Tuesday, 16 April 2013

South West Coast Path Section 9 Clovelly to Hartland Quay

Clovelly From Quay
It seems to have been a tradition that when I head to the South West the first day's weather is superb in order to reel me in, but then deteriorates just as I am getting into my stride. I could not say that today. I felt a bit lethargic when I arrived at Hartland and the rather cheerless looking weather didn't help. However, when I got on the bus the clouds looked like they might shift away quite quickly.

Clovelly Church
I got off the bus near to Clovelly Church, high above the famous village. There were plenty of signs of spring in the churchyard with daffodils growing in profusion. The church itself was typical of this part of the country, being rather plain and austere in design but with a wonderfully mottled look as it had been colonised by so many different species of lichen. I enjoyed looking at the stained glass and a very prominent memorial in the church yard before continuing on my way. I took the woodland path from the church down to the top of the village, where I met up with the Coast Path again. However, before setting off for the return journey to my car I thought it was right and proper that I should do the tourist thing and pop into Clovelly itself. I had been to Clovelly a couple of times before and no matter how touristy it is, the set up of the place is breathtaking.

Sea View
Clovelly is maintained as a traffic free village - not surprising when you see the steepness and narrowness of the main street down to the Bristol Channel. Being a pretty bleak day had its advantages when I arrived - the village was almost completely devoid of people and I was able to linger and explore without anyone being in my way. I went all the way down to the harbour wall, grabbed some refreshments at the hotel at the bottom and then watched amazed as fresh supplies were delivered by a man dragging a sledge behind him. No doubt this provides entertainment for the tourists but I reckon it is actually the only practical way of getting stuff down to where it needs to be.

Steep Climb
Although Clovelly is a village of undoubted antiquity I was suprised to note that many of the houses dated from the early part of the 20th Century and can only assume that these were replacements for earlier dwellings. It must have been fun getting the building materials down to the point of use!

New Inn
As I climbed back up the cobbled street, people started to arrive for their day trips. One hapless little girl of no more than about four years old decided it would be fun to run down the hill whereupon she tripped over a cobble and went flying. I expected floods of tears to ensue but looking at her bewildered face it soon became clear that she didn't actually hurt herself. When she realised that she had dropped her biscuit however her face crumpled and I was glad I wasn't the parent who had to pick up the pieces.

Angel Wings
At the top of the hill I headed right onto the Coast Path. It was a nice easy start through what looked like a deer park (although there were no deer to be seen). I soon came upon a small cabin in the woods that I supposed would be the limit for most strollers from Clovelly. I paused for awhile and enjoyed the view. For the next little while the walk carried on from where it had left off the previous day as I headed through the woods that cling to the steep cliffs of this lonely part of the Devon Coast. To my surprise I came upon another shelter a little further on, this one far more ornate. It was apparently named Angel Wings and was built by a butler at the Clovelly Estate nearly 200 years ago!

Mouth Mill
Any notion that this would be an easy walk were soon dispelled when the path suddenly started to lose height. The steep sided cliff on the side of me had also given way to a much rockier and sheer cliff line. The screech of gulls started to be heard above the sound of the trees swaying in the not inconsiderable wind. At the bottom of the slope the path did a little dog leg and headed down a forest track to a place known as Mouth Mill. On the way I passed what looked like a group of Scouts hunched over their cooking stoves trying to get together some lunch. It all seemed like rather hard work to me!

Blackchurch Rock
Mouth Mill was a rather desolate looking place, with the ancillary buildings looking as if they had been derelict for some time. The nearby cottage was still very much lived in, but I cannot imagine how lonely it must be living there. I crossed the stream by means of the pebbles that had dammed the mouth (like so many of the streams in these parts). Apparently one of the forthcoming projects to improve the path is to provide a better crossing here, but I found it ok.

Grazing With a View
On the other side was the first zig zag path of the day up through the woods to Brownsham Cliff. I plodded up there taking it steadily but watching only my feet in front of me, Imagine my surprise then when a couple coming down the hill suddenly wished me good morning! I almost jumped out of my skin! We exchanged pleasantries before continuing in our respective directions. At the top of the climb I came upon another oddity - what looked like a spool of something that looked like plastic tape. Whatever its function was the weather had obviously disrupted it and caused quite a mess!

East Titchberry Cliff
My gain in height did not last long, for only after one field I was heading downhill once again to Windbury Waterfall. On the way down to the bottom I passed a couple with a very frisky looking dog who clearly thought I was heading her way to play ball with her! I also momentarily got a glimpse of sunshine here, suggesting that perhaps I might see some nice weather after all?

Titchberry Cliffs
The climb back up the other side was quite rewarding in that I got to see a wonderful view of the arch back at Mouth Mill. At the time I could only guess at its existence but now I could see it in all its glory. Having regained the height I wasn't to lose it for some time. However, this was a mixed blessing for I had also left the woods behind me and my onward walk for some considerable time was through field after field. The wind got fresher and more fierce as time went on and I even saw a few flakes of snow. I can honestly sa that this was the coldest stretch of the Coast Path I have ever walked. To add insult to injury, I soon came upon a field that had recently been muck spread. To say it was rank would be a massive understatement. Any notion that it would be the only one was soon scotched though - I ended up having to endure three of them! My only respite was occasionally to change direction and get a blast of wind!

Hartland Mushroom
I got a couple of my first of two reminders of how the World Wars touched this remote part of Devon. The first was a plaque to commemorate the crashing of a Wellington Bomber into the cliffs here in 1942, killing all of those on board. Later I would see perhaps a more poignant memorial, this time to the Hospital Ship Glenart Castle, which was sunk by a U-Boat in February 1918 losing the entire crew and medical staff of 162 souls.

Hartland Point
I eventually reached the radar station just before Hartland Point, standing proud like a huge mushroom in the landscape. This rather odd looking structure is apparently used by air traffic control for civil aviation. The path headed all round the perimeter and then down to the car park for visitors to Hartland Point. I was thrilled to find a little shack open for selling cups of tea and immediately availed myself of one. To say it was welcome would be a massive understatement. It wasn't really the conditions to be sitting around for very long though and once I had drained my cup offI set once again.

Damehole Point
Hartland Point Lighthouse is sadly not open to the public and looking at the access road I can see why. Most of it has succumped to landslips and erosion, making the old road almost completely unserviceable. However, upon climbing high up on to the headland I got some excellent views of the lighthouse. Offshore I was also at the nearest point yet to Lundy Island, the looming mass of which had followed me for the entire day's walking so far. Seeing it was bathed in sunshine led me to suspect that we would soon see some clearer skies too.

Dog Violets
As I turned away from Hartland Point towards Hartland Quay, some three miles distant, I saw the remains of the MS Johanna that had foundered on the rock below back in 1982 when carrying a cargo of wheat from the Netherlands to Cardiff. Fortunately in this case all the crew were rescued and the ship has been left to the mercy of the waves. I suspect that what is left won't last too many more years.

Blackpool Mill Cottage

Shortly after this the sun did comeout for the rest of the walk and I could enjoy the beginning of the Atlantic Coast in all its glory. The Bristol Channel coast was fun but immediately turning the corner at Hartland Point and the character changed completely. Stretching away before me was a much rockier coastline with gorse bushes replacing the trees and the land was a sea of yellow as we reach the zenith of the gorse season. After the cold and bleak section heading towards Hartland Point I now had three miles of testing climbs and descents and this presumably gets the walker into the mood for the next section into Bude, reputedly the hardest section of the entire Coast Path.

The Pleasure House
Luckily I was in no hurry and took my time over this section, enjoying the sunshine and my surroundings in a way that had been quite difficult earlier in the day. Eventually I came to a ruined tower high above Harltland Quay. As I needed to head back to Hartland village to retrieve my car I did not descend down to Hartland Quay itself - that can wait for another day! Instead I walked back along the road through Stoke Village, where I was astonished at how tall the local church tower was. The 128 ft high tower has for centuries acted as a navigational aid for sailors negotiating the approach to the Bristol Channel.

Stoke Church
The walk up to Hartland wasn't especially pleasant all the way along the road, but did pass thankfully quickly and I wasn't too troubled by passing traffic. I was mightily relieved though to get back to my car after a testing day.

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