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Thursday, 10 January 2019

South West Coast Path - Hartland to Bude

Screda Cove

An 19 mile walk along the South West Coast Path between Hartland to Bude

The section from Hartland to Bude is the most challenging part of the whole South West Coast Path. There are ten deep valleys to cross which seem unrelenting but the reward is some of the most spectacular scenery of the whole trail. This is definitely something for the more experienced hiker to undertake.

South West Coast Path - Hartland to Bude - Essential Information

Walk Statistics:

Start point
Hartland View in OS Map | View in Google Map
End Point
Bude View in OS Map | View in Google Map
Total Walk distance
17.0 miles
Walk difficulty
A lot a steep valleys
Only undertake this if one is an experienced and fit walker


The following maps and services can assist in navigating this route. The links include published hard copy as well as online plots and downloadable GPX route data for importing into navigational software and apps.

Ordnance Survey Explorer Map
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Online Ordnance Survey Route
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Online OpenStreetMap Route
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Online Google Route
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ViewRanger App Route
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GPX data for route (download)


Upper Lynstone Camping and Caravan ParkView in OS Map | View in Google Map
A popular family run campsite close to Bude and with easy access to the South West Coast Path


Details of public transport that is required for the walk

Stagecoach - Bus Service
Service Details
319 - Stagecoach 319 Serrvice linking Bude and Hartland and Barnstaple

Walk Data

Date of Walk
Walk Time
07:00 to 18:00
Griffmonster, Kat
Weather Conditions
Blue skies, sunshine, warm, becoming hazy as the day went on

Walk Notes

Read any information leaflets or guide books on the South West Coast Path and the section between Hartland and Bude is usually deemed to be the most demanding and challenging of all the whole 635 mile trail. There have been many who have offered advice and critical comment on this claim, proffering that there are more demanding sections and that this section is only challenging due to its length but that is just opinions.

So, for what it is worth, this is the Griffmonster Walks perspective from the viewpoint of having completed the path from Poole through to Bude, continuing onto Barnstaple. On paper, or map even, it doesn't look any more demanding than some of the other strenuous sections, especially when one has taken on some 20+ mile long hikes along the trail across some arduous terrain. It is true that after the less demanding stages of the Cornish path up to Port Isaac, the trail through to Hartland presents a much more severe challenge. The first of these from Port Isaac to Tintagel, although only 9 miles, takes a lot of effort to traverse the seven deep valleys. After completing this stage, one thinks that nothing could be any more severe. Some other writers confer with this view for which, in preparation for this walk, we took heart and held a hopeful belief that this section would be no worse. In fact, there was even some optimism that it would be less effort than the Tintagel section.

Having now walked this section I can honestly state that this is without a doubt the most demanding section of the Coast Path. 17 miles and ten demanding valleys to cross. It is a lengthy section with no easy method to break it into smaller sections as there is no public transport available and the only option to reduce the distance is using a taxi service or assistance from friends or wild camping. Having stated this, the challenge is not such much in the severity of the landscape but more down to the stamina required to continually climb the descents and ascents. Ones legs will make their complaint known!

In order to complete the walk it is best to start as early as possible such that one is not reduced to hurrying in order to get to the end before darkness falls. Allow a good 12 hours for the walk. Obviously some may well do this in less time but for an average walker, not too used to hills, then this is what one should be aiming for. We completed this in 11 hours with a break at Morwenstowe which is within the criteria we had set. Do not underestimate the challenge. It will take a lot of effort. Take ones time. Rest if required. Take in the amazing views. Take plenty of food and water.

The strenuousness of the walk is not the only thing to take into consideration when planning such a walk. If one is using accommodation along the route then there is the Hartland Quay Hotel which will provide a suitable stopover point before embarking on the route to Bude. There is also the Old Smithy Inn, located 1.3 miles off the coast path from Welcombe Mouth, which offers a no-frills, budget room that sleeps up to 4 people in 2 bunk beds. This option does provide the means to split the walk for the linear coast walker.

For the sectional walker there is another issue of transport to journey between its ends. For the likes the day walker with a basecamp such as the method employed here, then the only viable option when determining the direction of the route, is to walk from Hartland to Bude due to the limitations of the public transport. The nearest a bus gets to the quay is Hartland village which is some 2 miles inland. Although the Quay is an easy walk down a narrow country lane, bear in mind that this road is frequently used by guests driving to and from the Hartland Quay hotel. There is no pavement and in places the lane is very narrow and one needs to keep well into the hedge to allow traffic to pass.

There is a severely limited bus service between Bude and Hartland and it is recommended that one should take the first bus out of Bude at 06:30 as there is little other choice. Luckily, in this instance, we had friends who were willing to drive us through to Hartland Quay which, arriving at 07:00, gave us a head start on the time it would have taken for the bus journey. As with all bus services, do check the service is running for each year there appears to be more and more cuts to public transport.

The area around Hartland Quay is a real true wonder of nature. The wildness of the coast is a sight to behold and under clear blue skies it is beauty distilled and set before ones eyes. The island of Lundy sits in the haze of the horizon. In the early morning there is not a soul in sight and this coast is at its best with the clear blue seas reflecting the hues of the morning sky. The coastline to the south sits in peaceful splendour, inviting the would be walker onwards. It looks so serene and placid. It looks like a pleasant country ramble ahead, and indeed, the start of this walk is just that.

The coast path follows the valley, skirting around Screda Cove and then around the back of St Catherines Tor, a large cliff that rises up from the grass covered valley like the hump of a sleeping dinosaur. Beyond this, there is a waterfall where a stream cascades down the cliffs. Captivating. Photogenic. The area is known as Spekes Mill Mouth and the valley through which the stream passes is the Speke Valley. Presumably there must have been a mill here somewhere and the name must have come from the owner although some say the name is taken from the 19th century African explorer John Hanning Speke who lived locally.

The path continues up the valley behind Swansford Hill and then over Milford Common. This is easy walking which lures the humble hiker into a sense of false security on the effort required to get to Bude. The path then follows the rolling hills that form Mansley Cliff. One could not hope for better with such delectable scenery and such a pleasant stroll. The path passes Embury Beacon, once the site of an iron age fort although most of it has been taken by erosion and the little that is left one would probably not notice in passing.

At Knap Head one has walked some 5 miles along the coast, 7 if one has had to amble down from Hartland village. It is here where the going gets tough. First up is the valley at Welcombe Mouth, a steep 100m+ descent followed by a similar climb. At the bottom there is a car park and a stream with some large stepping stones to provide access across the waters. A waterfall exudes the waters down to the beach and out to sea. The ascent is an equal challenge and at the top one can catch ones breath and glance back at the route of the path now just a scratch on the landscape. There is little relent on the arduous terrain for within a few yards there is another descent, this time down to Marsland Mouth. On the way down there is a small stone hut with windows overlooking the cove and a welcoming door open to passers by. An open folder of paper and a pen together with a bottle of water sits on a writing desk awaiting the comments from visitors. This is the writing hut of 20th century writer, poet and playwright Ronald Duncan, best known for his collaboration with Benjamin Britten. He died in 1982 and the hut is now open to the public and its position above the cliffs provides inspiration to scribble a few notes onto the paper much as it must have inspired its founder.

In the valley of Marsland Mouth a stream leads to another waterfall that is tucked just out of plain sight and a wooden footbridge straddles the watercourse. It is just a humble wooden bridge but it holds a huge significance. There are wooden signs on either side of the crossing announcing a poignant reminder to all. On the north side one is in Devon. On the south side one is in Cornwall, or Kernow as they call it in these parts, and if one stands akimbo across the bridge one can have a foot in two counties for this stream marks the county border.

There is another steep ascent and then almost immediately after yet another descent down to Litter Mouth. A series of steps assists in getting down the steep incline. And once one is at the bottom, one climbs back to the top and over a cliff and straight back down to Yeol Mouth. This is why this section has attained the notoriety of being the most arduous section of the whole trail. It is unrelenting. The climbing is not difficult, it is the sheer amount of ascents and descents. At the top of Yeol mouth one glimpses the distinct white globes and parabolic dishes of GCHQ Bude, the UK Government satellite ground station and eavesdropping centre which sits on the hills above Bude. The sight gives one the feeling that the end is in sight. It is not, there's a long way to go with starting with another descent into the valley near St Morwennas Well.

The next valley to cross is Tidna Shute. Unfortunately a week a so prior to this walk there was a cliff fall and the coast path was blocked up just above this valley. This prevented the viewing of Hawkers Hut, the abode of the 19th century eccentric vicar of Morwenstow, Reverend Robert Stephen Hawker, who would use the hut to pass his time writing hymns and keeping an ever watchful eye over the ships that passed by.

The diversion that had been put in place is worth documenting as this does provide the chance of refreshment. A footpath cuts across the field towards Morwenna church then leads out onto a lane. At this point there is the Rectory Tea Rooms. Flag stone floors. Brass kitchen wear. Huge old fireplace. China plates and cups. This really is a cut above the rest and as one sheepishly steps into this olde worlde charm, with its country house of the gentry decor, one does feel distinctly out of place. It looks expensive. One feels like an intruder. Even so, the waitresses are cheerful and friendly and a pot of tea is not at all expensive although one can spend a lot of money going overboard on the tea cakes.

There is also a pub at Morewenstow, The Bush Inn, although on this occasion there was too much walking to accomplish to spare the time savouring a draught of beer. Morewenstow would make a good place to drive and undertake circular walks which did seem a popular passtimme judging by the numerous walkers encountered around this area. The diversion now takes one across the fields and on this occasion the first field was occupied by a herd of bulls that took a displeasure at having visitors crossing their field. In fact a keen pace had to be employed to reach the far side before the disgruntled bulls caught up with us. A couple passing in the opposite direction were suitably perturbed by the prospect of facing the bulls and without much discussion took the longer route around by the pub.

The path heads down the valley where the Tilda river flows, which is a pleasant wander through a wood shaded valley back and to the coastpath. At least this descent was gentle in comparison to the coast path route. On the opposite side of the valley one could witness the work being undertaken to realign the path which appeared to be nearing completion. At the end of the valley there is a path over the top of Shapnose Point which looks precarious. This is not the coast path which passes around the back of the large cliff.

The path now hugs the cliffs. There's an old derelict brick lookout point, its windows long gone and the woodwork decaying. At Caunter Beach there is the curious sight of lobster pots on top of the cliff. Ropes give away the mechanism of how these are delivered to the beach below.

There's another descent and climb down to Stanbury Mouth, although this is tame in comparison with the previous valleys. As one emerges at the top, the satellite ground station presents itself in its full glory and the path follows the heathland in front of the complex. One always feels like an imposter when passing these establishments with obvious security and fences and a menacing silence. A flock of sheep see us coming across the heath, and, as sheep do, they shuttle away down the path which cuts through the heather and gorse. They turn and see us getting closer. They run onwards ever hopeful of somewhere to hide. There isnt. There is only the coastpath cutting through the gorse. They must have been thinking they would be walking to Bude. We was thinking they would hold us up getting to Bude. Eventually the gorse gave way and they headed for safety and watched us pass onwards from a safe sheep distance.

Beyond the satellite ground station, Bude comes into view with the cliffs tapering down to its location. It looks like one is on the home stretch but there are more challenges to come with the first a descent down to Duckpool and then another ascent. Admittedly this is not as severe as previous valley crossings but with tiring legs it nonetheless feels as severe. There is a deep gulley to cross at Warren Gutter with more steps and climbs and another smaller gulley just beyond. The going does start to get easy. The cliffs are rolling and not as high and the descent into Sandy Mouth is not as severe. The final valley is across Northcott Mouth and the other side is only 40m height and the path rolls over it and down to Crooklets which announces the outskirts of Bude.

In this instance there is a continuation through to the campsite which is a short walk up out of Bude and across Efford Down to Lynstone Farm campsite. However before heading up to this end it is worth checking out the pubs of Bude to receive a worthy refreshment in honour of the completion of this magnificent section of the coastpath.

view from above Northcott Mouth
view from above Northcott Mouth


The South West Coast Path is clearly marked with the usual acorn markers of a national trail

From the bus stop in Hartland take the Stoke road westwards to the coast. Keep to this following the signs to Hartland Quay. The path then leads southwards along the coastline with waymarkers clearly defining the route.

Follow the waymarkers throughout. Do not attempt to stray from the official path as some paths lead to sheer drops.

Gull Rock and Devils Hole
Gull Rock and Devils Hole


The Barrel at Bude, Bude View in OS Map | View in Google Map

Image of pub
Lansdown Rd, Bude

The owners, Ian and Rachel O’Hare, made a spur of the moment decision to escape the ratrace and move down to Cornwall to begin something more worthwhile and rewarding. They have certainly made a deserving effort, opening the second micropub in Cornwall which is set in a one of the oldest cottages in Bude. The renovation of the former retail premises has included a bartop crafted from a the washed up timbers of the sailing ship Maria Assumpta which was wrecked at Padstow in 1995.

All drinks are sourced from Cornish brewers and wineries and include Cornish cask ales and craft beers, traditional Cornish ginger beers and ciders as well as Cornish wines and gins. Even the snacks are Cornish with Cornish Pasty flavoured crisps and Cornish Charcuterie salami.

The bar is popular and friendly. There are no modern appliances and the art of conversation is the main source of entertainment. Just like a pub should be! Opening hours are limited so check before visiting. Usually open Thursdays to Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons.

Very highly recommended


A question to the staff at thee tourist information revealed this gem of a pub. I had merely enquired if there were any outlets for the local Bude Brewery and was pointed in the direction of the Barrel at Bude. You cannot get a better place to drink and converse. The ever changing ales are all in tip-top condition. The ginger beer was the best I have ever tasted and who would have thought you could purchase Cornish Pasty flavour crisps. Brilliant. If you visit Bude you have to visit this place. Just how a pub should be.

Bencoolen Inn, Bude View in OS Map | View in Google Map

Image of pub
Bencoolen Road, Bude

The name of the pub comes from a local ship wreck. The Bencoolen foundered on its outgoing journey to Bombay in October 1862 and the timbers from the ship were used in the construction of the Inn. An account of the wreck can be found on the walls of the pub.

The pub has a very much local and friendly atmosphere and offers pub food and an a la carte menu speciallising in Spanish dishes. Ales are served from the barrel in the tap room and include St Austell Proper Job and Sharps Doom Bar with a chengin guest ale.


We walked past this pub a few times before venturing in. It is strange how one discounts a pub because it looks too formal but do not judge by appearances. This is a traditional unassuming hostelry but its food is excellent and its ale top notch. The Proper Job, served straight from the barrel is some of the best I have ever had.

Ascent out of Yeol Mouth
Ascent out of Yeol Mouth


St Nectan and St MorwennaView in OS Map | View in Google Map

The area around Hartland in Devon is primarily associated with the legends of two saints, St Nectan and St Morwenna. They were two of the 24 children of Brychan, a legendary 5th century Welsh King of Brycheiniog (Breconshire). Nectan was already a monk when he sailed from South Wales to Devon, along with many of his siblings, in their mission to evangelise the gospel of Christ.

Morwenna's tale is simple. She settled at Hennacliff, the location of present day Morwenstow which is literally translated as Morwenna's holy-place. Legend states that she built the church there with her own bare hands, carrying the stone for its construction on her head up the cliff face. She would stop at a point on a grassy ledge for a rest from the arduous climb, where a spring gushed with water to satisfy her thirst. The spring is still there today located in a virtually inaccessible position, part-way down the cliff below a coast path waymarker. A precarious overgrown path leads down to the stone monument around the spring but is not advisable to access this without suitable climbing safety equipment.

The church that Morwenna built, and indeed in which her remains were laid, is certainly not the church that stands there today although it is thought this Norman construction is located on the site of a former Saxon church. The present church, dedicated to St Morwena, was additionally dedicated to John the baptist in the 13th century and the double dedication remains today. A fragment of a 15th-century wall painting exists on the north wall and is said to be a representation of St Morwenna, a gaunt female clasping a scroll to her breast with her left hand with her right arm raised, blessing a kneeling monk.

The legend of Nectan is more complex and there are several locations in both North Cornwall and Devon that have an association with the saint. These include a holy well at Welcombe and a hermitage at Trethevy, close to Tintagel, where legend states that the Knights of the Round Table sought council with Nectan prior to their quest to find the Holy Grail. However it is the hamlet of Stoke in Hartland that claims to be the place where the Nectan spent his life in an idyllic valley where he built a church and lived in a hermitage close to a fruitful spring which is still known as St Nectan's Well.

A common legend associated with Nectan tells of how a swineherd came across his hermitage whilst searching for his lost pigs. Nectan, the ever helpful soul, assisted in locating the animals for which he was dutifully rewarded with two cows which went on to provide for his daily needs.

Some time later, reputedly on 17th June AD 510, robbers stole his cows. It did not take Nectan long to track them down and reclaim his cows. He then attempted to preach the gospel to the perpetrators of the villainous deed. This went down none too well as the his adversaries immediate response was to cut his head off. Nectan appeared to take this graciously for he picked up his head and carried it half a mile back to his hermitage at Stoke where he slumped against his well and passed away from this mortal coil. It is said that the bloodstained ground along which he travelled became fruitful with foxgloves and some say that the streaks of his blood can still been seen on the stone of St Nectan’s Well in the hamlet of Stoke.

An addition to the story states that the robbers followed Nectan back to the well. One of them, having witnessed such a miraculous feat converted to Christianity on the spot and did the rightful thing and buried the body with the honour it deserved. As for the robbers' accomplices, it is said that they mocked the miracle and eventually either went blind or met a brutal death.

Another tale is set in AD 937 on the eve of the battle of Brunanburh where Athelstan, King of England, took on an alliance of Scots and Vikings. The story states that a vision of St Nectan appeared to a soldier who was suffering from the plague which was spreading through the troops. The saint touched the soldier and cured him, then requested that he should go to the pious king and request that he to pray to God during the battle which would result in a battle victory. The king undertook the request, the battle was won and all the soldiers recovered from the plague. Later, Athelstan visited Hartland and paid homage to the saint donating riches to the church.

Nectons relics became the source of a cult and many pilgrims would journey to his humble shrine to pay homage. With the riches brought by visiting pilgrims, in AD 1030 the Bishop of Crediton sanctioned the translation of the body to a more fitting shrine in the church at Stoke and his staff was richly adorned with silver and gold ornamentation. In the 12th century the church was restored by the Austin Canons who built the nearby Abbey and the shrine remained in their care until the reformation when the Abbey was dissolved and the buildings either demolished or converted for secular use. The remaining buildings are today used as a country house, owned by the Stucley family which is open to paying tourists. What became of Nectans relics is unknown although the altar tomb in the chancel of St Nectans church is known to have been brought into the church from the Abbey where it was being used as a flower trough. It is thought this may well have once contained the relics of Nectan when the Abbey was in active use.

The details of this feature have been garnered from various internet sources although the reputed original source has yet to be located. Most sources reference a chronicle by William of Worcester from the 15th century which is said to detail The life of Nectan. It is clear that this stood as the primary source of the legend of Nectan until a 12th century manuscript was discovered in 1937 at the Ducal library at Gotha, Germany (there is an English translation titled The Saints Of Cornwall Vol. 5 by G. H. Doble). This is said to provide additional details about Nectans shrine plus descriptions of Hartland life during the medieval period.

It is unfortunate that the internet sources do not provide specific references and most have merely plagiarised others work which is obvious from the word for word repeated accounts. Therefore it is difficult to equate what parts of the details are from the original chronicles and what has been added. The story of the vision at the Battle of Brunanburh is of particular concern as although the specific location of this battle is open to debate, most scholars appear to agree that it was set in north of England so it is uncertain why such a Devonian legend should persist. It is true that Athelstan is considered to have been renowned as a devout and pious Saxon king, known for collecting Saints relics and founding churches. He is also known to have been a benefactor to Hartland Abbey.

The legend of a beheaded saint carrying of their own head is a recurring theme in both Celtic and European Saints, notably St Denys and St Decuman. Such instances are generally termed as Cephalophores from the Greek for head carrier and it does make one wonder whether this is the origin of the headless ghost stories that prevail throughout Britain where the beheaded soul holds their head in their arm.

Obviously if further information or references become available then this article will be updated accordingly. For the time being this remains as the folklore of Devon which provides the richness and soul of the area.

Path out of Warren Gutter
Path out of Warren Gutter


Below are a selection of images taken from from the photo album for this walk. Feel free to browse through these or click on an image to view a larger version in the Gallery.

Summary of Document Changes

Last Updated: 2019-01-10

2018-05-03 : Initial publication
2018-05-09 : Additional notes referencing accommodation
2019-01-10 : General website updates


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