Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 10/The north coast of Devon and Cornwall - Part 2

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(In Two Parts.)

The north coast of Devon and Cornwall 2 (OAW).png

Hartland Point, North Devon.


On Monday morning we were up with the sun to finish a little sketch we were taking of the pier. Clovelly is a place you are very sorry to leave, your interest in it increases every day, and if you want to add some choice bits to your portfolio, you will find fresh subjects at every turn: old houses, shipping, everything seems put together in its most picturesque form. But we had decided to leave, and after breakfast started with our knapsacks for Hartland. There is a way by road to the town of Hartland, but we were going to Hartland Point first, and took the route through Clovelly Park, by the lower road which leads to Mouth Mill. If any of our friends are fond of the much despised race of fungi, in the woods about here they will meet with many interesting specimens. We passed some old logs, which had apparently been lying there for years, from which we gathered some fine specimens of Bulgaria inquinans, and choice kinds of Peziza and Clavaria may be discovered with a little trouble, while the brilliant heads of many of the commoner kinds of Agaricus and Boletus peeped out from amongst the dead leaves. It was a showery morning, and we were glad to take refuge for half an hour in the mill; the miller and his wife, a worthy couple, treated us most hospitably; if the reader should chance to pass that way and is hungry, he must not forget to ask the miller’s wife for some of her home-made cakes, which with fresh butter and milk he will find very acceptable. Here, too, all the directions necessary for going to Hartland Point may be had; the miller will, on a little bit of slate, mark out the road and show the turns to be taken; this little map is needed, for the cross roads are perplexing. We were rather independent, and fancied our pocket compass was guide enough, but we should have done better if we had accepted the offered help. The rain over, we walked down to the shore to see the curious arched rocks close by. It was high tide, and the sea was dashing up gloriously, the waves beating wildly against the rocks. We left the mill behind, and walked up the road leading to Braunton. We passed several farmhouses, and at last, catching a glimpse of the peak of Hartland in the distance, made directly towards it; but it is a longer walk than you expect, five miles or more. When we came near to it we left the road, and turned across some fields which brought us to the coast. The point itself is very singular in shape, a narrow ridge projecting three or four hundred feet beyond the other cliffs into the sea. It seems at first sight almost impossible to get upon it, where it touches the mainland the rock is so rough and craggy, but there are some steps cut, and it is easy enough to get up with a clear head, and look down on a sheer precipice of three hundred feet or more on both sides; in a minute we were on a grassy slope of thirty feet in width, and at the end we had a view along the coast which is worth seeing. This is the boundary of the old Severn sea, the Channel here opens its jaws to receive the broad waves of the Atlantic. When we had returned to a more comfortable seat on the mainland, another party came down with a guide, and we found that we had accomplished what was considered rather a feat; the old shepherd told us that years ago he had been to the end of the point, but he did not mean to go again, the rock was falling away every year. After rambling about the rocks and cliffs, as evening came on we walked to Hartland Town, and finding the inn quite full, took up our abode at a comfortable lodging, where some old books and an antique edition of the Pilgrim’s Progress with grotesque woodcuts, amused us till bed-time. Our landlady was as good and quaint as we conjectured she might be from her belongings.

The next morning we started early, as we had a long day’s march before us. We walked down the valley, which is prettily wooded, passed the Abbey, and came to the interesting Abbey Church, which well deserves a visit. The old monument, bearing the date 1055, the four chapels, and the Norman arch, claim special attention. The church stands on high ground and is quite a landmark on this part of the coast; we had noticed it the day before, on our way to and from Hartland Point. Half-a-mile farther on we came to Hartland Quay, and here we began to have some notion of the dreariness and wildness of the coast. On every side are black cliffs with the strata twisted and twirled about in the most remarkable contortions, and the sea that morning came roaring in, dashing and foaming in the little harbour, and falling in a jet of spray over the pier. There are only a few miserable houses here, but we believe there is often a good deal of business going on, in landing coals and sand. A path winds by the coast from Hartland Quay, and if you delight in the sea, you will not want to take the shorter course inland. We soon came to rather a fine waterfall, of perhaps fifty feet, which, dashing over the rocks, tumbled down into the little bay beneath. Up the hills and down the valleys we walked on for several hours, expecting soon to come in sight of Moorwinstow, which is about halfway to Bude.[1] Once we saw a road before us which we thought must lead to a place of some importance, and making our way down to it, found it was a little cove for landing sand. The only person about was an old man, who seemed much surprised and amused to see us. He directed us to go over the next hill, and some three miles away we should find Moorwinstow. Up the hill we went, puffing away, for it was very steep, but the thought of its shortness, and the down hill in prospect, encouraged us to go on. When we came to the top, to our dismay we found a wilderness of furze and bramble, from which there was no escape; torn and bleeding we came down into the valley, where we were glad to rest and refresh ourselves beside a pretty watermill. As Moorwinstow was to be our half-way house, and it was long past noon, we had not much time to linger here; we started again, and soon coming in sight of the high road, about two miles brought us to Moorwinstow. It is a poor place, indeed, but has a splendid old church and vicarage, and many perhaps may know its name from the poetry which has been written there. We were half afraid that we should not reach Bude that night, and inquired if there was a conveyance of any sort to be had in the village. Yes, there was one man who had a cart, with springs too, but he was gone to Bude fair. There was no help for it, our legs must carry us there. Seven miles they called it, but it was a long time before we got any nearer, according to the answers we received from the different travellers on the road. We passed Kilhampton to the left, a mile or two away; here Hervey wrote his “Meditations,” which he commences with, “Travelling lately in Cornwall, I happened to alight at a considerable village in that county.” We went down into Combe Valley, a picturesque place, where the old family of Greville once had a mansion, though nothing now is left but a moat to mark the site. After this we begin to meet the farmers coming home from the fair, jogging along three or four together, then the sheep and oxen, and we seemed really to be getting near the end of our journey. Bude soon came in sight, a line of white houses lying on the side of a hill. We passed through a village, then over a common, and we were there. All the world seemed to have come to the fair, and the stalls were being lighted up for the evening’s amusement. The Falcon Hotel, to which we went, is over the bridge, on the best side of Bude, and here we found all the comforts which one so thoroughly appreciates after a day’s hard walking.

Our stay at Bude was very short. After inquiring for letters the first thing in the morning, we were off early, our landlord driving us. We went first to see one of the inclines of the Bude Canal, at Masham Church, about three miles from Bude. It is a clever substitute for a succession of locks. There is a steep roadway, with two lines of rails coming down at each end into the canal, and traversed by an endless chain. The barges, which will carry about three or four tons, have small iron wheels, and are raised or lowered on this roadway by being attached to the chain, which is worked by an enormous water-mill. The longest incline is at Hobbacott Down, one and a half miles from Stratton, which is worked by a steam-engine. Our road from Masham Church, for a time, went inland, and we were much struck with the barrenness of the country. The labourers are very poor, and the cottages, many of them, are going to rack and ruin. In almost every village we noticed a little chapel, some sort of Methodist, we were generally told; for three-fourths of the people belong to this body of Christians, the fruit of the active and unceasing labours of those two great and earnest men, Wesley and Whitefield.

At St. Ginnis we turned short to the right, and soon came down to Crackington Cove, where we left our carriage, having planned to walk the remainder of the way to Boscastle. We shall not soon forget the beauty of this cove. The sea was coming in boldly and freshly, dashing round the rocks at the foot of Penkinna Head. We went as far as we could along the rocks, that we might sit quietly down to drink in the glory of the scene.

But we were not to remain long undisturbed. An old lady soon came to us to warn us of the coming-in tide. We had thought of this, and knew that we could easily climb the rocks behind; but her visit was not wholly disinterested,—she had some good cider to recommend, and she would fetch us water for our painting, if we pleased. To get rid of her, we ordered the cider; and away she went, and left us in peace. The children, when they found there were some visitors, came shouting on the cliffs above us; but they were too far away to be much annoyance, and we were soon cut off by the waves from any intruders by the way we came. The sea dashed up at our feet, as if to tell us we had no business there, and it would have its way. It was a glorious sight. In the far distance the clearest azure, nearer a deep purple, and at our feet it broke in waves of the freshest green one can imagine,

And the rainbow hangs on the poising wave,
And sweet is the colour of cove and cave.

Those who have seen both North and South Cornwall say that in the south the colour is equally lovely; but only in the north are seen constantly the wild turbulent waves and the long swell of the Atlantic. Our good woman in due time brought us the cider, and we had our sandwiches; but the cider was a failure. We gave two glasses to the fishes when we found the old lady was out of sight, that her mind might not be hurt, and the rest we put again into her basket. We climbed the hill behind us, and said good-bye to our friend, who sadly wanted to be our guide; but we were independent, and would rather go alone. We, however, took her advice, and made direct to the end of Carnbeak. Here we had a magnificent view, and, with a telescope, could distinguish Lundy Isle, and the point of Hartland above a nearer projection. Bude is lost in the bend of the bay; but we saw the Dazard and Widemouth Bay, and to our left we could go as far and farther than Tintagel to Pentice Point. Boscastle is hidden between the hills.

Leaving Carnbeak, we ascended the cliffs immediately to the left. They are the highest on this coast—more than 800 feet. Not being such sheer precipices, we could hardly believe this, until we began to feel the long pull to the top from Carnbeak. We went through a quarry, and up the quarry road, and soon were on Respawell Down, the headland of which goes by the name of High Cliff. Here you see Minster, but not Boscastle yet, though the flagstaff soon comes in sight. Leaving Minster on the left, we went down into the valley between wooded hills, and suddenly came upon the Wellington Hotel, a quarter of a mile nearer to the harbour than the little village which lies on the side of the hill. The Wellington is a clean, comfortable house; the landlady a pleasant, good-tempered young woman, who sees to the visitors herself, and does it thoroughly. The inn was very full; but she gave up her own little sitting-room, and we found good beds in the village. As it was not late, we walked down to the harbour at once. It is a curious place,—a winding inlet cut out by the waves, with its high cliffs on both sides towering above, and the sharp points below, on which, unhappily, many a ship has been wrecked in trying to gain a place of safety the other side of the little pier. On the left, below Willapark Point, is the Black Hole, a dismal-looking cave, where, last autumn, a vessel, notwithstanding the ropes which were put out to the end of the harbour to guide it in, was dashed against the rocks and broken to pieces. Seals are found about these caves, and at some seasons of the year a pleasant day’s sport may be had in seal hunting. There was only one small vessel in the harbour when we were there. We were struck with the enormous size of the ropes and chains which were used to fasten it. We crossed the stream which runs into the harbour, and, taking the winding path by the side of the hill, came to the coastguard’s little hut. There is a seat there, where we lingered long, looking at the Isle of Murchard, straight before us. It stands out boldly with the green waves dashing round it; and as we sat, every now and then came a deep, booming sound from beneath, like thunder, and we could see the end of a jet of spray, but nothing more. Afterwards, going back and crossing to the other side of the harbour, we saw the explanation of this. A fissure in the opposite rocks, passing underground about fifty feet, communicates with the open sea, and from this, every now and then, a body of water is sent forward violently with a loud report. It is like the Devil’s Bellows at Kinance Cove. But you must be there to see this, as we were, within an hour of low water, and when the sea is rough. We stayed to watch the sun go down behind Murchard in a bank of stormy clouds; and as it began to look even more black and gloomy, the sea-gulls came out from their homes in its craggy rocks, and whirled screaming round our heads, making the grandeur of the scene deeply impressive. There is a romantic story told of Forrabury Church, the parish in which Boscastle and its harbour lie. There were no bells to the church; and as the inhabitants heard the sound of the musical peal at Tintagel, when the winds wafted it across the sea, they became anxious to have some of their own. Their wishes were warmly seconded by Lord Bottreaux, who lived at the castle; and in due time the bells were cast, and ready to be brought home. The vessel which was to bring the long wished-for freight appeared in sight, and the inhabitants came out upon the rocks to watch its entrance into the harbour. The pilot, who had charge of the ship, hearing the distant sound of his own native bells at Tintagel, gave thanks to God that he should be on shore that night. “Thank the good ship; thank God ashore,” said the captain. “Nay,” said the pilot, “we should thank God everywhere.” “Thou art a fool. Thank thyself, with a fair wind and a steady helm.” So they talked, the captain venting his rage in oaths and curses, the pilot firm in his dependence upon God. As the vessel neared Willapack Point and the dismal cliffs of the Black Point, clouds began to rise; and while the many eager faces were watching, one of those frightful storms came on, in which the vessel became unmanageable, struck upon the rocks, and freight, men, captain, all were lost, except the pilot, who was washed ashore upon a plank. In the pauses of the storm, which was long and violent, the clang of the bells was distinctly heard; and still, they say, the buried bells give their mournful chime in the frequent storms which desolate the coast.

When we reached the Wellington we found our tea set out in unexceptionable style, and we did it justice. The visitors’ book is very amusing, and beguiled the evening hours with its poetry and nonsense. It seems almost needless, in these days of education, to caution the reader about spelling correctly. One word, accommodate, we specially noticed. Only two or three had been able or daring enough to spell it right; the rest, either in ignorance or fear of being singular, had followed the general orthography. We went up to our lodging in the village, which looked so clean and cosy that we were tempted to inquire the price,—14s. a week if taken for a month, and less according to the length of stay; and this for two bedrooms and a sitting-room, with everything included. It was reasonable, was it not?

When we woke the next morning, the rain was coming down fast. We were half inclined not to get up; but as we were debating, a head appeared at the window opposite which seemed to understand the weather, and after looking first one way and then another, the nightcap was taken off; so we did the same, and by the time we were ready to go out, the rain had ceased. We walked down to the harbour, and found the coast-guard there still, pacing up and down. As more showers came on, we were glad to take refuge in his little hut, and found him very ready to give us information about Boscastle and its neighbourhood. We pointed out the islands along the coast, and learnt their names. We asked if there was much smuggling now. “No, he wouldn’t give twopence for all the smuggling that was done on that coast, and he didn’t hold with the coast-guard now there was nothing left for them to do.” His business, he told us, was to look out and see what vessels were passing, and if there had been a wreck near to watch for all that could be recovered. In the little cove of Pentargam, three-quarters of a mile away, where a ship was wrecked last year, he had until lately been picking up many things which were washed ashore. We should like to have gone there, for part of the ship was still left jammed in between the rocks, but we had not time. After breakfast we started for Tintagel, over Willapark Point. We soon came to a slate quarry called Grover, worked on the edge of the cliff, the chains by which the slate is raised are actually fastened to the bottom of the sea; and going to the edge and looking over, it is a wonderful sight, the rocks are perfectly black, and as broken and wild as can be well imagined.

And, high above, I heard them blast
The steep slate-quarry, and the great echo flap
And buffet round the hills from bluff to bluff.

For about two miles we kept along the coast, and then descended into the Trevillet valley, the path to the right leads down to the sea, and well deserves a visit. The other way leads up to the mill, which many years ago was painted by Creswick, and called the Valley Mill. It is spoilt now, a new house is being built, and the ivy-covered gable is gone. A little higher up the valley we came to a footbridge, where we sat to have our lunch, and gathered the ripe blackberries which hung in rich clusters on the hedges. Half a mile farther up is St. Knighton’s Keeve, where the stream comes tumbling down through a chasm into a circular keeve or basin. The path used to be very difficult, but the furze and nettles have been cut down, and now the approach is easy enough. Here in a little cell, it is said, a hermit once lived, who used to offer up prayers for the safety of those exposed to the dangers of this rugged coast. Some years after his death, two old ladies, unknown in the neighbourhood, took up their abode in the same miserable place; after a while one died, and then the other pined away, and soon followed her to the grave. The prettiest part of the valley is lower down, by the mill, and here the lover of the picturesque will linger. From the waterfall we took the road direct to Trevena, and found tolerable accommodation at the Stuart Wortley Arms, where we left our knapsacks, and went to explore the Castle.

We will not weary the reader with descriptions which have been already given in Once a Week.[2] AS we sat amidst the ruins of the royal fortress, with its broken arches and dark walls, imagination called up the stories of King Arthur and his stalwart comrades, when the castle echoed with the songs of merriment, or the wild music and the clang of arms called the gallant knights to the battle.

The next morning we had to say good-bye to the sea, and very reluctantly we turned our steps inland towards the Delabole quarries. As we took the last peep, the broad expanse of ocean looked blue and very calm; it was

A day as still as heaven.

We passed several mountains of slate, belonging to lesser quarries in the neighbourhood, and after a walk of four miles reached the little village of Pengelley, near which are the three pits of Delabole. These are now worked by the Plymouth Slate Company. We went to the edge of one of the stages, and looked down a depth of two or three hundred feet into the busy beehive below, where men are engaged breaking up the slate, ready to be put into trucks and hoisted to the surface. They had just had a good blast at the pit nearest Pengelley when we arrived; the men contract for the work, and sometimes, when they come upon a good layer of slate, can each earn 10l. or more a month, which is considered very good. But this is hardly a compensation for the danger of the employment: some of the accidents here have been very frightful, when a chain has given way, and a huge block of slate has descended upon the workmen beneath, without time for escape. When obtained, the slate is planed and finished for cisterns, billiard-tables, mantelpieces, and tombstones; the finest slate is found here, and immense slabs are seen lying on the side of the rubbish heaps waiting for an order. After this, we went to see the slate split: some workmen are very clever at this, they seem to know where to give the hit, and can split it into pieces of any thickness. According to the different sizes of the slate, different names are given by the men, queens, princesses, duchesses, &c. About five hundred men are employed; they live chiefly in the little village close by. There are three tests of slate by which you can tell its worth—its sound should be clear, its colour light blue, and its feel hard and rough, not smooth and oily. All the way to Camelford we could tell that we were in the neighbourhood of quarries, by the slate paths across the fields, and the slate slabs instead of palings round the little cottages. Two miles to the left is a place called Slaughter Bridge, said to be the spot where King Arthur received his death-wound when “Modred raised revolt.”

At Camelford we took the omnibus to Bodmin, and had a distant view of Brown Willy and Rowter, two desolate looking hills of twelve or thirteen hundred feet high; a little farther on a valley opened between two rocks, from which our driver told us “years ago the devil took a flying leap out of Cornwall into Devonshire, and never appeared again in these parts.” Would that he had taken a longer leap, out of England altogether! As we came near Bodmin the country became much prettier, the whole length of the valley is richly wooded. We entered the town by the Asylum. Bodmin seems now a place of some importance, in days of yore it was the largest town in Cornwall. At the Royal Hotel we were transferred to a smart new omnibus, which took us to Bodmin Road Station. It was a glorious evening, and we can hardly say too much for the beauty of the estuary of the Tamar, the setting sun throwing a rich glow over the woods and water. We reached Exeter late at night, and took up our quarters at the nearest hotel. The morning was spent in seeing over the cathedral and city, ending with a look at the fine statue of Sir Thomas Dyke Acland. We returned as we went, by the South Western express, and reached London well satisfied with our journey, and all the brighter and better, we hope, for its many enjoyments.

  1. See vol. viii., p. 161.
  2. See vol. iv., p. 553.