A wonderful depiction of Woolacombe & Mortehoe, as seen by a rambler travelling to the area in 1886. Arriving at Mortehoe Station, he tells of his journey down the hills to Woolacombe, through to Mortehoe and eventually to Lee Bay. A truly lovely way to see the area through somebody else’s eyes some 132 years ago.
“Morthoe and Lee,” The legend that appears on the signboard at the little station reached after we have had a charming glimpse of rural Devon. Leaving Brauton in the hollow of the hills have risen up by the salmon stream banks and the mill by the rivulet, the sight of whose whirling wheel with the water dashing over it and glistening like glass in the sunlight has, by the association of memories, a cool shade of romance in the hot summer day, until we have got among the tors and looked out far over the Severn Sea and where the receding hills invite to Woolacombe Sands. The natives have not been slow to learn the weaknesses of tourists, and hence our appearance at Morthoe Station is the signal for lively competition for the favour of conveying us to the sea-shore, for they are a Devonshire mile from of our journey. But we have, now that our companionship has extended over three, or four enjoyable trips, voted the journey by foot, in case safe distances, by far the most delightful way approaching and viewing the North Devon coast. TO WOOLACOMBE SANDS. We take the road that trends the left of the Station, and, by the manor Eastcott farm to Woolacombe Sands.
With a liberality for which we, at least, will be thankful and show our appreciation by availing ourselves of the considerate kindness, the farmers have preserved the paths across the fields and o’er the downs, from whence it a pleasant jaunt to drop, dropping down to the remote cove by the lifeboat station, our only observers being the sheep that crop the scanty grass of the moorland.. Here is the wild garden Devon, where luscious blackberries provide a dainty feast and ripe elderberries the wine, with sweet nuts on the pendant boughs the solid of the repast. Birds twitter o’er head and swing the branches, as the Atlantic breezes rock them in rushing the valley. The roar of the waves gently lulled it passes through this quiet retreat and falls in musical rhythm on the pleased ear. We pass out to the open and follow the windings of a limpid stream that sings in gentle cadences to the sea.
Whether Bay of Morte, Pickwell or Woolacombe—for it has been styled all these—it boasts not to enquire, for this curve of the coast has its peculiar history which apart from its natural wildness, makes it little beholden to name. In form an oblong crescent, its southern boundary is Baggy Point and that fatal rock-studded projection, Baggy Leap. The irregular arc, forms its boundary and extends.gradually then diminishes, the serrated coast, to the extremity of Morte Point, which abruptly slants to the wild sea and the dreaded Morte Stone. Our way the beach has taken us o’er what appears to be sand hillocks, but from the growth of ferns and rank grass, and the burrows of the rabbits that may daily be seen in sage debate on the mystery of old ocean, must originally have been a part of the adjoining land.
That pointed, conical elevation on our left, which conveys the impression of an ancient burrow, is Potter’s hill. Further south there lies a range of sand hills, after you have cleared that rocky point, over which, even this rest day of Father Neptune’s, the sea breaks with a fine spray that curtains the coast beyond it. These beautiful sands stretch away to Baggy Point. At Baggy Point there a precipice hundreds of feet deep, and beyond it the guns of the stranded “Weazel” maybe seen at low water. Ragged, jagged, and cruel are the rocks on our right that overlap each other until the Morte Point eclipses all in its daring challenge to the sea. A fearful, savage coast, to the terrible history of which the numerous lighthouses and lifeboats that are now thickly stationed along it are eloquent witnesses
BY BARRICANE Where shells great rarity are to be found, the curious and the well informed in conchological lore. Barricane we find being put to the excellent purpose for which, picnic parties will have it, it was specially intended by Nature. Environed by ledgy rocks, carpeted with-sand and shell and shingle, open alike to sun and shower—it is a pretty cove when old Sol above us is shining, but oh for the pleasure party that thither resorts when the storm crest rising upon the horizon. MORTEHOE The village of Mortehoe appears to cluster the centre from whence those angular ribs and joints. As yet unknown to the wider world of tourists and unappreciated in its fullness, retains its rural quietude, approaching to somnolence, though it awakens now and again to the fact that it is destined to be the fashion in the future. This air restfulness —of a calm, remote retreat—is its primal charm in the eyes of those who, as the summer tide of holidays sets in, wend their way westward. The Minister’s Rest at the Grange, a site so admirably selected by the Rev. Urijah Thomas, points to the attribute which most commends Morthoe. Morte (as it familiarly termed) has one lion, beside its fine natural situation—its Church, dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene, containing the reputed tomb of Sir William de Tracey, the joint murderer of Thomas A’Becket. The monument, to which there still the daily pilgrimage of the curious, stands just the centre the southern transept of the church. The transept is small, and scarcely allows of walking round the tomb. Eight feet in length, the tomb is just half as broad, and is raised two feet above the surface from the floor.
MORTE POINT AND STONE We have lingered long over this famed sight, but, perhaps, not without interest. From commingling with the dead and gone, the map of our tour next directs us to the promontory death,” the rugged headland bearing the dreaded name Morte Point, which that has in turn transferred to the village. A rough and tumble trip to the Point of the lugubrious story, but the rewards immensurable, for here again we are brought in contact with a pre historic age, in the Druidic cromlech—two huge perpendicular masses of stone, on which is laid a rude, unhewn slab. Here again we remember how all these strange monuments of priestly rites—for such there good reason deem them—are found in remote, prominent and wild neighbourhoods, where the weird, superstitious worship of the British heathen must have been attended with a profound solemnity.
It would appear that we are destined to “sup full horrors,” in the sense the history attaching to the scenes this sketch, for beyond the Point, where, at low tide, we see the black fangs of the Morte Stone, and mark the line of foam that tells of the treacherous range rocks that run out to the buoy, beyond which is the safe deep sea, the knell of many gallant ship and ship’s crew, and many a treasure cargo and living freight, has been remorselessly rung.
ROCKHAM BAY The beach, beautifully paved with rare limestone pebbles and others of a foreign type, we have new object of interest, and pleasure parties might find many a less charming spot for their al fresco entertainments than this pretty pebbled cove.
BULL POINT LIGHTHOUSE The walk from Morthoe to the Point in itself a revelation of the wonders of this remarkable coast, whose grandeur grows upon one with familiarity. The road to the lighthouse in many parts is bounded on either side by huge ledges of slaty rock, whilst the whole scenery wild and romantic in the extreme, the situation the lighthouse itself being surrounded by natural marvels. On either side its shelf, the cliffs descend precipitously to what little of beach there is, the projection which the Trinity House most judiciously selected for the site of the light, forming, were, the trunk, from which these gaunt rocky arms protectively protrude on either hand. Their steep sides are devoid of vegetation, presenting but the bare, grey solid slab of slate against which the storms of aeons have battered, and have left no sign. On the Point, we have quite a little Paradise fruitfulness and plenty; the wilderness and barren place has become smiling land, under the deft hands of the keeper and their families, whose little world is bounded by the sea and the down. The garden at the left front of the lighthouse is gay with Flora’s bright-eyed children, and among these the smart figure heads of gallant merchantmen that have gone down sea appear not out place, where but ledge of rock separates them from the world waters to whose gentle undulation they dipped in graceful salute ere the storm-tossed sea ill returned their obeisance. In the centre we see the tanks where rain from heaven is collected in primitive fashion, though it may be reasonably questioned whether the ultimate purity of the water supply of the little community Bull Point will not compare with that of many costly waterworks inland.
We have made mental note these features, of the neat greenhouse and the well-stocked fruit and vegetable gardens, whilst some earlier visitors have engaged the courteous attention of the keeper. Firstly, we are initiated into the mystery of the powerful fog horn, whose vigorous blasts reach tierd ear of the mariner when the light fails to penetrate through the thickness of the murky cloud which shrouds the land. This is not the place for technical details, or it would pleasure to follow the well informed keeper through hi- lucid description of the simple mechanism, but wonderful-construction of the pair caloric engines, each of 2-horse power, which produce the blast.
Suffice it to say that it a triumph of engineering and sound science —no pun is intended — for the adaptation of which to such a beneficent purpose we can have nothing short of admiration. Following our guide through the connecting corridor, we ascend the first storey of the Lighthouse, and there gain our knowledge the clockwork of the light, and that wonderful prismatic arrangement by which the fixed red light is thrown to the south-west, marking the position of the Morte Stone. Costing just £7,000 in construction, the Lighthouse, at its opening, was furnished with white triple-flashing half minute light, showing three successive flashes about two seconds duration.The keeper has much of interest to tell the nature, production, and history of the light, and the life of lifehouse keeper.