Day 11: Time
Hartland Quay to Clovelly. 11.2 miles. Miles to date: 151.8.
I am writing this from one of the strangest villages I've ever visited. A privately owned picture-perfect hamlet built into a crack in the cliff where there are warning notices everywhere and the clocks have literally stopped working.
How did I get here?
'We would rather offend you than scald you!!'... Are you sure?
Today's walk was to be a short one at ten-and-a bit-miles. Partly to continue building my fitness for the longer days ahead, but mainly because today is bookended by yesterday's tough haul from Bude and tomorrow's 23 mile near-marathon to Barnstaple.
After an OK breakfast at Hartland Quay I made an early start onto the clifftops. The first three miles were typical of yesterday's walk: stand-tall headlands, sheltered valleys, savage ribs and pinnacles stretching into the sea. Every step was a a pleasure.
Idyllic cottage in its own valley.
The South West Coast Path in one of its loveliest sections.
Some of the rock scenery was very impressive.
Then you turn the corner at Hartland Point – and the drama subsides. The smashed granite cliffs and big bouldered beaches are all tamed, with deep, impenetrable woodlands clinging to the drops. The coast here no longer faces west, and the full force of Atlantic gales, but north, towards Wales and the Bristol Channel. The relative shelter allows hawthorn, oak, ash, alder and sycamore to flourish on every ledge.
The exposed Hartland Lighthouse sits on the most northwesterly point in Devon. In 1984 the four keepers and families who made it their home worked their last shift as it was switched to automation. It is now controlled and monitored from Essex.
Path back to the Point.
Fantastic little cafe just down from the lighthouse. Unfortunately I arrived too early for lunch, but she made a faultless cuppa.
The walk looks down on a series of idyllic beaches that are inaccessible on foot.
Impressive Blackchurch Rock. You can climb it if that's your thing.
The Coast Path sticks mainly to the clifftops - easy walking along field edges, through hay meadows, and, best of all, into birdsong woodlands that gave welcome respite from the heat.
Passing from one field to another an adder on the mud path, startled by me presence, coils into the undergrowth. I give it a good few minutes before proceeding.
There are memories in the undergrowth too. A memorial to the hospital ship Glenart Castle, taken down in eight minutes by U-boat in 1918 with 162 lives lost. Another to the crew of a Wellington Bomber, that crashed below in 1943.
The farmers have been out in force since I started my walk - harvesting, turning and collecting the hay from their cliff-side meadows. The temperate climate means they get two harvests a year.
One of the best things about doing a walk like this is the people you meet. Walkers are generally a friendly bunch, backpackers even more so, and it's rare not to exchange a few words - and stories - with those you pass. Like the man on Day 2 who was not only a veteran of the Bob Graham Round, but had bagged all of Wainwright's North West Fells in a single day (and grabbed a pint afterwards). Or the farmer on Day 3 who bet me I couldn't top his record of five minutes to the top of Jacket Point's switchback. Or the German couple who were walking the full SW Cost Path in two week holiday chunks. They'd been at it for half a decade already, and expected to be done by 2025.
But the first real long long-distance character I met was 'Seaside Steve' - Seaside for short - who I ran into as I made my final approach to Clovelly. He's walking from Weston-super-Mare to his hometown of Exmouth along the coast, a journey he thinks will take between 10 and 12 weeks. He had an issue with walkers moaning about the ups and downs of the trail - that's it's unique beauty, he argued (cant disagree with that). He wished me luck on my own journey then lifted his didgeridoo and played me a song. "That one's called 'Dave from Cumbria'," he said, and was off.
'Seaside' Steve with his didgeridoo.
The ruined remains at Mill Mouth.
'Angel Wings' shelter, just outside Clovelly.
Carved Angel Wings detail.
Distant Croyde and (North) North Devon.
The woods were a highlight of today.
A final descent down an absurdly steep tarmacced road bought me into today's stopping point, the fishing village of Clovelly.
Before arriving at the harbour, the only thing I knew about Clovelly was that it was very pretty and that cars were banned (they wouldn't be much use anyway as the high street is prohibitively steep, and made of cobbles.)
Pretty it most certainly is.
What I didn't know is that the village is privately owned - by someone called John Rous, who is the squire of Clovelly, with 80 houses in his care.
There is, apparently, a waiting list to live in this chocolate-box museum village, where every garden is immaculate and every front door has a message. But you have to be the right fit - of course. And most newcomers leave within a couple of years.
It's the kind of village a hobbyist Sim Village billionaire with a taste for nostalgia might snap up for a laugh. A Richard Desmond character, say, or the Barclay Brothers if they got bored of Sark.
In the 'tearoom' I went into there were a range of clocks on the wall made by a Clovellian clock maker. They were all ticking but the hands weren't moving. It seemed apt.
I wouldn't give a monkey's about any of this, of course, except for the air of gentle menace that pervades the place. Look beyond the exquisite window boxes and the perfectly maintained houses and there are signs everywhere telling you not to do this and that. Don't bend the roses. Don't get in the way of waiting staff. Don't go down the ally. And my favourite, don't ask for an extra cup with your tea "as refusal often offends."
(Not that any of this is The Hon John Rous' fault, of course. Many of his ideas for the model village are spot on. Unlike most of the prettiest Devon hamlets he doesn't want Clovelly filled with second home owners and holiday lets. He gives generously to the Lifeboats. He keeps rents well under market value. And he is doing all he can to keep Clovelly's little primary school open.)
Either way, you can see why incomers tend to leave.
Which I'll be doing first thing tomorrow destination Barnstaple. Where the clocks aren't stuck at twenty-five to four.
Clovelly: very pretty.
The quay, and its beautifully situated pub.
The steep cobbled high street.
Ticking... but time's going nowhere.
Next: Day 12 – Clovelly to Barnstaple.
Previous: Day 10 – Bude to Hartland Quay.