Walk - Hartland Point
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 Hartland Point car park walk past the interpretation board and follow the South West Coast Path along the track towards the lighthouse. (There is no public access beyond the gates, because of frequent rock falls, but there are good views of the lighthouse a little further down the coast). Follow the path up the concrete steps to the Coastguard Lookout.
Hartland Point is where the Bristol Channel meets the Atlantic Ocean, and the currents are so fierce as a result that the Romans used to call the point 'The Promontory of Hercules'.
Nowadays a Grade II listed building, the lighthouse was built in 1874, when it was ceremonially lit for the first time by Lady Stucley of Hartland Abbey. It took such a battering from the pounding waves that rock was broken from the cliff behind it so that after it had fallen onto the beach below it would form a barrier against the sea. Unfortunately, every time northwesterly gales coincided with a high spring tide the barrier was washed away and more rock had to be taken from the cliff to replace it. Eventually a permanent sea wall was built in 1925, 30 metres long and 6 metres high.
Accommodation was built for the four keepers and their families; but when the lighthouse was demanned in 1984, the cottages were demolished to make way for the helipad, although the concrete water towers still remain.
In 2012 the lighthouse was decommissioned and replaced with a lighted LED beacon in front of the lighthouse tower, 20.5 metres above the sea at high water. Its white light group flash 6 times every 15 seconds and can be seen for 8 nautical miles.
The lighthouse was put on the market with a guide price of half a million pounds. The sale included 'three bedroom living accommodation over two storeys, various stores, a helipad and access via a surfaced road that leads up the cliff to the gated entrance.' The total site was stated to be 'about 16 acres of cliff and coastline, with the best sea views in the area.'
Archaeologists believe that there may have been an Iron Age promontory fort at Hartland Point, similar to the one nearby at Windbury (see the Windbury Head Walk). It has also been suggested that there was once a Roman sation or villa somewhere in the vicinity. Today there is no trace of either, and if they ever existed, they have since been claimed by the sea.
There was certainly a radar station here in the Second World War. In 1941 Hartland Point was a naval VHF intercept station for the 'Y service'. Jointly operated by the Army, Royal Navy, the RAF, the Foreign Office, the Metropolitan Police and the GPO, 'Y service' was a feeder service for the Enigma operation at Bletchley Park. Subsequently it became a 'Chain Home Low' radar station. This system was set up in 1940, and the local station was on Northam Burrows, but additional coastal stations were needed to boost coverage at low-level. These had a dual function of plotting surface shipping and low-flying aircraft, and there were accommodation huts nearby as well.
When jet aircraft were developed after the war, there was a need for more sophisticated equipment to cope with the high speed of approaching aircraft, and in the 1950s, existing Chain Home sites like this one became Cold War Rotor sites. In 1955 it became a CGI (ground controlled interception) establishment, with a range of surveillance radars and heightfinders.
- Carry on around the Lookout and past another interpretation board to return to the Coast Path. Heading south, you come to a memorial stone.
The memorial is dedicated to the memory of the 162 who died in February 1918, when the Glenart Castle was sunk by a torpedo fired by a German U-boat. The Glenart Castle - a steamship requisitioned for use as a British hospital ship - was on her way to France and was about 20 miles from Hartland when the torpedo struck her. Although she was fully illuminated as a hospital ship, the Germans claimed that she was carrying arms to France.
Also sunk by a German torpedo in 1918 was the English cargo vessel Gregynog. The steel screw-driven vessel was carrying a cargo of coal and she sank within 5 minutes of being struck. Seventeen men escaped in a lifeboat and two others escaped on a liferaft, but three died.
Scattered around the rocks at the base of the cliffs below here are the rusted remains of a Dutch coaster, the Johanna, which was wrecked during gale-force winds on the last day of 1982. The Panama-registered cargo ship was carrying wheat from the Netherlands towards Cardiff, when she was driven aground less than a quarter of a mile from the lighthouse. Four of the crew were rescued by a helicopter from RAF Chivenor, and three more were taken off later in the day by the Clovelly lifeboat.
- Follow the Coast Path along the top of Blagdon Cliff, climbing steadily to a viewpoint over the valley known as 'Smoothlands'.
Smoothlands valley is a prime example of a 'sea-dissected valley'. The sea has eroded the northern bank of the gully, so that the stream falls directly over the edge before flowing out to sea.
- From the viewpoint the path descends steeply past a small headland and on towards a gully.
- At the bottom of the hill a path leaves on the left, heading inland over a stile. Take this path and follow it towards Blagdon Farm, joining the track to the left of the caravan and carrying on ahead through the scrub.
- When the path divides, bear left towards Blagdon, continuing past the farm and bearing left on the track beyond to return to the car park.
Hartland Point Car Park.