It is early and the visitors’ centre above Clovelly is closed. I walk down and find the stepped entrance to my secret, sunken, Wrinkleberry Lane. Next to the lane, a large gate marks the continuation of the South West Coast Path.
Constructed in the early 19th Century as a scenic carriage drive, The Hobby Drive is a three-mile track. It starts on the east side of Clovelly and winds around the coast, before joining the A39 a short distance to the west of Buck’s Mill. No traffic is allowed, but it is a public footpath and part of the official South West Coast Path.
Maybe the path is busy in the summer, but today it is very quiet. I overtake a lone dog walker.
It is a lovely walk through ancient woods. With the trees still bare of leaves, plenty of light filters down through branches. The track winds in and out, following the folds and contours of the slopes, crossing over streams.
At some point I am overtaken by a young couple walking very briskly. Not knowing how you can keep up such a pace, and thinking they must be planning a very lengthy walk because they seem in such a hurry, I ask them where they are going. Only to Buck’s Mills.
The Hobby Drive rises and falls, dipping into the valleys and climbing up again. It circles the cliffs, high above the sea.
Through the trees I get a sudden view of Clovelly. The harbour is empty of water this morning, and still the solitary boat. I am surprised to discover how little progress I have made in 30 minutes of easy walking.
Further along and I come to a stone bench, marking where another 1/2 mile of carriageway was added to Hobby Drive in 1901.
Hobby Drive bends around to join the main A39 at a place called Hobby Lodge. But before this, the South West Coast Path branches off, its welcome acorn sign pointing down into a steep-sided, but shallow, wooded valley.
The drive was easy walking and allowed me to progress at the furious pace of 3 miles an hour (positively jogging rate for me!). It feels good, however, to be heading off into the wilds and along a more exciting path.
The sunshine of the morning disappears and a chilly mist is blowing in from the sea. I walk along the edge of farmland and then follow a ridge of woodland. Barton Wood says my map. Buck’s Valley Wood says a sign. The trees are old and, despite the mist, I very much enjoy this section.
Hidden to my right is a holiday park, but the only sign of ‘civilisation’ I come across is the sewage works.
The path begins to dip down. I must be heading into the wooded valley of Buck’s Mills.
Buck’s Mills is a collection of houses built around a stream that drops down onto the beach in a waterfall. The coast slipway is closed due to damage from the winter storms [local residents took a YouTube video that shows the waves smashing a hole in the concrete]. I look along the coast, but the view is obscured by the mist. What a shame. I think I can just make out the distance stump of Blackchurch Rock.
The climb out of the valley at Buck’s Mill is punishing. On the way up, I meet a number of people, most with dogs. None of them seem to be serious walkers.
Two yapping dogs takes me by surprise. The path is a narrow series of steep steps and I nearly fall off the side. When the dog owners appear, two women coming down, I have to stop and negotiate a passing point. They ask me where I am going and talk knowledgeably about the path ahead (“very tricky”) before admitting they have never made it further than the top of this cliff!
At the top, the path comes out onto open land. On a fine day there might be a great view ahead across Bideford Bay towards Barnstaple, but today all I can see is fog.
Fingers of mist keep reaching up, oozing through the trees and trailing across the fields. My clothes are damp and from time to time I think the fine spray on my face is rain.
It is almost a relief when the path dips down into woodland again. At least the trees are solid enough and the path is clearly visible.
And an even greater relief when I see my husband coming towards me. He parked at Westward Ho! and walked to meet me. This must be, approximately, the half way point of my walk today.
But he warns me the path ahead is difficult and I have Peppercombe Valley to tackle next.