My Favourite Walk
Hartland (land of deer), is 60 miles from the nearest motorway and twenty-five miles from the nearest railway station. It is accessible by bus or by car and of course on foot. I live here and love walking on The South West Coast Path. The stretch from Shipload Bay to Spekes Mill Mouth is closest and dearest to me.
I head north from Hartland following the signs to Hartland Point and leave my car in a minute, grassy, car park at Titchberry Farm which belongs to the National Trust. Keeping the thatched farmhouse on my left, I go up a farm track a few hundred steps and I am here, at the top of the cliff of Shipload Bay. The sky opens to the horizon only interrupted by Lundy, which has been described as the island of the Severn Sea.
I have been at this spot so many times and yet every time I come here I am amazed, astonished and inspired by the wild blue sea and the rugged rocks around which seals swim. I stand here gazing and when I am lucky I see Roe deer disappearing into the blackthorn bushes. When I am more lucky I see puffins on the shore and peregrine falcons above. I long to be on Lundy Island because there puffins are not so rare.
But I discourage longing and encourage my sense of belonging to this coast. I turn left, towards the west, and go gently down among the trees. In spring, Blackthorn are adorned with white flowers as if snow has just fallen. I smile at them. I say thank you trees, my friends, I am happy to be with you. I am filled with awe and reverence.
I climb over wooden stiles, walk across the fields, never able to take away my eyes from the sea, until I am among the primroses and bluebells and I am torn. I forget walking for a moment and stop to admire the handiwork of Gaia, goddess of the Earth. I am invited by more flowers and more trees and more open views at Barley Bay. I keep going until Hartland Point is in sight with the lighthouse down below.
You may not have heard of Hartland village, but you will have heard of Hartland Point. This sharp, stunning and sublimely beautiful cliff is a treacherous spot for sailors and down below I see the rusting wreck of the Joanna, a Dutch ship, which ran aground and met its fate some twenty years ago.
From here I turn south and begin to climb down where the rocks of the Cow and Calf resist the embrace of the Atlantic. The south west wind is working hard to hold me back, but the wild meadow beyond, filled with golden gorse, is pulling me forward. A flock of seagulls wheel around gliding and darting down the cliffs, which are their nesting sites. At the seas edge I hear the call of oystercatchers and a lone cormorant skims the waves. Near my feet on the path itself, I wonder at the presence of hundreds of butterflies blown over from France. Occasionally, a small blue butterfly dances dancing before me and behind me.
If I thought that I was walking by myself, I was mistaken. I am in the world of Gaia’s creatures, so exuberant and so joyful that I lose my stress and strain, anger and anxiety, fear and worry. I feel light and in good company.
I climb up keeping Damehole Point on my right. This human-like figure carved by nature, wrapped in a robe of rock, bows to the magnificent waters of the Atlantic as if in a posture of gratitude for the gifts of the sea. I am touched.
On the high cliff, I am impressed by Blegberry farm, fortified during the English Civil War. Beautiful stone built barns, pigsties, cowsheds and the farmhouse itself contain a lively community of people, animals and foodcrops. Down below on Berry Beach, some hardy and courageous locals are swimming in the sea. I am impressed again. My body shivers at the thought of being in the cold water.
The Atlantic Ocean has been here millions of years, harbouring so much life within, long before humans appeared on the Earth. I stand staring and meditating upon nature which is good in itself, irrespective of its use to humans.
Down the cliff, up again and down again to Blackpool. A small cottage stands alone on my left and a family with children are enjoying their holiday; eco-tourism in the truest sense. The cottage is part of Hartland Abbey which was disestablished by Henry VIII and now belongs to the local lord.
As I climb up the cliff I walk through prolific heather already showing its colour purple. I see the bees buzzing, collecting a little nectar here and a little nectar there. Never too much, never harming the heather. Transforming nectar into sweet, delicious health-giving honey. I learn the lesson of transformation from the honeybee. When I am walking, I am learning from nature, not about nature. Nature is my greatest teacher, greater than the Buddha, because even the Buddha learnt much from nature. He was enlightened sitting under a tree.
At the top of the cliff, I pass the ruins of Warren Tower, once the home of the warrener but later refashioned as a folly to satisfy Victorian aesthetics. I climb over the stile by Rocket Cottage. I cross the little tarmac road which leads to Hartland Quay, where an old-fashioned hotel and a minuscule museum bring a touch of civilisation to an otherwise wild and bleak landscape. I am not hungry, nor thirsty and have no desire to connect with civilisation. So I stick to the wild path which pleases my wild mind and wild mood. The wilderness of rocks and sea, wind and wave feeds my soul. No wonder that St Catherine meditated on top of the Tor here and found her enlightenment. St Nectan, the Celtic Saint, made his hermitage near here and found peace in solitude. In wilderness the spirit abounds. For St Catherine and St Nectan the wild sea was the equivalent of the desert for the desert fathers and the forest for forest monks.
The path continues to go up and down in the same way as my life has ups and downs. So I take solace in the valleys and cliffs of the coast at Spekes Mill Mouth where the spray from the waterfall cools my face. Here the water falls some hundreds of feet down transforming rough rocks into smooth surfaces. I stand contemplating the qualities of water. It washes away dirt, quenches thirst, keeps flowing, always taking the lower, humbler path, so soft that I can put it on my eyes and so strong that it can sweep me away. Water, water you are life itself.
This is the terminus of my walk for today. I follow the stream inland to Lymebridge and then to Docton Mill where I stop for a cream tea. This custom is a well-loved part of the local economy of Devon and Cornwall and provides local distinction to this part of the world. My hosts are friendly and welcoming. The sun is bright and balmy. Sitting outside in the mini courtyard, I savour homemade strawberry jam with scones and clotted cream from a nearby farm. After 3 hours of walking up and down this is a very welcome break and a very refreshing tea.
After a good rest, I call a local taxi to take me back to Titchberry Farm.