Walk - Hawker's Hut
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2022. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- From the church car park at Morwenstow, by Rectory Farm, go through the churchyard and take the path to the right of the vicarage to descend into the valley.
Morwenna was a fifth/sixth-century saint, one of the many missionary offspring of the Welsh King Brychan of Brycheiniog. Arriving on the North Cornish coast, with her own hands she built herself a hermitage at Hennacliff, just down the valley from today's church. Legend says that she carried the stone for her hermitage on her head, and where she stopped for a rest a new spring started flowing (the site of St Morwenna's Well). On a clear day she could see the Welsh coast from the top of Hennacliff, and in the winter she could see the snow on the tops of her native Brecon Beacons. When she was dying, her brother St Nectan visited her from his own church at Hartland (see the Speke's Mill Mouth Walk), and he raised her up on her deathbed so that she might see Wales one last time before she died.
The church is Norman and is said to have been built around St Morwenna's shrine. It was gifted to St John the Baptist's hospital in Bridgwater sometime around 1275, when it was dedicated to St John as well as St Morwenna. The font is pre-Norman, but the south aisle, porch and tower were built in the fifteenth century. St John's well, nearby, was first recorded in 1296, and is still used for baptisms today.
There is a granite Celtic cross in the churchyard, said to have been removed by the Reverend Hawker from Rough Tor on Bodmin Moor and installed here in memory of his first wife, Charlotte. Her initals, CEH, are engraved on the stone. Hawker had two wives: the first was 22 years older than him, and the second was 40 years younger.
Nearby is a carved and painted wooden figurehead from the Caledonia, a Scottish brig that was wrecked off the coast at Morwenstow in 1843. This was erected in the memory of the Caledonia's captain and some of her crew, who are buried nearby. In Hawker's lifetime no fewer than 40 sailors were washed up on the Morwenstow shoreline. At that time the bodies of shipwrecked mariners were left on the tideline or buried in the cliffs. Appalled at this, Hawker instituted the practice of giving all sailors a decent burial. Around the same time he introduced the harvest festival service into the Anglican church.
- In the woods fork left to follow the permissive path along the valley to Vicarage Cliff.
To the north is Hennacliff, where St Morwenna had her hermitage; and her holy well (restored by Hawker around 1874) is some distance down the cliff-face in front of you, although it is no longer accessible and the stream now flows out of the cliff below it.
- Turn left on the South West Coast Path and climb steeply to the farmland above, carrying on along the clifftop above Cotton Beach.
- Ignore the path inland to your left at the end of this field to carry on ahead.
- When you come to Hawker's Hut, a short distance beyond, descend the steps to visit the hut, returning to the Coast Path to continue southwards. Take the path inland to your left if you want a shortcut back to the car park; but otherwise follow the path as it zigzags down the hill to the valley at Tidna Shute.
Reverend Hawker designed and built the hut himself, using timbers from the Alonzo, a sailing vessel wrecked on the rocks below in 1843. She was on her way to Hamburg from South Wales, with a cargo of iron, but she became stranded in Bude Bay during a storm which subsequently drove her onto the rocks. Like his friends Dickens and Tennyson, who often sat with him here when they were in the area, Hawker was a poet who was inspired by the rugged coastal scenery. He is particularly noted for his 'Song of the Western Men', which became the Cornish national anthem.
He was also noted for his eccentricity. Even as a vicar, the only black things he wore were his socks. His customary outfit was a coat the colour of claret which he wore over a blue fisherman's jersey, knitted in the stitch unique to Morwenstow. Over the lot he would throw a yellow horse blanket which he wore as a poncho, teaming it with a pink brimless hat and long seaboots. He claimed that this was the ancient habit of the Breton saint Padarn, of Arthurian legend. Hawker kept a pig as a pet and talked to birds. On a Sunday he would invite his nine cats into the church, but one of them he excommunicated for mousing on a the Sabbath.
- Follow the path through the woodland beside the stream to the junction, where there is a path signed to Rectory Farm, on your left.
As well as being home to a number of rare lichens, which flourish in the clean air here, there is a thriving community of the Large Blue butterfly in Tidna Valley, thanks to the efforts of a number of conservation bodies, including the National Trust, Oxford University and Natural England (see the Lundy Bay Walk).
- Turn left to return to the car park, crossing the stream and following the waymarked path back to Rectory Farm; or take the path ahead and follow it as it bears left over the stream and uphill through the woods, climbing the field beyond to the thirteenth-century Bush Inn.
- Going through the pub car park, turn left on the road and at the corner take the lane on the left. Take the footpath on the right to cross the field and walk along the right-hand side of the buildings to return to the car park by the church.
When Hawker arrived as the Vicar of Morwenstow in 1834, he marked his arrival by building a pinnacled rectory to replace the derelict building inhabited by his predecessor. Hawker's rectory featured a number of chimneys whose designs were based on the towers of the various churches in his life. The kitchen chimney was a replica of his mother's tomb.
Rectory Farm, and the thirteenth-century Bush Inn.