Walk - Westward Ho! Kingsley & Kipling Walk

5.8 miles (9.4 km)

The Post Office in the Centre of Westward Ho! - EX39 1LQ Westward Ho! Town Centre

Challenging - One short steep climb of 60m/230ft; 5 stiles.

A stroll uphill from the seaside resort of Westward Ho!, made fashionable in Victorian times by Charles Kingsley's novel of the same name. The route travels over Kipling Tor, named after another nineteenth-century novelist with Westward Ho! connections, Rudyard Kipling. Circling the high ground behind Bideford, with dramatic views out across the Bristol Channel as far as Lundy Island, twelve miles offshore, it then returns along the Coast Path. Here high cliffs drop to rocky ridges pointing out into the foam-fringed breakers that roll in from Bideford Bay. A good walk in spring, when seabirds nest on the cliffs and the blossom is lush on the gorse and thorn bushes. Look out for buzzards overhead. Also good in autumn, when the gorse and heathers are vivid in the heathland and noisy flocks of migrant finches raid the bushes for berries.

For a shorter walk along the Coast Path, take a bus to Abbotsham and follow the route directions from 5.

There are a range of wonderful places to lay your head near the Coast Path for a well-earned sleep. From large and luxurious hotels, to small and personable B&B's, as well as self-catering options and campsites. The businesses that support the Path, where you've chosen to visit, are listed here.

Westacott Farm Camping

Enjoy the peace and tranquility of the North Devon countryside at our working family farm. Situated within an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on the North Devon coast.

Moreton House

Self catering holiday apartments located within a stately home sleeping from 2 - 10 people. Group bookings available.

Baker's Cottage

A relaxing, hideaway cottage in town with restaurants, pubs, shops & quayside nearby. Sleeps 4 in 2 bedrooms. Space on deck for bicycles. Luggage drop-off available.

Corner House B&B

500 yards from the quayside, family run and homely welcome. Single night stays. ROOMS ENSUITE

Peppercombe Bothy

Comfortably sleeping up to four guests, Peppercombe Bothy is a very basic stone dwelling benefiting from wonderful views to Bideford Bay and close proximity to the famous South West Coast Path.

Catboat Cottage

A stone's throw from the beach and a two minute walk to restaurants, pubs and cafes. Our comfortable 200-year-old cottage sleeps 8 guests. 4 bedrooms/3 bathrooms

Moorview Enterprises

Moorview House B&B luxurious, private, in room breakfast in quiet gardens close to Tarka Trail

Parkdean Resorts Bideford Bay

Picturesque hillside setting offering spectacular sea views. This park features a heated outdoor swimming pool and is just a short distance from a Blue Flag beach.

You'll be spoilt for choice for where to eat and drink along the Path. With lots of local seasonal food on offer, fresh from the farm, field and waters. Try our local ales, ciders, wines and spirits, increasing in variety by the year, as you sit in a cosy pub, fine dining restaurant or chilled café on the beach. The businesses that support the Path, where you've chosen to visit, are listed here.

Pig and Olive

Refuel with our award-winning contemporary Neapolitan-style Pizza. Grab a special to-go or linger in our casual dine-in area. We also serve fresh coffee and ice cream.

Johns of Instow & Appledore

Using our artisan delis as our larder, the Johns cafés offer unrivalled freshness & quality in our picturesque locations.

What is on your list of things to do when you visit the Path? From walking companies, to help you tailor your visit, with itineraries and experts to enhance your visit, to baggage transfer companies and visitor attractions there are lots to people and places to help you decide what you'd like to do. The businesses that support the Path, where you've chosen to visit, are listed here.

Northam Burrows Visitor Centre

Cafe, exhibition area & shop set in area of dunes and coastal grassland on SWCP, part of Northam Burrows Country Park

Interactive Elevation

Route Description

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

Public transport

Westward Ho! is served by buses to and from Northam, Bideford, Instow and Barnstaple. Buses run approximately hourly Mondays to Saturdays, slightly less frequently on Sundays. For timetable information, zoom in on the interactive map and click on the bus stops, visit Traveline or phone 0871 200 22 33.


Westward Ho! Beach Car Park (Postcode for Sat Navs: EX39 1LQ).


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