A walk on the South West Coastal Path from Bude to Hartland Quay
Following on from our last South West Coast Path walk from Croyde to Ilfracombe we decided to do another in North Devon. Or to be exact a walk that finished in North Devon but actually started in the neighbouring county of Cornwall. This time, for the walk, which is the second that we have featured, we chose to try the remote route from Hartland Quay to Bude. Although from the title of this page you will have worked out that we ended up doing it the other way around and therefore finishing at the ancient and historic port.
This leg of the coastal path has been reputed to be one of the most demanding sections of the whole route. As well as being one of the toughest South West Coast Path walks, it is also one of the longest. The hard day’s slog that involves many tiring climbs and descents is unquestionably worth the effort as you are rewarded with some of the most spectacular coastline in Devon and Cornwall.
As with our last walk, we did not want to have the worry about parking a vehicle and then getting back to it again later. We had already ruled out the possibility of travelling up by bus, completing the walk and then returning back home again in one day. So for this walk, weather permitting, we had planned to stay in Bude. We’d get up nice and early, catch the bus to Hartland and then walk the 2.5-miles to Hartland Quay. This would then give us plenty of time to walk, at a fairly leisurely pace, the 15-miles back to Bude.
This is where things didn’t go to plan – after several weeks of glorious spring weather leading up to our planned walk, accommodation booked and travel arrangement made, the weather changed! And so the title of this page also changed from ‘Hartland Quay to Bude’ to ‘A walk on the South West Coastal Path from Bude to Hartland Quay’. The reasoning behind our change was that there would be a lull in the poor weather giving us a window of drier conditions until mid afternoon. So with this in mind we still rose nice and early but instead of catching the 06.58 to Hartland Northgate Green, we set out on the coast path at the same time from Bude. This gave us a head start of around 1.5 hours and therefore put us very close to our destination before the weather deteriorated further.
Transport to / from walk
To the start / finish
Buses are available from Exeter to Bude and then on to Hartland. You can also catch a train to Barnstaple and then the bus to Hartland.
If travelling by car to Croyde:
At Exeter, Take the A30 Junction 31 off the M5 motorway towards Okehampton. Then come off the A30 and pick up the A386 turning just after Okehampton. Next take the A386, then A3079 and A3072 to Holswothy and on to Bude.
Please use the Traveline site listed within the Devon Travel Information directory to confirm any details here and get up to date journey times.
Whether you are looking for a Hotel, Guest House or camping site, there was lots of places to stay in North Devon. There’s also a few options of places to stay in Hartland. For our walk we stayed in Bude where there’s plenty more to choose.
We were very much looking forward to this walk that is both relentless and tough. And also, at just over 15-miles long, it is the longest section that we have walked so far.
After an early rise and just over a mile walk from our camp site we were at Crooklets Beach. The weather as already mentioned was not great but it was dry. This was good enough for us to start out on the South West Coast Path at 7am.
After a 15-minute walk from Crooklets Beach we had travelled along a section of undulating terrain passing the appropriately named First Cove. We also overlooked Pearce’s Cove and Vinegar Cove before we reached Northcott Mouth Beach. As noted this walk would be one of many climbs and our first climb came here. Well the first of any significance where we felt a little strain on the legs. We crossed a little bridge and climbed out of Northcott Mouth and this once again took us up along the cliff tops overlooking the coastline.
Whilst walking on the first part of the path we were always conscious of the satellite ground station dishes. These where some 5-miles ahead when we set off, located at the former RAF Cleave base. In the 1960’s with the construction of these huge interception devices the area became now known as GCHQ Bude.
To the left ahead between the ragged shoreline of Menachurch and Warren Point we could see a piece of sandy beach known as Sandymouth. This beach, which is the longest of the Bude beaches and popular with surfers has a National Trust car park, toilets and Cafe. Although everything seemed to be shut at the time we had travelled through. From here on, although we hadn’t seen many other walkers, probably down to the poor weather forecast, we began to feel very secluded on the path. Maybe later we’d see others determined to complete the walk but going in the opposite direction.
After journeying along on top of Stowe Cliffs we started our descent into Warren Gutter and crossed a little bridge. After climbing up to Warren Point, we were now overlooking Duckpool beach and car park which is set in a lovely steep-sided valley leading to the beach in one direction and a road that passed a few cottages on the way out in the other. With another steep drop down, we crossed a footbridge, rounded the pool that did have ducks having a morning swim and then climbed the other side. This was rocky and little tricky underfoot as we made our way up to Steeple Point.
There was a fantastic view looking back from Steeple Point to towards Bude in one direction and the other was of Wren Beach and Lower Sharpnose Point in the background. The views of the terrain that we had so far come along and what was yet to arrive was amazing – I remember thinking “This really is worth all the effort!”
After walking on top of Harscott High Cliff, this was both very open and windy, we found ourselves alongside the huge satellite receivers. We had been walking towards these for the last three hours and where now in their shadow standing on what must have been the old outer service roads of the former RAF base.
At 09.30 we sat on a bench seat overlooking Stanbury Mouth. This seat, that has the inscription of “In loving memory John William Allen born 1921 – Died December 2009 – Parish of Morwenstow 2003” was very welcomed. And at this point, after yet another descent and climb we decided to have our first break.
For the next couple of miles the path undulates smoothly until reaching Higher Sharpnose Point and dropping down to Tidna Shute. The long headland of Higher Sharpnose Point is an idea spot to view the coastline – and yes I did spare the time to walk out to take a few photographs. After crossing another footbridge over the Tidna and climbing back up to the top and out of the valley we found ourselves approaching Vicarage Cliff.
Vicarage Cliff is where we noted down as our ‘opt-out’ point just in case we were so tired and couldn’t continued. The view inland from here shows a church tower belonging to the village of Morwenstow. We found, should the need have arisen, that a bus service runs twice daily except Sundays from this village. Well the need didn’t and we continued to enjoy this part of the Coast Path. Although, located nearby we did manage to find Hawkers Hut for a little sit down and rest. This hut made originally of driftwood with a grassed roof was built by the vicar (Rev Robert Stephen Hawker) of Morwenstow 1834 – 1875. He would write poems whilst marvelling at the spectacular views. We found the hut and its setting a rather romantic spot that almost inspired me to propose – if only I had brought the ring!
We dropped down on a winding rocky path that passes a cove and then up with yet another steep climb we reach Henna Cliff at 143m. It was around this point that we came across our first sight of others ‘humans’ on the path. A couple of gentlemen who had parked up at Morwenstow and gradually caught us up (fresh legs!).
We moved along the top of Cornakey Cliffs with even more fabulous views including Yeol Mouth, Gull Rock and Devils Hole ahead. We then descended to Litter Mouth, another rocky beach where we were past by a hill runner who not only ran down one side but then she continued to our amazement to run up the zigzag trail of steps on the other side also. When we reached the other side we could scarcely walk up it as it was so steep. But once you do make it to the top there is another well positioned bench seat on top of Marsland Cliff (grid ref SS209171). The seat, although it had seen better days, was placed here in September 1980 by friends and colleagues of Mr Harold Ford, manager of St Johns Launceston so many thanks to you all.
It was now midday, our bottoms were firmly perched on a seat and apart from a short break we had been walking for over 5 hours and covered around 8.5 miles. With a great view of the coastline and Marsland Beach below we decided that this was the place for a bite to eat. While eating our sandwiches a group of ladies and a gentleman arrived coming up from Marsland Mouth. After a little chat it materialised that they belonged to a civic society and had walked up to inspect the bench. We commented that it was certainly in need of repair but also how welcomed we had found it after the previous climb.
After leaving the group to do what ever inspections a civic society would to a bench seat, we set off down the steep hill to Marsland Mouth to cross a little stream via another wooden footbridge. But this was not just any ordinary footbridge, this bridge was something a little more significant. It was also the place where we crossed from Cornwall into Devon.
While climbing up and out of the Marsland valley we came across the stone structured hut of Ronald Duncan – a writer, poet and playwright born in 1914. Inside the hut, a plaque describes how the poet built the hut in 1962 and spent much of his time here composing plays and poetry. In his memory, his daughter Briony had the hut restored so that walkers and holiday makers can sit, rest and enjoy the glorious views of the coastline and valley below.
Once out of Ronald Duncan’s hut we continued to steeply climb the rest of the hillside. At the top we reached an area of flat ground with black sheep grazing. This plateaux would not last long before we found ourselves looking down on to the river valley of Welcombe Mouth. From the top, where there is another bench seat, we could overlook the bay. From a distance it really looked lovely – I could see the stream running in the valley down to the mouth with stepping stones instead of a bridge to cross. There is also car parking here so certainly more accessible than the method we’re using today. And while looking down like this you can’t help but also notice the hillside out again on the other side – looks fun! And finally we saw walkers coming in the opposite direction down the hill from the other side – I wondered how far they are going today?
We reached the bottom of the hill and arrive at Welcombe Mouth. The time was 1pm, so another short break was in order at an opportune time whilst also admiring this beautiful place. How the quaint stream was negotiating the man-made steeping stones then dropping down several waterfalls on its way to the sea shore. The beach, not one I’d like to walk on, but I found it very interesting in the way that it had low level straight lines of rock running out to the sea.
We spent around 15-minutes resting and enjoying the sights at Welcombe Mouth and its beach. Later I found that it’s also a Geological Conservation Review Site. It’s certainly a place I’ll return to again one day! Sadly we had to move on and climbed out and up to Welcombe Mouth North leading on to Embury Beacon overlooking the Beach and on to Gull Rock ahead. We also passed a sign showing that we had 4-miles to go to Hartland Quay.
We seemed to have been travelling along the level cliff tops for some time without too much undulations in the terrain. Not long after passing Nabor Point (grid ref SS215202) we managed to find ourselves in a field with no obvious way out. At first we thought that we’d taken a wrong turn. However, whilst backtracking a little we found a turn-style deliberately hidden and covered with loose brambles and tree cuttings. Nearby we managed to hop over the hedge where others had clearly been caught out also. Over the other side we found a sign saying permissive pathway returned to original point – not very clear when travelling in the opposite direction. This was obviously an altercation of some sorts but it would have helped by putting a sign up a quarter of a mile back before turning into the fields in the first place!
Continuing on after coming through the last obstacle we were now walking along a country lane. This was enjoyably smooth on the legs after the walk so far and to the left we had a great view out to Lundy Island with the yellow gorse land in the foreground. From this point on it would seem Lundy was always there on the horizon in our approach to Hartland Quay.
After passing Long Peak we had an option of either taking a cliff-top footpath or the coast path valley route. We opted for the latter with a little stream running down through the valley on our right-hand side. As we approached the bottom, between the tors, we once again saw Lundy. If the day had been clearer this would have been a spectacular view.
At 14.45, about an hour from Hartland Quay, we arrived at Speke’s Mill Mouth. There are so many places and scenes on this walk that I will take away in my memories. One notable such memory would have to be Speke’s Valley with its 60ft waterfall (grid ref SS225236) cascading down to the beach below. As we walked away and up to the cliff tops towards St Catherine’s Tor, the view back is quite incredible with fantastic coastal scenery that you’d be pushed to forget.
After rounding the next headland, we were overlooking Screda Point (grid ref SS224246), a strange looking north facing cliff side that just drops away. With the Hartland Quay Hotel car park below, this would be the last headland on the walk. The rain had also started to drizzle so although our coastal walk had nearly finished, we would just have the 2.5mile road walk to Hartland.
There’s very little to see of Hartland Quay today due to storms in the C19th destroying the harbour walls. By this time the railway had also arrived in Bideford that led to maintenance of the pier ceasing. The current slipway was established in 1970 by the Hartland Boat Club. The Old Customs House and warehouse is now a hotel and museum with many walkers starting or ending their walks here.
For the remaining part of our journey we needed to catch the last bus back to Bude. In order to do this we needed to walk to Hartland. The light rain by this time had also got heavier and we found ourselves quite sodden by the time we had reached the village. We did have time to find a coffee and then sat, although very tired, sheltering at the bus stop. We were quietly cheerful and pleased at same time with our day’s achievement that looked at one stage to be at jeopardy to the elements!
Total walking distance
On this occasion with the extra walking to start and from the finish we ended up doing approximately 20-miles.
More photographs for this leg of the South West Coast Path are available within the Devon Photograph Gallery. We are also hoping to add some short videos of the Bude to Hartland Quay walk.