It is the August bank holiday weekend and this is the second day of my slightly extended long weekend, as I walked from Barnstaple to Braunton previously. I am staying in the village of Stoke between Hartland and Hartland Quay. Now I am away from the more urban coast around Barnstaple and Bideford I am relying bus services which are not especially frequent. Today is a case in point as the only bus to Clovelly runs just 5 times a day and worse than that, not all the buses serve the village itself, around half only serve Clovelly Cross on the A39. I am therefore making a later start than I’d like as I want to catch the bus at 10:15am from the visitor centre in Clovelly which goes to Bideford.
I drive the short distance from Stoke to Hartland and stop here at the village shop to buy lunch, there being no shops in Stoke. I then continue through the village and onwards along the B3248 to reach the A39. Here I turn left and very shortly turn left for the visitor centre at Clovelly. At this time in the morning there is plenty of space, so I park up in the car park. I am unclear if you are meant to pay, but there are no pay and display machines, so I assume not.
I have arrived quite early so have a quick look around but most of the craft shops etc around the car park are still closed. As the time of the bus departure nears I head to the bus stop. There are a couple of other passengers waiting and the bus pulls in only a couple of minutes late. I am surprised to see it is a double decker bus and so opt to sit upstairs. We soon set off and I begin to regret my decision. This is a weekday and although well after school starting times, the upper deck is largely full of college students who seem to have split themselves into boys and girls. Girls at the front, boys at the back. There is some sort of argument going on which soon gets louder and the girls seem to fight back by starting to sing. I wish I’d bought my IPod with me… so I sit back and enjoy the view and try my best to ignore the signing.
After around half an hour we arrive at Bideford and I am pleased to get off. I don’t feel I’ve done justice to Bideford since the previous times I’ve been here it has been cloudy and grey. Today started overcast but seems to be brightening up. At the time, the bus from Clovelly to Bideford was run by Stagecoach whilst the bus from Bideford to Westward Ho! was run by First. This means I can’t by a through ticket or day ticket, as the two companies do not accept each others tickets, and connections between buses are poor. This means I have around 20 minutes to wait, so I have a quick look around Bideford and the river front. The first thing to catch my eye is a Wimpy, I thought they all closed down years ago! I also remembered the town as flat, but clearly I remembered wrong as the main shopping street goes up quite a hill. It is a pleasant town though, located on the river and with some attractive buildings around the town centre.
I soon finish my walk around and head back down to the bus stops to get the bus to Westward Ho! The bus arrives a few minutes late and is crowded, but it’s another double decker service and this time there are no college students, so it is rather quieter. I sit upstairs and we are soon on our way. Progress is very slow though, as the bus stops are very close together and it seems we are destined to stop at every single one. Time is getting on and I’m conscious that it is getting onto 2 hours after I left Clovelly, to travel only around 10 miles! As we enter Westward Ho! the bus stops are so close together I can see the next stop each time we stop and bang on cue, the second we leave one stop someone rings the bell for the next. When I can see the sea ahead I decide I’ve had enough and get off at the next stop. I suspect I can walk quicker! This turns out to be true, as I reach the sea front before the bus does.
It is 8 years since I was last in Westward Ho! and it has changed somewhat. Now along the sea front are rather bland and ugly blocks of flats which seem rather out of place considering the otherwise low-rise nature of the place.
The beach though is as inviting as ever and as the tide is out, there is a lot of it.
I also notice that the sun is now out, albeit hazy, the first day the sun has shined on this trip. There are quite a few families on the beach enjoying the fine weather.
The good thing about today is having done the bus journey at the start of the walk I have no need to hurry to Clovelly, as I have the rest of the day to walk back to my car. I walk along the promenade. The promenade is lined with brightly coloured beach huts which are rather nice and something I don’t remember from my previous visits.
I soon pass the tidal swimming pool on the right which does not seem to be getting any use although it looks to have been recently improved, as it looks in good condition.
I can see right along the pebble ridge in the distance that protects Northam Burrows. Alongside the path I soon have caravans and chalets. Chalets are something you don’t see very often these days, seemingly all replaced with caravans in most places, although I can’t say they look especially attractive. Some here are on two floors and look like 1960s blocks of flats. Ahead is another more modern but no more attractive development, Nassau Court which I assume is more flats. Soon I pass the last of the caravans and the path goes alongside some beach huts and out onto a grassy area. There is a large house on it’s own on the right, which I remember from previous visits that always looked rather spooky and I could never work out if it was abandoned or simply run down. It looks much the same now! A quick Google search turns up some interesting history of the building, called Seafield House including the fact that it was used as accommodation for British officers during the war, whilst the field outside was a prison. Later it became a bed and breakfast, but appears to have fallen on hard times today.
Glad to leave the town behind, I am soon on the grassy fields at the edge of the town and the path soon becomes a wide track, which I suspect (and later confirm) is a disused railway line – something there seems to be a lot of in North Devon. To my left is a hilly area of gorse, called Kipling Tors. Although the walk is initially easy, I can see there are stepper cliffs ahead. After around half a mile the route of the old railway line turns to the left and the coast path becomes a gently undualting path over grass and begins to climb, with low cliffs to my right, Abbotsham cliff. There is a large pebble beach here and a few people picnicing on the low grass above the beach. It is a lovely peaceful scene and seems a world away from Westward Ho!
The path soon begins to climb again, and I can enjoy a good view behind me along the grassy hills that the coast path follows and the pebble and rock beaches alongside.
I soon reach a point marked as Green Cliff on the map, but since I have been following green fields all the way, it is hard to tell the difference! I can see the cliffs ahead are becoming steeper though and the scenery reminds me a little of Exmoor.
There is a path down to the beach here, but I don’t follow it and keep to the coast path. I spot what looks like an old Kiln to my right and suspect this now peaceful valley may have been busier in the past.
Ahead I can see the steep cliffs of Cockington Cliff. What a confusing name, as there is another place in Devon called Cockington, but it is on the south coast near Paignton. Before I reach this I pass a little waterfall where a stream plunges over the cliffs, a lovely scene, which I take a photograph of. It is only when I get home I realise the camera focussed on the grass in the foreground and not the waterfall, so it is all blurred. Damn.
I make my way gently up the cliff. After several walks that are entirely flat around the estuaries of North Devon, it is nice to see some proper hills again. The top of the cliff is covered in gorse and provides a wonderful view back over the shingle beach far below. Despite the remote location, there are a few people on the beach. There is nowhere to park nearby so I assume they must have walked around from Westward Ho!, like me.
As is so often the case on the South West Coast Path once I reach the top of the cliffs I must immediatly descend more or less to sea level to cross another stream, this one having cut a valley. The coast ahead is hazy but beautiful, with the shingle beach continuing as far as I can see. At the bottom of the valley there are wooden steps down onto the beach, which I take. There is only one other couple here and it is wonderfully peaceful, but rather spoilt by the amount of rubbish washed up, most of it seemingly fishing related.
The path climbs steeply up from the beach here and now follows an area marked as Babbacombe cliff. Again, rather confusingly, this is also somewhere on south Devon, also in Torbay. It seems someone was rather lacking in imagination when naming these places. The path winds it’s way up the hill, through gorse in places to the top at Higher Rowden. The path is a bit back from the cliffs here, as they slump rather than have a sheer cliff face.
What comes up must come down, and I soon find myself descending back to sea level again at the lovely beach of Peppercombe. This is a mixture of rock, peebles and sand and reminds me somewhat of St Audries Bay in Somerset, with some red cliffs visible, rather like is found in South Devon. I stop for a rest and a drink on the beach and enjoy the warm sunshine. This is also a good oppurtunity to cool off, as it has turned into quite a hot day and I can see I have a climb ahead.
I also take the oppurtunity for a paddle in the sands, which are much easier on the feet than the pebbles and rock I have come across so far. I find this wonderfully refreshing and it seems no matter how tired my feet feel, a quick paddle takes away any tiredness and aches.
I take a few photos of the rock formations on the beach here, as the tide is still quite low.
Suitably refreshed after a pleasant break on the beach I resume my walk. The path winds it’s way up the cliffs and in and out of ancient woodland, Sloo Wood. Near the top I stop to enjoy the fanatasitc view back over Peppercombe, with the trees I have been walking through visible and the red cliffs beyond.
Heading back into the woodland, the trees are all knarled and although not tall I suspect are very old and have had rather a struggle against the wind. It is wonderfully refreshing here though, as I can walk at a reasonable speed without getting too hot as I am now in shade. The woodlands here, Sloo Wood do limit the views of the coast though as I can sense the coast is near but can’t see it for most of the time. It reminds me of the walks on the wooded cliffs of Exmoor around Lynton.
Briefly I emerge from the woodlands onto the edge of a field, but the path soon goes back into woodland and then begins to descend. I am heading into the village of Bucks Mills.
I don’t know anything about the village and don’t really know what to expect but although small it is unexpectedly beautiful. White-washed cottages tumble down the narrow street to a small harbour and pebble beach, whilst a small waterfall pours down onto the beach. It is like a small version of Clovelly but without the crowds. It is a beautiful and very peaceful place and the information board here tells me that there used to be Lime kilns here and there are the remains of some large buildings on the coast. I stop again for a while on the beach but the shadows are already getting long – time is getting on, and so must I.
The path out of Bucks Mills is quite steep, with steps for much of it, and climbs up through woodlands, which I will be following for the rest of the way into Clovelly. This time the trees are bigger and don’t seem to have so many problems getting established on the cliffs.
Some look to have been delibaratly planted, as they are in straight lines next to the path. To my left I skrit around the edge of Bideford Bay holiday park, thankfully out of sight. The path briefly runs along the edge of the fields but soon goes back into woodland and a wooden bridge crosses one of the streams that flows over the cliffs here. I have a good view over the trees down one of these valleys to the sea beyond. Soon I pass a memorial bench marking the start of the Hobby Drive.
This is another piece of Victorian engineering, a carriage drive through the woods all the way to Clovelly, a distance of around 3 miles. This reminds me of other similar carriage drives on Exmoor. This makes the walking easy as it is largely flat and goes through the cool woodlands. After a couple of miles with limited views I am suddenly treated to a wonderful view of the harbour far below. The pub at the bottom looks so tiny for up here and gives a good idea of the height I have gained.
Pheasants are wandering around the paths here as feeders have been placed out, although I suspect this is so they can be later shot. They make me jump at times suddenly popping out from the woodland in a flurry of noise. Soon I have a view over the roofs of the houses of Clovelly heading down it’s main street. Emerging from the coast path I come onto the path at the top of this road.
If you visit Clovelly by car you could be forgiven for thinking it is only accessibly on payment of an admission fee. Thankfully this doesn’t seem to be collected if you arrive on the coast path, so I enjoy the un-expected bonus to be able to walk along the main street of the village.
I am tired, but it is a beautiful evening and I can’t resist the oppurtunity to walk down to the coast (the coast path not going down to the harbour). Clovelly is such a prertty village, built in a narrow and steep valley, the houses cling to the cliffs. To steep to be a road, as it is stepped, many of the houses use a donkey and sledge to transport goods up and down. This means the village centre is traffic free which makes it much more pleasant.
Most of the visitors have gone home by now, so the streets are quiet and the shops beginning to close. This is a beautiful and timeless village that I love visiting. Reaching the harbour I have a very tranquil scene below with the houses built along the back of the beach. As the tide has now come in the water is lapping against one of the buildings, which is covered in scaffolding. I am sure it must require a lot of maintenance! I walk around the harbour wall so I can get a good look at the village above, although with the low sun shining at me, it is difficult to get a good view.
This has been a lovely walk and has seen a dramatic change in scenery from my previous walks, with the coast becoming very hilly. It is also a coastline which feels (and is) fairly remote, with Bucks Mills the only small settlement I have passed through on the way. This does make it harder if you want to cut the walk short however.
I then head back up the hill, which takes a lot longer than coming down. The hill is charmingly called Up-A-Long if you are going up and Down-A-Long if you are going down! I enjoy once more the peace of the village as I head up. At the top the touristy visitor centre is closed, so I have to take a path around the side to get back to the car park. This was my last day of this short break to North Devon and was a wonderful way to finish. I also think this is the best direction to do this walk, since the scenery gets more spectacular as you head west.
Here is details of the public transport needed for this walk.
Stagecoach 319 : Barnstaple – Bideford – Abbotsham – Bucks Cross – Clovelly Cross – Clovelly Visitor Centre – Hartland (some buses extend to Bude)
Stagecoach 21 : Ilfracombe – Braunton – Barnstaple – Fremington – Instow – East-the-Water – Bideford – Northam – Westward Ho!