See all that Hartland has to offer in one walk, including Hartland Point, Hartland Quay and even Hartland Abbey if you have time.
Why it’s on my list
I rarely venture west of my hometown of Barnstaple, except for the odd Hocking’s ice cream and jaunt on the Tarka Trail. If I went to Hartland in my youth I certainly don’t remember it. And yet it has fine stretches of coastline, bags of character and even appeared recently in The Night Manager, starring Tom Hiddleston. It’s got rugged, remote beauty and celebrity appeal, so count me in.
Location: 35-minute drive from Barnstaple.
Parking: Free car park in the centre of Hartland village.
Length of walk: About 5 hours 30 minutes. 8.75 miles.
Type of walk: Circular. Moderate. Good for dogs, although there are some fields with livestock where you will need to ensure they are on the lead.
The Hartland coastline is famous for being craggy, unforgiving and strikingly beautiful, and evidently from this walk this is a reputation that has been well earned. The path is tough in places, with steep sections to walk up and down, but when you’re just strolling along the top of the cliffs there are magnificent views of some of North Devon’s most famous and enchanting coastline. For a circular walk it’s great that so much of the route is spent hugging the coast; who wants to be inland when you’ve got sea views?
The full route is available in Pathfinder North and Mid Devon: Walks, available here on Amazon. The book is full of excellent walks, I highly recommend it.
The beginning of the walk takes you from the car park in Hartland village, straight past the Hart Inn and along some roads until you turn off at a sign marked Hartland Point.
Following footpaths and roads until you reach Exmansworthy Farm, there will be a National Trust car park just past the farm. After going into the car park and following the grassy path, you will exit onto a farming lane. Turn right here and go through the gate when you get to it. Keeping to the left-hand side of the open fields you will eventually get to the start of the coastal part of the walk. The view that greets you is spectacular; you will be able to see as far away as Woolacombe, Croyde and Saunton on a clear day.
After this it is simply a case of following the coast path. Follow the path past Shipload Bay and Barley Bay, which is distinguished by its radar tower. During this part there will be lots of stiles to cross and lots of stunning views both in front of and behind you. You will head towards Lundy Island on this walk, and by the time you finish you will have seen it from different angles, as this stretch of coastline allows in its uniqueness. This is also the part where you may come across cows and sheep, so take care.
It is possible to get down to the amazing pebble beach in the photo below. There is a path through some trees further round from this viewpoint. It will be a steep climb though, so not recommended to do as part of this walk.
Once you’ve passed the radar tower you will come across Hartland Point. There is a nice cafe to stop for a rest. When you’re ready to carry on, follow the narrow, concrete path and head for signs to Hartland Quay.
You will come across the entrance to Hartland Lighthouse, which is sadly closed to the public. Upon walking round along the coast path however, you will get a great view of it and with Lundy Island visible in the background.
After this part of the walk there are some steep uphills and downhills. Accompanying this though are some fascinating rock formations. Below is Smoothlands valley, flanked by the sheer cliffs of Damehole Point.
Carrying on the coastal path, you will walk down some wooden steps into a combe where a cottage lies at the bottom. This is Blackpool Mill, the cottage used in The Night Manager as the out-of-the-way Devon location where Tom Hiddleston’s character was meant to make a name for himself as a bit of a bad boy.
Carry on the footpath past the cottage on the right-hand side. Eventually you will get to Hartland Quay. There is a short, steep walk down to the quay, but hurrah, you’ve made it – sit down and have an ice cream.
The cliffs look particularly intimidating here, and if you’re a Top Gear fan you may recognise them as the cliffs that Jeremy Clarkson’s Citroen-turned-campervan was casually tossed off of. Watch the clip below:
Carry on back up to where you left the path and walk along the edge of the field until you get to the lovely little village of Stoke. The village’s church is an impressive height and reminded me of a certain unpleasant scene from Hot Fuzz. Unpleasantness aside, St. Nectan’s Church reportedly has a very impressive rood screen and the highest tower in Devon.
We chose to veer off the route in the guidebook to get off the road and go into a wood instead. We turned off at the car entrance to Hartland Abbey, which I’m sure you could visit if you had the time, and headed immediately right along a footpath. The path took us through some woods where there were lovely bluebells and quiet fields. A more picturesque and perhaps safer route compared to the road.
Eventually you will return to a bridge that you’ll recognise from earlier in the walk. Simply make your way back to the car park in Hartland village centre and the walk is complete. If you’re feeling peckish, I have heard good things about the Hart Inn. One day I hope you’ll find a review of it on this website!
As a big fan of The Night Manager I got most excited about seeing the cottage. I appreciate not everyone has seen it, so the second thing that makes this walk one of my new favourites is that impressive coastline. It is truly amazing. Its shape beggars belief and is sure to inspire some Googling, if not deeper geological research as to how those cliffs came to be. Smoothlands valley epitomised this feeling for me.
If you are interested, the valley part used to be the valley of a river, the riverbed of which has since been cut away by the sea. The northern bank of the gully has been eroded, which has left a small stream to flow directly into the sea.
Not the best
The coast around Hartland bears the brunt of whatever the mighty Atlantic dishes out, so as well as the beautiful views there are highs and lows that are navigated via steep ascents and descents. It is not an easy, lazy Sunday kind of walk, but is a challenge with lots of rewards.
A small part of the walk goes along a road. Although this is a quiet road generally, we happened to meet a driver on the way who was impatient and took a risk on a bend, forcing the oncoming car slightly into a ditch. No harm done, but it is worth bearing in mind that some people will go fast along this road. We would definitely suggest taking the walk through the woods to get back to Hartland, as outlined above, instead of walking all the way back on the road.
There is a bench before you get to Hartland Point that looks back towards Woolacombe, Croyde and Saunton, with cliffs in the foreground. It is the perfect picnic spot and I think the best on this walk.
There is another good viewpoint where there is a bench just beyond a small gate. This is the view:
Just remember to look back every once in a while as unmissable views take shape behind you.