Walk - Hartland
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2021. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- From the top car park at Hartland Quay walk back up the road to the Hartland Way entrance, by the parking attendant’s hut. Turn left in front of Rocket House and follow the South West Coast Path along the cliffs to the headland at Dyer's Lookout.
A romantic outpost in a spectacular setting, Hartland Quay has been the location for many films, including 'Treasure Island' and 'Solomon Kane'. It was once a bustling port and the hub of communications for a remote district not easily reached overland. In 1566 an Act of Parliament was passed authorising the quay's construction, sponsored by Devon seafarers Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Francis Drake and John Hawkins. It was built towards the end of that century. It did a lively trade with South Wales, as well as ports along the Bristol Channel, importing limestone, coal, timber and glass, and exporting agricultural products such as corn and malt.
Over the centuries the brutal force of the Atlantic gales and breakers took their toll. Major work was continually required to keep the quay in good repair. It was finally swept away in 1887. Since by then the railway had arrived in Bideford, the decision was taken not to rebuild it. The old customs houses and warehouses were converted to an hotel in 1886. Today the old stables are The Wreckers Retreat Bar, while their hay and corn lofts are now en-suite bedrooms. They also house a fascinating museum telling of traders and smugglers, as well as shipwrecks and lifesavers.
Rocket House was built after the SS Uppingham in 1890 became the latest of many ships wrecked on the lethal fingers of rock stretching out into the sea off the coast at Hartland. Originally called Rocket Apparatus House, it housed the rocket wagon and equipment of the Hartland Life Saving Apparatus Company.
The Rocket Apparatus was designed by Cornishman Henry Trengrouse, who was appalled at the tragic loss of life he witnessed when HMS Anson was wrecked off Loe Bar in 1807 (see the Loe Tide at Porthleven Walk). It used a musket or a small cannon to fire a double line and pulley to a ship in trouble. The sailors tied their end to the mast, while onshore the rescuers attached the other to a frame anchored in the ground. A breeches buoy – a harness designed to carry a person – was sent to the ship so that one by one the men could be hauled to shore.
The ruin on the Warren is a folly known as The Pleasure House. It was thought to have been built in the sixteenth century, possibly as a warrener's house. It was remodelled in the eighteenth century and probably used for picnics, and the high arches may have been designed to permit carriages inside its walls.
- Following the acorn waymarkers throughout, stay with the Coast Path as it descends into the valley behind Dyer's Lookout. Bear left at the fingerpost beyond, towards Hartland Point, bearing left again at the field. Turn left behind the cottage at Blackpool Mill and bear right to climb the steps to Berry Cliff.
The cottage at Blackpool Mill was used in the film of Rosamunde Pilcher's 'The Shell Seekers', starring Vanessa Redgrave.
- Reaching the next valley, detour left to visit Blegberry Beach; but otherwise carry on up the hillside ahead.
- At the top of the hill, take the right fork for the shorter walk, following the path signed to Blegberry. Walking to the end of the field, head up to the left between two more. Bear right to take the lane to the farm. In front of the farmhouse bear right and rejoin the longer walk on the green lane after 9. For the longer route, descend steeply above Damehole Point, bearing right near the bottom to follow the Coast Path through the valley at Smoothlands.
- The path climbs steeply again and heads a short distance inland above the valley before turning downhill and heading down the steps to the stream. Cross the stream and bear left past the caravan to carry on along above the steep cliffs and on around Hartland Point.
- Reaching the car park below the radar station after Hartland Point, turn right up the lane.
- Passing the heliport on your right, carry straight on at the junction, along the bridleway signed back to Blegberry. Follow the track past the farm and on through the fields beyond.
- Turn left towards Blegberry at the next junction, following the bridleway across the stream and on up the green lane to the road.
- On the road turn right to walk Blegberry Farm . Beyond the farmhouse turn left onto the grassy track, bearing left on the green lane to walk downhill to the road.
- Cross the road to carry on along the track ahead, downhill and up again, coming out in Stoke.
- At the junction beyond, turn right into the churchyard and follow the path on the left-hand side of the church, forking right beyond the tower to take the stile out of the churchyard. Follow the path by the houses, turning into the field on your right to walk parallel to the road, back to Rocket House.
St Nectan was one of many Celtic saints setting up hermitages around the coastline during the fifth and sixth centuries, when Christianity was under threat from waves of pagan Anglo-Saxon invaders. One of the 24 missionary offspring of King Brychan of Brycheiniog, St Nectan established his hermitage in what was then a remote and densely wooded valley. His well can be visited a short distance away from the church, along the road heading east out of Stoke. Built in the fourteenth century, the current church replaced a collegiate church founded in 1050 by Gytha, mother of King Harold. this church was itself built on the site of St Nectan's original hermitage.
According to tradition, St Nectan was given two cows in return for helping a swineherd recover his lost pigs, but the cows were stolen. St Nectan tried to convert the thieves to Christianity, but they were having none of it and beheaded him. Picking up his head, he carried it back to his well before he collapsed and died, and foxgloves grew wherever his blood fell.
- At Rocket House turn left through the gate to return to the car park.