Note that all maps on this site are only indicative. You should
never set out without the correct OS map.
The walk takes you around two of the
most dramatic headlands to be found on the Westcountry’s north
coast. It begins and ends at Mortehoe, the small village perched
on a coastal hill just a mile or so to the north of the popular
surfing beach at Woolacombe.
Basic hike: From village of Mortehoe out to the end of Morte Point
then north around Rockham Bay to Bull Point before heading inland
back to the village.
Life on a knife-edge, that’s what this hike
offers. That’s how it feels to walk out to the end of Morte
The rocks out there on the penultimate finger of North Devon are
of the knife-edge variety. It is an ever-narrowing land of a thousand
No other place is at once so beautiful and so terrible. Morte Point
Death Point is tipped by the Morte Stone, which was
known to the sailor-folk of old as the Death Stone for very good
reason. A lot of ships went down on the Morte and its wayward rock
over the centuries.
We begin our hike in Mortehoe, a mile north of Woolacombe. Parking
is tight, so find the small car park that serves the village and
negotiate the narrow street to until you see the church. A track
leads out to the point adjacent to St Mary, but tarry a while by
visiting the old temple because the historian WG Hoskins describes
it as “One of the most interesting in North Devon.”
The small Norman church, “has been largely
spared by the ‘restorer’,” says Hoskins. Transepts
have been added down the years, but not for a very long time and,
if you are into wagon-roofs, Mortehoe’s long open-timbered
example will warm the cockles of your heart. Though, the grotesque
sea monsters carved on some of the bench-ends might cool the cockles
The track which leads past the cemetery takes us out onto the upper
flanks of Morte’s central ridge. Cliff flowers abound among
the many crags and sheep trundle here or there grazing upon the
salt-flavoured grasses. Far off to the west, Lundy reminds the walker
that though Morte appears to be the last vestige of terra-firma
in a large ocean there is an ultimate outpost further west.
The general impression given by Morte Point is one of lonesome
and savage wilderness, but a glance to your left will instantly
reveal the, at times, highly populated acres of Woolacombe Beach.
And the sense is identical to the one you get when circumnavigating
neighbouring Baggy Point and looking down into Croyde Bay: you are
so divorced from the holidaying hordes you feel you could be walking
in some distant universe.
Various sheep tracks and paths lead out to the
end of Morte, but I took the rather tricky one which threads its
way right down the spine. This provides the full impact created
by all those razorback rocks. They run down the ridge like the jagged
solar plates some dinosaurs used to have on their backs.
Morte Slate: that’s the official name for this terrifying
rock, which looks for all the world as if it was specially designed
to rip the bellies out of ships. And this, of course, is exactly
what used to happen in the days of sail. But as I covered some of
the gory details of the local shipwrecks in my Neptune article,
I won’t repeat the woeful litany here, save to say that very
few of the stricken crews survived.
It’s rather odd contemplating all this maritime mayhem while
enjoying a picnic out there amid the razorbacks on a calm and sunny
day. Odd, but strangely satisfying. Crab sandwiches (available in
a remarkable home that has been converted to a shop back up in the
village) seem to have a more resonant flavour.
The coast path makes a more determined
and unified stab at travelling along the northern edge of the point.
Up and down it goes, in true coast path form, past Whiting and Oreweed
Coves to reach little Rockham Bay. The rock pools, by the way, are
god for prawns if you have a net.
But no time for that now as we climb the final ramparts of Bull
Point. This is North Devon’s big corner the place where
the east-west coast of the Bristol Channel finally gives up in abeyance
to the ocean, and heads south.
Morte might be the fine and dramatic finger, but Bull is an altogether
more stolid affair around which the oceanic tides mix with those
from the channel in a stew of terrifying violence. Standing guard
over all this watery waywardness is the lighthouse and it
is along the paved lighthouse road that we wander back to Mortehoe
to complete the circular route.
And it was along this road that, several years ago, I saw Southern
Ireland. I wrote about it at the time and have the pictures to prove
it, but few people believe me. I was armed with a map, a compass
and a zoom lens so I will reiterate the claim. It was very hazy,
and very distant, but there on the horizon was a land-mass exactly
where the Knockmealdown Mountains in Ireland should be.
It was on one of those ludicrously clear days when
you can see the number plates on cars plying along the Welsh coast
opposite, but my brother reckons the curvature of the earth would
just about prevent such a view.
He might be right, but I know what I saw and would love to hear
from any reader who has been out to Bull Point on such a day. Is
Ireland visible, or have I kissed the Blarney Stone?
The lighthouse road joins a lane that leads back into Mortehoe.
A few hundred yards after entering the village you will find yourself
directly opposite the village car park.