South West Coast Path: Westward Ho! to Clovelly

In which: Westward Ho! says farewell with new and old, and echoes of Minehead ● another railway provides an early start ● mermaids fail to appear ● I say leave a Biosphere Reserve buffer ● open cliffs are succeeded by woodland ● I get to see the “fantastic lime kilns” of Buck’s Mills ● The Hobby provides easy going ● honeypot Clovelly ends the day with a steep descent

Date: 8 April 2012
Time of walk: 0910 to 1610
Today’s walking: 20.5 km
Progress along SWCP: 18.5 km
Estimated ascent: 790 metres

Breakfast was adequate but not wonderful, and had a slow start as the staff weren’t ready for me when I got downstairs for the advertised 8.30 start, citing a late night yesterday as the cause of their tardy preparations. Afterwards it was time once more to bring the suitcase downstairs and to walk the short walk down the hill to rejoin the South West Coast Path.

Charles Kingsley, after whose book Westward Ho! is named, visited once and didn’t like it. I can’t say I was enamoured, either, despite it being a unique opportunity to sleep in an exclamation, but it was pleasant enough. As I leave the town along the waterfront, there are several new apartment blocks, some still being worked on although people are living in them – in one case a door opened a metre above the pavement, presumably eventually to have stairs up to it.
The modern apartment blocks are mixed with older beach huts in varying states of repair, and “mobile homes”. I was intrigued to note that all the mobile homes had large picture windows through which to admire the lovely view out to sea, and without fail they had a sofa under the window, so that the occupants faced away from the window and the view. As a result, quite a few of those I passed had people half squatting on the sofas, turning round uncomfortably to look at the view of the South West Coast Path walker going by (and the sea).
The exit from Westward Ho! had echoes of Minehead, the built-up area ending abruptly with a small car park and then a green open space dotted with benches, backed by gentle cliffs and a hard-surfaced South West Coast Path.
In this case, however, the surfaced path is the trackbed of the old Bideford, Westward Ho! and Appledore railway – a rarity in that although built to standard gauge it didn’t connect with the rest of the railway network. It opened between 1901 and 1908, but closed by 1917. The fact that I’m following a railway trackbed once again means for easy walking despite the wild terrain compared to yesterday’s flood plain. In the distance Hartland Point can be seen, and somewhere at the foot of the cliffs is marked Mermaid’s Pool on the map, but I didn’t spot any unusual wildlife.
Continuing along the railway. As it was created to service the tourist industry on the peninsula which grew up following Kingsley’s book and the building of the new town, it is possibly unique as a railway whose creation was a result of the publication of a novel.
The railway having turned off towards Bideford, the walking becomes more typical, with the rise and fall of the cliff-tops. Ahead is the low Green Cliff and beyond the higher Cockington Cliff. Between the two I leave the North Devon Biosphere Reserve buffer area – it’s not often you get to leave a biosphere reserve buffer area, but there were no farewell signs.
Between Cockington Cliff and Westacott Cliff, there was a descent to the beach with its natural and manmade detritus as the route crosses a deep valley between the cliffs.
Crossing the valley between cliffs. The visit to the beach is only about thirty metres, and the steps help me gain height again rapidly.
Today was forecast to be dry but there was intermittent drizzle, enough to make the ground quite slippery in places. This stepped boardwalk is presumably much easier going than the path it replaced, but it does appear to the ignorant to be something of an extravagance.
A look back along the cliffs and the rock formations that lie between high and low tide.
As the days wears on, the walk becomes less open and more wooded, giving the opportunity to enjoy the early bluebells
There is a descent to the hamlet of Buck’s Mills
I took a slight detour off the SWCP down to the sea. This isn’t a ruined castle but one of the two large lime kilns here. Lime was brought over from south Wales.

When I was a child I thoroughly enjoyed Mark Wallington’s book Five Hundred Mile Walkies in which he takes a dog called Boogie around the South West Coast Path (albeit with a bit of cheating with buses and cars in places). I also got the audiobook read by Bill Oddie, my first audiobook and one I enjoyed so much that I listened to it dozens of times, sometimes more than once in a day. Bill Oddie did some great voices for the characters Mark met on his travels, and I particularly remember one section:

The lecture was given to me by an enthusiastic man in shorts whom I met sitting on a bench overlooking the first view of Clovelly harbour. He was eating a chocolate biscuit and reading a book. The biscuit was a Wagon Wheel, the book, a study in industrial archaeology.
     ‘Come from Buck’s Mills, have you?’ he said.
     I told him I had indeed.
     ‘Fantastic lime kilns in Buck’s Mills, eh! Fantastic!’
     Lime kilns? Ah! Those derelict jobs on the beach; I’d wondered what they were.

And so here I was at last able to see those fantastic lime kilns I’d heard about so many times.

Looking up the steep path back to the houses of Buck’s Mills
Ascending away from Buck’s Mills, it is almost as though going through someone’s garden
Some more woodland walking on typical paths brings me to The Hobby Drive, a broad and well engineered track through the woods, built in the early 19th century, perhaps partly as job-creation exercise for English unemployed and French prisoners of war.
A seat commemorates the extension of The Hobby
There is then a view down to the harbour of Clovelly. The village is famous for its steep cobbled streets, and I will visit later in the day after a rest at the B&B. I stopped and sat on the bench for a few minutes, admiring the view and thinking back to Mark Wallington and his lecturer also sitting here.
A glimpse of the houses of Clovelly. Charles Kingsley’s father was rector here, and as well as popularising the area around Westward Ho!, he contributed to the growth of Clovelly as a tourist destination.
At a junction of The Hobby, the street up from Clovelly, the exit from the Clovelly car park and a normal road, I leave the South West Coast Path for the fifth route, Wrinkleberry Lane, which climbs through deep hollows.

There were then some faint field paths (signs saying “keep to the footpath” without making it clear what the route of the public footpath is, always rather irritate me) taking me to Higher Clovelly and my B&B for the night, Pillowery Park, where Chris and Sylvia West greeted me and showed me to my room. Chris offered to take me to Clovelly later but I suggested that a lift back would be even more appreciated and that was agreed. I had a rest and a shower, then retraced my steps to the end of The Hobby Drive.
As I start my descent into Clovelly, here are some of the sledges that are used to move goods around the village.
Looking down the first section of the steep cobbled street.
Around the corner, and the descent continues. As it is now almost half past six, the village has ceased its daily bustle and is quiet. I stopped at the New Inn on the way past to check out their facilities and menu, and continued on down.
It is a delightful place, all the more so when it is quiet. Of course, the shops were shut, but that was no huge disappointment
Continuing downwards, a view over the harbour including the Red Lion Hotel, where I had a look at their menu and facilities too.
A look back at part of Clovelly, most of it hidden further up the hill.

I decided that I liked the menu of the New Inn better, and its clientele was a little quieter, so walked back up the hill and had dinner there. The main course was mediocre but the dessert excellent. Afterwards I walked until I got a mobile phone signal and telephoned Chris to pick me up. He’s a churchwarden and took me back via the late-Norman church where he locked up.

Leave a Reply