Walk - Westward Ho! Kingsley & Kipling Walk
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.
- With your back to the post office turn right to walk along Nelson Road. Cross Golf Links Road and carry on ahead.
The only place whose name boasts an exclamation mark, Westward Ho! is also the only seaside resort to be developed as a result of a novel. In 1867, the Northam Burrows Hotel and Villa Building Company stated in its prospectus: 'The salubrity and beauty of the North of Devon have long been known and appreciated ... and the recent publication of Professor Kingsley's "Westward Ho" has excited increased public attention to the western part, more especially, of this romantic and beautiful coast. Nothing but a want of accommodation for visitors has hitherto prevented its being the resort of families seeking the advantages of sea bathing, combined with the invigorating breezes of the Atlantic.'
The company was set up to provide accommodation and all other facilities for these visitors, and today it is still a very popular resort with tourists.
Charles Kingsley was born in Holne, on Dartmoor, and spent much of his childhood in Clovelly, where his father was Rector. The author of the famous 'Water Babies' wrote his 1855 novel 'Westward Ho!' while he was staying at the Royal Hotel in Bideford. It tells the story of a local lad, Amyas Leigh, whose dearest wish was to go to sea. His godfather was the celebrated adventurer Richard Grenville (see the Torridge Ships & Shipbuilding Walk), who forbade it, saying he was too young. Nonetheless Amyas accompanied Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh on various sea journeys. Later he was given his own ship, , by a rich merchant whose headstrong daughter had eloped with the swashbuckling Governor of Caracas. He also set him two challenging missions - to find the young lady in question, making sure she was all right; and then to cause as much trouble as he could to any Spanish sailors he met along the way.
- Passing the church, follow the road round and up to the left. At the corner turn right onto the track signed as a public footpath and follow it to the left of the gate ahead. From here continue to a junction of paths by the National Trust sign to Kipling Tors. Turn left up the steps, climbing to another junction. Turn left again, still climbing, to walk through a small housing estate and then on to a road.
The new Victorian resort at Westward Ho! enjoyed instant success, and in 1874 the United Services College was established here. This private boarding school catered exclusively for the sons of military officers, with the aim of preparing them for military academies such as Sandhurst. One of its pupils was Rudyard Kipling, whose collection of stories, 'Stalky and Co', was based on his experiences at the school. Kipling was particularly noted for his tales and poems of British soldiers in India and his tales for children. In 1907 he was the first-ever English-language writer to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. He was considered for the post of Poet Laureate, as well as being offered several knighthoods, all of which he turned down.
- Turn right here and follow the road as it bears left. Walk for a little over a mile, continuing past the Heliport and the Cornborough farm accesses on the right and follow the road bending left, down then up the hill to the T junction.
- At the road junction, turn left for 30 metres and then turn right down the rocky un-mettled green lane. The lane can often be muddy at its lowest point half-way along. If you wish to avoid it, turn right at the road junction before taking the next small road on the left. This will return you to the main route at 5.
- Reaching the road at the end of the green lane, carry on ahead. When the road veers sharply to the left, carry on ahead along another lane.
For an interesting diversion, detour left with the road, instead of continuing ahead along the lane, and visit the village of Abbotsham. Carrying on past the modern houses, turn left for the pub; otherwise turn right into the old part of the village, past the post office and shop. Turn right along the lane beyond them, passing the 1852 Baptist Church before coming to the junction at 6. Carry on ahead here to continue the walk towards Rixlade.
- Reaching the road junction at the end of the lane, turn right. At the first junction bear right to walk through the tiny hamlet of Rixlade.
- When the road turns left, carry straight on ahead along the farm road to Greencliff Farm, crossing the stile on the right as you approach it. Take the path along the edge of the field to the stile at the end, bearing left down the valley towards the coast and crossing another stile at the bottom.
- Reaching the South West Coast Path, turn right over the footbridge. Carry on over Abbotsham Cliff and Cornborough Cliff, climbing gently to a long level stretch of path, where the line of the Bideford, Westward Ho! and Appledore Railway used to run.
The building at the side of the path just beyond the footbridge is an old lime kiln. There were several of these along the North Devon coastline, where limestone and coal, both shipped here from South Wales, were burnt together to make lime. This was chiefly used as a fertiliser to sweeten the acid soil. Early in the nineteenth century a small seam of anthracite was found locally, and this too was used in the kilns.
The Bideford, Westward Ho! and Appledore Railway operated for just a short period early in the twentieth century. Although it was a standard gauge railway (the last standard gauge railway to be built in Devon) it was never connected to the national railway network, but ran as a tourist sightseeing route only. In Bideford it ran on rails in the road alongside the Quay, with 'cowcatchers' on the locomotives to protect pedestrians from collisions. Leaving Bideford, it headed due west to the coast here, continuing along these cliffs into Westward Ho! and from there to Appledore, where it terminated.
The project was first suggested in 1860, but, six years later, shortly after work was started on it, the contractors went bankrupt. It was another 35 years before it was opened. This happened in stages between 1901 and 1908. In 1917 it was requisitioned by the War Office. By the time the First World War was over it was no longer able to compete financially with the horse-drawn carriages and early motor buses.
- Finally reaching the small car park by the red-brick house above the cliffs, bear left to follow the path along the seafront.
The property by the car park resembling a haunted house in a Gothic horror movie was nicknamed 'Spooky House' when it was built in 1885. Originally the holiday home of London banker Brinsley de Courcey Nixon, in the Second World War it provided accommodation for British officers, while the field beside it is said to have accommodated Italian prisoners of war.
- Shortly after the last of the beach huts the path meets Golf Links Road again. Turn right here to return to the town centre.
Westward Ho!'s famous pebble ridge protects the low-lying land behind it from the sea. Charles Kingsley wrote: "[it is] where the surges of the bay have defeated their own fury, by rolling up in the course of ages a rampart of grey boulder stones...as cunningly carved, and smoothed, and fitted, as if the work had been done by human hands, which protects from the high tides of spring and autumn a fertile sheet of smooth alluvial turf."
For many years the work was indeed carried out by human hands. Local residents wealthy enough to have two hearths were historically entitled to grazing rights on Northam Burrows; but in return they had to take part in the ridge-building ceremony known as 'potwalloping'. This took place every Whitsun, and was designed to protect the common land on Northam Burrows from spring tides. Potwallopers would gather up all the cobbles that had been swept inland by the highest tides and replace them on the ridge. The back-breaking work of potwalloping stopped towards the end of the twentieth century, but the festival continues as a fundraising event instead.
Westward Ho! (pubs, refreshments); Abbotsham (pub).