Saturday, 23 June 2018

South West Coast Path Section 11 Morwenstow to Bude

Morwenstow Church
The stretch of coast path from Hartland Quay to Bude has long since vexed me.  It is 15 miles in length and I have always though possibly more than I could do in one day both for practical and fitness reasons.  The guide book had suggested that it could be broken at Morwenstow and I therefore decided that this would be by far the best way of tackling it.  My new problem was that only one bus serves Morwenstow each day (and not at all on Sundays) and it didn't leave Bude until after 1pm.  I decided to do the second half first on that basis as a) it was the easier and shorter of the two and b) I had to drive 220 miles home afterwards!
Clifftop at Morwenstow
The good news weatherwise was that the mist which had bedevilled this part of the coast for the last two days had finally relented and blown away.  The bad news was that it had been replaced by a band of rain and I certainly didn't fancy walking in that today.  The weather forecaster assured me that sunshine would follow in the afternoon so I pitched up in Bude showing faith.  It was still raining when I caught the bus although there were signs that it would cheer up.  By the time I got to Morwenstow after a rattly and bumpy ride the rain had gone and was replaced by a decent amount of sunshine.  Unsurprisingly I was the only person who alighted at Morwentstow, a small hamlet seemingly miles from anywhere.
Hawker's Hut
It was still a mile or so from the bus stop to the coast path and on the way through I paused briefly at Morwenstow church, a splendid affair high on the hills above the rugged northern Cornish coast.  There is a pretty full churchyard here - sadly many of the graves belong to shipwrecked sailors from this dangerous coast apparently.  I pushed on through the fields to the coast and turned left when the edge of the cliff beckoned.  As I did so the sun went in and for a few minutes the sky looked threatening again.  I gritted my teeth and carried on knowing that realistically I would have to walk whatever the weather as there would be no bus back today.
My first stop along the way was the diminutive Hawker's Hut.  This is the smallest property owned by the National Trust and is said to have been created from driftwood by the eccentric clergyman Robert Hawker.  Hawker used the hut to contemplate and write poetry and even had some famous guests hang out with him including Charles Kingsley and Alfred Tennyson.  Sitting in here and looking at the view I could certainly see the attraction.  Fortunately I had the place to myself but didn't get long - another couple were along soon behind me as I was leaving.

Not long past the Hawker's Hut and I plunged down into my first valley with a steep climb the other side.  Some National Trust volunteers were hard at work on the path and I chatted with them briefly as I steeped gingerly past their efforts.  Of course what goes down must come up on the coast path and I was soon climbing back up the other side of the valley.  Feeling a bit puffed I was quite pleased to see a watcher's hut at the top.  This unheralded structure had clearly seen better days but it did shelter me from the stiff breeze.  As I lingered over the view with a drink I could see that the clouds were once again parting and allowing some good sunshine through - this boded well for the rest of the walk.
The next major ascent was just that - a very steep section of path that took me up to the very strange looking GCHQ site complete with golf ball radar installations and satellite dishes.  It all looked a bit James Bond and rather incongruous up here on the North Cornish cliffs.  As I approached I had the sense of being watched by the CCTV cameras stationed along the huge perimeter fence.  There were also lots of signs telling me not to take pictures and clearly I did not want to be accused of espionage!  I skirted around the facility dodging the boggy sections and taking advantage of some former concrete roads that probably once served barracks or some other such related military installation.  Clearly not needed now this part of the facility had been returned to open access to allow the passage of walkers.
As I went across the crest of the hill (Sharpnose Point) the magnificent view of the remaining part of the day's walking opened up.  Waves were racing into shore along the line of sandy beaches between here and Bude and the resultant spray obscured visibility a bit but nothing like the last couple of days. The sheep grazing up here were probably completely oblivious to the view that they were lucky enough to enjoy.  The view across the tops of the cliffs was short-lived though because I was soon descending to Duckpool.  The descent was extremely memorable as the path zig zagged down the side of a very rocky cliff until getting to a picturesque valley floor and beach just beyond.  Being a weekday it wasn't at all busy - just one lonely camper van and a couple of dog walkers.  I can imagine it getting very busy during a summer weekend though as any beach with road access is normally a honeypot for surfers and beach worshippers.  A lonely cottage along the valley was surely the ultimate country retreat?
Sharpnose Point View
I puffed up the other side of the valley little knowing that I had now completed the hardest part of the day's walking.  From here to Bude the climbs would get less severe with each valley that I crossed.  I felt something of a fraud only doing a half section but the thought of a whole day of this seemed too much.  Just past Warren Point I became aware of the expanse of sandy beaches below the cliffs.  Dogs were barking in the distance and I soon realised that most of the visitors were with dogs along this stretch of coast.  Balls and sticks combined with waves are surely every dog's dream?
I passed by another car park, virtually empty on this Tuesday afternoon out of school holidays.  Sadly for me that also meant that the café was shut but this is surely a welcome spot for walkers on a day it is open.  A short climb out of the car park followed and after this the going was surprisingly easy.  I also made progress a lot more quickly than I am used to on the coast path for not only were the gradients less severe but the underfoot conditions were springy turf for lengthy parts and this made for nice easy walking.  I remember mostly enjoying the geology of the beaches here - the strata of the rocks have been contorted by folding and erosion had exposed some very strange patterns in the rock as a result.
Northcott Mouth
After Northcott Mouth I was surprised how quickly Bude came upon me.  In fact I arrived about an hour before I estimated that I would - circumstances that are almost unheard of!  I was parked at the back of Crooklets Beach but in order to fully complete the section into Bude I walked on by the colourful beach huts and around a golf course until I reached the harbour mouth.  Below me at the entrance to the harbour was a saltwater pool - not in use because it was low tide.  It didn't look very inviting to be honest.  Most of the beach visitors were concentrated far off by the low tide part just beyond the RNLI lifeguards.  The numbers were soon swelled by extras who had headed down here presumably after work.  I looped around and back to my car hugely satisfied with my half day activity and still fighting fit for the journey home.

Crooklets Beach Bude

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