South West Coast Path: Clovelly to Hartland Quay

In which: a stick is forgotten and remembered in time ● it is wet, windy and wild ● early woodlands give way to bare and lonely headlands ● I pass close to Lundy but see it not ● another lighthouse is ticked off the list ● the journey comes to an end for another year

Date: 9 April 2012
Time of walk: 0845 to 1555
Today’s walking: 19.0 km
Progress along SWCP: 16.0 km
Estimated ascent: 710 metres

The forecast had for several days now been forecasting rain for today, and they were right. It started around midnight, and was still falling steadily when I got up. Breakfast was decent, with a sensible rarity for a B&B – a guest-operated toaster. This means that you can have your toast done the amount you want, and when you want. Sadly there was no innovation in the bread, being the boring sliced white or sliced brown that pretty much every B&B or guesthouse serves – even budget hotels now have quite varied breakfasts. But well fuelled, I set off into the rain, walking down the lane to the field paths, but at the first stile turning around to return to Pillowery Park when I realised I’d left my trekking pole at the house. It was fortunate that I hadn’t gone far before realising, but still frustrating to have added ten minutes to my walk in the rain.

The path takes to the Clovelly Court estate
I found a modern shelter where I stopped for a few minutes’ respite from the rain, and a little later found this more interesting shelter, with what would be wonderful views out to sea in better weather.
Emerging from woodland onto more open land at Gallantry Bower, there is a proliferation of gorse here. And lots of wind.
A little later, a headland which is separately signposted as a viewpoint, while the SWCP takes a steeply descending route to Mouthmill
At Mouthmill, the guidebook says to walk across the stepping stones, but it didn’t look inviting. This photo makes it look relatively tame, but with ten hours of heavy rain in it, the stream was flowing very fast and some testing with my trekking pole showed that few of the stones were firm and that the water was much deeper than my boot. After much dithering, I decided that while I wasn’t exactly dry at the moment, I was reasonably snug in my waterproofs and boots, and didn’t fancy wet feet for the rest of the day. I walked inland, crossing one tributary then further inland using a public bridleway to cross the main course before returning along its banks.
Below Windbury Head a National Trust sign warned that Dartmoor Ponies were grazing, apparently trampling down bracken, browsing on gorse and blackthorn scrub, and breaking up bracken rhisomes. However, my experience was that they lurked by the sign warning walkers to be wary of them, and then trotted down the path, damaging the edges of the steps, churning up the path, leaving metres at a time of dung, and potentially being threatening if anyone had happened to be coming the other way. They showed no signs of deviating from the path.
At the bottom, as I continue to “chase” them along the path.
Free of the ponies, I regained height, with bluebells brightening the rain.
A look back at Blackchurch Rock with its twin holes. Visible to its right can be seen the stream at Mouthmill running across the beach and carrying debris into the sea.
On Fatacott Cliff, something I’ve not seen before – a trig point with its very own gate. There is nothing on the other side except vegetation and steep cliffs, so this gate has been installed solely to provide access to the trig point.
As I approach Hartland Point, the rain continues, the wind is blowing ever more furiously, and the cloud is descending too, reducing the visibility to the radar station. At Hartland Point I reach my closest to Lundy, but there was no hope of seeing it. Indeed, the best view I’ve had was on my (second) evening at Woolacombe, having dinner at the Bar Electric, where the dying rays of the sun were lighting it up beautifully.

I had been told that there was a kiosk at Hartland Point where I could get a hot drink (and it is suggested as an alternative to a packed lunch). I don’t normally have hot drinks, and I try to avoid relying on refreshments en route, but I might have welcomed some hot chocolate or a place to sit out of the rain for a few minutes. But it was closed. Not surprising on such a miserable day – it might be Easter Monday but the crowds were most definitely not out today. I passed a total of eight people in seven hours, formed of four couples, all four cheerily remarking on what a lovely day it was.

Hartland Point lighthouse, built in 1874, automated in 1984, and made redundant in 2012 when the building was sold for private use (the guide price was £500,000 including 16 acres of cliffs and a helipad) and the function replaced with a solar-powered LED beacon.
Looking down on more of the splendid rock formations at the base of so many of the cliffs along this section of the coast.

The section from Hartland Point to Hartland Quay would be glorious in nice weather, but today it just had a dispiriting number of ups and downs when I was at the point when I just wanted to reach the end. Eventually I got there, the final descent being on the tarmac road to the hotel. I stripped off my wet things in the lobby and was shown to my room. I read in the bar for a while, had a little rest, then had dinner in the bar. The rain finally stopped around 8pm after about twenty hours. I did take some lovely photos the next morning of the hotel and the cliffs in the sunshine, but sadly my bag including camera was lost on the train home so I don’t have those pictures – the lovely site of the Hartland Quay Hotel will have to wait until my next visit.

And so ended what, in chronological order, was my fifth visit to the South West Coast Path. I’ve walked 400 kilometres, or a fraction under 40% according to the official distances (though I reckon on the distance being more like just under 1000 rather than the official 1014). It has been a varied four days, with some rough cliff-top walking, some very flat estuarine walking, a few beaches, some sunshine, a fair bit of cloud, too much rain (though almost all restricted to one day). It’s a shame when the least satisfactory day weather-wise is the last, but it has been another grand break. I don’t know whether I’ll be back next year, but I’ll be back. The remaining gap on the northern coast from Hartland Quay to Padstow is four days, albeit quite a busy four days, and that would be a natural target for my next visit alone, with the section around Falmouth a possible target for a future visit with Lucy and the dogs – we shall see.

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