to Bideford. It is protected by a pebble ridge that is made from rocks ripped from the Hartland cliffs and moved here by long-shore drift.
The burrows sticks out into the Rivers Taw and Torridge estuary. Opposite me, at Braunton Burrows, the Royal Marines were playing with their landing craft again.
As I walked along the wide, sandy beach to Westward Ho! on a grey school day I was amazed how busy it was. I saw a kite buggy, two land yachts, kites, loads of kids having surfing lessons and yet more kids rock pooling.
I stopped in Westward Ho! (such a brilliant place name) for a second breakfast: coffee and a bacon and egg bap. I needed the energy for the next section as it was quite tough; up and down the cliffs.
It was a fairly grey day but I could make out Lundy Island and it seemed to be in the middle of Bideford Bay, albeit 19 miles offshore. I could also see both ends of Bideford Bay: Baggy Point to the East and Hartland Point to the West. It was low tide and the rock striations at the base of the cliffs were similar to those on the other side of the Bristol Channel.
It started raining at midday but it was too warm, and too much effort required up the hills, to wear a waterproof so I just got wet. It wasn’t long before I was back in the trees that cover the cliffs. The woods on the Devon cliffs are so old and beautiful, and I have been lucky to see them when they have been carpeted with bluebells.
I reached Buck’s Mills, a tiny settlement in a cleft in the cliff. The houses were crammed in and there was an old artist’s retreat, a cabin, sat right next to the water.
Three miles out from Clovelly I found myself on The Hobby Drive. I marvelled at the fact that this cobbled road, built 200 years ago, had survived all this time partway down a cliff in the woods. Little did I know that this was just the beginning of the quaintness that is Clovelly.
I had never heard of Clovelly but it seemed like lots of foreigners have as I passed many on my way down the narrow, very steep, cobbled street into the village.
What a place, locked in the 1800s. It was built by a rich family in the 1700s and has retained its olde-worlde charm that drew in the tourists 200 years ago. I particularly liked all the homemade sledges that are still used to transport stuff into and out of the village, sometimes pulled by hand and sometimes by donkeys.
It was a bit too much of a tourist Mecca for me but I still walked to the bottom for a half of Clovelly Cobbler in the Red Lion pub. I also bought the most over-priced crab sandwich ever.
It had been a long day and I had to walk all the way up the steep cliff side, through Wrinkleberry (another brilliant name) and across the field to my B&B at Burscott. The rain had slackened off, until 5 minutes before I reached my destination. I arrived soaked. Fortunately I didn’t have to go out again as the rain and fog came in for the night. I was glad I wasn’t camping.
Today’s walk was going to take me up the River Taw to Barnstaple and back down the other side. Most of the walking would be along the Tarka Trail, a Tarmac cycle path following the disused railway line. In order to get the most out of the day (and because it was raining when I left) I decided to get the bus along the North side of the River; that way I could fit in walking from Croyde to Braunton and also reach a campsite.
It took 2 buses to get to Croyde, into- and out of- Braunton. I started where I had left off on Sunday, on Croyde Beach. The rain had stopped and the sun was coming out. I walked around the small headland and came face to face with the big expanse of Saunton Sands, backed by Braunton Burrows.
From the cliff, above the Saunton Sands Hotel, I could see down to the mouth of the River Taw estuary and just how enormous Braunton Burrows is; 1300 hectares of sand dunes at the heart of the North Devon biosphere reserve. Naturally the burrows are a SSSI and are home to more plant species than any other parish in England. They are also a playground for the Royal Marines who are based next door at RMB Chivenor (another ex-RAF base I never got to!).
There were a few surfers in the sea and the waves were pretty big but I dropped down from the cliff into the burrows. I didn’t walk right to Crow Point at the end because I had too far to walk today, but instead walked halfway along American Road, an old track at the back of the burrows that was once used by the American military. In 1942, this section of coastline became an Assault Training Centre to prepare 10,000 US troops for the D-Day landings. Today it was very peaceful in the unexpected sunshine and I only saw dog walkers.
I cut back across Braunton Great Field into the town of Braunton and stopped at the small museum to check out the WW2 history. I could also have gone to the British Surfing Museum.
I had time for a nice coffee while I waited for a bus to Barnstaple. I was able to relax and enjoy a good view of the River Taw from the top deck.
The bus station in Barnstaple is right by the Long Bridge over the River Taw, although, confusingly, there is now a much longer bridge for the road bypass.
I followed the Tarka Trail along the South shore of the River Taw. In the mid-1800s, Fremington Quay was the most important between Bristol and Land’s End. Now it just has a cafe with lovely homemade cakes. I realised I hadn’t been eating enough cream teas so here was the perfect opportunity. In the interests of science I tried one scone the Devon way (jam on cream) and one the Cornish way (cream on jam). I can safely say that both were equally delicious.
The Rivers Taw and Torridge meet at Appledore, opposite Braunton Burrows. At Instow, for £1.50, I could catch a ferry across the Torridge (only around high tide). I had timed it perfectly.
First though I had to walk past the 2 RM beach landing craft parked on Instow Sands.
Instow and Appledore both seemed like Nice towns, prettily painted and well kept. I had to walk up the hill out of Appledore to my campsite but, fortunately, I was able to use my bus ticket to get back into town for dinner at the pub. It was quiz and curry night at The Beaver.
I caught the Ms Oldenberg from Ilfracombe Quay, along with 207 other passengers; it was a busy crossing today. It started raining as we were boarding the boat and there wasn’t enough room for everyone to get shelter. I managed to find a spot to stand for 2 hours. Fortunately the sea was calm.
I had about 4 hours on Lundy and resolved to walk a circuit, just not quite all the way to the North tip. There was plenty of wild life to see, although I didn’t have binoculars. It was just nice to walk around this fairly remote, barren island and admire its beauty.
I had taken a picnic and I sat on the granite cliffs above Gannet Bay to eat it, while watching a seal playing below me. A great spot, but no gannets as they left their rock when the Northern lighthouse was built (it was noisy) and never returned.
The West coast was the most dramatic and it was here that there were puffins to be seen, along with other Auks. Lund-ey is Norse for Puffin Island.
I did climb up the old lighthouse, the first of 3 on the island. This one was decommissioned because it was too tall and so the light was often above the cloud. Today I could see the whole island from the top, although it was too cloudy to see Devon or South Wales.
At the SW tip was an Anthony Gormley sculpture, Daze IV, which has been there for a year and will soon be removed. It was located here to symbolise the point where the Bristol Channel meets the Atlantic Ocean.
I finished my trip with a half pint of Lundy Landmark in the Marisco Tavern. This great little pub is the heart of the small village. There are plenty of holiday properties to rent on Lundy and I half wished I was staying.
Another 2 hour boat ride back to Ilfracombe and I was exhausted. The bosun invited me back to the ship later for a drink (probably because I was at least 20 years younger than all the other passengers) but I thought it probably unwise. Besides, I was too tired to socialise.
Keith and Cilla cooked me a nice breakfast to set me on my way. The sun was still shining and I wasn’t in a hurry as I didn’t have a long walk today. I wanted to visit Lundy Island and the ferry only goes 3 times a week from Ilfracombe (and sometimes Bideford), so it made sense to walk back there in time for tomorrow’s ferry.
I walked through Woolacombe town, past the beach and set off along the headland to Morte Point.
At Morte Point the sea was bubbling as though two opposing tides were meeting. This phenomenon seemed to go out in a line, which was in line with the jagged vertical slates embedded in the cliff at the point. It was such a striking formation.
I rounded Morte Point and headed into Rockham Bay. The sea was a spectacular deep blue and so clear that I could see the rocks underneath the water. This was perfect and reminded me of the sunny days in Scotland. I was very hot and could have done with a swim but I saved that thought for later.
Past the lighthouse at Bull Point and the path wound down into Lee Bay.
I stopped at the Smuggler’s Cottage tea room for a homemade burger, a cake and a coffee. The food here was excellent and the building used to be Hannibal Richard’s cottage (infamous smuggler). There is rumoured to be a tunnel from the cellar to the little cove where the smugglers brought their loot ashore. Apparently, in the 18th Century, all the villagers of Lee used to work together to encourage shops to their doom on the rocks and then plunder them. (A light on the headland here might be confused for the safety of Ilfracombe harbour.)
One more big hill and then I was in Torrs Park and heading down to Ilfracombe. I checked into my cheap, but very clean, hotel on the old Fore Street. The tide was high but I couldn’t resist another swim at Tunnels Beach, even though the pool was submerged under the sea. It was wonderful. After half an hour I had to get out and spent the next half an hour with my teeth chattering.
I couldn’t be bothered to go out so had a picnic in my room.