139a Clovelly to Buck’s Mills

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.

Hobby Drive entrance, Ruth's coastal walk, Clovelly, North Devon

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.

02 Hobby Drive, Ruth Livingstone's coast walk

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.

Hobby Drive, woods and stream, Ruth's coast walk

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.

Hobby Drive, Ruth on the South West Coast Path, Clovelly

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.

Hobby Drive, looking down at Clovelly, Ruth's coast 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 and extension, Ruth walking the coast, North Devon

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.

Hobby Drive, end of, walking the South West Coast Path, Ruth Livingstone

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.

Barton Wood, Ruth on her coastal walk, North Devon

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.

Sewage works, Ruth walking the coast above Buck's Mills

The path begins to dip down. I must be heading into the wooded valley of Buck’s Mills.

Down to Buck's Mill, Ruth walking the SW Coast Path, Devon

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.

Buck's Mill, Blackchurch rock in distance, Ruth on SWCP

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.

Mist above Buck's Mills, Ruths coast walk, Devon

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.

Above Worthygate Wood, Ruth's coastal walk, North Devon

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.

Misty woods, Ruth on the SW Coast Path, above Buck's Mills

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.

Hubby, above Peppercombe, Ruth's coast walk

But he warns me the path ahead is difficult and I have Peppercombe Valley to tackle next.

[Continued in the next blog post.]

About Ruth Livingstone

Walker, writer, photographer, blogger, doctor, woman, etc.
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10 Responses to 139a Clovelly to Buck’s Mills

  1. You are now on my 2008 Land’s End to John o’ Groats walk. I camped a bit further on at Pusehill (SS 428 280) in a lady’s garden opposite The Pig on the Hill pub where there was an eccentric landlord. I went inland at Barnstaple but I will join you again at Redwick where I passed through on my Severn Way walk last summer. I guess you will probably walk over the Severn Bridge to Chepstow, so I will pick you up again from my Welsh boundary walk in 2011.

    I’m enjoying your trip and looking forward to your future posts.

    • Hi Conrad. One of the great things about walking is that you ‘never walk alone’, even when you are on your own! There are always the people who have done it before you and other walkers who will come after you. Like you, I always enjoy reading other accounts of the same walk. Hope your knee is on the mend, best wishes, Ruth

  2. mariekeates says:

    Lovely misty photos. The wood looks like it should be in a fairy tale. The stone bench is beautiful too.

  3. Hello Ruth, VERY inspiring what you are doing. Seeing all these English scenes is making me quite homesick! I would love to do what you are doing one day. Interested to see also you are doing a creative writing MA at Birkbeck, how is that? Rebecca

    • Hi Rebecca. I was born in Kenya and lived there, near Mombasa, until I was 10 years old – so found your Kenyan adventures very interesting! Walking the coast has made me realise how beautiful England is. I’m in my 3rd year of a 4 year *BA* at Birkbeck. Great fun and I have learnt a tremendous amount. Ruth

  4. Hi Ruth, how amazing to have spent the first ten years of your life in Kenya. Where did you live near Mombassa? We have been that way a couple of times.

    • Spent the first 3-4 years in Ngau on the Tana River where lions prowled around the house at night. And then we moved to Mazerus, a village on the Mombasa to Nairobi road, where it was a bit more civilised. I went to school in Mombasa. It was an amazing childhood. I’ve never been back :/

  5. What a super blog and exciting adventure Ruth. I particularly enjoyed reading your St Agnes adventures in Cornwall. I have just moved there from Lincolnshire, and so I’m enjoying exploring the coast myself! Good luck to you x

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