I look forward to all my coast walks, but there are some you look forward to more than others and some you are a little aprehensive about. This one falls into the latter category, not because of any route finding issues or any concerns over the scenery, which I have no doubt will be stunning. No of concern is the fact that according to my 1999 vintage South West Coast Path association book this walk is quite long at 14 miles, but the severity is described as “Severe”, one of only a few so described. Normally this wouldn’t matter, I could always end the walk short and catch a bus back, but that also does not work here as there are few buses on this remote bit of the coast, but breaking at Morwenstow may be an option.
The previous day I had walked from Hartland to Clovelly and although not a long walk I felt very tired during the evening and wondered if I’d be able to manage todays walk. Thankfully I had a good night sleep and feel full of energy this morning. As before I am staying at Stoke Barton Farm which means I can start my walk with a short walk down to Hartland Quay over the fields. Sadly as with the previous day, it remains grey and overcast, which is a shame as I am hoping I’ll get to Bude with enough time to spend a little time relaxing on the beach.
At Hartland Quay the path goes around the back of a rocky beach and passes Screda Point and beyond it Screda Cove. This is again a very rocky part of the coast, with rocky ridges heading out to the sea and good views of Lundy Island off the coast. I then come to a stream which forms a little waterfall over the cliffs, something which seems to be a feature of the coast. Ahead is a rocky headland, St Catherine’s Tor. The coast path goes around the back of it, but perhaps rather over enthusiastically, I decide to take the path over the top (in hindsight perhaps a mistake given the number of hills I have to climb later). Below it is another rocky beach, Speke’s Mill Mouth.
The coast path goes round the back of the cliffs, as the cliffs get high and then immediatly drops back almost to sea level, where another waterfall flows over the cliff. I am beginning to see why this walk is rated as “Severe”, but at least hills make for spectacular scenery. The wide valley inland goes to the village of Milford. I have to head a bit inland to get over this stream and back on the coast the path then immediatly climbs to the other side of the valley.
Looking back I can only just make out Hartland Quay and the hotel there, now looking quite distant. South of here the coast path goes slightly inland of Swansford Hill, but once again I go over the top. At the top there is a steep scree slope below and already the geology seems to have changed a bit with the cliffs now having a red colour to them. Looking south the coast looks fairly flat. I wonder if this is a false impression but soon realise that it isn’t and enjoy a section of fairly easy going walking.
For the next mile or so the coast path just undulates rather than having steep hills. The cliffs are very high with those same rocky teeth jutting out into the sea, presumably the base of the cliffs which have been eroded away over the years. Sadly a mist begins to roll in here. I hope it’s not going to be a sea mist, something I find very frustrating, as it blocks all views of the coast, but head just a few metres inland and it can be clear. Thankfully that doesn’t happen and the mist soon blows away again, in fact there is a very brief glimpse of the sun when it goes. I grab a photo quick, before it goes again.
After around a mile along the cliff tops and field edges the path briefly joins a road, but this is a remote part of Devon and it’s not busy – no vehicles pass me. Soon I’m back on a footpath again heading for Nabor Point. Here the cliffs are so steep they have formed scree slopes, and again there are brief sections of red cliffs, presumably rich in Iron Ore. Inland is the oddly named village of South Hole, odd because there doesn’t seem to be a North Hole. Or in fact a hole.
The path continues to undualte to reach the headland of Embury Beacon which gives me good views in either direction. I am beginning to doubt this walk deserves the grading of “Severe”. Another mile or so of fine cliff walking brings me to another steep descent to sea level, this time at the hamlet of Welcombe Mouth. As I am approaching the beach the mist and drizzle blows in once more, spoiling the view. The path undualtes down to this beach and here my map shows “Waterfalls”. I soon see what they mean, as the stream whilst quite narrow is a surpsingly large torrent as it tumbles down over the cliffs. As I near this stream the coast path crosses it on a series of stepping stones. I have to confess to being a little disappointed there is a car park, as it means I don’t have this quite little beach to myself. There is a little bit of sand here, but it is mostly rock. I can see the attraction of driving out here, the waterfall and the amazing coastal scenery must draw a lot of people here.
The other side of Welcombe Mouth the coast immediatly climbs steeply, and the coast path does too. The height gained gives me a good view back over the valley at Welcome Mouth with a few houses Almost as soon as I gain height I begin to lose it again as I head to the next beach, Marsland Mouth. Here there is a small building which I suspect is a summer house for an un-seen house but am pleased to find it is open to the public. It must be a nice place to shelter if the weather takes a turn for the worse.
I then descend down to the next valley Old Mill Leat. Again looking inland there is a single house, marked as West Mill. Presumably there used to be at least one more mill here if this one deserved the “West” prefix, but if there is it has gone now. This time I cross the valley by a footbridge rather than stepping stones. The crossing is more significant though, as it marks the border between Devon and Cornwall. Ahead a little wooden sign “Cornwall Kernow” welcomes me to the county. I’ll be back to Devon though, once I’ve walked around Cornwall, since it has two coast lines, which seems rather greedy.
The path climbs steeply back up to the cliff of Marsland Cliff. I am beginning to feel the effect of all these climbs now. It is nearly midday though, so I will have lunch soon.
The path drops steeply back down to sea level again, steeply enough there is a zig-zag and I come down to another rocky beach called Litter Mouth according to my map. I hope it is not so named because of rubbish, as I doubt it is easy to clean rubbish from the beach with no road access nearby. A narrow little headland juts out to sea here, Gull Rock which looks to be made of slate. Climbing back up to Cornakey Cliff I think I have walked as many metres up as I have south! It does give a good view back to Gull Rock though and I can see there are a couple of little caves going right throuigh the headland, as I can see daylight through them. One of these at least is known as Devil’s Hole from my map, which seems rather dramatic.
In less than half a mile I have to drop back down to sea level again (or at least close to), to cross the stream via a footbridge at Yeolmouth Cliff. There is another small waterfall here too. The path climbs back up the other side and now I see why this walk is rated as severe, as soon as height is gained you drop straight back down again.
South of here the path is a little back from the cliff to go round what looks to be a fairly unstable area of cliff which has suffered landslips at Westcott Wattle, what a lovely name! South of here I am back on the cliff top and stop for lunch in the hope this gives me an energy boost.
I set off again and can see the numerous jagged headlands looking back where I have walked so far, most of them marking a descent to sea level and back up again! I climb up to Henna Cliff and then immediatly descend to another waterfall and valley. This walk is rather punishing as no sooner have I stopped climbing than it’s back down. Whilst downhill might sound more relaxing these coastal walks have taught me that downhill is almost as bad as uphill as you are constantly having to hold back so as not to slip. This is exhausting, and lunch hasn’t really helped. Looking down the valley I can see the church tower of Morwenstow, which marks roughly the half way point of my walk
The village doesn’t look far and has an attractive church. Although tired it is not even 1pm yet so I decide I can make it to Bude, as I have around 5 hours before the bus is due. The problem is there is really only 1 bus a day I can take back, at 6pm, so I don’t want to miss it. Onwards! I descend the valley and then the steep climb back up the other side. This brings me to Vicrage Cliff where another path heads inland to Morwenstow – it’s not too late to give up! But I carry on.
On the descent to the other side of the valley I come to Hawkers Hut. This is wooden hut built into the edges of the cliff. This was built by the then Reverand of Morwenstow, Robert Stephen Hawker in the 1840s from driftwood and debries from shipwrecks. He used to come up to the hut to smoke Opium and write poetry. I think he was a bit of an eccentric, although I wonder if it was known how addicitive and harmful Opium was back then? I wonder how much of the hut is original, I can’t imagine wood would survive more than 150 years in this exposed location.
Ahead is another valley, the oddly named Tidna Shute, which is owned by the National Trust. Another stream, called The Tidna runs out to sea here. As I am getting used to, there is then a steep climb back up to the cliff tops overlooking the rocky beach. At the next headland, Higher Sharpnose Point there is a rather precarious path going out to the end of the headland. I follow it part way out to get a view to the south. The coast ahead looks flatter, I hope the impression is correct.
Greenway Beach ahead is another rocky beach and again there is no sign of Bude, so I can’t really guage how much further I have to go.
Looking back along the cliffs the geology is really quite amazing again.
I pass the rocky headland of Hipps Rock which I suspect may have accounted for a few ships over the years. Beyond this there is another valley, although this one is gentler. This takes me down to Stanbury Mouth, a part sandy beach and crosses the stream via a footbridge. Ahead though I can see a cluster of satelite dishes on the cliff top. They seem so very out of place and spoil what has been such a remote and beautiful part of the coast up to now. I wonder what they are for and why they are sighted here, although I am not surprised to see them. When I lived in Exeter I used to visit Bude quite a lot and remember looking north along the coast and seeing a lot of satelite dishes, which means, I hope, that I must be getting close to Bude now.
Although some sand is marked on the map on the beaches here, the tide must be high as they are rocky.
Once up the other side of the valley I am passing the statelite dishes. They really are huge and are surrounded by high fences topped with numerous security cameras – it all seems so out of place.
Still there is a good view north back along the coast. At Lower Sharpnose Point at long last I get a view of Bude ahead. I am very tired now and so stop for a bar of Bourneville, I am a big fan of dark choclate in particular. It gives me an energy boost and I feel a bit more awake. Ahead the coast looks gentler and now I can see the end in sight it seems to give me a bit of a boost. As I am descending the cliff I pass another walker, only the second I have seen on the coast path since leaving Hartland Point. He comments that I am the first walker he has seen since Bude and how lovely that this part of the coast is so desrted. I share his sentiments.
A glance at the map shows some more wonderful names – Squench Rock, Pigsback Rock and Wren Beach. I wonder how some of these got their name. I round Steeple Point and have another steep descent down to the beach at Duckpool. There is a car park here and although the beach is mostly rock there are quite a few people on it. I suspect this is a popular surfing spot.
At Duckpool there is another steep climb back up the cliffs only to quickly descend back to another stream at the not very pleasant sounding Warren Gutter. Ahead the coast reminds me a bit of the coast around Bedruthen Steps, further down the county. Beyond this a wide expanse of sand is marked on my map, but what I see is mostly shingle, I assume it must be near high tide.
The large numbers of people on the beach mean I must be getting into the edge of Bude and somewhere with a large car park. This is Sandymouth beach and there is a surf school and also a car park and toilets – the first facilities I have passed since Hartland Quay.
Ahead the coast is gentler as although I have another climb back up, it is not so steep or so far back up and after half a mile I reach the next beach, Northcott Mouth. Again it is mostly shingle but I stop for a rest on the beach. I have run out of chocolate though.
After a nice rest I carry on – I’ve got this far I can make it the rest of the way now. Climbing back up the other side I am passing a few houses and the sand and shingle beaches south of Northcott Mouth.
Suddenly I come over the crest of the cliffs and have a view of Crooklets Beach. The number of people here come as a shock after the whole day of walking near desrted cliff tops and given the rather overcast day I was not expecting to see so many people.
I’m now on familiar terroitory, the coast between Crooklets and Bude is one I’ve walked a few times. The low cliffs pass the tidal swimming pool and bring me round into the main beach at Bude, Summerleaze. Made it! The main beach is also fairly crowded but there is plenty of room on the sand and although not quite the weather I had hoped for I flop down on the beach exhausted. After around 20 minutes I head off in search of ice cream, which perks me up no end.
I am very pleased with myself having made this walk. Now that I have done this walk I suspect every other walk on the South West Coast Path will be easier and the fact I can do this means I feel I can complete the rest of it. I spend another hour or so on the beach relaxing after the long walk and then head into the town in search of some chips to replenish my energy levels.
Bude is a town I know well as I used to enjoy visiting when I lived in Exeter. Unusually the town has a direct bus service from Exeter, which used to be called the “Atlantic Coast Express” and run with coaches rather than buses, which made for a more comfortable journey. TThere is still a bus route to Exeter but they use regular buses on it now. It was a good way to get to the large seas of the North Cornwall coast, and a fairly cheap one, too. I wander back alongside the Bude Canal and take a last look at this wondeful beach before I had inland to get the bus back.
There is a very poor bus service between Bude and Hartland and there is really only one bus that is practical to get with the timings, so I am keen not to miss it and get to the bus stop nearly 15 minutes early. Thankfully the bus arrives on time (First route 319). There are only a couple of passengers getting on here so the bus is not crowded, although it is only a small and rather noisy mini bus. I don’t mind though, I’m glad of the rest. The bus takes nearly an hour and goes along roads so narrow that at times the bus is brushing against bushes on both sides! We have to make several U-turns as some of the villages, including Morwenstow are on a dead-end road. We pass through numerous villages and eventually reach Hartland. The bus driver has been driving pretty briskly I think and I suspect we are early but a check of my watch and we are exactly on time. I think this must be a difficult bus route to drive and particularly to keep time on, since we were lucky to meet little oncoming traffic on the mostly single track roads.
I have made it back to Hartland anyway and stop in the town for a takeway. I then walk back along the road to Stoke. I am stiff after the bus ride and it takes a while to get my legs working again. I am very tired and go to sleep shortly after getting back even though it is not that late.
The bus route mentioned here was run by First. It seems to change operators regularly, as it then became a Western Greyhound route and is now a Stagecoach route and is a little odd as there are five buses a day between Hartland and Bude on Monday, Tuesday, Thuesday, Friday and Saturday (only one of which serves Morwenstow). But on Wednesdays there are only 2. I guess Wednesday is not a good day to pick to do this walk!
Here is details of the public transport needed for this walk.
Stagecoach 216/217/219/319 Hartland – Morwenstow – Bude (some buses continue to Bideford and Barnstaple)