• Start: Stoke Church car park, grid ref SS236248 (Alternatively, use car park at Hartland Quay and start the directions at point 4)
  • End: Stoke Church car park, grid ref SS236248 (Alternatively, use car park at Hartland Quay and start the directions at point 4)
  • Country: England
  • County: Devon
  • Type: Country
  • Nearest pub: Hartland Quay Hotel
  • Ordnance Survey: Explorer 216, Landranger 190 or Harvey’s SW Coast Path 1
  • Difficulty: Medium
Google Map


Rugged cliffs and surf-washed beaches feature in this walk along the North Devon coast. Words and photos by Robert Hesketh

Although it can be completed in a vigorous mornings walk, this route gives a good flavour of the peculiarly stern character of North Devons Atlantic coast, with its rugged cliffs and surf-washed beaches. Dramatic rock formations at Hartland Quay and the coast paths largest waterfall at Spekes Mill Mouth make this walk especially photogenic. Some steep gradients are the corollary, but none are long or arduous.

Beginning at the beautiful church of St Nectan in Stoke, which has the highest tower in North Devon 130ft (39m) tall and a daymark for shipping there is much of interest en route. Be sure to visit the excellent museum at Hartland Quay, which has a fascinating collection of maritime artifacts, mainly related to the many shipwrecks claimed by this wild coast.

The museum also has a good geological section: Hartlands cliffs are a classic example of the Crackington Formation, so named from the fantastically contorted layers of interbedded sandstone and shale that predominate between Hartland Point and Crackington Haven. Deposited under the sea during the Carboniferous period (c345-280 million years ago), these rocks were folded and faulted during the latter part of the Carboniferous and into the following Permian period, when mountains up to 3,000m (10,000ft) high were thrust up in what is now Devon. Today, the countys highest point, High Willhays on Dartmoor, barely qualifies as a mountain at a modest 621m (2,039ft) which gives some notion of geological time and the power of erosion.

The cliffs, with their fantastically folded rocks and the saw-toothed formations stretching out into the turbulent sea, are forbidding indeed. It is hard to believe Hartland Quay was once thriving with cargo vessels. In fact, it dates from Queen Elizabeths time and continued in use until late-19th-century storm damage. Hartland Quay handled a variety of cargoes, notably lime to feed three kilns and malt

1.With your back to the church, turn left. Walk past Stoke Barton Farm and take the first lane on the right, past the front of Rose Cottage. After 200m the lane becomes a rough track, signed Unsuitable for Motors (and thus more suitable for walkers). Walk on for 900m.

2.At Wargery, bear right onto the tarred lane. On reaching Kernstone Cross, turn right, signed Kernstone. At the end of the lane, bear left through the gate ahead and follow the public footpath for Spekes Mill Mouth. Walk past the cottage onto a grassy path. When it joins a track, keep right and walk on.
Milford Water drops into the sea at Spekes Mill Mouth by an impressive series of falls totaling 68m (224ft). The first fall of 15m (50ft) is vertical and the most impressive, but is almost hidden away on your left behind a wooden fence. The best view of it is obtained by taking a short path that leads down from a gap in the fence. Take extreme care if you do this.

3.Return to the coast path, which climbs steeply before levelling off. Continue over a ladder stile and follow the path downhill to walk behind St Catherines Tor, once the site of a medieval chapel hence the name. At the far side of the tor is a smaller waterfall, Wargery Water, which may run dry in summer. Before capture by the sea, it continued northwards along the valley to near Hartland Quay. Keep right here up a stony track.

4.On reaching the car park, turn downhill for Hartland Quay, with its shop, hotel and small museum. The museums maritime exhibits give a vivid impression of the dangers of sailing and trading on this rugged coast, separated from North America by nothing but open ocean, whilst its natural history section explains the areas rich ecology.
Follow the track uphill for 150m and rejoin the coast path at a sign on the left. Push uphill to the Rocket House, where life-saving gear was once stored. Cross the stile as signed and continue to Dyers Lookout.

5.The path descends and curves inland to a junction. Do not cross the stile here, but press ahead on the public footpath signed Stoke, which follows the wood inland above the Abbey River. It emerges into a field. Keeping the edge of the wood on your left and the church tower ahead, continue uphill to meet a lane. Turn left and follow the path parallel to this lane over a series of stiles to Stokes exceptionally interesting church. Inside, is a Norman font, a variety of monuments and brasses, as well as a wonderful ceiling and carved screen. The Popes Chamber, reached by a small door in the north wall, has a small museum.

Start/parking: Stoke Church car park, grid ref SS236248 (Alternatively, use car park at Hartland Quay and start the directions at point 4)
Distance: 8.5km (5 miles)
Time: 2 hours
Terrain: Coast path, footpaths, tracks and short lane sections; some steep (but not very long) slopes
Maps: Explorer 216, Landranger 190 or Harveys SW Coast Path 1
Refreshments: Hartland Quay Hotel
Public transport: Bus 319 Barnstaple/Bideford route daily service, stops at Hartland, 2.5km (1 miles) from Stoke

For more walks in this area: Shortish Walks North Devon and North Devon Pub Walks, both by Robert Hesketh (Bossiney

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