Welcombe Mouth to Bideford /x x x/ Bridgewater to Severn Beach

Harsh Atlantic cliffs
The Atlantic pounds the cliffs on this harsh slate coast where many ships have perished.

We crossed the county border where a footbridge over a small stream runs out to sea at Marsland Mouth. The boundary runs a few miles inland until it follows the mighty River Tamar to the south coast.


Dartmoor Devon is unique among English counties, in that it has two coastlines. Dartmoor is thought to have been settled by Mesolithic hunter-gatherer peoples from about 6000 BC.

The name "Devon" derives from the name given by the Romans to the Celtic people who inhabited the south western peninsula of Britain at the time of the Roman invasion, known as the Dumnonii, thought to mean 'Deep Valley Dwellers'. Later the area became a frontier between Brythonic Dumnonia and Anglo-Saxon Wessex.

DartmoorBy the 9th century, Viking incursions continued until the Norman Conquest and a few Norse placenames remain such as Lundy Island.

Devon has produced tin, copper and other metals from ancient times. Devon's tin miners enjoyed a substantial degree of independence through Devon's stannary parliament, which dates back to the 12th century until 1748.

Welcombe Mouth

Welcombe MouthIn the 19th century, in the days of sail, any ship coming too close to this coast of lethal, jagged rocks was almost certain to founder. As a result this was a graveyard for ships and a haunt of wreckers.

The black cliffs enclose a slate-grey shingle beach with a waterfall, rock pools and lots of sand at low tide. The lane leading down is steep and ends up as a bumpy track.

GorseWelcombe and Marsland is a large nature reserve that borders the Marsland Valley.

It is a site of special scientific interest and a designated area of outstanding natural beauty. It is home to wildlife such as red deer, otters and buzzards and is alive with butterflies in summer.

Hartland Quay

St Nectan's ChurchAlthough the coast path follows the cliffs, we drove slightly inland until we reached a road leading to Hartland Quay. We stopped at the hamlet of Stoke, where the imposing 14th century St Nectan's Church has a 130ft tower that was used as a landmark for sailors before the lighthouse was built at Hartland Point. Legend has it that when St Nectan was beheaded, he carried his head under his arm and wherever blood dropped, a foxglove grew. On St Nectan's Day foxgloves are still carried to the church by local children.

Hartland AbbeyFurther along is Hartland Abbey which was founded by King Harold's mother, Gytha, in 1060 as a college for secular canons and later became a priory for Augustinian monks. The original buildings were replaced in 1779 by the Gothic house which contains Victorian and Edwardian photographs. The woodland walk through the grounds goes to the coast.

Hartland Quay beachThis is well worth a visit, as the beach at Hartland Quay is very rocky with numerous pools and the contorted rock formations in the cliffs are spectacular. On fine days it is possible to see Lundy Island but it was ‘tupperware’ sky today although this didn’t put the surfers off.

Hartland Quay from aboveThere is a car park at the bottom of the hill and the only buildings are a hotel, converted from coastguard cottages, and a museum devoted to seafaring history and local wrecks. We found this very interesting as at least 36 ships were wrecked within 4 miles between 1800 and 1920 and some of them are still visible at low tide.

Jagged rocks at Hartland QuayThere was once a small harbour that was built by Raleigh, Drake and Hawkins as a safe haven for boats but it was swept away in 1887 in a great storm.

Spekes Mill MouthWe were able to walk up the grassy promintory and watch the ferocious waves crashing on jagged vertical rocks below.


Twenty minutes walk south is a beautiful waterfall at Spekes Mill Mouth. It cascades down 60 feet over a shear rock face and through a series of smaller falls before finally reaching the sea.

Hartland Point

You have to take a toll road to this craggy headland that the Romans called the 'Promontory of Hercules'. The lighthouse is built on a plateau near the base of the cliffs and has a beam that is visible from about 20 miles.

All the way up the rugged coast from Hartland Point there are excellent views.


Covelly viewpointTraffic is totally banned from the village so we parked at the top of the hill next to a large visitor centre. You can take a landrover down the steep hill via a back road to the harbourside but you miss all the fun of the climb.

There are stunning views across the estuary and the rooftops and a lovely waterfall at the bottom where the watercourse has been diverted from the main street.

'up-a-long''down-a-long'You go through the visitor centre and pay to enter the only main street, known very simply as 'up-a-long' or 'down-a-long', depending which direction you are going!

cobbled staircaseThis path resembles a cobbled staircase and tumbles its way down 400ft of solid rock between a cluster of wattle and daub cottages and shops.

The nice thing is that it is not over-commercialised and retains the dignity and charm of a really lovely village.

Clovelly shopClovelly is set on the sides of a rocky cleft with thick woods sheltering it and making the climate so mild that even tender plants flourish. All the way down, there are tempting little passageways and tiny winding lanes.

Sledge in actionNo holiday cottages are allowed in the main village and the mode of transport is sledges for the Friday deliveries.

These can be seen at the side of the cottages, often made out of chicken wire or bread baskets.

We eventually arrived at the tiny harbour protected by an ancient stone breakwater and sat reading about the history of the village. It has been a place of settlement for many years, but it was a 16th century lawyer, George Cary, who really established the village. He built the stone harbour as the fishing of herrings was the staple activity and the village prospered until the shoals began to move away in the 1830's.

Clovelly harbourPath through a cottageClovelly harbour

The Hamlyn family acquired the estate in 1738 and still own it, living at Clovelly Court on the edge of the village. From 1884 to 1936, Christine Hamlyn devoted her life to protecting the village buildings and beauty.

'up-a-long''up-a-long'We broke the long climb back by having lunch in a tiny tea room and visiting the small museum and chapel. In the 19th century Charles Kingsley returned to the village where he had been brought up when his father was rector, and wrote 'the Water Babies' and 'Westward Ho!'.

Inside the museumThis inspired a Victorian tourism boom and by the end of the century ships were arriving from around the Bristol Channel to land excursionists by small boat onto the pebbled shore.

DykesFortunately there weren’t too many visitors today but the village bursts with activity in the summer.

On the plateau above the village stand Clovelly Dykes - very old earthworks which the Romans probably adapted from an even earlier Stone Age hillfort.

Buck's Mills

Limekiln at Bucks MillsThe narrow village street leads down to a pebble and sand beach and the ruins of a large ivy-covered limekiln. The villagers of Buck's Mills are supposed to be the descendants of the survivors of a 15th century Spanish shipwreck.

To the west of the village, the coast path passes through Buck's and Keivilt's Wood, that are part of an woodland area with stunted mature oaks and sycamores.

Westward Ho!

Westward Ho!Westward Ho! is famous for containing an exclamation mark in its name. It is a relative newcomer, being founded in 1863 and takes its name from Charles Kingsley's seafaring adventure story, written in 1855.

Westward Ho!This small resort has been spoiled by the amusement centres and numerous tacky holiday camps which make it look run down.

Such a contrast from all the bays we had encountered along the north Atlantic coast so far.

Golden BayNext to the slipway we were treated to the voice of a bingo caller and the smell of burgers as well a a go-kart track and a lot of bored looking teenagers. It’s a shame because the beach is quite nice - a 2 mile sweep of sand known as the Golden Bay, backed by a huge bank of pebbles.

To the west is the bracken-covered hill named Kipling Tor, with footpaths for a choice of walks. This was named after Rudyard Kipling, who was a pupil at the college in Westward Ho! from 1878 to 1882.

Northam BurrowsNortham BurrowsThe road behind the pebble bank took us to Northam Burrows Country Park and continued through the Royal North Devon Golf Course to a car park.

At the end is a large area of sand dunes and salt marsh, whilst horses, cattle and sheep graze on the grassland.


Appledore cottagesA path around the Burrows leads to the old custom house and lifeboat station at Appledore. There are a few Tudor buildings and some colour washed fishermen's cottages, as seafaring traditions go back more than a thousand years.

Appledore dockBoat building has been important since the 15th century, and continues at a yard on the water's edge.

Appledore Quay StreetWe walked along the quay and looked towards Instow on the opposite side of the Torridge estuary, just inside the notorious Bideford Bar – there is a ferry in the summer.

Appledore slipwayThere were a few power boats in the water but strong currents make bathing unsafe and it is muddy anyway.

Hockings Ice creamFishing trips for start from the har bour and I saw a sign advertising fresh fish direct from the trawler.

The North Devon Maritime Museum is housed in a Georgian listed building and explains the nautical history of the area. Appledore is home of Hockings Ice Cream, a popular brand of ice cream only sold in North Devon.


Bideford In the 16th century Bideford was Britain's third largest port and is rumoured that Sir Walter Raleigh landed his first shipment of tobacco here. The tree-lined quay was built in the 17th century when wool was imported from Spain.

Bideford is still a working port with cargo ships and fishing boats in evidence beside the tidal River Torridge and at low tide half submerged craft can be seen along the banks.

The Long Bridge to East the Water is 677ft long, has 24 different sized arches and has spanned the Torridge since 1535. Now a second road bridge carries the A39 north of the town.

Long Bridge New road bridge

We visited Victoria Park where eight cannons, known as the Armada Guns, are said to have come from a 16th century Spanish wreck.

Pannier MarketA walk through the narrow town centre streets lead us to the Pannier Market which opens on Tuesday and Saturday mornings. This tradition that dates back to 1272, when the first market charter was granted by Henry lll. It is named after the wicker baskets in which farmers wives carried their wares to market and there are still panniers in use today.

Butcher’s RowThe current complex was built by John Chudleigh of Exeter in 1884 and also houses Butcher’s Row, an attractive arcade of 24 recently refurbished brightly painted shops, some of which still sell meat. Some of the original butchers hooks are still in place in several units and they open 6 days a week.

Bideford is known for its New Year's Eve celebrations, when thousands of people gather on the quay for a fireworks display.

Lundy Office on the quayHMS OldenburgA modern building beside the quay houses the Lundy Office beside which "HMS Oldenburg" moors.

This is the Lundy supply ship which also acts as a passenger ferry with regular pleasure trips to the Island


The 180 mile Tarka Trail follows the course of a disused railway line to the north and south of the town, through countryside that inspired Henry Williamson's novel Tarka the Otter.

East the WaterWe concluded this visit by crossing the River Torridge to Bideford East the Water.

We have now completed the most south western part of our coastal journey from Southampton through Hampshire, Dorset, South Devon and Cornwall.