Route details, maps, pubs, features, local history and folklore for a wide variety of walks focusing primarily on Norfolk and Suffolk

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

South West Coast Path - Bucks Cross to Westward Ho!

Babbacombe

An 8 mile walk along the South West Coast Path between Bucks Cross to Westward Ho!

A moderate walk along the cliffs to Westward Ho!, the town renowned for being the only place in Britain to have an exclamation mark in its name. This walk presents a good introduction to the South West Coast Path being under 10 miles and with few difficult or strenuous ascents and descents. There are amazing panoramas of the coastline throughout with views to Hartland in the west and Westward Ho! and north Devon to the East and North.

Bucks Cross to Westward Ho! Walk - Essential Information

Walk Statistics:

Start point
Bucks Cross View in OS Map | View in Google Map
End Point
Westward Ho! View in OS Map | View in Google Map
Total Walk distance
8.2 miles
Walk difficulty
moderate
Terrain
Cliff top paths with a few valleys but nothing too challenging
Obstacles

Maps:

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)

Details of Accommodation used when performing this walk

Accommodation:

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

Transport:

Details of public transport that is required for the walk

Stagecoach - Bus Service
Service Number
319 - Stagecoach 319 Serrvice linking Bude and Hartland and Barnstaple
Timetable
Stagecoach - Bus Service
Service Number
21 - Stagecoach 21 Serrvice linking Westward Ho!, Bideford, Barstaple and Ilfracombe
Timetable

Walk Data

Date of Walk
2017-07-27
Walk Time
07:30 to 16:30
Walkers
Griffmonster, Kat
Weather Conditions
Blue skies, sunshine, warm

Walk Notes

The town of Bideford provides a central base for this walk from where public transport gives access to both ends of the route. Bideford is famous for being the birthplace of both Gaye Advert and TV Smith. Now, most folk may not know who these two 20th century icons are, so I will enlighten you. They formed one of the initial UK punk banks, namely The Adverts, and Gaye was proclaimed by the media as first female punk star. Bored Teenagers, Gary Gilmores Eyes and No Time to be 21 were all anthems that influenced and inspired a generation including the author of this doggerel that spews forth on this very page that you are reading. Therefore one should pay homage to this humble ground of great expectations.

Anyway, back to the details of this walk. There is a pay and display car park on the riverside at Bideford with the long stay parking available right at the far end. With the frequency of the buses between Westward Ho! and Bideford being far greater than the 319 Stagecoach service out to Bucks Cross, then an easterly direction of navigation is the best option available. The main bus stops are along the riverside road and there are various cafes that front this parade where breakfast, tea and coffee can be purchased prior to catching the bus. The riverside quay provides wide open views of the river. On the far side are white washed buildings of East-The-Water glimmering in the morning sunshine, the curiously named community on the east bank of the river Torridge. This tidal river, which at this point is broadening into the estuary, has many craft, large and small anchored on the quayside which provide interest to any wandering and curious eyes as well as providing suitable photogenic features to encapsulate the frame of the casual photographer. In the distance, spanning the wide expanse of the river is the impressive, 24 arched stone bridge. Known as the Long Bridge, this ancient river crossing dates from the 16th century although earlier bridges are recorded prior to this construction and modifications have been added since. There is also a distinctive and notable absence of any commemoration of the iconic punk band, The Adverts.

The first bus to Hartland departs at 09:25 and it's a 25 minutes journey to Bucks Cross, the village at the start of this walk. One can take the route through the Holiday park as described in the Bucks Cross to Hartland section in order to get to the Coast Path but on this occasion the lane down to the village was used to navigate to Bucks Mills where the Coast Path is picked up. This pleasant leafy lane provides a steady descent through the shade of the woodland on either side of the road. The 19th century church of St Anne provides a feature to admire on the journey down then further on, as the road turns a sharp left, cottages appear on the far side of the stream, these being in Parkham parish rather than in Buck Mills, and one being the former Coffin Arms public house. The name came from the local family who owned the building and has nothing to do with funeral processions to the local chapel. There is a little more descent until the main village is encountered, its whitewashed cottages perched on the low clifftops, looking out to sea, present an idyllic picture postcard setting. The cottage directly ahead at the end of the road has a sign affixed to the wall. It draws ones eye. D&D Walls, General Builders it states in no uncertain terms. One is left to ponder on the thought of what other trade could this D Walls ever do other than build!

It doesn't take long to explore this tiny hamlet, a muse around the cottages, the quay and beach, and then it is time to ascend the coast path up through the Worthygate Wood to the clifftop, a climb of some 140m from sea level. There follows a 1.5 mile wander through the wooded clifftop with some amazing coastal panoramas which can be sneaked from between the trees to reveal the wondrous coastline from Hartland through to Westward Ho!, the days destination. There is a descent into the valley at Peppercombe where a small stone building is located by a bridge across the stream that cascades down the valley. This unassuming building, looking not much more than one of the old lime kilns that litter this coast, serves as one of the few National Trust bothies where hikers can put up their boots for the night. Unlike the bothies that exist in remote areas of the UK, this one you have to book up and pay a premium to stay over. Not so much a bothy as a primitive guest house. There is no evidence of occupation on this occasion and one ambles by regardless.

One cant help but notice from a quick perusal of the OS map that Peppercombe boasts a castle. There is little evidence of such a fortification on the descent into the valley and it take some investigation to determine that this landmark refers to an iron age hill fort of which virtually nothing remains. On the eastern side of the valley one can look back at Peppercombe and a bungalow gracefully sits on the opposite side amid the wooded sloping cliffside. This is Castle Bungalow and is reputedly the area where the hillfort once existed.

This side of Peppercombe, the woodland gives way to grass covered cliff tops and heath and the path soon leads down to beach level at Portledge Mouth. The views are amazing with the coast beyond the Taw-Torridge estuary clearly visible out to Croyde and Baggy Point. The path makes a steady climb to nearly 100m over Higher Rowden Cliff before descending back down Babbacombe cliff to Babbacombe Mouth. The ascents and descents are nothing like the arduous terrain of the previous sections through to Hartland, and although some effort has to be made, the climbs are all simple challenges that be accomplished with ease by any seasoned walker.

There is a short ramble over Westacott Cliff and the path then descends all the way down to the beach where there is a short 30yds across the large pebbles to the wooden steps where the initial ascent of Cockington Cliff begins. Judging by the debris accumulated at the foot of the cliff then one does wonder whether a spring tide prevents access across this beach at times. There are numerous bits of trees, well weathered branches, even complete trunks together with the ubiquitous discarded plastic beer crate. It may be the case that this debris has been deposited from storm water gushing down the stream that exudes at this point. On this visit the streams waters are barely visible but no doubt given some heavy rain then a torrent would be gushing out at this point. On old maps there is an inland path labelled as Paddons Path although I can find little to determine where the name come from. There is a track still there although nothing is marked on modern maps.

The climb up Cockington Cliff is a little more of a challenge than the other ascents of this section. After the initial steep climb there is a westerly facing bench that overlooks the magnificent scenery around Bideford Bay and all the way to the distant Hartland. The total ascent at Cockington is 100m and then there is a leisurely descent to the lower level cliffs at Abbotsham. The walk from here to Westward Ho! is fairly leisurely with the beach often visible below the low cliffs. At Cornborough Cliff, the path leads onto the old trackbed of the former Bideford, Westward Ho! and Appledore Railway. This was a short lived line that was built at the start of the 20th century but only lasted until 1917 when it was requisitioned by the War Office. It's name had the distinction of being the only British railway to ever have an exclamation mark in its title, and similarly the placename of Westward Ho! is the only British town that boasts an exclamation mark. These days the trackbed is a smooth tarmacked walkway that provides a pleasant and easy descent into the town.

Westward Ho! is a Victorian created town, established on the back of the success of Charles Kingsleys 1855 historical novel of the same name that was set in Elizabethan Bideford. The resort started as a single Hotel that was named Westward Ho! to capitalise on the novels title and subsequent development around the area adopted the same name. One does wonder what would have happened if the founders of the hotel had adopted the full title of Kingsleys work, The Voyages and Adventures of Sir Amyas Leigh, Knight of Burrough, in the County of Devon, in the reign of Her Most Glorious Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, Rendered into Modern English. I guess this would then have become the longest British placename and the railway would have held the title of the longest name for a British railway line or maybe even the longest name in the entire globe for a railway line. One can imagine the complications that would have been caused by such a lengthy title when asked Where did you spend your summer holiday? or the requirement of addressing postal communications to the residents of the town where an extra large envelope would be required to accommodate the placename. It would also entail extra large letter boxes. Such speculation provides an interesting train of thought on the logistics of long placenames and can provide hours of entertainment on long summer evenings around the camp fire. Sadly this long version of the placename was not adopted and the simple claim to fame of the exclamation mark was embraced.

The first building of Westward Ho! that one is greeted with as the walkway enters the resort is a derelict building which looks like a stereotypical haunted house. Its actual name is Seafield House and it is perched on the cliff top looking out to sea. The lower windows are boarded up and its whole character bears a similarity to the spooky mansion that adorns the intro theme to the Scooby Doo cartoon series. The house was constructed in 1885 as a summer residence for London banker Brinsley De Courcey Nixon. During WWII it was requisitioned by the MoD as officers quarters for nearby Italian prisoner of war camp. Since the war it has been a B&B and finally a private residence. It was sold on in 2016 but even passing it in July 2017 there was no sign of renovation. The local people and press have dubbed it with the apt name of The Haunted House. There is even a Facebook page dedicated to it as well as an official history on the Westward Ho! History website. I can find little to establish that it actually has a reputation for being haunted other than its stereotypical looks.

The rest of the route into the resort is along the promenade in front of a myriad of apartments and hotels and the plethora of holidaymakers. Where the prom meets the road, a hundred yards up on the right, is the bus stop is for buses back to Bideford. There are plenty of modern plastic bars, cafes and restaurants around this area for this is nothing more than a typical holiday resort. However on this occasion it was thought we would stand a better chance of finding a local ale in Bideford where we could also pay homage to the Adverts whilst toasting another successful walk. For those wanting to try a bar in Westward Ho! then the excellent South West Coastal Pubcrawl provides a worthy resource for the budding ale enthusiast.

Westward Ho prom
Westward Ho prom

Directions

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

The walk starts at the bus stop in Bucks Cross, on the main A39 trunk road. Head 65 yds west to the cross roads and take the lane on the right down to Bucks Mills. Follow this for 1.2 miles, keeping to the road around the sharp bends until it meets the coast at the hamlet of Bucks Mills. The coast path is on the right by the original red telephone box where there is a gravel path. This leads onto a footpath up to the top of the cliff.

At Peppercombe, the path meets the road, continue along the road across the bridge and then take the waymarked path on the left. The rest of the path follows the clifftops, descending and ascending with the undulations of the terrain. The route is clear and well marked. On entering Westward Ho! continue along the promenade until it meets the road (Golf Links Road). Turn right and the bus stop for Bideford is on the right hand side of the road, next to the Co-op store.

Bucks Mills village
Bucks Mills village

Features

The History of Bucks MillsView in OS Map | View in Google Map

TThe name of Bucks is derived from the manor in which it is situated and includes Bucks Cross, West Bucks and Bucks Barton. The Mills part of the name, quite naturally comes from the fact that a mill once stood on the stream that flows down the valley which serves as the parish boundary between Parkham and Woolfardisworthy parishes. It is interesting to note that publications from the 19th century list the hamlet as Buck's Mill which certainly is more descriptive. Prior to this, and certainly up to the mid to late 19th century the village was also known as plain Buckish or sometimes Buckish Mill although going back to Benjamin Donn’s 1765 map of North Devon the area appears as plain Bucks although no settlement is depicted. The mill was probably constructed in the late 1700's and it has been suggested that this was employed for grinding corn and provided ready access to the sea for trading which would imply that the beach area was developed around this time for that specific reason.

Records imply that the fledgling village survived on a mixture of fishing and agriculture depending upon the time of year. Lime kilns were built here which provided fertilizer for the land. The village was pretty much self contained community with little contact to outsiders, to the fact that it was renowned for interbreeding during the 19th century which may have provided the impetus for the story of John Gregg as discussed in the main feature accompanying the Bucks Cross to Hartland walk details.

The more imaginative pieces of folklore that are found about the village do seem to be little more than fiction. Such stories claim the quay to be of Elizabethan origin which seems highly unlikely since there was no settlement here prior to the 18th century and the so called gut that allowed boats to be dragged to the shore was not constructed until the 1780s. Another story that claimed the village was founded by the descendants of shipwrecked mariners from the Spanish Armada appears to be nothing more than a tall tale related to the London Standard in 1928 by a villager by the name of Mamie who was the unofficial village harbourmaster. Once again, this story is based during Elizabethan times and it appears to be without any credibility given that a community did not spring up here for over a century after the event.

References
Seafield House, commonly known as The Hainted House, Westward Ho!
Seafield House, commonly known as The Hainted House, Westward Ho!

Gallery

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: 2018-06-05

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