Wings above the waves: walking along the Hartland Peninsula
PUBLISHED: 10:50 02 May 2017 | UPDATED: 10:50 02 May 2017
Thirst-quenching coastal views, a smugglers’ beach, Iron Age hill fort and a unique village are all encompassed in this walk on the Hartland Peninsula, writes Simone Stanbrook-Byrne
Way up in the north of the county the steeply cobbled street of Clovelly is one of Devon’s famed sights, its intriguing heritage enticing visitors from all over the world. This privately-owned village has, for almost 800 years, been in the hands of just three different families. In 1738 the Hamlyn family bought the estate for £9,438 and their descendants still own it today.
However, over the centuries it has been celebrated for much more than its unusual administration. The village features frequently in art and literature, most notably the work of Charles Kingsley, author of The Water Babies and son of the one-time rector. The popularity of his novel Westward Ho! put the area on the tourist map during the 19th century and income from visitors bolstered the prosperity of Clovelly as its fishing trade declined.
But beyond its human interest, the magnificent natural beauty of the Clovelly landscape makes a trip to this top corner of Devon supremely worthwhile. Shaped by oft-ferocious weather, the coastline can be fabulously rugged. Smugglers once conducted their affairs hereabouts and boats have come to grief. Seabirds mourn overhead. By contrast, spring and summer flowers bejewel the paths and on a clear day the views to Lundy and across Bideford bay are enormous. Relish them.
From the back of the car park a fingerpost directs along a track towards Beckland Woods and the coast path, one mile away. This leads to a gate entering woodland, beyond which a fingerpost low down on the right points downhill towards Windbury Hill Fort, across a footbridge. At the far side of the bridge go right, still towards Windbury. The coast path here is signed as a mere quarter of a mile, so you’ve just walked the quickest three-quarter mile you’re ever likely to.
Follow this lovely sylvan path with its moss-upholstered trees and cascading birdsong. There is a stream down to the right. At the next three-way fingerpost beside a bridge, don’t cross. Keep heading for Windbury, soon reaching a few steps on the left. Climb these, then head left uphill. In about 50m another fingerpost tells you to keep straight on for Windbury – obey it.
The path climbs and just before the end of the woodland swings right to reach a gate into the environs of the Iron Age hill fort. Beyond the gate bear right along the trodden path which winds up to the top, climbing steadily to reach a three-way fingerpost above Beckland Cliff (grid ref SS284266). The hill fort’s summit is 142m above sea level but much of the original encampment has suffered coastal erosion.
From the fingerpost go right on the acorn-waymarked coast path towards Mouth Mill two miles away. The sea views are superb, but spare a glance inland as it’s good there too. Ahead, at sea level on Mouthmill Beach, is Blackchurch Rock, bearing a strong resemblance to the old ‘Monopoly iron’.
Keep going on the coast path which eventually winds downhill back on itself – still following signs for Mouth Mill whenever there is an option. The path crosses Windbury Woods bridge at SS291265 then climbs and zigzags back up the cliff.
On a gloomy day the glow of gorse can really brighten the darkness. The path reaches a gate beside a three-way fingerpost, enter the field and turn left.
Eventually the coast path drops towards Mouth Mill, passing through wind-tumbled woodland on the way down to the beach. Listen for waves on the shingle below and imagine the days of smugglers.... The path deposits you near the now-ruined limekiln. At low water you can scramble out to Blackchurch Rock – but watch the tides and don’t get cut off.
Follow the acorn coast path signs to cross the stream on a smart wooden bridge. Beyond this follow the clear path, climbing to reach a broad crossing-track. Turn left along it then swing right within 50m, climbing steadily. About 450m from the bridge look for the fingerpost directing left to continue with the coast path. Another pointer invites you to head for a viewpoint – if you do, return to the coast path and keep going. The path passes the area known as Gallantry Bower; further on are good inland views to Clovelly Court before re-entering woodland. Keep watching for coast path signs and don’t deviate inland.
You reach a sumptuously-carved Grade II listed shelter, The Angel’s Wings, constructed in 1826, then restored in 1934 in memory of Marion Stucley. This is a beautiful spot for your picnic, enhanced for us by the presence of a tree-creeper also having his ‘sandwiches’ nearby. Keep going beyond The Angel’s Wings, ignoring an inland path to the church. The coast path emerges from the woodland at some large gates; continue, re-entering woods and soon reaching The Cabin, another picnic-stop.
Beyond The Cabin the path climbs out of the trees, enters a field and soon reaches a wrought-iron kissing gate. Go through this and continue with the path as it skirts the parkland, eventually passing through gates to join the lane. Turn right uphill to reach a T-junction in a few metres.
The walk continues to the right along the lane, but if you wish to visit Clovelly turn left, returning to this spot afterwards.
Follow the lane, ignoring a left turn in 300m and keeping on the pavement until you reach the gates of Clovelly Court in another 350m. Here a bridleway goes right down the tarmac drive. Take this. As you approach the buildings the church is to the right and a fingerpost points left along the bridleway.
Follow this into woods and keep ahead, ignoring a pointer in about 200m back to the coast path. Stay on the bridleway to reach the buildings of Court Farm and Dairy Cottage. The tarmac finishes and the track becomes stony. Keep ahead on the track beyond the farm buildings, looking for blue arrows to reassure you.
About 400m from the farm you pass through a gateway where a blue arrow directs you to veer slightly right off the track, heading across the field towards woodland. This line passes a gate with no fence and reaches another arrowed gate in the far hedge (not in the far right corner of the field).
Continue beyond here down the next field with fenced woodland to the right. At the bottom corner of the field you find a gate, set down quite deeply in the corner. Beyond this follow the blue arrow along a stony track, heading downhill through woodland. The track descends for about 200m to meet a broader track by a fingerpost. Its fingers are slightly wayward, but your way lies to the left along this broad track, reaching another fingerpost in just over 100m.
Go right when here, crossing a stream and arriving at another junction of forestry tracks within 100m. Go left, looking out for the organic ‘den’ tucked under the trees on the left – I hope it survives the winter! Keep following the clear woodland track, watching out for shiny dor beetles. Don’t stand on them, they have an important job to do.
There now follows about half a mile of verdant walking. When you reach the lane at Lower Brownsham Farm note the witches’ seats on its chimneys, inviting them to rest outside and not create havoc inside. Turn left up the lane away from the farm. Within 100m you find steps on the right leading up to the car park.
Start point: National Trust Car Park at Brownsham. Grid ref: SS285259. Postcodes can be misleading!
Directions to start & parking: Brownsham is between Hartland and Clovelly, accessed north off the B3248. Initially, follow the signs for Hartland Point but before getting there look out for the signs for Brownsham. These lead to the car park
Public transport: Buses do operate in the area, but not to the car park. For those using public transport it might be better to start the walk from Clovelly. Details from travelinesw.com
Map: OS Explorer 126, Clovelly and Hartland 1:25 000
Terrain: Coast path, tracks and a short stretch on lane
Distance: almost 6½ miles/10½km
Dog friendliness: Good, but animals may be grazing in some areas
Exertion: Strenuous, undulating and rough-underfoot on the outward journey. An easier return. Muddy patches after rain
Toilets: None en route unless visiting Clovelly
Be aware that there is a cost to enter the village through the Visitor Centre (clovelly.co.uk)
Refreshments: Picnics advisable unless a visit into Clovelly is planned, where you will find the Red Lion Hotel, 01237 431237 and the New Inn, 01237 431303