I am a coward. Leaving Northcott Mouth and heading up Bucket Hill, I begin worrying. How difficult will this walk be? Will I get caught in the dark? I have less than 5 hours of daylight left. But, with only 6 miles to go, this really should not be a problem.
My map tells me I have gone over Menachurch Point and then past Westpark Pit and Sarshall’s Pit (what does ‘pit’ mean?). The path has some ups and downs, but nothing too bad. I begin to gain in confidence.
Looking ahead along the shore, I see the soft cliffs have crumbled away in places. Ahead is a gap where long lines of rocks give way to a short strip of sandy beach. That must be Sandy Mouth.
Down on the beach are tiny dots, moving slowly. People walking with dogs. This gives me some sense of scale. I am a long way up.
Further along and I see a figure making strange movements on the beach. Zooming down through my camera, I discover it is a surfer. Is he waving for help? After watching for a few minutes I realise he is doing warm-up exercises.
The path dips down into a deep valley at Sandy Mouth, where a stream empties itself onto the beach in a thin waterfall. The sun is low and I don’t get any good photographs, but in any case there is nothing much at the bottom of the valley, just a car park and a closed café.
I cross over a stream and walk up the open grassy slope. It is steeper than it looks in the photograph. There are a number of paths to choose from, but I stick as close to the coast as I can.
We used to keep a few sheep as pets and they are one of the few animals that I don’t find scary.
The path rises and falls as it crosses over the top of Stowe Cliffs. Below are a series of beaches: Warren Long Beach, Eliza Beach, Warren Little Beach, Warren Gutter Beach. These are unsafe for swimming but, when the tide is out, apparently you can walk all the way along the sands from Sandy Mouth to Duck Pool, according to a Cornwall Beaches Guide. Today there is not much sand visible, but plenty of unfriendly pebbles and harsh strips of rock.
Somewhere along here I meet my husband. He has parked at Morwenstow and has walked to meet me.
We clamber down into Warren Gutter and up the other side. Is this as bad as it gets? I check the map. No. We haven’t got to Duckpool yet.
Hubby tells me there are only three more serious ups-and-downs to go. As he doesn’t use a map and has no sense of direction, I am not sure whether to believe him or not.
At Duckpool we drop down into a steep-sided valley. At the bottom an ox-bow river meanders down to the sea. There is a road, a few cottages and a car park.
It is a beautiful place and almost deserted. Someone is sitting in one of the cars, but otherwise we don’t meet anybody at all.
The path becomes even narrower as we wind up and over the edge of Steeple Point. There is a sheer drop down to the sea on my left. I am glad I brought my walking poles.
This is coastal walking at it’s best. The sun is shining, the air is clear, the views are wonderful and there is that slight tingle of danger.
From Steeple Point, we look ahead over Wren Beach to the promontory of Lower Sharpnose Point and Reed Rocks. The radio station is just visible on the crest of the next cliff – Harscott High Cliff.
Half an hour later we reach Harscott High Cliff and here the scenery changes from open ground to heathland, covered in low scrub and gorse.
We follow the path around the headland and stand above Lower Sharpnose Point. From here we can look ahead, and over the flat shelf of Hippa Rock, to Higher Sharpnose Point beyond. Out to sea is Lundy Island.
The path comes inland to take us around a disused quarry and close to the perimeter of the radio station.
The station sits proudly on top of this isolated cliff. Its huge structures are gleaming white and alien, surrounded by high fences and security camera. Eerily, on this ordinary Friday there is absolutely no sign of life.
[Later I learn this radio station is a satellite ground station, run by GCHQ.]
The path runs a roughly downwards course, passing above Holacombe Beach, Rane Beach, Stanbury Beach. There is a tough climb down into Stanbury Mouth and up the other side.
It is 3pm by the time we make it up the other side of Stanbury Mouth. I am tired and hungry. We have not had a lunch break, having decided to keep walking through the day to make the most of the daylight.
Onwards. The path from here is fairly easy, lolloping over the top of the cliffs, passing above Caunter Beach and Greenway Beach. A dilapidated sign warns of cliff subsidence and we meet our first proper walker of the day. This is the first person I have met (apart from my husband and the man sitting in his car) since I left Northcott mouth.
Higher Sharpnose Point is surprisingly dramatic. A path runs along the top of a terrifyingly narrow ridge. What a fantastic walk! If only we had more time and if only I wasn’t so tired, I would have enjoyed walking to the end.
It is tempting, but time is running out and we decide to stick to the South West Coast Path and give the diversion a miss.
We pass this ruined hut. It is too open to be a pillbox. When I look on the map, I see the words “Hawker’s Hut”. The map places this a little further along the coast, but I wonder if there is a mistake.
“Is this the famous Hawker’s Hut?” I ask my husband. It might be. We wonder what all the fuss is about. It just looks like an abandoned lookout station.
[Later I discover it is indeed a lookout post, and not Hawker’s Hut after all.]
From here the path drops down very steeply into another valley. This is Tidna Shute.
My hubby assures me that this is the last down-and-up of today.
The sun is low in the sky and I can’t get a decent photograph of this gully. But I do stop and, putting off the inevitable scramble down and up, take some photographs of the view over the sea, looking towards Lundy Island.
At the bottom of the valley we meet another couple of walkers (only strollers, they don’t climb up to Higher Sharpnose Point). And we cross over a footbridge and over The Tidna.
This is a momentous moment. We have just crossed the county border.
Goodbye Cornwall. Hello North Devon.
I feel sad. It has been eight months since I first arrived in Cornwall on the Cremyll Ferry from Plymouth, and I’ve fallen in love with this county.
[Later I realise I was wrong about the border. In fact, we are still in Cornwall!]
We walk across fields towards Morwenstow. Looking across at the radio station it seems deceptively near. The steep dips of Stanbury Beach and Tidna Shute are hidden away in the folds of the countryside.
The Bush Inn is a 13th Century pub and, despite its ancient history, is thoroughly modern in its outlook. It serves food all day! We arrive just after 4pm and have no problems ordering a hearty lunch.
Distance walked today = 8.5 miles
Miles walked in total = 1,327