Devon Coastal Walks - 6
Woolacombe via Morte Point, Bull
Point and Mortehoe
Start/finish: The Esplanade at the north end of Woolacombe, grid ref 455439
Distance: 6 miles/9.5km Time 3 hours Height gained 550ft/170m
Terrain: Good cliff paths with a little scrambling on to Morte Point. Grassy swathe through a combe and an easy path through woodland. Some lane walking.
Refreshments: Good choice in Woolacombe. Mortehoeís Ship Aground, Chichester Arms and Smugglers Rest.
Toilets: Just off cliff path opposite Watersmeet Hotel; in Woolacombe itself, and on the edge of the village at Mortehoe.
Map: OS Explorer 139
Public transport: Traveline 0871 200 22 33
For further information on the Tarka Trail and the South West Coast Path, click here. To order books and leaflets on Devon paths and trails, click here.
1 Step across the grass, from the cliff road parking area, to join the Coast Path, heading north, with the sea to your left. The way remains near the edge of the shallow cliffs, with fine views back to Woolacombe Sands. Follow the excellent waymarking to cut off an arc in the cliff road and then walk a short distance along it to pass behind Watersmeet Hotel.
2 Just beyond, take the footpath that goes off left to continue along a trod. It brings you to a stile and, beyond, along the cliffs. At a division in the way, one branch goes left to wind round the point. Take the other, which climbs steadily towards the little peak of Morte Point.
3 At the brow of the path a narrower one leads left to the jagged rocks of the tiny summit. This headland is said to be the place where 18th century wreckers tied lanterns to the horns of cows to mislead sailors into thinking they were the lights of Ilfracombe and lure them to destruction. The rocks of Morte Point and surrounding cliffs are known as Morte Slates. They are a soft grey, and shiny, and have an almost luminous quality. From here you can look down on the vicious looking rock known as Morte Stone (death stone), with the waves licking round it. It was given this name by the Normans. In the winter of 1852 five ships foundered here.
4 Descend from the peak and take the path nearer the sea. Where ever there is a choice of paths take the lower way to continue along the cliff edge, with a magnificent view far down onto the upturned edges of the severely eroded slates of Rockham Bay, which give the shore a surrealist air. In summer the grassy sward supports a plethora of wild flowers. Look ahead to see Bull Point lighthouse. Follow the clear path to wind round the bay, passing above the sands of Rockham Beach.
5 Climb the stile, with a reed bed to your right, and start to ascend. Then itís down and down (68 steps) and on again to reach the access road to the lighthouse. This was constructed on Bull Point in 1879 to guide shipping up the Bristol Channel and to warn sailors of the hazards of the treacherous slate reefs. The light was severely damaged in 1972 when 18yds of cliff was washed into the sea. The replacement light is now automated.
6 Ascend the continuing path behind the lighthouse to walk over Bull Point. A steep descent follows, stepped for much of the way, some of the steps cut into natural rock. Here the vegetation on either side of the way would gladden any gardenerís heart. On reaching the valley, do not cross the footbridge, but turn right to walk a wide path. This leads into deciduous woodland, with a stream tumbling through lush vegetation. Climb the stile and go on. Ignore the footbridge on the left and continue on the ascending path that winds round and round, easing the gradient, to come to a narrow gated road - the access way that is over half a mile from the lighthouse, where you met it earlier.
7 Turn left to walk the narrow lane. Go on between the houses at the edge of Mortehoe village. The fine church at Mortehoe is Norman and, together with its school, was the focal point for the area until Woolacombe was developed in the 19th century.
8 Go right at the main road, to pass the Ship Aground pub, the fine church and the Chichester Arms. Continue on to pass a chapel on the right. Then take a farm gate on the same side. Descend the path that drops quite steeply to the stile on the Coast Path taken almost at the outset of your walk. Turn left and walk on in the direction of the sands of Woolacombe and where you have parked.