Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Hartland Quay to Bude - walking the South West Coast Path

Morning view
When I awoke, it was a beautiful morning and already hot at seven in the morning. I lay there for a while trying to identify birds from the sound I could hear. The seagulls I was confident of. And the unmistakeable call of a peacock, not sure where that came from.


Ceiling - St Nectan's

St Nectan's

We wanted to get an early-ish start so we were at the shop when it opened at eight-thirty to buy coffee, breakfast and provisions for the day. We knew there would be little else until we got to Morwenstow and everyone kept warning us how difficult this section of the walk would be. Other campers were also keen to chat however and it was getting on for ten o’clock before we finally set off.

There is a camaraderie and competitiveness amongst coast-pathers I was discovering. Other walkers always want to know a) how far you have walked, b) how far you are going and c) how long you have taken.  A chap in the shop told us he had been walking sections of the path over the past ten years. He reckoned hit would take another two years or so

When Mick was asked how far he was going he shrugged. ‘Dunno,’ he said. ‘I was only supposed to  to drop her off in Minehead.’

We headed back down the road, taking a moment to look in the beautiful St Nectan’s church. It’s an impressively large building, apparently often referred to as the ‘Cathedral of  North Devon’ and boasts the tallest tower in Devon. The interior is beautiful with a restored 14th century painted ceiling and rood screen.  I liked it very much.
Detail from carving from Hartland Abbey - in St Nectan's

The start of the walk wasn’t too bad, gentle sweeps up and down along the top of the cliff. There were a few other walkers on the same route. We were quite an international bunch. There was a family from Norway, a couple from Austria and two young women from Denmark. We all kept passing each other as we walked, stopping at different points to admire the view or have something to eat.

Wild flowers were in abundance, there were field of foxgloves and flag iris, and carpets of alpine flowers of every hue.  The weather was perfect, just a few puffy white clouds in the blue sky and the Atlantic was a deep aquamarine blue. Insects buzzed around us and bees crept into foxglove trumpets after pollen. We were feeling good and striding along.

Mick started getting all competitive and trying to get in front of everyone else but he was easily outclassed by the Austrians and the Danes who forged ahead and quickly disappeared from view. Two of the Norwegian party, a lad of about fourteen and a woman of about twenty were clearly struggling though. They were both rather plump and as the hills got steeper their progress became slower and slower. I felt sorry for them. 

Mick was having trouble getting through the gates...

...in the end he climbed over them.

Then the hills got worse. Much worse. Three huge drops down steep valleys where streams tumbled towards the sea, and then three steep, steep climbs up the other side. ‘Please,’ said the struggling Norweigan woman after the first clamber down, as she struggled to get up the other side, ‘please can you tell me, does the next valley go right to the bottom like this one?’ I had no idea. I stared at my map. I had only brought the 1:50,000 series and in any event I wasn’t sure where we were. But she sounded so desperate I wanted to try and cheer her up and offer a bit of encouragement. I pretended to study the map.
‘No, I don’t believe so, it's not as steep as this one,’ I said encouragingly. She smiled gratefully.

I carried on up the hill. When I reached the top, the path almost immediately tipped down into the next valley. It did go right to the bottom and was even steeper than the previous one. I suddenly felt guilty for the false hope I had given the poor woman, which now seemed more like cruelty than kindness. At the top of the second hill there was yet another steep valley laid out before us. As we clambered down I noticed the pair sitting on a bench behind us at the top of hill number two. An hour later, after we had climbed the opposite side and headed off across the hills we could still see them sitting there, tiny specs of colour on the hillside. They may still be there now.

We crossed the border at a small stream and stopped for a couple of pics. Just before Morwenstow on a scramble down a steep slope we met the Danish young women coming back up the path.  ‘Do you know if this is the way to the Bush Inn?’ they asked. They had got to the bottom of the valley and then were unsure whether they had gone wrong so climbed back up the way they had come.
‘Yes it is,’ I replied, ‘I saw a sign back there that said you go to the next stile and turn left.’
‘Ah yes, we saw that sign,’ they said. ‘But the problem is we do not know what a stile is. What is this 'stile'?'
Border Crossing
I explained that a stile was a wooden step over a fence and they thanked us before charging off down the slope and up the other side. We puffed and panted after them and eventually staggered into Morwenstow.

Higher Sharpnose Point
For a few moments we agonised over whether to go to the pub for a beer. Miraculously, for once, common sense prevailed. It was still steaming hot and if we had a beer that would no doubt be the end of the walk for today. Mick was not keen on wild camping and the nearest campsite was near Bude. So we went to the tearoom instead and ordered a pot of tea and a glass of water. The waitress looked sympathetically at our glistening brows and pink faces. 'I'll bring you a jug of iced water,' she said kindly. That cold water went down better than any pint of beer. I had not realised how very thirsty I was. 
Written on the wall in the loo of the Rectory Tea Room

Steeple Point
Hawker's Hut
On the way out of Morwenstow we stopped to look at Hawkers Hut, built by Revernd Robert Hawker in around 1844, where he would sit and write his poetry, looking out over the Atlantic ocean crashing onto the rocks below. Parson Hawker was well aware of the hazards of those rocks. He was often the first on the scene when there was a shipwreck, trying to help survivors and burying the dead in his parish churchyard. 

Last miles to Bude
After Morwenstow, although the hills were not so high, they were definitely more scary culmunating in Steeple Point, with sheer drops on both sides. We were on our own now, the rest of the walkers had all stopped in Morwenstow, and although the last few miles were much more gentle we were feeling very weary by the time we rolled into Bude Holiday Park. It had been, by far, the most difficult section yet. I was so tired I could only manage two pints in the pub that evening, but as they were charging £3.50 a pint that was probably just as well.

Distance: 14 miles
Total Distance: 120 miles
Accommodation Ranking: 6/10
Accommodation Cost: £6.75


  1. Fantastic photos and really interesting text. We're walking this section of the southwest coast path tomorrow and we're feeling quite nervous as we have been told by several people that it's the hardest section in the whole path. Reading your brilliant description and seeing your beautiful pictures has spurred me on and now I can't wait. Thank you ( and wish us luck )

  2. Fantastic photos and really interesting text. We're walking this section of the southwest coast path tomorrow and we're feeling quite nervous as we have been told by several people that it's the hardest section in the whole path. Reading your brilliant description and seeing your beautiful pictures has spurred me on and now I can't wait. Thank you ( and wish us luck )

    1. Hello Jennie. I'm sorry,I hadn't seen your post as I've been walking in northern Scotland this week (very wet). So by now you have probably completed this section, I hope you enjoyed it and it wasn't as bad as you feared. Thanks for your kind words, glad you enjoyed reading my blog! Ellie