Oh how I love camping. And oh how I’ve missed it. I hardly spent any time under canvas in 2020 (I don’t need to explain why…), and it took until more than six months into 2021 before the tent came out of storage.
In this post I want to take you along with me on a short camping trip we took to North Devon back in June. We headed south, to the Hartland Peninsula, chasing a view I’d seen photos of on the internet that I really wanted to see for myself.
We were only away for 48 hours or so, maybe not even that, but it is one of the best camping trips I’ve had for a long time. The location, the campsite, the scenery – especially the scenery, and the weather, all great and exactly what I needed.
Let me tell you all about it…
Stoke Barton Farm and Campsite
I asked for recommendations for a site, as I wanted a site that was quiet with lots of space and simple facilities, and Google presented me with what must have been a thousand places to choose from – far too overwhelming for me to make a decision. An acquaintance sent me the link to this place, and I’m very glad they did, it was an absolute gem.
Stoke Barton Farm and Campsite is on the Hartland Peninsula within the North Devon AONB, just a few minutes’ walk from the South West Coastal Path (the path goes through the farm, but not the camping fields). It’s open to caravans, campervans and tents (with electric hook-ups if you like), has simple but good facilities, and is somewhat ‘off the beaten track’ in a beautifully unspoilt area of coastal North Devon.
I mean, we visited in late June, when the media were telling us that the whole population of England was holidaying in Devon and Cornwall, and we had absolutely loads of space to ourselves. I don’t know if it was the fact it’s very rural that meant it wasn’t busy, or the media have been telling porkies (!), or that we’d picked a few days which was supposed to be rather poor weather. But who cares what the reason was, it was a great place to pitch.
The farm, a working livestock and arable farm, covers over 500 acres of land on the Hartland Peninsula. The camping fields, which are reasonably flat, take up over 12 acres of that, which certainly allows for plenty of space between pitches. There are sea views from the site, and there is a pub within reasonable walking distance (allow 20 minutes down, 30 minutes back!).
Facilities wise there are toilets and (a couple of) showers (with free hot water), a laundry room which doubles as an indoor common room if you need it, washing up room, a small shop selling food and camping supplies. Campfires are allowed if they are off the ground. The facilities are a bit spread out; there’s a large ablutions block with toilets and basins well-appointed for the camping fields, with the showers by the farmhouse and shop – you’ll be walking lots of steps if you camp here.
We took the car this time, but it was certainly motorcycle friendly (a group of bikers pitched up on our second night), and there were a bunch of campervans, small motorhomes and caravans dotted around the edge of the field. Although I have to admit I wouldn’t want to drive the little lane through the village towing a caravan…
Stoke Barton Farm and Campsite was an excellent base to explore the local area, or even a useful stopping point if you’re walking this part of the South West Coast Path (one day… maybe). I’d highly recommend it, and hope to be back with my tent in the not too distant future.
Gnarly Rocks and Waterfalls
The whole reason for camping in this part of North Devon was to see the gnarly rocks, cliff faces, and churning seas the AONB promises. When I plan my camping trips I tend to start with a view I really want to see for myself, and that was certainly the case this time.
It was Blackchurch Rock that particularly interested me. I’ve seen lots of photos on social media recently, and I really wanted to see this rocky outcrop for myself. I don’t know why really, I just love a rugged, weathered, rough looking landscape.
Blackchurch Rock is a large arch stack found at Mouthmill, providing exposures of the Hartland Quay Shale that contains goniatite fossils. A real geological marvel. This isolated cove has also long been associated with smuggling activities, and I can totally see that about this place – fascinating and a little bit creepy at the same time.
It sits on the South West Coast Path (and is marked on the OS Map as Blackchurch Rock, so it’s no secret), on the north side of the Hartland Peninsula. We parked at the National Trust car park nearby and walked the one or two miles through woodland and long the coastal path to reach Mouthmill Beach. It was a very steep descent (and therefore a very steep ascent back to the cliff top), but well worth it – the views from the beach are great.
We knew we needed to visit on the receding tide, but we perhaps could have done with waiting another hour or two to get the best shots of this great bit of geology. I imagine it is completely awesome at sunset, but hunger dictated we’d be elsewhere at that time (it was summer solstice and so sunset was very late indeed). But even if we didn’t have the best light, I’m so glad we went to see it, a view ticked off my bucket list.
The dramatic coastline at Hartland Quay is exactly the reason this area was designated as an AONB in 1960. This isn’t sheltered coves or gentle shores with sandy beaches and mirrored seas. No, this is this is rugged and striking coastline with knife edge cliffs and moss covered everything – it’s just so, well, awesome.
A 20-minute walk through fields down from the tent, we spent the early evening eating at The Wrecker’s Retreat at the Hartland Quay Hotel, a traditional pub serving locally sourced food (simple pub grub, it was good), which has been used as the setting for a bunch of films and TV series. Note that dinner at this walker and traveller friendly pub is only served from 6pm to 8.30pm and it closes at 9pm – this isn’t somewhere to while away the late hours.
Our visit was on Summer Solstice, and we were treated to the most beautiful long and colourful sunset over the Quay. We spent a bunch of time walking along the boulder covered beach, taking photos, and enjoying the beautiful golden light over the Atlantic Ocean.
The cliff walks on this side of the Peninsula have extensive coastal panoramas and views down the coast. The birds love it here, too; there are peregrine falcons, oyster catchers, cormorants and even buzzards if you watch over the woodland.
Speke’s Mill Mouth Waterfall
A little south of Hartland Quay, along the South West Coast Path, is Speke’s Mill Mouth Waterfall. Marked on the OS Map, this was well worth the walk, we did it from our tent at Stoke Barton Farm in around 30 mins, but it would be a similar distance from the car park at Hartland Quay.
Either way, you’ll go around St Catherine’s Tor, which is a beautiful pointy hill and a bit of a landmark on the coastal path.
Apparently one of the most popular waterfalls in North Devon, Speke’s Mill Mouth is a tall but narrow falls which drops from the cliffs where the main coastal path is, down onto the beach below.
Two streams that surface up on Bursdon Moor meet near Lymebridge and wind their way through the beautiful yet secluded Spekes Valley, before cascading down the vertical rock face 60 feet or so, through a series of four smaller falls before finally reaching the sea. The largest of the falls is around 48 feet.
I’m told that surfers like to visit Spekes Mill for its reef brake; there was a guy wild camping with his car and surfboard (although it looked like quite a track getting down there) clearly hoping for some early morning waves the following day. We didn’t head down onto the beach as the tide was in, but I imagine if you’re walking the South West Coast Path and time it right, this would be an excellent place to head down to the sea and have a dip.
There are some other places marked on the OS Map we could have visited but didn’t get time to in our short time on the Hartland Peninsula. There’s Hartland Point Lighthouse, Windbury Point, Chapman Rock, and more. Clovelly itself also looks like a nice place to visit, I’m told there are tea rooms there which is always a draw for me.
I’m certain that if we’d have walked the South West Coast Path for the full length of the Peninsula rather than the handful of short sections we did, we’d have found some more incredible landscapes with views to remember. Maybe I should set aside a long weekend to do the 43 miles from Bideford to Bude, taking in this area and seeing it even closer, that would make for a lovely adventure.
But even in the small part that we saw, in between eating pub food and cream teas, and sneaking into Cornwall to walk over the new bridge to Tintagel Castle, it’s an area I most definitely fell in love with. I mean, I knew I was going to love it, it was on my to-visit list because I’d seen pictures, but it was even better than I’d hoped for.
The excellent weather certainly helped me have a great time, but camping always helps me find my happy place, and this time I was blessed to have that rugged scenery I find so beautiful there too.
I imagine it won’t be too long before I find another few days to spent at Hartland Peninsula. I might have only been in this part of North Devon for a couple of nights, but I felt like I really got an opportunity to explore. I felt like I belonged there. The more I think about it the more serious I am about hiking this section of the South West Coast Path as a multi-day affair, and have moved it up near the top of my list.