Hartland Travel Information and Guide
Devon’s most westerly settlement, Hartland has a long history. It was a gift from King Alfred to his son Edward, and it passed down a line of kings down to Canute and eventually William the Conqueror. Seven hundred years later, however, it was described by WG Maton as having “an air of poverty which depresses it to the level of a Cornish borough”.
Today it has regained its confidence and has plenty to offer visitors, including a range of galleries and pottery, as well as cafes and pubs, a village shop that stays open late and free parking.
What to see and do in Hartland
Hartland Abbey is magnificent: far superior to most of Devon’s other grand houses, which sometimes struggle to justify their entrance fee. It’s unquestionably grand, with magnificent fireplaces, splendid furnishings and paintings, many from Poltimore House near Exeter (Poltimore’s heiress married a Stucley), and stunning views from huge windows.
The quality of the contents is one of the assets of a house never sold, but passed down through the centuries by inheritance. However, families do not always respect the right furniture. In 1933, one of the twelve Chippendale chairs was found to be missing; he was discovered in St Nectan’s Church with the lower part of his legs sawed off to make them the correct height for Marion Stucley to play the organ.
St. Nectan Church
St Nectan’s Church is accessed through an unusual pivoting door with a counterweight to keep it closed. Inside are numbered pews from the time when parishioners had to pay ‘pew rent’ for their seat in church, a huge, intricately carved screen with a typical Devon fan vault, and carved bench.
The stoup is interesting, not only for its carved sides but also for the heads which are dazzled from the base and under the basin. Those at the base are dark grotesques, while their opposites – visible only if you’re lying on the ground – are wise old bearded men. You can draw your own conclusions as to their meaning.
In the South Chapel are stone fragments from the original Hartland Abbey, including an angel (decapitated). The graveyard, which houses the headstones of the Lane family members who founded the Penguin books, once served as pasture for the vicar’s horse. A nearby clergyman commented that “he cherishes for his horse the grain that grows out of the bosom of the dead.”
Hartland Quay is the focal point of the area, with its hotel and restaurant, beach and spectacular scenery. In stormy weather and on hot sunny days, it’s always visually rewarding – and with the promise of coffee, soup or a full meal for weary walkers. Indeed, it is so popular that you may be asked to pay a £2 toll for access and parking during peak holiday periods.
Opposite the Hartland Quay Hotel is a gift shop with a small shipwreck museum upstairs, a good reminder of when it was a busy port. At the end of the 18th century, WG Maton commented that ‘Hartland-quay consists of about a dozen decent cottages, and has a convenient little jetty, at which goods of all kinds, for supplying this part of the country, are landed from Bideford and Barnstaple; and here fishermen and coasters find good shelter from the south-westerly winds, by mooring under the eminences.
The quay was still in use 50 years later when Sir George Stucley of Hartland Abbey landed a load of Maltese stone from his yacht, intended for the fireplace in the billiard room.
Warren Beach (no dogs), dramatically backed by high cliffs, is accessible via the concrete slipway.