A Handbook for Travellers in Devonshire (9th ed.),
London, J. Murray. (1879)
Hartland Point (alt. 350 ft.), generally held to be the "Promontory of Hercules" of Ptolemy, and called Harty by Camden, occupies the angle at which the Devonshire coast strikes to the S.W., and is opposite to a distant Welsh headland, from which the cliffs of Wales trend to the N. It forms, therefore, the boundary of the old "Severn Sea," the Channel here expanding its jaws as if to receive the rolling waves and clearer water of the Atlantic. It is singular in its shape, projecting in a ridge about 370 ft. from the neighbouring cliff; the summit being craggy where it abuts upon the mainland, but for a distance of 250 ft. a flat and grassy platform, of an average width of 30 ft., and bounded by sheer precipices of 300 ft. The view of the coast-line on either side of Hartland Point is magnificent. Inland, Hartland Abbey is seen stretching across the vale, with the lofty ch.-tower on the hill above it.
In a recess a little W. of this promontory you may find a concave rock, so curved and smooth as to bear no fanciful resemblance to the interior of a vessel stranded on the shore. You may squeeze yourself at low water through ad adjoining headland by means of a chink in which the sea "blows" at a certain state of the tide, and in another chasm look through a natural chimney at the sky. This headland itself is well worth examining by those who visit Hartland, and may be recognised as separated by a valley from the high land, and as forming a point at which the coast makes a sharp turn to the southward. The shore towards Hartland Quay (see post) presents a scene most wild and dismal, and affords striking examples of arched and otherwise contorted strata. It is everywhere cumbered by ruinous walls of rock at right angles to the sea; the cliffs are ribbed with bars of rod schist, but the dreary chaos is in a measure enlivened by cascades which leap from above.
4 m. (from Clovelly) is Hartland Town - so called to distinguish it from Hartland Quay - (Inn: King's Arms, countrified and good), a retired place situated 2 m. from the sea, at the head of the wooded vale of Hartland Abbey, which, with the parish church of Stoke-Nectan, the promontory of Hartland, and the neighbouring coast, are the objects of interest. The parish is said by Leland to have derived its name "from the multitude of stags."
Hartland Abbey (Sir G.S. Stucley, Bart.), one of the best-endowed and most considerable in Devonshire, is said (Dugdale, 'Monast.', vi. 435) to have been founded by Gytha, the wife of Earl Godwin and mother of Harold, in honour of St. Nectan, who, she believed, had preserved her husband from shipwreck in a dangerous storm. Gytha's foundation was for secular canons, who were replaced by Augustinians, temp. Hen. II., under the auspices of Geoffrey de Dinant, ancestor of the Lords Dinham. At the Dissolution, the Abbey, valued at 306l. a year, was granted to Wm. Abbot; and passed various hands into those of the Buck (now Stuckley) family about 1824. St. Nectan, to whom the abbey was dedicated, is said to have been the son of a Welsh "kinglet." His relics were preserved here. The present mansion was built at the end of the 18th century, after the plan of the ancient abbey, of which the (E. Eng.) cloisters were preserved in part as an ornament for the basement story. The house contains old carving and pictures, and is situated in a delightful seclusion. It is begirt by woods, in which ferns grow luxuriantly, particularly L. dilatata.
The parish Church of Hartland (1½ m. W.) (or, as it is properly called, the *Church of Stoke-Nectan - it was given to the abbey by Geoffry de Dinant) dedicated to St. Nectan - is an exceedingly interesting building, and has undergone 'a partial restoration by Sir Geo. and Lady Elizabeth Stucley. It is generally called the abbey church, but it was really that of the parish - the abbey church has been altogether destroyed. Nave, aisle, and chancel are late Dec. The tower is Perp., with a very fine arch opening to the ch. The tower is 111 ft. high, plain, with the exception of a niche on the E. side, in which is a figure of St. Nectan. The *Screen, extending across the whole ch., is nearly perfect; it is early Perp., and one of the best examples in the N. of Devon. The cradle roofs are good, and that in the N. chancel aisle has the bosses gilt and panels painted. The carved oak pulpit, with its canopy, should be noticed; and upon it the figure of a tusked goat, and the inscription "God save King James Fines" - May not the inscription have originally been "Fi. Defen." i.e. "Defender of the Faith"? The goat is probably the "Scotch Unicorn." The Norman font is sculptured with quaint faces looking down upon other quaint faces on the pedestal; the group (according to the Rev. Mr. Hawker of Morwenstow) being emblematical of the righteous looking down upon the wicked. There is a Norm. door on N. side of the ch. The oldest monument in the ch. bears date 1610, and is on the rt. of the E. window; a brass to Anne Abbott is of 1611. The visitor will also notice on the wall l . of the altar an inscription to the memory of a Cavalier. In the ch.-yard the visitor will remark the singularly broad slabs of stone which are used as stiles; and by the chancel door the tomb of one Docton, bearing a quaint inscription, beginning "Rejoice not over me, oh my enemie."
The view over the valley and sea from the church-tower is very striking. From the ch. the stranger is recommended to pay
Hartland Quay a visit, and to walk to the end of the valley, where he may gain some idea of the dreariness which characterises the coast of the carboniferous formation. He should descend upon the rocks for a view of the cliffs, with their black and rusty bands of slate, and remarkable contortions. "No words," say Sedgwick and Murchison, "can exaggerate the number and violence of these contortions, - sometimes in regular undulating curves - sometimes in curves broken at their points of contrary flexure, and exhibiting a succession of cusps, like regular pointed arches - sometimes, though more rarely, thrown into salient and re-entering angles, generally of local extent, and only affecting particular beds." - Trans. Geol. Soc. 1837. On the W. rises St. Catherine's Tor, a conical hill connected with its neighbours by a massive ancient wall; and on its summit have been discovered the foundations of a Roman building.
There are many beautiful scenes here on the coast, in a district little visited and thinly inhabited. In Milford Valley, to the W., a lively rivulet seeks the beach in a series of falls. It first leaps 100 ft., then falls again and again, and at last joins the sea. "Neither will the lover of the beautiful think lightly of the valley and mouth of Welcombe, or the glen of Marsland, whose winding stream, filled with excellent but small trout, separates Devon and Cornwall." - Ferny Combes.
Transcribed - Brian Randell, 18 Jul 1999