17th September 2018

Following various adventures on the Saturday, either involving rough sea crossings to climb on Lundy; waiting for the tide to fall to access the cliffs at Baggy Point or walking across Exmoor to be fortified by cream teas chez Milne, about half the party elected to join a walk around Hartland Point on Sunday. The weather forecast was at best mixed, stronger winds being anticipated and a grey sky at breakfast time – the possibility of a second crossing to Lundy having been discounted. Interesting to note, at the first DPC meet at Skern Lodge back in 1984 a walk along the coast near to Hartland was also undertaken.

After some indecision as to who would walk or travel with whom, the party still departed Appledore before 9.30am. In Goodier’s car there was still some aspiration to climb, despite the rain drops evident on the windscreen. However, by the time the car park at Hartland Quay was reached the wind and rain was such that there was no question of climbing and the effort of carrying gear could be spared. The only question now was full waterproofs or just a cagoule? There were various solutions to this conundrum – although only Barnes solved this by wearing shorts. 

From the car park the view across Broad Beach to Dyer’s Point and the dark cliffs above was already impressive and for those not familiar with the Hartland area the walk promised much. The main party headed north up the Coast Path towards Hartland Point, led by Harris (whose smartphone was deemed more waterproof than a paper map). A sub-group of Johnson (senior and junior) and Crowther had already set off on an alternative circuit and were not to be seen again until later in the afternoon, indeed later than anticipated.

As with all coastal paths, the route wound up and down to cross points and coves, including the Abbey River flowing from Hartland, past Dame Hole Point and the Cow and Calf. The dark cliffs and the convoluted strata, running down the cliff faces and out across the rocky beaches, occasioned many a stop to admire the dramatic scenery. The weather was quite wild – wind and rain – and the waves crashed into the rocks to add to the atmosphere. But not as wild as on a previous DPC walk around Hartland. Members of the party recounted how they had been blown into gorse bushes or simply left for dead on an exposed section, until recovered by a concerned member of the party who had turned back for them. It was agreed that an arête-like section of the path above Blegberry Beach was the likely scene for this.

Nearing Hartland Point the weather calmed. A memorial in a corner of a hedge marks the loss of a hospital ship, the Glenart Castle, torpedoed in 1918 near the coast hereabouts. Many poppy wreaths commemorated the 100th anniversary of that tragedy. At Hartland Point there is a view down to the lighthouse, constructed in the 1870s – when the clockwork light mechanism needed to be wound-up by the keepers every two and a half hours! Close to the Point the MV Johanna foundered on the rocks in 1982. Peppit recalled visiting the wreck on the beach some years later.

It was now about lunchtime, a sheltered spot was required. Passing through the Hartland Point car park, a green painted tea hut was revealed. Protected by a rise in the ground, it was still tied down by wire guy ropes. Teas and a couple of coffees were procured and lunch taken at the previously deserted tables outside.

It was decided that the best option was to head due south, following a combination of back roads and high hedged Devon lanes towards Stoke where options could be reviewed to shorten or lengthen the route. The spire of St Nectan’s Church in Stoke gives a prominent landmark above the rolling Devon fields. At 128ft high, it has led to the Church being known as the ‘Cathedral of North Devon’. The thick hedge at one point completely obscured a key signpost, causing the party to miss the turn but the situation was soon recovered. This inland section involved as much ascent and descent as the coast as the way crossed the streams draining into the sea. As the sun came out layers were stripped off to avoid overheating.

Passing through the grounds of Hartland Abbey – a country house on the site of the medieval St Nectan’s Abbey, the party climbed on through Stoke and south towards Docton Mill. Nearby the party came across a cottage owner clearing out the culvert in front of his home to reduce the risk of flooding. Barnes and Peppit engaged him in conversation – apparently this is unusual as tourists often simply stand and stare as he works!

Here the party turned north west to follow the stream towards the sea at Speke’s Mill Mouth. Yet more remarkable coastal scenery – a waterfall down the side of a steep, concave sweep of rock which looked to give only very hard climbing, and yet more rocky strata leading out to sea and a foreboding looking sky. Soon the party was lashed again by wind and rain and kit that had dried out would end the day wet. Fortunately, it was now only a short way to Hartland Point and the coast path passed beneath and behind the exposed looking St Catherine’s Tor.

After only a brief peek down to the small harbour at Hartland Quay and a final look at the dark, impressive cliffs the party climbed up in heavy rain to the cars just before 4pm. Here there was some concern that there was no evidence that the Johnson party had yet made it back. As the rest headed back to Skern for a hot shower, Barnes waited for them. Convinced that they would simply be in the hotel down at the Quay, but reluctant to drive down lest they return to find all cars gone, he remained at the car park. They were soon to turn up – apparently in the rush to get in from the rain, their rucksacs had passed unnoticed in the boot of the car. On arrival back at Skern it transpired that those who had remained closer to Appledore for the day (to walk or surf) had enjoyed more favourable weather than those who had headed further west to Hartland Point.

Turning to the statistics for the walk, a rough estimate was that it was seven to eight miles. This seemed shorter than some would have guessed, but did accord with the view of Harris that the walk was not as long as he would have wished (as usual). Plotting the route on mapping software, the distance was indeed just seven and a half miles. But there is reassurance in the fact that the total ascent was over 1,700ft which allied to the wild(ish) weather amounts to a decent day out.