It's early April 2016 and I'm delighted to return to the South West Coast Path having been looking forward to this trip all winter. After I finished work on Saturday Lea drove us to a B&B in Horns Cross that would be our base for first two nights. There was only one thing concerning me, a Met Office severe weather warning for strong wind in the South West on Sunday with heavy showers later in the day.
Upon waking on Sunday the wind was certainly strong, but it didn't feel dangerous enough to stop me walking so we returned to Hartland Quay as planned. After spending a few minutes reacquainting myself with the wonderful scenery here I bid farewell to Lea and set-off on the climb heading north to the top of the cliffs, wild white surf below. Unusually for this west-facing coast the wind was blowing off-shore today. From the very start I kept well away from the cliff-edges, not wanting to find what would happen should there be a sudden big gust.
After passing an unremarkable cliff-top folly I dropped down to Blackpool Mill. A sign said the lovely old cottage there was available to rent. If you really want to get away from it all in the middle of nowhere this looks like the ideal spot. I continued on along the wild rugged coast, the path always going up and down, though nothing too strenuous so far. My next stop was to admire a wonderful waterfall at Blegberry Beach.
Pressing-on I came to a point where the path forked two ways at a place called Smoothlands. Each option was equally worn with no sign to direct walkers. I kept left. When in doubt the path keeping closest to the sea is the one most likely to be correct. But it wasn't this time. What looked like a fairly ordinary headland abruptly ended when I found myself at the top of a sheer cliff. Being very cautious with the strong wind behind me I made my way along the edge, then down a very steep drop to re-join the official path, which had been my other option, it keeps safe and low behind the cliff.
To my surprise in such an isolated area the first other path users I met were four runners going the opposite way to me in a deep valley. Bravo to them. Soon after I came across a well-maintained memorial to the Glenart Castle hospital ship which was sunk by a U-boat 20 miles offshore during World War I. 162 lives were lost, a terrible war crime.
As I approached Hartland Point, I caught my only glimpse of the lighthouse. Thereafter it was hidden away from sight, well below the headland with no public access. I turned east and walked past the large mushroom-shaped radar dome. From here the nature of the path changes completely. You leave rugged rocky terrain behind and find yourself walking though typical English pasture. The walking should have been easier, but after making the ninety degree turn at Hartland Point the strong wind was now right in my face. There were countless stiles and it was quite muddy too. I saw another memorial along here, this one to the crew of a Wellington Bomber that perished when it crashed into the cliffs below.
There was a steep drop and climb through bluebell-lined woods at Mouth Mill. Then another steep valley near distinctive Blackchurch Rock. For several minutes I could hear what I thought was the distant barking of a dog, coming from somewhere near the rock. Passing through I saw no further sign of any people or dogs. I wondered if it had in fact been a seal I'd heard.
The final approach to Clovelly was part-wooded and muddy. I saw several shelters, one a very impressive ornate wooden structure. Lea was waiting for me with lunch in the car park at Clovelly. The owners of Clovelly have picked-up a tip or two from modern theme parks. The only was to get from the top of the village to the car park is by walking through the Visitor Centre. For 'visitor centre' you might as well read 'large souvenir shop'.
I didn't fancy paying £7 for a quick look around Clovelly, I'll return another day when I have more time, so I pressed on after lunch. The first three miles along the well maintained Hobby Drive were easy walking. It passes through hill-side woods with limited sea views. I saw several frightened pheasants, and heard the distinctive screeches of many more.
After leaving the Hobby Drive you are soon in more ancient-feeling woods. The path is well sign-posted, just as well because otherwise the way through wouldn't be obvious. The going was quite easy, staying quite high up, but on the muddy side again. After a couple of miles of this you drop down into in Bucks Mills, a lovely unspoilt hamlet. A classic red telephone box was probably the most modern thing I saw here. Then there were more woods to walk through until I came to the ruined mill at Peppercombe. A sign here told me I was only 1 mile from Horns Cross where we were staying.
Soon after Peppercombe I was clear of the woods and enjoyed my first good view along the coast for a while. The sun was shining, I could see red soil in cliffs that lay ahead very similar to that found in my part of South Devon. As I made my way along Babbacombe Cliff a sudden squally shower blew in. The wind seemed to double in strength and the temperature dropped sharply. I stopped to hurriedly put on waterproofs, stinging horizontal rain hammering into me.
As I was lashed by rain the path dropped down on to the pebbly beach for a short stretch, followed by a steep climb back up. Within only 10 minutes or so the shower had moved on and the sun came out again. I soon started to feel quite warm and my waterproof jacket came back off. The going was left slippery underfoot by the shower.
The final approach to Westward Ho! was easy walking along an old railway track. The first thing I saw as I came into town was a creepy imposing house in a state of dereliction. It looked like the classic haunted house you'd see in a Scooby Doo cartoon. However things soon looked-up. I saw rows of quaint little beach huts soon after. Then surprisingly upmarket looking apartments and eating places. As I passed through I quickly got the impression that Westward Ho! is a thriving modern resort.
Lea was at our pre-arranged meeting point as planned. When we returned to our accommodation I switched on the news. The main BBC headline of the day was 'Huge Waves Bring Flooding to the South West'. I realised how lucky I'd been. The unusual wind direction meant all the problems had occurred on the South Coasts of Devon and Cornwall. Blissfully unaware I'd enjoyed a great day of walking on the more sheltered northern side of the peninsula.
Distance Walked Today - 22.62 miles (36.40km)
Cumulative Distance Walked - 579.39 miles (932.44km)
White surf at Hartland Quay, I look back along the coastline I walked in September
For rent, the isolated cottage at Blackpool Mill
Waterfall at Blegberry Beach
Oooops, I came along the top of the high cliff in the centre, the safer official path goes around the back
The two memorials I saw today
Hartland Point Lighthouse
The radar dome at Hartland Point
Bluebells line the path through woods near Mouth Mill
An ornate wooden shelter near Clovelly
Clovelly as seen from the Hobby Drive, about the best view you'll get without paying
Red telephone box next to a coast path sign at Bucks Mills
Babbacombe Cliff, the red cliffs here reminded me of South East Devon
The imposing 'haunted house' you see as you enter Westward Ho!
Beach huts at Westward Ho!