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Day 10: Retreat

Bude to Hartland Quay. 17 miles. Miles to date: 140.6.

I don’t know whether it was the benefit of rest, the fine weather, the adventurous route or the scenery – probably a little of each – but today’s walk was nigh-on perfect, from the first step in Bude to the last into a whitewashed Inn on a faraway headland.

I took the 7.45 bus from Boscastle to Bude. Turns out it was the school run, pulling into scattered hamlets and stopping at field sides as it filled towards Bude, kids with fidget spinners, sharing headphones. More than once we had to reverse along sunken lanes to pass early morning tractors. The sky was sultry - overcast and heavy, mist stubborn on the headlands, wind turbines sluggish. An Italian backpacker on the bus told me he never burned at home, but a week on the SW coast path had got him bad.

In Bude I stocked up. Inner soles, waterproof map case, new socks. Like the windmills, Bude was still getting started, so I went into the only place serving breakfast - which turned out to be a pasty. Fine by me – today I’d be leaving Cornwall.

On the next table a father, mother and daughter. They were discussing Ozzies.

“But they’re foreign aren’t they?”

“No dad, they’re English.”

“They speak English. That doesn’t make them English.”

Mum: “I read they’ve got solar panels across most of Australia.”

“They’ve got so much desert you’d never see them.”

“You’d see them from space.”

“Space? What’d you be in space for?”

“I dunno. I might go to space one day.”

Dad: “We’ll if you’re gonna look at Australia from space make sure you take sunglasses.”

Provisions replenished I walked past Bude’s saltwater lido and beach huts, RNLI lifeguards raising flags, then back onto the cliffs and the trail I’ve been following now for more than a week.

Bude's saltwater lido.

Leaving Bude behind.

The morning was overcast.

The path from Bude to Hartland Quay is tough and remote. There is accommodation in Bude and Hartland Quay and almost none in between; not quite making the distance is not an option. It’s also widely considered to be the scenic highlight of the entire 630 mile South West Coast Path.

It delivered from the off. Towering headlands were followed by retiring valleys with lily glades and streams that tumbled onto beaches that rarely receive visitors; surfers’ Cornwall this is not. Even farmers keep their distance, preferring the easier, flatter soils inland. The ups and downs may be tough on the feet but they’re also the reason the landscape has remained largely untouched. Swallows played over meadows, skylarks on the headlands, and overhead a buzzard eyed the patchwork greens and the blue.

The changes as the path has worked north have been subtle, but are unmistakable now. No more bluebells, instead foxgloves making fairy glades, daisies, corn flowers. Still the thrift, though, the gorse in full bloom and the defining hedgewalls.

Abandoned clifftop lookout post.

Duckpool: nothing more than a house, a public toilet and dairy cows grazing water meadows.

Surprises as well.

First the path closure. One of many landslips on this slowly eroding coast. Only this closure meant a big diversion inland; two miles I hadn’t anticipated or wanted. On another day it would have been a body blow. Not today though. Instead the diversion took me through thick woodland - damp, cold and close though the skies had resolved to blue. Another pocket of the lost Great Wood that once carpeted this island; stray too far from the channelled path and your steps would find glades that rarely felt footfall.

Then to Morwenstow, a low-profile National Trust treasure of a tearoom with an oak avenue approach and a Norman church with a view and rich harvest bounty.

Oh no!

Oak avenue at lovely Morwenstow.

Morwenstow's Norman church.

Bizarre headstone in the graveyard of a woman with a sword, shield and what looked like a baker's hat. I can find no information about it online. But plenty of accounts are written about the "intriguing graveyard" and the church's eccentric - and reputed opium smoking - parson, Rev Stephen Hawker.

Harvest gifts.

On the next cliff Ronald Duncan’s Hut - a sign telling the few walkers who tread this way to come on in.

This was the writing retreat of the poet, farmer, pacifist and playwright, whose home just down the valley lies in exquisite isolation. The bothy is maintained now by Duncan’s daughter. Inside cool water in a jug with two glasses, poems, and a visitors’ book signed by trailers, including grateful souls who had found shelter on stormy nights.

Ronald Duncan's hut.

...and his cottage below. Surrounded by nothing but nature.

Maryland Mouth, where a wooden post on the stream’s far side was inscribed with the word DEVON. After more than a week, and 140 miles, in Cornwall - the largest county to cross on almost the entire LeJog trail - I entered pastures new.

Then Speke’s Mill Mouth, with its buttercup fields, ponds and two-spout waterfall that throws the stream down two long cliff drops.

One down... Many to go...

No sand on this remote stretch of coast.

Speke's Mill Mouth, the waterfall plunging water down onto the secluded pebble beach.

Lundy Island on the horizon.

Seat with a view...

Finally – 17 miles and 3,000+ ft of ascent after leaving Bude – I rounded the corner to see the headland Inn at Hartland Quay, my stopping point for the night. The quay, once a busy port, juts into the Atlantic on a narrow arrete of granite and has served ale on the same spot for those with a taste for isolation for generations. You can sit outside and span a 270 degree horizon of rock and sea. There’s no phone signal here. The wi-fi is – the bar woman says – an occasional treat.

Just like today.

Without wi-fi I was unable to post the daily blog.

I was typing it up when the bar emptied. “Where’s everyone going?” I asked the barmaid.

“Sunset time,” I was told.

And there it was, slowly sinking west into the fading Atlantic blue, while guests, waiters, chefs, the manageress and carefully positioned landscape photographers waited for it to do its thing in front of this little Inn that feels like it’s on the edge of the world.

'Far from the trains': Hartland Quay.

The beer garden is dwarfed by huge cliffs and sea stacks.

Sunset, Hartland Quay.


Next: Day 11 – Hartland Quay to Clovelly.

Previous: Day 8 – Boscastle to Bude.

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