Want to see some wild North Devon seals? Try this walk around Morte Point, where seals are frequently seen according to locals.
Why it’s on my list
I asked my in-laws for their favourite walk in North Devon. Who better to ask for inspiration than those who have lived in the area for over 30 years and are avid walkers too? They recommended this walk around Lee Bay and Morte Point for a) the beauty, b) the challenge and c) the cream tea reward at the end. All these appealed to me, so we readied ourselves for what turned out to be a superb recommendation.
Location: 30-minute drive from Barnstaple. To go the route favoured by local drivers, take the A361 through Braunton and Knowle all the way to Mullacott Cross, and then follow the directions as shown in the map to Mortehoe.
Parking: Park in Mortehoe car park all day for £4.40 in summer and £1.70 in winter (1st November – 14th March).The car park has lots of space, but in the summer months it does get very busy.
Length of walk: About 8 miles, which should take around 4 hours 15 minutes if you don’t stop for lunch/tea.
Type of walk: Circular and challenging in parts, with a number of steep climbs and descents. Fields and woodland before coastal path.
This wonderful walk is a fine example of the variety of North Devon, as well as the abundance of wildlife. From peaceful and interesting woodland to sheltered bays, blustery hilltops and jagged coastal rock formations, there isn’t a single dull moment on this walk. And the part I thought the best is something truly worth making the time to go and see.
The route we followed is taken from 50 Walks in Devon by the AA. The version we used can be purchased from Amazon here.
Starting from Mortehoe car park, we followed the directions of the guide book to Easewell Farm campsite. Walking through the campsite, we headed between some buildings and past a pond to get to a footpath and some fields. We picked our way through the fields, roads and farm to end up on a grassy path we believed was the right way. Once we reached the steep descent into Borough Wood we realised we weren’t far off track.
It was a warm day and the woods were lovely and cool. It was also very peaceful. Clearly it had suffered some damage in a recent spell of bad weather as a humungous tree lay across our path, which we clambered through to continue.
Upon leaving the woods is the village of Lee, which grows steadily from cute to beautiful once you’ve reached the sea. The bay is spectacular, and with rocks and hilly parts all around it is a lovely sheltered part from the surrounding seas. There’s a cafe that looks like it would be a delight to visit – I’ve made a mental note to return.
We turned left up the hill along the road until the coastal path begins through a gate on the right-hand side. From here it is a walk that is easy to follow in route, but a much greater challenge on the legs. The steep ups and downs result in fantastic views, so of course somewhere along here you will surely find a great place to stop for lunch – we did, looking back towards Lee Bay. Whilst we relaxed we spotted some jetskiers going for it amongst the mild waves near the Bay, and on land there were plenty of other walkers about as well – whole families were out enjoying the good weather.
Onwards we continued, with lots of great views to be had. A slight diversion takes you up just above the normal coastal path, which is unsafe due to erosion. We eventually got to a point where we could see lots of people looking out to sea and pointing towards the rocks at the bottom of the cliff. Heading downwards a little and looking closely ourselves, we soon spotted what they were looking at – seals in the water. We joined in the hunt and sat down with a cup of tea to enjoy whilst wildlife watching.
After spotting many seals and thinking we should probably be getting on, we carried on round the coast path to come to Morte Point. A point it well and truly is, with sharp jagged rocks formed by the wind creating a narrow and clear line into the sea. You can see Woolacombe from here, and we turned to carry on the path towards it.
Eventually you come to the road that joins Woolacombe to Mortehoe, and it is a short walk up the hill to reach Mortehoe centre, where your car and plenty of pubs await. We stopped for a cream tea at a place I have always fancied going, and it didn’t disappoint.
The highlight has to be the sheer number of seals we saw on this walk. At one time we saw 12 lounging on the rocks and in the sea. It was an incredible sight I felt honoured to see, and we ended up staying for a little while, trying to spot as many as we could. A cup of tea was poured and drunk in a fraction of the time we spent watching the seals.
The beauty of this moment was that we started off seeing just two seals in the water. After some time others appeared as if out of thin air – they blend into the rocks so well that the closer you look the more rewards you find.
There are seven seals in the photo below. Can you spot them all?
Not the best
We found the inland start of the walk difficult to navigate once we had left Easewell Farm campsite. We managed to get to where we needed to go in the end, but we doubted ourselves a great deal and referred to the map almost constantly until we reached Borough Wood. If you can get past this though, you’re in for a treat.
We only had my camera to aid us in wildlife spotting. If you’re serious about catching a good glimpse of North Devon’s wild seals, bring some binoculars.