Monday, 24 June 2013

Hartland (via Exmansworthy) to Hartland Quay - walking the South West Coast Path

The rain has stopped, the blisters have healed and clothes have dried out.  It is time to get back on the trail!  This morning we were on the bus stop at half seven to cath buses to Barnstaple and then Hartland. Already I have had a mini-rebellion to deal with as Mick was all for going for breakfast in Barnstaple and catching the later bus to Hartland. But we won’t be there ‘til half-ten as it is so I put my foot down. Instead we call into a little shop in Hartland village and feast on pasties and coffee before setting off.

We have to walk back to the place where we left the path last Thursday, just north of Exmondsworthy. Well, we don’t have to, but I want to. Skipping bits doesn’t feel right.  Hartland is a different place to last Thursday. We left in low spirits, dripping wet and in thick fog. Now the dry grass is blowing in the soft breeze and the views back up the coast were amazing. Although Mick was rather upset to realise he could still see the hotel above Saunton Sands. How many days ago did we pass that hotel?

The path led us across fields and past the radar station to Hartland Point. Sun and rain had combined to make the plants alongside the path grow like crazy: parasols of cow parsley and nettles and gorse swayed around my head as we walked along, swishing our walking poles  to beat a path. The scent of freshly mown grass from the fields alongside was sublime. It was June at its very best with fat bumble bees crawling into foxgloves and fritillaries flying around ahead of us.

Cafe at Hartland Point
We stopped for a cup of tea and a lovely little cabin at Hartland Point before walking up to the viewpoint alongside the old coastguard station. The road to the lighthouse is closed now due to unstable cliffs, it looked like much of the old road was about to fall into the sea. After Hartland Point we at least turned south. We were now at the confluence of the Bristol Channel, the Celtic Sea and the Atlantic Ocean,  the island of Lundy sitting elegantly 12 miles off shore.

Hartland Lighthouse
Mick was keeping his vertigo pretty well under control. At one point he yelped and started to head off into the gorse bushes away from the edge but then he checked himself. ‘No,’ he said, ‘I can do this.’ He stuck his chin out and resolutely walked on along the path next to the cliff edge. Some of the drops here were pretty impressive and we congratulated ourselves again on our decision to abort the trip in the fog last week. Thick fog and vertiginous cliffs are not a happy combination. At one point Mick did swear loudly. I nudged him. ‘Shh,’ I hissed. Behind the hedge a man was sitting enjoying the view with a small child. ‘Mind your language.’  Not much farther on he farted long and loud. ‘Oh, I say!’ I exclaimed in mock horror. We heard a chuckle behind the wall. A man was sitting there enjoying the sunshine and had heard both the flatulence and the exclamation. 

‘We need to be more careful,’ I said to Mick. ‘You never know who is listening.’

We passed the very pretty cottage, Blackpool Mill. ‘Oh I read about this place,’ exclaimed Mick. ‘They filmed a Jane Austen movie here, Cliffhanger Abbey.’
I burst out laughing. ‘Good one,’ I said.
Mick looked at me. ‘Isn’t it called that?’ he asked.
‘Erm no, not quite.’

We arrived  at Hartland Quay about four. As we came down the hill I snapped Mick with my camera looking soulfully out to sea.’ Are you wondering what’s over the horizon?’ I asked.
‘No I’m wondering what beer they sell in there,’ he said, pointing down the hill. I had not realised that directly below us was a hotel and bar. We had reached Hartland Quay.

I thought Mick was gazing soulfully out to sea...

But he had spotted the pub...
The pub offered a good choice: Wreckers, presumably brewed for the pub as we were in the Wreckers Bar, by St Austell Ales, Tribute and Legend from Dartmoor Brewery. We had a pint of Wreckers and decided we could think of worse places to spend the evening. So we walked the mile or so to the campsite at Stoke. 

I liked the campsite very much.  Part of a working farm, the site was split into smaller areas so we had a little field all to ourselves. At the back of the farmhouse was a small shop & tea room with home made scones and scotch eggs (excellent!) and tea and coffee as well as other provisions. The site also had a fridge and freezer room, the first time I have come across this and for 50 pence (donated to the excellent North Devon Hospice) they charge electrical items.  

Harland Quay
Arch near Hartland Abbey
Sitting on the grass outside the tent gazing across the North Devon fields, I felt completely relaxed.  When it rains Britain can be a gloomy place. But in June, when the sun shines I don’t think there is anwhere better.

We wandered back down to the Quay and watched the sun go down.  As we sat on the wall gazing out to sea Mick said, ‘do you get the feeling we are being watched?’
We looked around. Behind us on the high clifftop stood a long row of sheep. They were not grazing but were standing in a long line along the edge of the cliff. Either they were planning a mass suicide like the Gaderene swine or they too had decided to view the sunset too. Sheep are not terribly bright, maybe they had forgotten that the sun had set the previous night too. Perhaps they were panicking : 'oh no, what's  happening? The sun is falling into the water!’

After the plasma ball had disappeared the sheep returned to munching grass and we returned to the pub for another beer before heading back up the hill to our little tent. It had been a wonderful day with wonderful views.  Why it had taken me fifty years to get to Hartland I have no idea.  But I won’t leave it another fifty...

Distance: 7 miles (guestimate)
Total Distance: 110 miles
Accommodation Ranking: 8/10
Accommodation: £6.00 each

I am Legend...

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