Welcome to LEJoG Day 11… and welcome to Devon
Day 11 pre-amble
Shortly after you cross the border between Cornwall and Devon, there are – literally – some steps coming up from a bridge. More than three, as it happens. A stairway, in fact. The temptation to use the most obvious pun for the title of this blog is admittedly hard to resist. Indeed, Devon/heaven puns have proved extremely popular over the years. Trying to think of anything original, or avoiding song titles, is a thankless task (though some are easier to avoid than others, it must be said).
So I was delighted when I consulted the Oxford English Dictionary website and discovered that the native Cornish name for the county left behind today is pronounced to rhyme with ‘inferno’. Because ‘towering’ is the right word for the bulk of today’s cliff walking: it’s the hardest day on this part of the South West Coast Path. Also, this gift puts so much less pressure on the Devon side of the equation. I think “weary soles” captures it well: towards the end of what was already a tiring day, the worst bog of the week caused me to wonder how much longer my three-year-old walking boots would actually last.
LEJoG Day 11 (Wednesday 4 April 2018)
Bude to Hartland Quay (17 miles)
Cumulative: 144 miles
Facts: Time on walk: 6 hours 50 minutes. Average speed: 2.49 mph. Weather: Overcast with intermittent breaks in cloud; rain before breakfast and still muddy.
Practicalities: Nothing before the walk. However, it is vital to think about how you get home from Hartland Quay, unless you’re staying there. It is a remote outpost and the nearest buses are from Hartland, about two and a half miles away. As this is a long day, they’re not conveniently timed unless you start early. I can’t function without breakfast, and like it to settle for at least an hour before walking a long distance, so that was a non-starter for me. This meant ordering a taxi from the Hartland Quay Hotel to Bude at the end of the day. I hope you’re sitting down as you read, because that taxi cost £50. I budgeted for some unexpectedly high taxi fares this week, but even so, that one was hard to swallow. Forewarned is forearmed and all that…
Start: Bottom of Summerleaze Crescent, Bude, 10:55am. End: Hartland Quay Hotel, Hartland Quay, 6:10pm.
Of all 14 days on the South West Coast Path, this is The Big One. My notes inform me that there were ten descents and ascents on this stage. There was also an inland diversion which added around a mile and a half to the total. And just a mile or so from the finish came the most demoralisingly horrendous bog of the whole two weeks. All the guide books will tell you this is a hard day. The SWCP website pulls no punches. It’s also difficult to split the walk, so remote is this stretch of the Cornish/Devonian coastline. Steel yourself.
As well as the Trailblazer guide, north of Padstow I was using this, the official National Trail guide. I have reviewed both guidebooks and OS maps in order to remember the names of these ten descents and ascents, and here they are:
- Northcott Mouth
- Sandy Mouth
- Warren Gutter/Warren Point (a stretch, noticeably smaller than the others)
- Duckpool – the biggest one
- Stanbury Mouth
- Higher Sharpnose Point/Tidna Shute
- Yeol Mouth/Yeolmouth Cliff (it would have been Henna Cliff but the path was diverted inland to Morwenstow)
- Litter Mouth (between Cornakey Cliff and Marsland Cliff)
- Marsland Mouth
- Welcombe Mouth and back up to Knap Head
The first couple of miles are fairly innocent, above Summerleaze and Crooklets Beaches, then through fields which overlook several evocatively-named smugglers’ coves. So, first of the ten is Northcott Mouth, where you will find a car park and tea garden. Second, about a mile later, is Sandymouth (like Northcott Mouth, a National Trust attraction) which offers a café. I made a slight navigational error on the way out of here, heading up the ridge to the NE of the café, rather than N.
Another mile, via the lesser dip of Warren Gutter and climb to Warren Point, and it’s the first really daunting valley – Duckpool. This resembles Scrade from Day 10 in terms of scale and gradient. Having regained the cliff top, the path winds its way through various thickets to arrive at Lower Sharpnose Point and eventually Cleave Camp transmitting station.
Soon after this comes descent/ascent number five to Stanbury Mouth. Stanbury is probably the second toughest so far after Duckpool, and definitely one of the steepest. At this time I had completed 2 hours 20 minutes walking, nearly seven out of what I thought were 15 miles and nailed five of the ten ascents. I felt optimistic about finishing by 5pm and stopped for a self-satisfied lunch. Hmmmmmmmmmmmm…
Higher Sharpnose Point, shortly after the ascent from Stanbury Mouth
About 15 minutes later you reach Higher Sharpnose Point (above) and descend almost immediately to valley number six, the Tidna stream. A zig zag path rises from the Tidna Shute waterfall to meet Hawker’s Hut, the smallest property currently belonging to the National Trust. And then comes the inland diversion, due to a path closure on Henna Cliff, which would have been ascent number seven. The official guide to the diversion says it adds only around half a mile to the walk. I found this difficult to believe on the map and in terms of time taken. The waymarked path to the edge of Morwenstow was caked in the inescapable brown stuff, and the route back along the side of the hill was hard going in fairly strong winds.
The next major valley is Yeol Mouth, which involves a scramble down a stony slope on the southern side. The next (number 8 if you’re still counting) is Litter Mouth and then you descend the northern side of Marsland Cliff to Marsland Mouth and the Cornwall/Devon border. On your way back up is a must-stop moment (not just because it breaks the climb): Ronald Duncan’s Writing Hut. Here you have free use of the hut for reading, refreshments or signing the walkers’ book. It doesn’t look like much, admittedly. However, I think you get a real sense of camaraderie and common endeavour from simply spending ten or fifteen minutes absorbing the place.
Ronald Duncan’s Writing Hut
Now firmly in Devon, there is little immediate respite, as you soon head downhill again to Welcombe Mouth (car park, small beach) and back up past Embury Beacon. After this climb (number 10) however, you remain on relatively high ground for several miles. Indeed some of the route past South Hole is on actual roads – you could be forgiven for forgetting their existence during the last few hours. Shortly before Elmscott you turn left off the road and back on to a recognisable footpath. This is a much less imposing section than earlier, and you can make quicker progress across the fields.
The key to the rest of the walk is Spekes Mill Mouth and its waterfall. Shortly before you get there, the Trailblazer guide offers you a longer route around Milford. Only two miles from home, I ruled it out immediately and struck out over the gently undulating cliffs for the waterfall. What I was looking for is a small footbridge that takes you over the Spekes river, then you can aim for St Catherine’s Tor and you’re nearly done. What I found was a horrific bog in the way. Aiming for where I thought the bridge was, I saw nothing of the kind. The river was not three yards wide, but only an imbecile would have tried fording it near the waterfall. A little further away, perhaps? No, still too wide and deep. And still no bridge.
Now I was, for the first time, starting to lose confidence and thinking I needed to backtrack all the way to the alternative route. I stumbled around the bog for about half an hour in a futile search for a different bridge, further upriver. This included a fall to the knees and treading in a couple of cowpats. Fortunately the cows themselves were too sensible to turn up. Eventually, retracing my steps, I somehow came across the tiny bridge. I still have no idea how I missed it the first time.
Anyway, such was the effect of this joyless wander, I don’t remember much about the closing stretch to Hartland Quay. I can say that St. Catherine’s Tor was very attractive and a lovely reminder of the Peak District, where I have done most of my walking. But the Hartland Quay Hotel was a welcome sight indeed. I removed the waterproof trousers before ordering my drink and a taxi. They don’t bat many eyelids in there when knackered walkers turn up; however they might raise eyebrows if you’re dripping the remnants of Spekes Mill Bog into their carpet, so do come prepared.
And if you only remember one thing about Day 11: even though I’ve made out this was all about river valleys and a giant bog, it’s a deeply satisfying, pleasantly exhausting and thoroughly memorable walk. I’d recommend it to anyone, LEJoG or not.
What was left of the evening…
The taxi driver was a very nice bloke (even allowing for the fact I was paying him £50) and said I should call his firm from Clovelly tomorrow. I was expecting an early finish and therefore a bus. Penultimate night in Bude. Booked my dinner for 8pm, determined to round off The Big One with a big portion of the Deck’s speciality ribs.
They’d sold out.
Had fish and chips instead. I mean, it was very nice and everything, but as anti-climaxes go… yeah.
Postscript: My Listening Pleasure
West Wing Weekly podcast: Hamilton special. More Pulp Fiction and White Stripes.
Picture (4 April 2018) taken at the Cornwall/Devon border.
Next: Day 12 (5 April 2018)… in which I see the Point but don’t really see the point.