Imagine being at the Base Camp below Mount Everest. Setting off and arriving 10 days later at the summit of the highest point on the planet – then returning to base. What an achievement that would be – well over 15,000 feet of ascent.
Imagine setting off from a place called Rock in Cornwall and walking the coastal path for approximately 74 miles into North Devon. By doing that you would gain the same feet of ascent, albeit with a little less snow & ice and a little bit more oxygen! All the same, you’d be pretty pleased with yourself.
During September we amazed ourselves by completing this, said to be the toughest section of this national trail, in some blustery, stormy and at times unseasonal weather.
In this post I’ll try my best to describe just one walk…..
Thursday 14th September 2017 : Clovelly to Hartland (10.8 miles of South West Coastal Path SWCP, 2.5 miles of road)
We began our walk today from the village of Clovelly. Part of an estate, owned by the same family, it is quite unique. So unique infact that visitors are charged to enter it. From a large car park visitors enter via a visitors centre then out to a single street of cobbles that leads steeply down past white cottages to the harbour.
However, our actual starting point was in the village of Hartland, just over 2 miles inland from the sea. Why? Well apart from the linear walk itself the logistics – parking, bus routes and lack of taxis was tricky. So, we parked for free in Hartland and took the bus to the visitors centre at Clovelly. This would leave us with 2.5 miles of road walking at the end of the day but we would deal with that when we had to.
At the bus stop at Hartland Tim chatted to the bus driver who we had met the previous day, on another journey! It’s easy to make friends when you’re on holiday!
Our bus arrived on time and after a journey of about 25 minutes we jumped off at Clovelly. We had no time to explore today with over 12 miles of walking ahead of us. But we did manage to explore on another day and here are a couple of photos to give you a taste of the place.
We set off through the wooded boundaries of the estate, hugging the coastline, passing two structures built by Sir James Hamlyn Williams – estate owner 1884 – 1936. The first was a roofed shelter, the second structure is called Angels Wings. I took a second to sit down and try it out!
We continued, across an area called Gallantry Bower – an open headland with ditches and bumps dating back to Bronze Age life.
Back into wood to a promontory called The Wilderness. The track with glimpses of the sea through trees continued to be wonderful but we suddenly found we were on a dead end and had actually missed a left turn. Annoyed with ourselves we had added an extra bit of walking onto our long day (just what we didn’t need!).
Back on track we dropped down to Mouthmill Cove. No time to check out the stoney beach and Black Church Rock. We were immediately back into the trees on the opposite side and going steeply up a narrow path.
The woodland paths were quite muddy in places and we had to be careful – particularly going down. Even though many paths have ‘stepped’ wooden boards to make the going easier we had had some torrential downpours during the night making these shady places very sticky!
Out of the trees we followed the next headland on grassy paths, then very soon we were descending again – this time we could see where the next uphill section was!
Once we reached the trees (visible in the above photo) we looked back and had a great view of Black Church Rock – the rock we had missed at Mouthmill Cove. With the tide in we wouldn’t have been able to get close to it anyway.
With the sun warming us up with stopped to take off our fleeces and check the map. Tim was a bit concerned as we hadn’t progressed quite as well as he’d thought we should. Heads down we marched on around easy, level, pastoral fields pausing briefly to look at a memorial to a World War ll Welington Bomber and crew that had crashed into the cliffs near this point.
On again and now we had a view of a tower which was the Radar Station at Hartland Point. It seemed so small and far away. We decided, no more stops for photographs until we got to it, though we couldn’t resist a few blackberries along the way.
At last we circled the Radar Station and made our way down to a car park and the delightful cafe/kiosk at Hartland Point called ‘The Point’.
We said it was a shame we had sandwiches with us as everything looked well presented and so tempting – still we were grateful for hot drinks. I would thoroughly recommend this small cafe. They very kindly let us use one of their picnic benches for our packed lunch. We like to think we returned the favour by tempting in other visitors…!
After lunch we immediately passed the entrance gateway to Trinity House Lighthouse. Not visible from the gate, with big signs to say that it wasn’t open to the public. Since getting home I googled the lighthouse for information and found that it was sold as a residential dwelling in 2015.
We had turned a corner and were now heading in a southerly direction. I turned to look for the lighthouse and spotted it amongst the rocks way below the path. Also clearly in view on the horizon is Lundy Island – a nature reserve that can be accessed via helicopter trips.
Just moments before taking the lighthouse photograph a helicopter flew low and slow over our heads but not out to sea. Maybe on another trip? It had the word Electricity on the side so it seemed unlikely.
A little way on from this I saw another memorial. A hospital ship, the Glenart Castle, torpedoed in the middle of the night in 1918 – how terribly sad.
Whether it was because I was thinking about all those lost souls and the many ship wrecks along this piece of coast I drifted off a bit while we were walking. Sometimes walking does that to you.
The next thing I can remember is coming across a small group of children having an abseiling lesson. About 10 or 11 years old I would guess. We chatted to their teacher, an outward bound teacher I suppose, of about 19 or 20 years old and wished we were 10 or 11. Saying our goodbyes one youngster gave us a warning ‘be careful, you are very close to the edge’. We laughed as we thanked him but actually we hadn’t realised quite how close to the edge we were. It stopped us in our tracks as we looked at the sheer drop below.
A little while later and around the rocky I looked back and could see one of adventure seekers ‘going over the edge’. Wow, it looked impressive. They are very small in the photo (if you can zoom in it helps) but they are middle of the shot near the top of the flat rock (with the sheer drop below them!).
Getting close to Hartland Quay now we only had a couple more ups and downs to go.
Our last stretch of the coastal path today took us across grass and past a mysterious structure which is only named as ‘ruin’ on the Ordnance Survey map. It looks like it could have been an archway of a chapel. A scattering of sheep were making the most of the sunshine and ignored us as we passed.
At 4:00 pm we reached a narrow road. It’s the approach road that immediately drops down to Hartland Quay.
We had visited the quay two days earlier because it was really stormy and too dangerous to walk along cliff edges, etc. Of all the places we have passed along the SWCP this one made me say “wow” the most often. Maybe it was the weather, maybe it was the fact that there was a hotel way down at sea level, maybe it was the hairpin road down to it, I can’t say. It was, for me, wonderfully wild.
So here we were at the road. All we had to do was 2.5 miles of road walking inland back to Hartland village and our car. Tim had a plan. How about we thumb a lift? Lots of visitors down below had no option but to use this road and they would be travelling back to Hartland. We dusted ourselves down and with grins on our faces prepared for the passing of cars. As I said the road fell away very steeply down the the hotel so we couldn’t actually see them coming so we listened out for car engines under stress!
Within a minute one approached. ‘Quick, thumbs out’ but the car driver smiled and pointed back at her dogs in the car, mouthed “sorry” and drove on. Ah well. Just as I was about to photograph Tim standing there another car came along. This one slowed then stopped. OMG.
A couple of about our age, window down, said “where are you going”, Tim explained that we were walking the SWCP and had walked 10 miles from Clovelly and would appreciate a lift to Hartland. They said “of course, get in”.
As we pulled our doors closed I was suddenly transported back through time, to a time when I was 8 years old. DON’T GO WITH STRANGERS was the message given to us at school and home. A good lesson. However, I thought (with fingers crossed), when you get into your 50’s its time to take a chance.
So, we survived. We didn’t get mugged or abducted or left for dead on the side of the road. Our ‘friends’ were lovely people also on holiday and so very interested in our walking quest. In no time at all they dropped us off and we thanked them gratefully. Once they disappeared out of sight we both fell into hysterical laughter….relief maybe? Did that actually happen!?
So, we decided, why not go back to Hartland Quay (by car!) and have a celebratory drink? We did exactly that.
A long and tiring day but we survived to tell the tale.