A Handbook for Travellers in Devonshire (9th ed.),

London, J. Murray. (1879)

An omnibus runs twice daily between Bideford and Westward Ho, 3 m. N.W.

In Bideford and its neighbourhood, it need hardly be said, are laid many of the finest scenes in Mr. Kingsley's romance of 'Westward Ho,' a handbook which every visitor to the place is strongly recommended to study. The road to the new "settlement" of Westward Ho passes (at 2 m. from Bideford) through the village of Northam; rt. of which, nearer to the estuary, is the old house of Borough, the home of Amyas Leigh - the hero of the tale. The family of Leigh were owners of this place for many generations. Northam is a long straggling village, with a Perp. ch. of no great interest. The manor was given by the Conqueror to his own foundation - the monastery of St. Stephen at Caen. Pleasant views over Bideford Bay, of the projecting coast beyond the estuary, and of the country between Instow and the river, open as the road descends from the village of Northam towards the level known as Northam Burrows, on which the new watering-place has been founded.

Westward Ho. Inns: Westward Ho Hotel, best, the property of the company which founded the place. It occupies a good site, is comfortable and well-managed, with a reasonable tariff. Pebble Ridge Hotel at the N. end of the village. A large boarding house called the Villa, in connection with the Westward Ho Hotel, affords very good accommodation (at a reasonable rate) for those who desire quiet. Lodgings are numerous. The usual charge here during the "season" (the latter end of summer and autumn) is one guinea a week for each room required.

Westward Ho consists at present of two or three rows of terraces, many scattered villas, a single line of shops, and a ch. nearly opposite the principal hotel. The Church is more effective within than on the exterior. It is a daughter ch. of Northam, and was built in 1867. Indeed almost every building here is a modern erection; and a single farm-house alone existed before the "Company " was formed for the purpose of creating a new watering-place. The advantages of Westward Ho are - quiet, which would be called dullness by those who delight in the bustle and glitter of Torquay or Ilfracombe; the wide stretch of the beautiful bay, with Lundy Island rising like a long ark on the water, S.W., and the cliffs of Braunton stretching away to Baggy Point, N. (for notice of the bay see Rte. 17); a singularly pure and bracing air; a long reach of tolerably firm sands; and facilities for easily visiting some of the most beautiful coast scenery in N. Devon. The United Services College, Westward Ho, for the sons of officers, was opened Sept. 1874. There is a GOLF-CLUB at Westward Ho, with its playing-ground on Northam Burrows, furnishing a green, turfed, undulating surface suitable for the and only surpassed by "The Links" of St. Andrew's and Musselburgh.

Clovelly is distant 12 m. W., and may be the object of a pleasant day's excursion. Ilfracombe may be easily reached from Barnstaple and Bideford by rail; or the pedestrian may cross from Appledore to Braunton, and walk round the coast by Morte Bay and Morte Point (see Rte. 17). Starting from Westward Ho, also, he may proceed by Clovelly to Hartland, and thence by Morwenstow and Bude to the N. coast of Cornwall. He will find resting-places at Clovelly and Hartland: but the last day's walk will probably be a long one, since he will find no good accommodation at Morwenstow. (The distance from Clovelly to Bude is 18 m., but by Hartland and Morwenstow it is considerably longer.) Westward Ho is, however, more to be sought as a temporary resting place than for any striking attractions of its own. The coast is flat, and not very picturesque. The ground rises on the S. side of the Burrows, and from the highest point there is a very beautiful view into Clovelly Bay, with Hartland Point in the distance. There is a pleasant walk over the fields to Bideford; and the village of Appledore is worth a visit.

The first object to which strangers are attracted is, however, the Pebble Ridge, a long and wide barrier of large pebbles extending between the sea and the alluvial flat of Northam Burrows. This sandy, grassy plain is scarcely above the level of spring tide high water; and would be exposed to destructive inundations were it not for the natural breakwater, the pebbles of which are of the carboniferous grit of the district, varying from ½ in. to a yard in mean diameter. The ridge extends for about 2 m. in a straight line. Its average width is 160 ft., but at the N. end it is from 300 to 400 ft., and its height 20 ft. It is singularly uniform and compact; on one side sloping steeply to the turf of the Burrows, on the other, at a less inclination to the tidal strand; which at first consists of small pebbles, of which the great majority are also of grit. Beyond, to the low-water line, the strand is of fine sand, beneath, and often projecting through which, are masses of blue clay and vegetable matter, containing roots, trunks, and branches of trees. This is the "submerged forest of Barnstaple Bay." To account for the ridge and its relation to this submerged forest, it has been suggested that the ridge was at first formed much farther out into the bay, that the wood grew on the landward side of it, and that a gradual movement inward of the ridge destroyed and submerged the forest. The difficulties which this view has to surmount have been well pointed out by Mr. Pengelly, - who asserts that the Pebble Ridge "is by no means unique. In a more or less pronounced form such accumulations may be said to be numerous. One of greater extent, and just as striking, exists on the shore of Porlock Bay, in W. Somerset." The pebbles here, he continues, certainly came from the cliffs westward of the ridge, between Northam Burrows and Hartland Point. "The cliffs consist of carboniferous grit. So do the pebbles. The beds of which the cliffs are formed fall an easy prey to the violent waves . . . their ruins take the form of rhombohedrons, all having a striking family likeness, whether we compare with one another the blocks just dislodged, those which have been rolled for a short time only, or those which have reached their limit of transformation. They occur at the foot of the cliffs in every form, - fresh angular masses, sub-angular boulders which have undergone some wear and tear, and almost perfect ellipsoids. They load the entire strand from Hartland Point to Northam. All beaches travel in definite and constant directions, which depend on the trend of the coast, the set of the tides, and the prevalent winds. Thus controlled, the pebbles on the southern shore of Barnstaple Bay travel from the western cliffs eastward to Northam strand. . . . The rapid rivers (Taw and Torridge) prevent their being carried further. That they should either be heaped up on the landward margin of the beach, or retreat into the deep waters of the bay is inevitable. The low-lying, extensive plain, unlike a precipitous cliff, sets no limit to the distance to which the breakers may fling them up. Accordingly, very many are cast beyond the grasp of the retreating wave, and hence the ridge." - Trans. of Devon Assoc., vol. ii. 420-1.

The pebbles below the forest clay, Mr. Pengelly considers to have come from the same cliffs, and to have been brought here by the same causes. The submergence of the forest he regards as due to a subsidence of the land. The plants and trees certainly grew in the position they now occupy. The species found among them are all recent, such as now inhabit the adjacent dry lands; and remnants of forests of precisely similar kind are found all round the British islands - in Tor Bay, and in Mount Bay for example.

The sea appears to be encroaching on the Ridge, and of late has been gradually washing the pebbles over each other, and spreading them out to such an extent that the waves wash quite over them, dashing at high tides with violence into the Golf Club and other houses. In the winter of 1877 the sea washed away the front wall of the Golf Club-house, and made inroads on the terrace near it. Stout piles driven into the Ridge to break the force of the waves were snapped off almost immediately. Now a rude breakwater of piles and a strong wall has been created in front of it.

Westward from the ridge rises a low cliff, which at a short distance gives place to one somewhat higher. This is resolvable into 3 portions, - 1st, an old platform or terrace of denudation, terminating in an almost vertical cliff, 15 or 20 ft. upon the level of the existing tidal strand. 2nd, On this shelf are remnants of an old raised beach, about 7 ft. thick, with pebbles resembling those below. "The two beaches, in fact, like the platforms on which they lie, differ only in one being high and ancient, the other low and modern." 3rd. The old beach is capped with a subaerial accumulation or "Head" varying from 5 to 20 ft. in thickness. It should here be added that on the N. side of the bay there is also a raised beach of considerable extent. This is first seen at the northern extremity of Braunton Burrows, and is traceable round the western end of Saunton Down into Croyde Bay, and thence, after some interruption, to Baggy Point (see more, Rte. 17). The forest and the beaches indicate that there have been two distinct movements of the coast - a subsidence, and an upheaval. It seems probable that the elevation preceded the depression; but this is not quite certain. Both changes must have occurred within the Recent or Tertiary period. Bones and teeth of mammalia, but much decomposed, have been found in the forest bed. A large of deer was among them. There is a curious tradition that the oak-trees used for the roof and seats of Braunton Ch. grew in a forest which formerly occupied the site of the Burrows, and that they were drawn thence to the ch. by reindeer. Broken flints, flint cores, flakes, and flint implements (?) have also been found in the submerged forest.

The visitor should walk to the eastern end of the ridge, near the estuary of the rivers. At low water the dangerous bar is seen, stretching athwart the mouth of the estuary; and on the Braunton Burrows opposite, are the 2 lighthouses, which are to be brought into one by a vessel standing in for the harbour.

The village of Appledore is interesting for its antiquity, and for a legend of the Danish warrior Hubba, who is said to have landed near this village, in the reign of Alfred, from a fleet of 33 ships, and to have laid siege to a neighbouring castle, called Kenwith, the site of which is now only surmised to be a hill called Henny Castle (near Kenwith Lodge), N.W. of Bideford. The strength of this place, however, proved too great for its assailants. Hubba was slain under its walls, and his followers driven with slaughter to the shore. At one spot, it is said, they rallied, and so checked their pursuers as to be enabled to regain their ships; and a field by the roadside, near the village of Northam, is to this day pointed out as the place where they turned, and has been known from time immemorial as the Bloody Corner. Biorn Ironside, the companion of Hubba, was slain in this headlong retreat, and the magical Raven banner was taken by the English. It was a black bird, probably a stuffed specimen of the raven, which hung quiet when defeat was at hand, but clapped its wings before victory. Hubba, we are told, was buried beneath a cairn on the shore, and the name of Hubblestone - given to a flat rock near the quay at Appledore - is said to mark the locality. This defeat took place in Devonshire (Sax. Chron. ad ann. 877-78); but the identification of the site with Henny Castle is quite uncertain.

Transcribed - Brian Randell, 18 Jul 1999