At the start of the day, the Hartland Quay to Bude walk may seem impossible.
Widely regarded as the most difficult section of the South West Coast Path national trail, it begins in the far northwest of Devon and plunges into ten river valleys, the relentless path encompassing dozens of steep steps down, only to go ascend again shortly after.
This pattern goes on for 15 miles/ 25 kilometres in total, and the nature of the hike means that you’ll most likely be hiking all day. Start early, especially if you’re not feeling all that confident, and take plenty of breaks when you need to.
The good bit? While it is undoubtedly one of the most difficult hikes in the UK, this entire stretch of coastline is particularly beautiful (as you’d hope from the number of clifftops you need to climb to!).
Plus, you won’t meet all that many other hardy souls attempting the walk until you reach the area around Bude.
If you’re looking for a challenge and a sense of solitude, the Hartland Quay to Bude walk is unmissable.
About Hartland Quay
Standing at Hartland Quay, I looked out into the ocean and saw the waves crashing around me. This quay was constructed in the late 16th or early 17th century; during these centuries, there were lots of similar quays along this part of the coastline.
Lime, slate and coal were imported into the quay, and local produce was shipped out.
However, by 1896, most of the pier had been destroyed by storms and turbulent sea conditions. It now stands in a ruinous state, with the historic customs house operating as a hotel and museum.
Where to stay in Hartland Quay
It’s in this historic custom house where you can stay the night before attempting the hike!
Hartland Quay Hotel is one of the few hotels that is quite literally on the South West Coast Path. It’s a small place, but it has rooms with en-suite bathrooms and incredible views over the crashing coastline. Click here to read more.
You could also stay at Stoke Barton Farm and Campsite. Set about half a mile from Hartland Quay, the campsite has a farm shop, small cafe and kitchen (with space to charge your phone or power bank). There’s a small field for hikers to pitch up in.
How to get to Hartland Quay
Unfortunatley, Hartland Quay is not an easy place to get to.
However, if you walk three miles inland to Hartland village, you can take the 319 bus. This connects to Clovelly, Westward Ho! and Barnstaple in the east and Morwenstow and Bude in the west.
You may also wish to arrange a taxi service or drop off to start your hike.
Of course, many people do this walk as part of a larger South West Coast Path adventure.
The previous hike is from Clovelly to Hartland Quay, and you can see my guide to it here.
Hartland Quay to Bude Walk: Route Description
Beginning your walk at Hartland Quay, start following the trail in a westerly direction.
Apart from an initial 50 steps to walk up from the car park, the first part of this hike isn’t too difficult.
Follow the path down as you’ll traverse towards a lovely waterfall, and then cut through the headland.
Then, you’ll reach Speke’s Mill Mouth where there’s another waterfall.
Here, there are two paths that you can take – an easier route that goes through a valley or an alternative cliff-top route. Given that this hike is very difficult, I’d recommend the easier route!
The path then rises slightly, starting to follow an elevated path on Sandhole Cliff.
Keep following the path as it rounds Nabor Point and then descents into Knap Head.
After this point, the rollercoaster path starts!
It’ll be tough until you get to the Sandy Mouth area close to Bude, so feel free to take a breather here.
There’s a small car park at Welcombe Mouth, along with a thin stream.
The next combe is home to Marsland Mouth and the Devon/ Cornwall border.
There will be a sign there that welcomes you to Kernow!
Keep trekking up and down the path, one steep climb to another, into and out of combes. This part of the hike isn’t easy, but you can take in spectacular scenery and you’ll work up a sweat to boot!
Morwenstow isn’t on the route, but you should be able to spot a church and other buildings on the horizon.
Hartland Quay to Bude is a tough day of walking, so if you want to split it, you could spend the night in Morwenstow. It’s a tiny place with only a small pub with rooms.
As it’s about a half-mile walk inland, I’d recommend only stopping here if you’re planning on spending the night.
Just after Morwenstow, you’ll find Hawker’s Hut. Named after Parson Hawker who lived in the village from 1834 to 1874, he constructed this hut from which he could view the coastline and contemplate.
This is a great lunch spot if you haven’t eaten already – enjoy some contemplation, just as Parson Hawker did!
There are still several deep valleys to come; traverse Higher Sharnose Point, Stanbury Mouth and Lower Sharpnose Point as you complete arduous climb after steep descent.
You’ll also walk around a satellite ground station.
Eventually, you’ll peer over the edge of a cliff to see the beautiful Duckpool Beach.
Duckpool Beach is one of the most popular beaches near Bude, with lots of rockpools and shingle that gives way to a patch of sand.
There are National Trust toilets here.
After Duckpool Beach, you’re pretty much on the Bude coast path, which spans the beautiful coastline toward the surf town.
Much of this coastline is owned by the National Trust, and Sandymouth is particularly beautiful.
Cross a small footbridge and follow the path as it climbs once again, eventually giving way to some more even walking as you hike above Sandymouth.
These cliffs are a lot lower, and you can gaze down at the beautiful scenery below you without feeling too much vertigo!
Drop down towards Northcott Mouth, before walking back on the grassy paths towards Bude.
You’ll finally end your walk at Crooklets Beach in Bude!
From here, you can walk towards Bude Town and Summerleaze Beach, or (if you’re feeling lazy like us) you could order a taxi here to take you to your accommodation.
Things to do in Bude
There are lots of things to do in Bude – you could easily spend a few days or even a few weeks of holiday here! Here are some of my favourites.
- Walk along the Bude Canal
- Laze out on either Summerleaze Beach or Crooklets Beach
- Take a swim in the Bude Sea Pool
- Try out surfing
- Enjoy some of the fab restaurants
Where to stay in Bude
There are quite a few places to stay in Bude, including hostels, caravan parks, guesthouses and holiday lets.
Sea Jade Guesthouse: This is a small family-run guesthouse set in Bude’s town centre. The rooms are comfy, with flat screen TVs and en-suite bathrooms, and you can enjoy a delicious cooked breakfast each morning. Click here to read more.
The Edgcumbe Hotel & Deck Restaurant: This is a relaxed hotel close to Summerleze Beach. The decoration is effortlessly chic, with Scandinavian inspirations. The attached restaurant is famous for serving tasty meals, including delectable fish and chips. Click here to book your spot.
How to get from Bude
It’s slightly easier to get to and from Bude than Hartland Quay, but it’s still not the best-connected place in the world!
There’s a bus that runs every two hours to Boscastle, Tintagel, Wadebridge and Truro.
Bude is also connected by bus to Exeter and Plymouth, although these only leave once every day or so.
Is the Hartland Quay to Bude walk difficult?
Yes, it’s one of the most difficult walks on the entire South West Coast Path.
The dramatic ups and downs provide a calf-burning experience, and its length means that you’ll be absolutely knackered by the end!
If you have some hiking experience, it’s still doable.
Just start early, take plenty of breaks and have a backup plan in case you are too knackered (this could be staying in Morwenstow or taking a taxi from Duckpool Beach).
Several companies offer luggage transfers, and I highly recommend making use of these if you aren’t feeling too confident about the walk with heavy packs.
We used luggagetransfers.co.uk and they provided a seamless service.
When you’re midway through the Hartland Quay to Bude walk, it feels impossible. But keep putting one foot in front of the other and the epic clifftop views, plus the gorgeous beaches on the path towards Bude, will make it all worthwhile!