136b Marsland Mouth to Hartland Quay

10c Devon signpost, Marsland Mouth, Ruth walking the coastal patThe  valley of Marsland Mouth is remote and beautiful, with little tumbling waterfalls among green slopes. But the low sun creates problems with shadows and I am unable to take a decent photograph. Shame.

At 12:40pm, I cross the footbridge over the pretty stream and pass into Devon.

The climb up the far slope of the valley is as hard as I feared.

Halfway up I come across a little stone building. Another hut? It’s the second one today. This one has large windows with glass and I assume it is a private summer-house.

What a wonderful place to sit. The views are gorgeous.

11 Ronald's House, Ruth walking the SWCP, Marsland Mouth

Then I notice the door is open. So I go inside. Well, wouldn’t you?

And here is a little desk in front of large windows. And notepaper, pens, water, glasses. It looks like a study. Somewhere a poet might work. A modern “Hawker’s Hut”.

12 inside Ronald's House, Ruth walking the SWCP, Marsland Mouth

And then I discover it is a poet’s hut.

12d info about Ronald Duncan, Ruth's coastal walk, north DevonOn the notice board I read about the writer Ronald Duncan, who built the hut in 1962 after a lengthy battle with the planning authorities.

You can read about Ronald’s work on Wikipedia or on the Ronald Duncan Literary Foundation website.

After Ronald died in 1982, the hut was restored by his daughter, the sculptor Briony Lawson, with the help of a local man, Tim Neville. info about Ronald Duncan, Ruth's coastal walk, north Devon

They leave it open for walkers to use and even provide bottles of water. (There is no supply of drinking water for miles along this difficult section of coast.) This is such a lovely and generous gesture, I want to find Briony and hug her.

visitor book, Ronald's house, SWCP, Marsland Mouth, Ruth LivingstoneAnd reading the comments in the visitor file, it is clear that some walkers have found this place a great comfort.

The last entry was by someone who signs himself “Papa Ferret” and who passed through at 5:50am this morning.

Hang on. Let me read that again. He set off from Bude at 1am. In the middle of the night! Why? And how could it only take 4 hours to get here from Bude? And in the dark?

[Later I find Papa Ferret on the Internet. He is an endurance runner. Must have had a head torch.]

Welcombe Mouth, Ruth's coastal walk, North Devon

I get to the top of the hill and almost immediately I face another plunge down, into another river valley. This is Welcombe Mouth, and I think it is even more beautiful than Marsland, but somewhat spoiled by having road access and a car park.

The climb up the other side looks even worse than the one I’ve just done. And my right knee is giving me some serious pain whenever I go downhill.

Looking across the valley, on the far hillside, I can see two walkers making their way down. They look like tiny ants. But I can see they have poles and a dog with them. The first proper walkers I have seen all day.

14 walkers coming donw into Welcombe Mouth, Ruth's coastal walk, North Devon

Later, as I get close down to the bottom of the valley, I meet the walkers coming up towards me. A man and a woman. They tell me they set off from Hartland Quay two hours ago, and are heading for Morwenstow. But this walk is easier than they expected and now they think they might carry on all the way to Bude.

I tell them the next stretch is tough, privately thinking they are unlikely to get to Bude before nightfall, even if they walk at twice my pace. Less than 4 hours of daylight left.

Down by the shore, I stop to admire the beach. It’s not really somewhere you would want to go swimming. But the rocks are very dramatic.

15 Rocks at Welcombe Mouth, Ruth's coastal walk, North Devon on SWCP

The stream tumbles down in a waterfall to the beach. There are artificial stepping-stones to help me get across the running water. A couple of young children are jumping over the stones, with an excited dog who keeps falling in.

16 Stepping Stones at Welcombe Mouth, Ruth's coastal walk, North Devon on SWCP

I stop and watch the children playing and the water flowing, until I realise I have spent 20 minutes down here. It is nearly 1:30pm and I really need to get on with my walk. I have been, of course, putting off the climb out of the valley.

17 Waterfall at Welcombe Mouth, Ruth's coastal walk, North Devon on SWCP

The slope is tough. Luckily my right knee, which gave me so much trouble on the way down, doesn’t seem to mind going uphill. Near the top I pass a young man coming down. He has a pony tail, a rucksack and poles. Another proper walker.

The hill just keeps on going. Even when I get to the crest, I am not at the top. The incline is less steep but it continues, relentlessly, all the way up Knap head.

18 Knap Head, Ruth on coastal path, north of Bude

There are great views.  I take a photograph of cliffs where the land has slipped to expose russet-coloured soil. Looking over Gull Rock (another Gull Rock!), I can see a white building in the distance, low down, just above the sea. Is that my destination, Hartland Quay? It is the only visible building on the coast. I think it must be.

19 Embury Beacon, looking over Gull Rock, Ruth on the South West Coast Path, North Devon

From Knap head, the path continues upwards to Embury Beacon, the site of an old Iron Age fort. 150 metres above sea level. I climb over its grassy ramparts to enjoy the view, not realising what they are.

My knee has settled down and I walk in a steady rhythm along a flattish section of path along the top of cliffs. Fields to my right. The sea to my left. I pass around the edge of Broadbench Cove and reach Nabor Point above Gull Rock.  The path joins a road for half a mile. I don’t like walking along roads but I meet no traffic – not a single car – until the path branches off to the left, across fields.

Now I am back on cliff tops, high above the sea, walking along the edge of agricultural land. Lundy Island for company.

20 boring walk, Mansley Cliff, SWCP, Ruth near Hartland Quay

It is just past 3:00pm. After the ups and downs of this morning I find this section of the walk is somewhat boring in comparison. I remember the couple I have just met and their plan to go on to Bude, understanding how they might have miscalculated the difficulty ahead because of their easy progress along this path.

21 Green Ranger plaque, Ruth Livingstone, Gunpath Rock, SWCP

Somewhere above Gunpath Rock, I come across a bench – a rare sight on this part of the coast. I stop to read the inscription on its plaque, and so I discover that the bench was built from timbers reclaimed from the wreck of the Green Ranger, which came to grief on the rocks below.

I peer over the edge of the cliff. The rocks here, like all those along this section of coast, form a series of jagged ridges thrusting out into the sea.

At first I don’t see any signs of wreckage. Then I spot some pieces of metal, hard to distinguish because they are the same colour as the rocks. You can see them on the far right of the photo below.

22 Green Ranger wreckage, Ruth Livingstone, Gunpath Rock, SWCP

It is 3:30pm. I am on Milford Common and approaching Swansford Hill, when I see cows ahead. Cows with calves. Oh dear.

23 cattle on footpath, Swansford Hill, Ruth's coastal walk

There is no way around. The route of the South West Coast Path crosses the field.

24 Bull Keep Out, sign, Ruth coast walk

On a gate leading into a neighbouring field, there is another even more ominous sign.

Bull.  Keep out.

Climbing over the stile, keeping my head down and swinging my poles like a mad woman, I walk between the cows. They leave me alone.

I ignore the footpath sign that offers me another route through the bottom of the valley. And I leave the official South West Coast Path, which seems infested with cattle, keeping closer to the coast and climbing to the top of Swansford Hill.

My reward is a series of wonderful views. The landscape is golden in the low sunlight. There is a mysterious pyramidal hill ahead. I can see the path winding around the side of the slope and I realise the white building peeking over the edge must be Hartland Quay. I am nearly there.

25 St Catherine's Tor and Hartland Quay, Ruth on her coastal walk, SWCP

This is possibly the best bit of today’s walk, only slightly spoilt by a couple of strollers emerging from between some gorse bushes and walking down the path ahead of me. They are wearing sandals and the woman is wearing a skirt, which makes me look both overdressed and somewhat ridiculous. And my knee begins hurting again as I head downhill.

26 Speke's Mill Mouth, Ruth on her coastal walk, SWCP, nr Hartland Quay

The ground flattens out at a valley formed by another stream. This is Speke’s Mill Mouth. There must be a car park nearby because quite a few people are walking around in the valley.

The stream empties into the sea via a waterfall. I am unable to see the falls, but I hear the noise and take a photo of the pool above. [Later I learn that Speke’s Mill Waterfall  is truly impressive and drops over 50 feet in a series of cascades. I couldn’t see any of this from the top.]

My map shows the SW Coast Path crossing over just above the pool. But the bridge is ruined and the water looks too fast-flowing to risk wading across. The annoying couple are already on the other side, but I didn’t see how they got there. I walk back up the bank, making my way with difficulty through dense shrubs and gorse bushes, until I find another bridge.

The weird pyramid is drawing closer. I check my map. It’s called St Catherine’s Tor  and rises 80 metres high above sea level. Although it looks manmade, it seems to be a genuinely natural feature of the landscape. Spooky.

27 St Catherine's Tor, Ruth's coastal walk around the UK

From the base of the Tor it takes me some time to find the path again. For some reason, I thought it would go straight up the hill, when I should have remembered I saw it winding around the edge of the coast. (It is 4:30 pm and I am both tired and hungry.) There is another steam to cross.

28 St Catherine's Tor waterfall, Ruth on her coastal walk, SWCP, nr Hartland Quay

Although I missed seeing the Speke’s Mill waterfall, I do get a good view of the waterfall on the other side of St Catherine’s Tor.

The sun is very low in the southwest. I manage to take a reasonable photo, despite the difficult lighting conditions.

29 Ruth at Hartland Quay, coastal walking

I follow the path as it rises gently around the headland. A the top I find myself looking down on a car park above Hartland Quay. My husband is waiting for me.

The last few steps of any walk are always the most difficult, and my right knee is protesting painfully as I come down the final slope.  Despite this, I manage a cheerful smile.

I see the pony-tailed walker, the same one I met earlier. He must have returned by an inland route from Welcombe Mouth.

The sun is very low and I look back along the cliffs and see all those fingers of rock: Longpeak, Gunpath, Gull Rock, Knaps Longpeak, Gull Rock again…

30 Looking back to Bude, Ruth Livingstone at Hartland Quay

No wonder this section of coast is famous for its shipwrecks.

Walking to the other side of Hartland Quay, I find no quayside, just a lovely bay. I take a photo of the walk ahead. More dramatic cliffs, glowing in the setting sun.

31 looking forward to Hartland Point, Ruth's coastal walk

We eat a very late lunch in the Wreckers Retreat Bar at the Hartland Quay Hotel.

Walked today = 9 miles
Total distance since beginning of my trek = 1,336 miles
Vertical distance climbed since Bude = 4,300 feet


About Ruth Livingstone

Walker, writer, photographer, blogger, doctor, woman, etc.
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9 Responses to 136b Marsland Mouth to Hartland Quay

  1. jcombe says:

    Beautiful photographs on these walks.

  2. mariekeates says:

    The little hut was quite a find and very interesting. I sympathise with your knee problem I’ve suffered with that myself and it can be painful and annoying.. Mine was worse going downhill as well but it did settle down after a few weeks of rest. The last photo of the cliffs in the evening light was beautiful 🙂

  3. Papa Ferret says:

    Ruth, what a fantastic blog! A great write up and a good representation of our beautiful part of the coastline. Good luck with the rest of your adventures, which I will be following from now on. Papa Ferret.

  4. Geraldine Moyle says:

    I was directed here from Diamond Geezer’s London blog & will now check in regularly. Love the West Country entries. I’m an expat whose father was Cornish, thus many of the places you’ve visited bring back memories of my visits in childhood & thereafter.
    Forty years or so ago, when I was in my twenties, my love & I walked sections of the Cornwall & Devon coastline. It’s gratifying to know that so much of the area is still wild & beautiful, perhaps because it’s so isolated from casual tourism ~ you’ve got to earn access to such views, like walking those ups & downs from Trebarwith to Tintagel!
    Back then, Hartland Quay did at least have a harbor wall alongside the old hotel (still there?). In our case, driving into the village down a precipitous road was truly scary ~ we might have been better off walking 🙂 I have a vivid memory of a stormy sea crashing over the rock ridges below the cliffs & of the water in Speke’s Mill falls being tossed *backward* over the cliff top to spray unwary walkers.

    • Hi Geraldine, yes it is still wild and beautiful and very isolated in sections. Thank goodness we have the National Trust which owns much of this coastline and protects it. And yes there was a harbour wall alongside the old hotel at Hartland Quay, but no boats when I was there. I must return and visit Speke’s Mill waterfall properly. I only saw it from the top!

  5. skytoweruk says:

    Hi Ruth, you’ve provided an excellent analysis of this stretch of coast – today I’ve managed the walk from Hartland village (omitting the quay) via Speke’s Mill to Bude. It was filthy weather, misty and drizzly all day which prevented me from enjoying any of the views afforded to you (although it did disguise all the peaks and troughs!). I managed it in just over six hours, which surprised me (I expected eight or more) – although the first seven miles was relatively easy so that was where the time was made up.

    Part of me wants to do it again in order to see the spectacular views, but the other part says NO! That was an effort and a half, which I can at least say I’ve done now.

  6. Karen White says:

    Did you write in the book at the Poet’s Hut? I hope you did. What a special place and so kind to leave the bottles of water for walkers.
    Your photos of this walk are very beautiful – I am already loving Devon!

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