Day 89 – Coombe Martin to Lynmouth

Day 89 – Coombe Martin to Lynmouth

Coombe Martin is an interesting little town – apparently, it has the longest high street in Britain, extending two miles up the valley. Originally a Saxon port, the Norman church of St Peter ad Vincula has a tower ninety-nine feet high. Sadly, the public conveniences were equally mediaeval.

Just on the outskirts of the town was a waymarker showing the full coast path distance – they are not that common – 35 miles to go to Minehead, and 595 completed since Poole; (although I have walked considerably further, with all the detours and the frequency of getting lost – I know, how hard can it be to find my way with the sea on one side?)

It was a cracking day. Superb weather again – warm, and absolutely still, although more humid than is ideal. The morning began with a long steady pull up to little Hangman’s head, followed by an even longer, but steady, climb to Great Hangman’s head. Apparently, this is the highest point on the whole coast path, although I must say it did not seem as high as some of the Cornish cliffs, or even as Golden Crest on the Dorset coast. Still, I suppose the people who carefully  (do I mean obsessively?) measure these things, must know. IMG_2232

The views were superb, the rocky cliffs behind and in front of us with Lundy falling behind, and the coast of South Wales looking clearer than yesterday.  I guessed what we could see was the Gower Peninsula and the Mumbles. There was also a massive factory with a plume of steam emerging –  presumably the steelworks at Porth Talbot.

The day was uneventful – perhaps one to be remembered as a typical day on the coast.  Even the cows were on the other side of the fence – atlthough they could not resist coming over to stare at me.

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We are now on the north edge of Exmoor – Lorna Doone country. I must re-read the book.  The steepest drop of the day was down to the river Heddon, on a narrow track which winds through low woodland, and is invisible from the other side of the valley. Located on the riverbank is the only refreshment point on today’s route, but as it was a half-mile extra in each direction, we decided not to make the detour.  Instead, we took off our boots and soothed our hot feet in the bone-achingly cold river.

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There was then a long steady climb up the other side of the valley. The rest of the day, the path meandered on the tops of the cliffs, or along the sides, through a mixture of moorland, woodland and heath.

We passed Lee Abbey, then, not far from Lynmouth, walked through some strange formations called Castle Rock, which were rather atmospheric, surrounded by the cloud that rolled in during the late afternoon. We dropped down a steep wooded valley to Lynmouth, which seemed to take hours as it zig-zagged down the cliff. Handily, there was a waymarker showing the routes to America, New Zealand and Iceland.IMG_2323

We arrived at the bottom only to see a funicular arrive at  the same time. Had we known, we would have given it a try. Distance of 14.2 miles.

We have just had a truly excellent meal in the Ancient Mariner Inn.

 

 

Day 88 – Woolacombe to Combe Martin 8 July 2017

Day 88 – Woolacombe to Combe Martin 8 July 2017

We left the Gulag at 9 this morning, after I had wasted a load of time trying to contact British Airways about a booking for Australia, and ate in a café on the sea front – The Captain’s Table. The path leads up out of Woolacombe, towards a place called Baggy Point. The view of Lundy was very clear, and we could also see all the way back to Hartland Point.  Most exciting of all was the nearness of the South Wales coast – not far now before I shall be in home territory! The Gower peninsula with the Worm’s Head was quite clear.

The stretch of coast here is well-known for seal-sightings, and we were thrilled to see a pod of them. Rachel and I have argued about the collective noun for them. I think pod sounds right, she is certain it’s a herd. There were six creatures in this group, three basking on the rocks, looking like slugs with tails and fins, and three bobbing on the waves. In the same area I saw a black headed bird with a white collar and red chest. No idea what it was, but subsequent googling suggests a stonechat. I’ve never seen one before, but was rather taken with it.IMG_2145

There were a couple of steep ups and downs, but nothing too serious. We stopped at Lee for lunch at a what should have been a delightful café, but the service was so slow we didn’t have as much as we planned. The pasties were good, though.IMG_2148

We came to Ilfracombe in the late afternoon. The main town was dead – we searched long and hard for a decent café, but all were either chains or shut. We went into an old-fashioned Gentlemen’s Outfitters in search of new socks – it was a relic from the 1950s – hats, checked shirts, walking sticks and scarves, all in beautiful wooden drawers and cabinets. The visit was successful and a vivid red pair of socks purchased.

A curious insight into the causes of the First World War was offered to us – a poster outlining the story of Alf Price, who, annoyed at the visiting Kaiser’s behaviour in throwing stones at the beach huts, had punched him on the nose. Apparently, Kaiser Bill bore a grudge ever after against the whole British nation. They didn’t tell me that in school!IMG_2189

Down at the waterfront, business was more brisk. We found Dolly’s Café and had two scoops each of creamy ice cream, with extra clotted cream. Mmmmm. Whilst we were there, several very odd characters came in – three white people and one black person.  All were dressed in long coloured streamers or rags, with feathered hats and all were ‘blacked-up’. No-one else in the café seemed to think their appearance at all odd, and we assumed they were just a bunch of local eccentrics.

All was revealed when we emerged to discover that they were part of a vIMG_2187ery large group of Morris dancers, prancing on the green. I have never seen colourful Morris costumes befores before – only the traditional white outfits. The bells on their legs were surprisingly loud.

We finished with a long, pleasant, but uneventful walk past the Iron Age Hillsborough Fort, arriving into Combe Martin at around 7pm, having covered 15..9 miles.

Day 87 – Braunton to Woolacombe 7 July 2017

Day 87 – Braunton to Woolacombe 7 July 2017

We have had a difficult 24 hours. The plan was for Rachel and me to meet at Paddington catch the 6.03 train on Thursday night. Conscious it would be a bit of a rush, I wore my walking clothes to a meeting with 30 other surveyors all in suits then raced to Paddington. I arrived 5 minutes early only to see the dreaded word ‘delayed’ against all services.

Rachel assumed I was joking at first, because the last two occasions we had left from Paddington, there had been delays. But sadly not. In fact, ‘delayed’ was the least of our problems. It transpired that all services had been cancelled owing to signalling problems.

The place was heaving. The advice was go to Waterloo, get a train to Reading and change to the Exeter service there. We called an uber, as the tube was jammers as well, but when he told us it would take over an hour, we gave up on that and decided to have a drink whilst the trains sorted themselves out. It was pushing 30 degrees and humid, so tempers were fraying all around.

With no improvement, we took the tube to Waterloo, which was equally chaotic; we tried to get on an Exeter train, but it was like one of those Japanese bullet trains where people are pushed on – although I was aggrieved that people refused to pass down into the carriages and let more people on. We then tried for a Reading train, but couldn’t even get onto the platform. At that stage, we gave it up as a bad job and went back to Rachel’s in North London. The whole thing resulted in major rearrangement of our plans, and I must say that the manager of our planned hotel, The George in Braunton was unbelievably helpful, even giving us the number of a hotel in Exeter, if we could get that far – there was no chance of the branch line to Braunton.

We rose from our slumbers at the crack of dawn, to catch the 7.30 from Paddington. Having thought no more could go wrong, the train then developed an engine fault outside Taunton, and sat there for 20 minutes, eating up the available time for changing to the branch line.

We had quite given up any hope of catching it in time for our luggage to be collected by Luggage Transfer, who had already kindly agreed a postponement. But our luck had changed. The Barnstaple train was either late itself or held to meet us, and also left from the same platform, so we leapt on and managed to get to the place we should have stayed in last night by 12pm.  We had a sausage sandwich to steel ourselves for the 14 miles ahead.

I immediately made matters worse by turning the wrong way along the old railway track that leads to the coast path. We only discovered it, when, fazed by the failure of the estuary to appear, we whisked out the compass which smugly informed us we were going north, rather than south.  Hastily retracing our steps, we covered an extra 1.4 milers, slightly compensated for by an obligatory diversion inland, caused by path erosion. IMG_2070

The walk was pleasant, but largely unremarkable – continuing along the Tow estuary, then behind the dunes at the Burrows, before climbing up and over the headland to Croyde. We had an excellent Devon cream tea there, then did the final 5 miles into Woolacombe, first on the road, then a fabulous finale along the 1.5 mile Woolacombe beach, which is apparently the third most beautiful beach in the UK, however that may be calculated.IMG_2121 I must say, whilst it was undoubtedly lovely, I am not sure it reached the beauty of some of the East Anglian beaches, or those around Lulworth Cove.  But it was wonderful to sooth our ruffled nerves by walking through the shallows, hopping over the copious jelly fish. It was freezing to begin with, but then seemed to warm up.

Our hotel is basic – rather reminiscent of a 1970s Stalinist effort, but we had a pleasant, if expensive dinner in the village. We covered 15.4 miles in total

 

Day 86 – Westward Ho! to Braunton 20 Oct 2016

Day 86 – Westward Ho! to Braunton 20 Oct 2016

Today was a good day to end the trip.  We left our very nice B & B (excellent breakfast of smoked salmon) and walked back into the town to rejoin the path. We wound through the edge of Westward Ho, into the little village of Appledore, with its lifeboat station and prettily coloured houses.

Appledore is an old harbour, used for years for salmon fishing. It is the location for the ferry across to Instow. There was a slight hitch when Chris realised he had forgotten his phone.  A frantic call to the B & B arranged for Mrs B & B to drive round to meet us on the other side of the ferry with the offending article.

We had an excellent coffee in the wholefood café and shop at Instow whilst Chris’s phone was en route. Although it was early for elevenses, the cake looked extremely yummy, so we took the opportunity to load up on calories early. Not that today’s walk was difficult – it took us along the south bank of the River Taw, which meanders gently into Barnstaple, with mudflats, marsh and various bits of old engineering to interest us, particularly the old Instow railway station, on the route between Barnstaple and Fremington.

We watched some workers fixing the old railway bridge crossing an inlet. They had their work cut out – every time they tried to push the full barrow up the bank, they slipped and slid in the mud. We marked them for barrow-running technique as we munched our lunch. The older chap had more technique, the younger ones, brute force.

I was delighted to find two of the Sustrans cycle way markers, that I haven’t seen for ages. There were loads in Kent, but they have been few and far between since.  Like most flat journeys, the walk seemed to take a longer time than expected.

We arrived in Barnstaple at around 4pm. Jon and Chris elected to call it a day, as Jon is now going inland to pursue his end-to-end journey by going across Exmoor and has refused to accept my pleas to divert to the coast as it would mean going west again. I decided to continue along the north side of the River Taw as far as Braunton.  Other than crossing the modern road bridge, which saves a good mile on going into the town to cross the old bridge, It was a very dull walk, mostly paved, and there was a rather creepy bloke on the path who kept stopping, then when I passed him, started again, passed me and stopped. But he didn’t actually say or do anything.

I popped up onto the main road just outside  Braunton and got a bus back to Barnstaple. We are staying in an enormous old rectory, high up in the attic.  Doing the extra to Braunton also gave me five more miles, bringing the day to 22, the longest I have done since the crazy Seaton to Exmouth stretch on Day 28.

 

Day 85 Clovelly to Westward Ho! 19th October 2016

Day 85 Clovelly to Westward Ho! 19th October 2016

Today started out very straightforwardly.  Back up the cobbled street of Upalong-Downalong to the path, greeting more Clovelly cats as we went. The first three miles were along a level path called the Hobby Track through the woods. Once again there were lots of pheasant, but today there were also lots of guns. We could hear the beating and them the calling of the pheasants as they took flight. I shouldn’t complain as I am happy to eat pheasant and it is far better than factory farming, but I struggle to understand how anyone can actually get pleasure out of killing a live creature.

The guns gradually faded as we travelled briskly along. Our first descent was to Bucks Mill. – a tiny hamlet which once again hailed to produce a café. Then up and flat again until a sharp descent into Peppercombe where there was a crew of National Trust volunteers burning brush. There was not much wind so the smoke caught my throat and got into our eyes and hair.

As we looked back, we could see Clovelly – it had a bit of morning sun, but was soon in shadow. Coming out of Peppercombe, the path climbs up to the cliff top and veers north again. There were several long, painful ups and downs, before one drop right down to the cobbly shore. There was lots of litter and driftwood, some of the bakers’ tray sleds that the people of Clovelly use to drag things up and down. Not sure if they find trays that have come ashore or whether the trays get washed away. We reached Westward Ho! along the old Bideford to Westward railway track, which was apparently torn up for the First World War effort and shipped to France. Unfortunately, it never got there, being sunk in the Channel.

After an excellent cream tea at the Tea on the Green Café, we arrived at our B & B, the Mayfield. We had noticed down on the sea-front, some of the lines from Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem ‘If’, laid out in shells. It seems he went to school here, in the buildings opposite our B & B and this is where his book ‘Stalky & Co.’ is set. Excellent school stories – not nearly as ‘play up and play the game’ as you might imagine. In fact, Stalky is a rebel who hates games – my kind of schoolboy.

Today’s distance was 19.7 km – just under 12.5 miles.

Day 84 – Philham to Clovelly 18th October 2016

Day 84 – Philham to Clovelly 18th October 2016

It rained hard during the night and looked distinctly miserable at breakfast this morning. Jon, who had had a bad night, decided to do a shorter route but I was not to be dissuaded from the full monty and Chris decided to lend me moral support.

It soon cleared up and we have had a bright, windy, blustery day.  It took surprisingly little time to get back to the coast, compared with the hopeless trekking about of yesterday evening.  We rejoined the path about 1.5 miles south of Hartland Quay. Hartland Quay itself is a little strip of cottages, a pub and a hotel, all owned by the local manor.

Lighthouse at Hartland Point

Lighthouse at Hartland Point

There were several steep drops and climbs, but the path soon levelled out towards Hartland Point.

The views were great. Lundy was so clear today that we could almost see the puffins for which the island is famous.  12 miles off the coast, it marks the point where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Bristol Channel and was once owned by the Knights Templar (my completely random fact of the day!)

Around 12.15pm, we rounded Hartland Point, and began walking directly east, after days of north-north-west. We had a leisurely walk along the cliff tops for about 5 miles before dropping into several wooded groves.

Towards Clovelly

Towards Clovelly

I have never seen so many pheasants in my life. They were everywhere: in the woods, in the fields, skittering along the paths. Just outside Clovelly, the scenery becomes very woody, and the walking was lovely, through the fallen beech trees.

Clovelly itself is very odd. It seems to be entirely owned by the local estate and there is a distinctly feudal air about the whole place, which I guess might be friendly if you live there, but I found a bit overpowering.  The village is one long, and very steep, cobbled street from the top to the dock at the bottom.

Clovelly

Clovelly

It is famous apparently for donkeys, although we have not seen any – we were told that either ‘health and safety’ or ‘Europe’ has got rid of them, but I can’t remember which. The street down to the sea front is very steep and slippery – I didn’t much fancy going up and down it twice, so we went down to the pub and stayed there all evening.

On the up side, there are lots of cats, all very friendly and we were impressed by the clever use of baker’s palettes for carrying everything up and down the narrow street.

I was rewarded for resisting Jon’s attempts to lead me astray with a short walk as he had a scary cow incident that I am glad to have avoided.  On tomorrow to the wonderfully named Westward Ho! 13.2 miles.

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Day 83 – Bude to Philham 17 October 2016

Day 83 – Bude to Philham 17 October 2016

Today has been pretty hardcore. Not the very hardest day I have ever done, but definitely in the top five, perhaps even the top three!

We managed to start a bit earlier today. Rachel had a bus to catch to get back to London for work tomorrow, so we had an earlyish breakfast and set off a few minutes before nine, fortified with an excellent meal including including Cornish pudding –  a sort of sausage but very peppery.

I slipped a Cornish pasty and some lemon cake into my rucksack. I was so full from last night and breakfast that I contemplated not taking lunch but everyone warned it would be a long tough day. The weather was blustery as we set out, blowing foam like confetti onto the land. img_1605The wind has been strong all day but although a few squalls crossed onto land, they were behind us, just giving us the odd shower. Not enough to get really wet.

What has been so tough are the relentless ups and dens. At least twelve times we climbed down steep slopes or staircases from the top of the cliffs to sea level, and up the other side. Absolutely exhausting, especially as the wind was fierce at times, although blowing us onto the coast rather than off.

We could see Lundy getting and at the end of the day it was plain visible whenever the clouds rolled back, although it frequently was obscured by clouds.

Around 2pm, we finally left Cornwall and crossed back into Devon. The Cornish coast has taken me twenty-three days to complete – definitely the longest county coast so far.img_1684

Above the long valley leading into Welcombe Mouth beach, we came to the writing hut of Ronald Duncan. I had never heard of him before, but Duncan was an important playwright and poet from the mid-twentieth century. Duncan was a pacifist and a conscientious objector, who, before the Second World War worked with Benjamin Britten, and is best known for writing the libretto to Britten’s ‘Rape of Lucretia’.  During the war, he began a co-operative farm near Welcombe Mouth, although not with conspicuous success. His little hut, which must have taken huge grit to complete, as all of the stone would have had to be dragged up or down a precipitous slope, made a welcome retreat from the wind.img_1694

Unfortunately we could not book anywhere to stay in Hartland Quay (the nearest settlement to the path), so had to go several miles inland to find one. It was getting dark and we were exhausted, so my navigational error that took us nearly a mile out of our way was not my finest hour. I must say,  Jon and Chris were very forgiving!

Pleasingly, we have a little suite to ourselves, and my bathroom has an enormous bath and numerous fluffy towels. Our hosts gave us a lift to and from the pub, for a rather indifferent meal.  I am now about to plunge into the aforementioned tub.

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