Today I plan to walk the short distance from Hartland Quay to Hartland Point, before lunch and a long journey home. Only 3 miles.
It is a glorious day. The car park at Hartland Quay is deserted, apart from a few chirpy birds. And plenty of DANGER signs.
I look back to the south, at Screda Point and its sharp rocks. The low light gives a dramatic shape to the landscape, the north facing cliffs are shadowy and menacing.
But I am heading northwards. Leaving the car park, I walk past yet more warning signs, following the road for a short distance until I can pick up the South West Coast Path again.
A short climb and I am up on the cliff top, walking across a flat, open area. This is called Warren Cliff. An easy stroll. Lundy Island is ahead, just off the coast.
The remains of a ruined tower stand in the field. I think this used to be a watchtower, but I’m not sure. It is marked on my OS map with the words: “Tower (ruin)”. Nothing more, not even a name.
When I reach the promontory called Dyer’s Lookout, the ground falls away into the valley and the mouth of the Abbey River. This marks the end of any easy walking for the day.
Ignoring the well trodden path that cuts across the slope, and sticking as close to the edge as I can, above the sea, I slowly make my way downwards.
I have to walk inland a short distance to find the footbridge over the river.
On the flat piece of ground at the mouth of the river I see an elderly couple preparing to go up the steep path from Blackpool Mill Cottage. She is adjusting his rucksack for him. The way up is a steep flight of narrow steps, carved into the hillside. I hurry because I want to start climbing before they start, suspecting they will be even slower than I am.
The climb is steep and narrow and the path winds along a series of ledges above the shingle of Blegberry Beach. Below a couple of dramatic waterfalls empty onto the shore.
Unfortunately these north facing cliffs are in deep shadow and this makes photography difficult. I am unable to properly capture the beauty of this amazing place.
Beyond Blegberry Cliff is a strange crescent-shaped valley, curving around a mounded hump of land, an area called Smoothlands on my map. My knee is hurting again today and I decide not to follow the official South West Coast Path down to the bottom of the strange valley. In any case, it looks boring down there with no view of the sea.
I stick to the high ridge, walking along a path that turns out to be more difficult than I anticipated, with a furrowed surface, lots of sheep droppings, and encroaching gorse bushes. When I get to the end of the ridge, I have a clear view across yet another river valley to the slopes of Upright Cliff and the high line of Blagdon Cliff beyond.
But when I look back at the humpy hill behind, I see there is a path running all the way along its top ridge. What a shame! Pain or no pain, I would have enjoyed walking along that edge of those sheer cliffs above the sea. And, just to make matters worse, a few minutes later I see my elderly couple coming down that same steep path. If they could do it, why didn’t I try?
Back on the official South West Coast Path, I walk on the flat along the side of the valley, before the path dips down to cross the stream at the bottom. Here I find my husband waiting for me beside the bridge and we continue the rest of the walk together.
There is a steep climb up the other side, and then a long haul up the slope of Upright Cliff. It is a relief to reach the relatively flat land of Blagdon Cliff. Ahead, across fields, we see a small building and a radio tower. Mistakenly, I think this is the Hartland Point Lighthouse and I’m disappointed by its squat structure. Where is the light?
Further along, we see a memorial stone for the hospital ship, the Glenart Castle, sunk by a U-boat during the 1st World War. [This was a horrible war crime and more information about the sinking can be found here.]
Looking down from Blagdon Cliff we see the Hartland Point Lighthouse. It looks like a proper lighthouse, in a beautiful position at the bottom of the tall cliffs and perched above the sea. But I gather it is now a private residence. I am not sure where the new light is housed.
These waters are extremely treacherous. I have seen how sharp and unforgiving the rocks are, stretching like lines of giant razor blades into the sea, extending well beyond the shore. The ruffling of the waves just off the tip of Hartland Point indicates hidden rocks just below the surface.
And we soon come upon a reminder of another shipping disaster, a cargo ship called Johanna. Luckily all crew members were rescued with no fatalities.
We pass the road that leads down to the lighthouse. It has gates and fences and notices saying the lighthouse is closed to the public. The tone of the notices all suggests the lighthouse is still in the hands of Trinity House.
Here is the possible reason. The Hartland Heliport. This might look like a couple of unprepossessing sheds, but it is an important route to Lundy Island and we presume that the heli-passengers use the car park, which is locked after the helicopter flights leave.
I have taken 2 hours to cover 3 miles, but it has been a great day of walking. Why hurry?
And now I have rounded Hartland point, my long slog northwards up the coast from Padstow has come to an end. It has been an extraordinarily beautiful and challenging stretch of coastline. Next time I will be heading east, towards Barnstable.
Miles walked today = 3
Total miles walked = 1,339
Vertical height climbed since Padstow = 16,522 feet
Mount Everest rises to 29,000 feet above sea level, and I have climbed well over half this height. But, if you set off to climb Mount Everest, you don’t start at sea level, you start at the base. The most generous base to summit climb is 15,260 feet.
So, I think it is fair to say that, in the past eight days of my coastal walking, I have climbed the equivalent of the height of Mount Everest!