Walk - Shipload Bay

Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2020. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.

Route Description

  1. Coming out of the car park at Exmansworthy, turn right on the road and walk past East Fattacott Farm and onto its West Fattacott neighbour. Carry on ahead along the lane, through the farmyard, turning left at the end to pick up the path along the green lane. Turn left with the lane shortly afterwards and follow it between fields, parallel to the coast. At the end of the lane, continue ahead along the left-hand hedge through several fields, ignoring a track to your left along the way, until you come out on the South West Coast Path above Shipload Bay.

A short distance to the south west is East Titchberry Farm. Its name comes from the Saxon 'Tettisbury', meaning 'Tetta's fort', suggesting that there might have been a promontory fort here in the Iron Age, like the one at nearby Windbury (see the Windbury Head Walk). The farm was given to the National Trust in 1943, and its fifteenth-century farmhouse is a listed building. The cob-and-thatch granary in front of it and the associated malthouse were built in the seventeenth or eighteenth century. In the malthouse, sprouting barley was spread on a perforated wooden floor and 'kiln-dried' - a process in which a wood or charcoal fire was lit beneath the floor and the smoke directed upwards through smoke channels. The heat turned the grains of barley into malt, producing enzymes which broke down the proteins in the grains into forms which could be used by yeast. The malt was then used to make beer.

  1. Turn right on the Coast Path above Shipload Bay, and follow it out to Eldern Point, high above the bay.
  2. Above the Point turn sharply right again to head east along Gawlish Cliff. Stay with the path as it pulls out around a small headland above the tiny rocky cove at Barley Bay and then a moment later detours around the coastal edge of a field. Carry on along Fatacott Cliff to where the path pulls out around another headland above Chapman Rock. Just after this the path drops through a scrubby valley, climbing out the other side to return to the edge of the fields. Shortly afterwards you come to a permissive path signed to Exmansworthy.

According to the National Trust "Gawlish Cliff field system occupies a north facing cliff-top field. Terraced into five uneven strips, possibly the result, in part, of land slippage. They are similar in form to the strip-lynchets of medieval strip-field systems extended up steep slopes, and may be medieval in origin."

On a clear day there are fine views across the Bristol Channel to Lundy Island, a granite outcrop some 12 miles off the North Devon Coast. Geologists once thought that the island had broken away from the mainland, since its granite appeared to match some of the rocks to be found in Devon and Cornwall. Later, radiometric dating proved that it was much younger than these rocks, which are from the Carboniferous period, between 362 and 290 million years ago. The rock on Lundy dates from about 65 – 62 million years ago, and it is thought that the island was linked with Scotland and Northern Ireland and may have been formed as a result of volcanic action.

Lundy is 3½ miles long and ½ mile wide, and it has a colourful past. Archaeologists have found evidence of human habitation there from as far back as the Middle Stone Age. There are inscribed stones and an early Christian enclosure from the fifth or sixth century AD.

More recently, however, the island was the scene of a number of far from holy activities. In the early part of the seventeenth century it was occupied by Barbary pirates. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries its ungodly owner, the Sheriff of Devon and MP for Barnstaple, Thomas Benson, used it for insurance swindles, a huge tobacco smuggling scam, and human trafficking, diverting convicts being carried by his ships to the New World, landing them instead on Lundy Island where they served as his own slaves.

Law and order were restored to the island after this, and nowadays it is a tranquil haven for its handful of permanent residents and an inspirational destination for its visitors. Wildlife flourishes here, too, especially the puffins after which it is named (Lund-Ey is Norse for Puffin). It is a Site of Special Scientific Interest for its plants and seabirds, and Britain's only Marine Nature Reserve for its reef habitats and rare sea species.

  1. Turn right onto the path to Exmansworthy and follow it along the hedge through two fields, turning right along the lane after the second and turning left on the road beyond to return to the car park at Exmansworthy.

Smuggling on the North Devon coast was much more hazardous than on the south coast, where goods from the continent could be brought into a secluded bay on the English Channel all year round. The rougher conditions on the exposed north coast made it difficult to land in winter, and the swell often broke the rafts used by the smugglers to bring their contraband ashore, constructed from tubs roped together. For this reason, the coastguards charged with preventing 'free traders' from landing their contraband concentrated their efforts on the south coast, mostly leaving this remote and rocky wilderness to its own devices. This meant that a smuggler willing to brave the dangerous conditions was unlikely to be intercepted by the revenue men.

Goods brought in here mostly originated in the West Indies, with various handy offshore warehouses in Ireland and on Lundy Island and the Scilly Isles. A small boat could easily rendezvous with an ocean-going vessel in the shelter of Bideford Bay. Clovelly was a notorious smugglers' haunt, and there are many caves between there and Shipload Bay that were once used for storing the contraband. The smugglers kept people away by spreading rumours that the caves were inhabited by cannibals, who kept barrels of salted human flesh inside.

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