I spent the night at Stoke Barton Farm campsite in the village of Stoke near Hartland Point. It’s a lovely spot and very peaceful, with the tall church tower being a constant site, and a nice view to start the morning. This walk promises to be a bit more of a challenge logistically, as there are no buses to Hartland Quay. Instead the nearest I can get is Hartland itself, around 2 miles from the coast, but by starting from Stoke it means I can walk to Hartland Quay (around 1 mile) and then at the end of the walk do the rest of the walk from Hartland to Stoke, therefore splitting the 2 miles of road walking at either end of the walk, so I hope it won’t feel so tedious then. This is helped because there is a slightly more direct (private) path from Hartland Quay to the campsite, so I can avoid the road for that bit.
The weather today is resolutely overcast and grey, which is a shame as this promises to be one of the most spectacular parts of the South West Coast Path. I wake up fairly early after a good nights sleep and after breakfast set off for Hartland Quay. I head off across the fields, damp with dew, for Hartland Quay. This takes around 10 minutes and I can soon see the sea and the unusual geology at Hartland Quay, with lines of black rock making up the beach. It is certainly not a bathing beach. I’ve heard that the sea can be very spectacular here, with this the first bit of land east of America. But it isn’t today, with barely a wave to be seen, as there is not a breath of wind.
I turn right to head north along the coast past the shingle and rock beach below. The rock formations here are stunning, with the rocks seeming to twist and turn at the bottom of the cliffs, you can imagine when this was molten lava. At least I assume that is what caused it, but not being a geologist, I don’t know.
On the right there is the remains of a building, with just an arch and a bit of surrounding brick remaining. It’s marked as “Tower (ruin)” on my map, which leaves me little wiser. Inland I can see the tall church of Stoke where I am staying. After a fairly gentle climb it’s not long before I drop down to sea level again, the first valley of the walk being the valley formed by Abbey River. The Abbey in question is now in ruins and near the village of Stoke. I meant to go and see it but forgot. There is a mill, Blackpool Mill marked on the map to, a reminder that this was likely once a hive of activity, but all is quiet now. There is a shingle beach and a waterfall marked on the map although the latter is not very impressive at this time of year, being really just a trickle of water over the cliffs. Looking at all the rocks at the low tide mark I can see why this coast was notorious for wrecking ships and it must quickly tear to pieces any boat unfortunate enough to end up on the rocks.
Looking up the valley there is a single cottage which although very remote has a beautiful view, it looks a wonderful place to live. The coast path then climbs up on the other side of the valley and soon crosses the stream that causes the small waterfall on a bridge. I reach quite a height over the bay only to immediatly descend back down to sea level again, but it does at least make for a good view.
There is more fascinating geology here as parts of the cliffs have diagonal lines of rock, whilst in other places they are straight. There is no rest though, as immediately I climb back up to the headland of Smoothlands and then descend to another valley with another small waterfall.
I can now see the lighthouse of Hartland Point ahead. Descending back to the level of the stream I cross on the bridge and there is quite a torrent of water heading along this stream, which seems to have caused a small landslip into the water.
Once round this valley I head back to the coast and there is more geology on show, with the cliffs having some red patches, perhaps some copper? As is usually the case the path then immediatly climbs up to the cliffs of Blagdon Cliff.
Here there is a memorial of the ship Glenart Castle. This was a hospital ship that was torpedoed during World War I around 20 miles off the coast here, with all those on board losing their lives. A reminder of the futility of war.
I can see Hartland Point lighthouse getting closer now and am surprised to see it perched on the lowest end of the cliff, rather than right at the top but I suppose this reduces the chances of the light being obscured by low cloud.
Out to sea I can see Lundy clearly, which seems to have a blanket of cloud resting over it.
Ahead I can see an odd structure that looks a bit like a giant golf tee which I presume is some sort of radar. Helicopters run from here in the winter to Lundy Island, so perhaps it is something to do with that.
Below I can see the rock and shingle beach of Barley Bay with a line of rocks just off the shoreline. In some parts of the coast I have come across tank traps left from World War II. There is no need for that here, nature has already provided them. There is a narrow path heading along the tip of Hartland Point but it’s not a footpath so I leave it. Heading along the coast I soon come to the road, at a lower level, that leads out to the Lighthouse, with the grand gates with Trinity House written in them blocking the road to the public. A few lighthouses are open to the public (Portland Bill being one that springs to mind), but sadly this is not one of them and access is very definitely not possible here.
The headland gives good views to Barley Bay ahead, a deserted beach as it looks like the only access is by boat.
Soon I pass a sign telling me what that odd golf-tee like building is, and as I suspected it is a radar used for air traffic control. Now I am closer it looks too bit to be just for the helicopter service here and I assume must be part of the larger national air traffic control systems. Rounding the bay I can clearly make out the cut in the cliffs for the access road to the lighthouse – it must have taken a lof of hard work to build and I wonder how many lives have been saved because of the lighthouse?
The coast path goes around the modern radar station and ahead I can see another beach, this time with some sand. It is called Shipload Bay and I suspect this is another reference to the smuggling that used to be rife here.
Soon rounding the bay the coast path goes around the edge of some fields, with bracken and gorse lining the path. The next mile or so is fairly easy going, running along more or less level cliffs and heading more or less exactly due east, as the coast is very straight. It is mostly through fields and there is not much to see along the coast.
This soon changes though as a view of Mouthmill Beach opens up before me. At the far end I can see an unusual rock which has formed a natural arch, Blackchurch Rock.
I soon pass another memorial this time to a Wellington Bomber which crashed beneath the cliffs in World War II. Midway around Beckland Bay there is another stream forming a waterfall over the cliff although this one is crossed at a high level. I soon reach Windbury head where this time I descend to near sea level to cross another stream, this one coming from the village of Brownsham just a few hundred metres inland. Here the path descends more or less to sea level and then climbs up a steep zig-zag path on the other side of the valley.
Once up at the top of this cliff, Brownsham Cliff the path rounds another little bay and then descends back to sea level again, this time to Mouth Mill. I make my way down to the beach here and get a lovely view back to the west of the coast I have been following, with the small waterfall visible. I also get a close look at the arch in Blackchurch Rock and the unusual stones around the beach.
You can certainly appreciate the power of the sea that has cut this large arch out of such hard rock. Again the layers in the rocks are clearly visible and all curved presumably as a result of volcanic activity millions of years ago. Looking up the valley here I can see the old mill buildings one of which is derelict and the other does not look used anymore, perhaps it is a holiday let?
After this valley the path heads through woodland which is clearly very old and the trees feel slightly spooky. Emerging from the trees after around 1 mile I can look back over the cliffs I have been walking.
Ahead there is a lovely surprise, marked as The Cabin on the map there is a beautiful carved wooden shelter with a tiled roof which would be a wonderful place to stop for lunch except that I have long since eaten all the food I had with me. Only another ¼ of a mile brings me to Clovelly and the end of the walk. Although the coast path stays at a higher level emerging onto the road and bypassing most of the village I take a path down to the left into the centre of the village. I have arrived earlier than expected so have plenty of time to look around this lovely village before the bus back to Hartland.
I head down to the harbour beside the Red Lion where there is a ruined building. There is also a Land Rover service here up to the top of the hill. I think it’s a shame so many people use it rather than walk up and down though. In common with the other beaches, the beach here is rock and shingle, but it is quite sheltered with the tree-lined cliffs either side of the harbour.
Last time I was in Clovelly I had a bit of battle to get good photographs with the low sun shining over the village. With no sun today this isn’t a problem, but it the scenery would have looked so much better in sunsine.
I notice there is Lifeboat station on the beach too and wonder how much work the crew must get – as I’ve seen today this is an unforgiving coast made more difficult by the strong currents around Hartland Point. There is also a waterfall in Clovelly just to the west of the harbour and a few people are lying on the beach nearby.
There is a survey vessel moored in the harbour today. I assume this must make surveys of the sea bed to produce navigation charts?
There are also some Lobster pots at the back of the beach so I presume there is still fishing boats based in the harbour too. After exploring the harbour area I head up the steep cobbled hill of Clovelly between the white-washed cottages. This is such a beautiful spot and I imagine very peaceful once the tourists leave at the end of the day.
At the top I come across a little garden with a war memorial and a view along the coast towards Westward Ho! I sit here for a while and then head through the tacky visitor centre to the car park beyond to wait for my bus. There are a few other people waiting and thankfully it arrives on time. It takes just over 15 minutes to get me back to Hartland. This leaves me around another 1 mile walk along the road back to Stoke although the road only really serves Stoke and Hartland Quay so there is not much traffic despite the lack of pavement. I am pretty tired after this walk but it has been a beautiful walk with stunning scenery in this remote and wild corner of North Devon.
This will be the last walk I make wholly within North Devon as the border with Cornwall is a few miles south of Hartland Quay although Devon is unusual in that it has two coastlines so I will return to Devon after I complete my walk around Cornwall.
Here is details of the public transport needed for this walk.
Stagecoach 319 : Barnstaple – Bideford – Abbotsham – Bucks Cross – Clovelly Cross – Clovelly Visitor Centre – Hartland (and some onto Bude)