We arrive at Hartland Point and find the car park open and the kiosk manned. The attendant wants us to pay, but my husband is only dropping me off- and so we park on the road and I lace up my boots, grab my rucksack and prepare for another day of walking.
Several cars swing into the car park while I am doing this. Passengers for the helicopter trip over to Lundy Island. I see one woman with a rucksack and binoculars and, for a moment, I envy her and wish I was going too.
But I have walking to do. I add Lundy Island to my list of places to return to if and when I ever finish this round-the-coast walk.
Picking up the South West Coast Path, I walk along North Cliff and stop, under the tower of the radar station, to take a photo looking back across the boulders of Barley Bay towards Hartland Point. The lighthouse is invisible, on the other side of the Point, but you can see the track that leads to it running downwards and around.
I am standing on West Titchberry Cliff (what a wonderful name!) and I look ahead along the shoreline.
Although the sun shines intermittently, the day is hazy and photography is difficult because I am looking into the morning sun.
The next bay is called Shipload Bay, the headland beyond is Eldern Point with Long Rock, covered by the high tide, below. Beyond, I am not sure what exactly I am looking at, because my map indicates a 2-3 mile line of straight and somewhat featureless cliffs.
There is a strip of land in the far distance across the sea, too hazy to show up in the photograph. That must be the shore as it swings round beyond Barnstable.
I have just completed a staggeringly beautiful stretch of coast, from Padstow through Port Isaac, Tintagel, Bude, Morwenstow, before finishing up at Hartland Point. Every time I turned a corner, there was some pretty cove or a stunning rock formation to discover.
It comes as something of a surprise, therefore, to find the next few miles are… well, no other word for it… boring.
The path runs along the side of fields and is hemmed in by hedges. On my left, somewhere, must be the cliffs that fall down to the sea, but I don’t have access to the views because of overgrown gorse and brambles.
It is a relief to come across a piece of woodland.
I think this is East Titchberry, but there are no woods marked on my map, so I feel a little disoriented.
I must be walking around the edge of Shipload Bay, apparently one of the few sandy beaches in the area, but inaccessible by foot.
Half an hour after I left the heliport car park I hear the noise of a helicopter. I manage to snap this photograph as it rises up from the other side of the radar station and buzzes off in the direction of Lundy.
A few minutes later and I’ve reached the end of Shipload Bay. I ‘m standing at the far end of East Titchberry Cliff, above Eldern Point and Long Rock. There is not much sand on the beach below. Plenty of rocks.
The path runs across fields. High hedges again between me and the sea. Boring fields. A few sheep in the distance.
The monotony is broken by an obelisk.
At this point I wonder if I have been spoiled for ever. Cornwall was so extraordinarily beautiful, perhaps every walk from now on with be disappointing.
Oh, well. Onwards.
I am making rapid progress and have reached the end of Fatacott Cliff, according to my map. The path ahead looks uninspiring. But at least it is flat.
I am just revising my ETA at Clovelly, when the path turns off from the field and heads down through woodland.
I am just about to set off downwards, when I see two young women puffing up the path towards me. They are red-haired and pale skinned and speak in Irish accents. They set off from Clovelly and are heading for Hartland Quay.
“What’s the path like ahead?” they ask me.
“A bit boring, really,” I say.
They look relieved and tell me there have been a lot of inclines between here and Clovelly.
“Four big downs and ups.”
The woodland diversion takes me down into a steep valley. I cross the stream at the bottom and climb up the slope on the other side. That is the first down-and-up done, three more to go. Back to plodding across fields. The next waypoint is Windbury Head.
Windbury Head is the site of yet another ancient Iron Age fort, although there is nothing much left to see today.
The path from here onwards becomes much more interesting and challenging. I walk down along the wooded slopes of a valley, thinking I am in Brownsham Wood.
Ahead I can see an unusual rock, triangular and pierced by holes. I check my map again. That must be Blackchurch Rock. So I am convinced this really is Brownsham Wood and I am going down into Mouthmill Beach.
I soon lose sight of the rock and realise the path doesn’t go all the way down to the beach. Instead it takes me up the other side of the valley, a long and steep climb.
When I get to the top, it comes as a bit of shock to realise that the path almost immediately plunges down again, through yet another wooded valley. This is Brownsham and now I am going down into Mouthmill Beach. Ah well, I ‘ve done two out of the four downs-and-ups.
Blackchurch Rock grows larger. Across the water I can see cliffs in the distance on the other side of Bideford Bay. Tomorrow’s walk.
At the bottom of Mouthmill is a stream and some deserted buildings. The beach consists of large boulders and is almost impossible to walk across as the stones are piled in an unstable mess. (I have seen photos showing sand on the beach, but it is either covered in water today, or it has been swept away by the winter storms.)
The stream ends in a pool on the landward side of a ridge of boulders, and appears to drain away underneath the upper beach, appearing on the other side as scattered rivulets among the rocks.
The really interesting thing about the beach is the Blackchurch Rock and its holes, although you get a better view of the rock from the slopes coming down into the valley.
There is a man-made balcony just above the beach, with a flat area where you could sit and have a picnic if you didn’t want to make your way along the precarious stones.
The South West Coast Path heads along a track through the woods. I am disappointed. I expected to be climbing up a slope. This looks tame.
But after a short distance the path turns uphill. And what a steep climb it becomes, rapidly rising to around 300 feet above sea level. It is really tough on my calves. Just standing still requires muscular effort. I find a flat spot where I balance between the trees and take a photo back along the shoreline.
What a shame about the haze. Lundy Island is invisible.
At the top the ground flattens and opens up, changing from woods to heathland. This is Gallantry Bower and the site of an ancient tumulus. Clovelly is somewhere ahead.
I wonder when the next, and last, down-and-up will be.
The next section of walk is through lovely woodland. I am walking above a steep slope, the sea visible below between the trees.
At one point I come across this lovely shelter. Later I learn this is called “Angel Wings” and was built by the owner of Clovelly Estate, Sir James Hamlyn Williams. He would sit here and look across the bay to where his daughter lived on the far side. Ah.
It is 2:15pm. I am making good progress but I’m not sure how much further I have to go. The pub in Clovelly stops serving lunch at 3:30. I hurry onwards. The path is flat and gives easy walking through the woods.
I pass the large estate house, Clovelly Court, and come to a road where a few cars are parked. A road? Where am I?
Because Clovelly is built on a steep hill, my map is scored across with contour lines and is difficult to read. I am tempted to head down the road but I am put off by signs warning cars not to enter, there is no turning, access only. Perhaps the road only leads to a private estate? (Later I discover that, although tourists are discouraged from driving down this way, this road would have taken me into Clovelly.)
It is nearly 3:00pm. I am in danger of missing lunch.
I follow the road along the top for a short distance, unsure of where I am or where Clovelly is. A path strikes off down the slope, through the trees, and I decide to follow it.
The path grows steeper and becomes a series of cobbled steps. I am relieved to see buildings ahead. Ah. This must be Clovelly.
This is a difficult descent. The cobbles are slippery, the path slopes between the steps. I’m unsure how far down I need to go or where I will end up. But lunch is calling. I keep going.
I come out onto a wider path and look down at Clovelly’s little harbour. And, what a relief, there is the pub.
I arrive just in time to order lunch. Fish and chips, what else could I have?
The walk back up through Clovelly is tiring but very enjoyable. At the top, I find a secret, sunken path that takes me up to Wrinkleberry and my B&B in Higher Clovelly. But I will post the photos of this final section on another page.
Miles walked today = 9 miles
Miles in total = 1,348