A brisk, blowy, blustering day on the North Devon coast, with a scudding grey sky and big Atlantic waves racing onshore to smash against the wicked black rock teeth of the cliffs. I actually felt the ground quake beneath me as I pushed north into the wind along the line between sea and land, wondering whether leaving the warmth and light of the Hartland Quay Hotel had been a good idea after all.
First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Tides are strong and cross-currents treacherous out at Hartland Point, where the Devon coast cuts at right angles from north to east on its outer entrance to the Bristol Channel. Curved and contorted bands of sandstone, ground by the sea into upturned razor edges, lie just below the surface – they have brought thousands of sailing ships to grief down the years. I paused by the lighthouse on the point and took a last breathless prospect of dark sky, dark sea and black rock before heading inland along the high-hedged lanes so characteristic of this part of the world.
In the shelter of the lanes the wind, roaring high overhead, scarcely trembled a leaf. The loom of the ground shut away the hiss and crash of sea against rocks. I threaded the deep holloways past farms with Betjemanic names – Blagdon and Blegberry, Berry and Wargery – with the sounds of trickling water and tentative robin song for company.
In the ridge-top village of Stoke, master craftsmen down the centuries have beautified St Nectan’s Church. I admired the Tudor panelling of the rood screen, all slender ribs and exquisite floral detail, and the roof with its coruscating stars and carved bosses. Then it was out and on along the field lanes, dropping down to the cliffs and the roar of the wind once more.
The great waterfall at Speke’s Mill Mouth was a lace veil blown to rags, the floor of the cove a seethe of white foam among black rock scars. Above the green shark’s tooth of St Catherine’s Tor a raven was struggling unavailingly to fly north, kept at a standstill in mid-air by the counterblast of the wind. I put my head down and shoved on, a midget in motion among the huge forces of nature. Later, sitting in the warm bar of the Hartland Quay Hotel, I found my cup of tea tasted salty – legacy of all the sea wind and spray absorbed by my beard on this wild and entrancing walk.
Getting there: M5 to Jct 27; A361 to Bideford; A39 towards Bude. ¼ mile beyond B3237 Clovelly turning, bear right on minor road to Hartland and Hartland Quay.
Walk (7½ miles, moderate/hard grade, OS Explorer 126): South West Coast Path/SWCP (fingerposts, acorn symbols) north to Hartland Point. Just before radar station, inland. In 100 m, ahead (‘bridleway, Blegberry’) past Blagdon Farm; bridleway for 3/4 mile to road. Right to Blegberry Farm. Left (‘unmetalled road’); green lane for ½ mile to road. Ahead past Berry Farm, across Abbey River; road up to Stoke. Left; immediately right up lane by Rose Cottage. In 200 yards pass ‘Unsuitable for Motors’; keep ahead for a good half-mile. At Wargery, right to road at Kernstone Cross; right (‘Kernstone’) for 450 m to T-junction; left through gate (‘Speke’s Mill Mouth’) on grass path; SWCP north to Hartland Quay Hotel.
NB – Online maps, more walks: www.christophersomerville.co.uk
Beware strong wind gusts on exposed cliff tops! Many steps, many climbs and descents. Allow 3-4 hours.
Lunch: Hartland Quay Hotel (01237-441218;
www.hartlandquayhotel.co.uk) – friendly, characterful and welcoming.
More info Bideford TIC (01237-477676);