Day 33 Bigbury to Plymouth 31 August 2013

Well, I have finally made it, more or less, (there is a four mile stretch I have to go back to) to Plymouth, with the help of my friend Vicki, who came down from Taunton to join me for the last lap. Whether my feet have finally acclimatised themselves or whether it was the copious application of alcohol with Vicki last night, but I had no aches or pains at all in feet or legs last night or this morning so set out very jauntily.  IMG_4806

Around four miles beyond Bigbury-on-Sea is the River Erme.  The only way across this is to ford it, which is apparently easily done knee deep within an hour either side of low tide.  Unfortunately, I could not discover the times of low tides.  The South West Coast Path site is not that helpful and the best guess I could make, based on nearby rivers, was low tide at 5am and 5pm – not very helpful on this occasion.  I couldn’t see us doing a 2 hour walk before 6am!  We decided that the sensible thing to do was to drive to the other side of the Erme and leave the it there.  I will come back and do this piece though, as it is very pretty and an important part of the walk.  I don’t care about the 3 miles I did on the bus to avoid the road at Paignton.

We drove down some extremely narrow lanes to reach a little car park on a private estate, only open to the hot polloi on Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays.  We could see the mediaeval tower tucked amongst the trees and concluded that in days of old the squire was a magistrate during the day and a smuggler at night.   Setting out from the west bank of the Erme, we climbed up onto the headland and had marvellous views back to Burgh Island and its unbelievably swanky hotel.  The day was largely spent on top of the cliffs, with a few ups and downs into tiny coves, ideal for bathing or more nefarious activities.  There were lots of pleasure boats, yachts and dive boats bobbing on the lightly moving water.  The weather was truly glorious.  At times we could see the Eddystone Lighthouse – fourth of its name, built to protect mariners from the treacherous Eddystone reef, 12 miles out. IMG_4812

We saw huge numbers of butterflies, pained ladies, lots of whites, meadow browns and yellow ones. We also saw some rather pretty lavender crane’s-bill and possibly another kestrel.  The earth here has changed again, much less red than further east in Devon, and the stone appears to be slatey. IMG_4821IMG_4842IMG_4858

The next obstacle on the route is crossing the River Yealm at Noss Mayo, but fortunately at this time of year the ferry service is constant.  We dropped the board to call the ferry and sat on the quay for ten minutes watching as he approached.  Noss Mayo is a little gem of a place with a perfect location for boats to moor away from the sea.  At the mouth is the rock known as Great Mew, guarding not only the Yealm but also the entrance to Plymouth Sound.  How brave Drake and those early sailors were, setting out with very limited navigational tools into the unknown for years at a time.  We had planned to stop at Wembury Point for cream tea (me) and a pint of the local brew (Vicki) but it was heaving with people and didn’t look very appealing so we pressed on, passing round Holmbury Bay and being greeted with the fine sight of Plymouth.  The last few miles seemed quite hard going – maybe the adrenaline had left me, but I struggled to finish the final couple of miles into Mount Batten.  We did just over 16 – I have no idea how I managed 23.5 on Monday!  However we made it and it was definitely one of the best days I’ve done.

I am absolutely delighted to have accomplished so much this week.  I have walked 144 miles, and burned nearly 12,000 calories (I have probably consumed at least double that amount in English breakfasts and cream teas).  I have walked through geological time – Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous; seen a wide variety of plants, butterflies and birds, and even a seal basking on a rock.

I shall say goodbye to the south west for now, and begin walking up the east coast over the winter.  Next Easter I shall leave England proper and walk into Cornwall.

Day 32 East Prawle to Bigbury-on-Sea 30 August 2013

Today started very unpropitiously.  I had trouble getting to sleep as my feet were hurting and I was suffering with some aches and pains in the knees and joints.  In particular, my right big toe feels rather peculiar.  Fortunately, a dose of Vitamin I sorted them out, however, as I was lying in bed waiting for it to work, I heard the wind change and the rain begin.  I thought of all of those ships wrecked on these very shores, near Start Point where I had walked and was thankful to be safe in my bed.  I am tempted to change my charity of choice (since I am not doing very well with it anyway) from Guide Dogs to the RNLI.IMG_4727

In the morning, the clouds were low, and whilst it was not actually raining, the air was wet.  I enjoyed breakfast – the landlord and landlady seemed very friendly after my initial reservations, and there were two other women at breakfast who were interesting to talk to.  A discussion of my planned route revealed that the first bit of path would be narrow, precipitous and very greasy under foot after the rain.  Bearing in mind my thoughts yesterday rounding Start Point and adding in that I have no head for heights, it all added up to taking a more inland route to East Portlemouth, which I duly did.  As I arrived there, and waited for the ferry, the cloud lifted and I could finally see the view.  The ferry is a little rowing boat with an outboard motor.  It chugged up after a few minutes wait and deposited a boat load of us on the Salcombe shore.  IMG_4748The path twists and twines up to the headland, and I was thrilled to see superb views across to Starehole Bay and Bolt Head.  IMG_4753The path is narrow enough, but the sun had come out and dried it up – also, the rock seems to have changed here, and rather than the slippery sandstone, is a much more grippy slate or granite.  The next few miles were my second 6 star section (see new grading page in due course).   IMG_4761The views were superb, and the walking is my favourite kind – on top of the cliffs with wide views and the breeze on my face.  The clouds had more or less cleared and the waters were a deep blue, greenish near the shore with white frills around the many shoals of rock.  The path continues like this for some time, then drops down into the truly delightful Soar Mill cove, a golden sandy inlet with a dangerous rock formation at the mouth – it must have been a haven for smugglers as it is almost invisible until you are at the top of it, and there is a path running inland between folds of hills.  I could practically see the men of old running a cargo of lace and French brandy.IMG_4779

The path then climbs up (very steeply, of course) to Bolberry Down and out to Bolt Tail.  From there, it is possible to see right down past Plymouth Sound and the first headlands of Cornwall.  I sat and admired the view for some time, thinking how glad I am to be doing this walk.  I arrived in Hope Cove around 3pm and decided that this might be my last opportunity for a cream tea.  I found a little restaurant and had the best cream tea of the trip so far (see review).

I pottered on and then was forced into another inland diversion owing to cliff falls.  Unfortunately, this (not stopping for tea!) resulted in me missing the ferry at Bantham.  The not-very-informative South West Coast Path website gives the impression that the ferry across to Bigbury-on-Sea runs pretty constantly in Summer.  However it doesn’t.  Apparently it is only between 10 and 11 and 3 and 4, and even then, only if the guy feels like it.  He wasn’t feeling like it today.  My choices were an 8 mile detour or a taxi from the pub.  Of course, I took the detour!  Now, who believes that?

Day 31 Dartmouth to East Prawle 29 August 2013

I am sitting in a pub that fancies itself rotten.  I hope the food will justify its faux bohemian air and general pretensions to olde worldliness.  The day has been a bit longer than anticipated.  I caught the bus back into Dartmouth, again admiring the view of the coast from the upper deck and reached Dartmouth at around 9.   The whole town was en fete for the three day regatta starting today, beginning with rowing.  I had a little wander around a couple of side streets, in particular admiring the museum building which appears to be 16th century.IMG_4657

I walked along the embankment, passing the passenger ferry drop off where I finished yesterday’s walk and continued on towards Dartmouth Castle. IMG_4662 There was a beautiful little church just under the castle, dedicated to St Petrox – interesting to see how far east the Cornish St Petroc has come.  IMG_4675The path then leaves the road and continues the relentless up and down behaviour of yesterday.  This carries on for the best part of 3 miles, with a mixture of woodland and bracken clothed hillsides.  The path then turns inland to the village of Stoke Fleming, then meanders back and forth on either side of the road for another mile back to Strete where I stayed last night.  The path is pretty clearly marked – naturally the only navigational mistake I made led me right through the middle of a herd of cows as far as a barbed wire covered gate.

After Strete, the path drops down to a long spit towards Torcross.  It wasn’t very appealing, mainly below the level of the road so no view.  Torcross is full of cafes etc and I stopped at one of the prettiest before beginning a steep ascent up a flight of stone steps, over a headland and back down to the next bay at Hallsands.  Then up again and along the side of the cliff.  As I marched along, I was beginning to be a bit concerned about my ability to finish the week.  My joints are all fine, even my knees, generally my weak point, are not giving me any trouble, but my feet are suffering. No strains, sprains, bruises or blisters, they just feel very heavy and tired, particularly if I have to walk on tarmac.

The path turns decidedly east out to the lighthouse at Start Point. I sat down to admire the amazing view – I could see right back to the mouth of the Dart and the headland beyond where I walked yesterday.  IMG_4710I felt very lucky to have seen so much beauty and determined to ignore my feet. Just near Start Point is the first mile post I have seen that covers the whole South West Coast Path.  Apparently, I have covered 168 miles from Poole, and have another 462 to go to Minehead.

The coast path goes inland of the light house itself, but as one climbs over the saddle of the point, the wind hits full in the face.  It was a beautiful afternoon, and the wind was not that strong but the reason fof the lighthouse was instantly recognisable.

There are shoals of jagged rocks and the prevailing south-westerly wind would drive a ship straight onto them.  The path becomes a bit tricky here, not that pleasing to someone nervous of heights as it clings to the cliff.  I wouldn’t fancy doing it if it were wet or the wind were off shore.  However, the upside was seeing seals lying on the rocks, sunning themselves. IMG_4713 I carried on round the point and more safely inland.  The path then drops down into Lannacombe Bay, and I was just congratulating myself on there being only a mile and a half to go (although with one very steep climb) when I saw the dreaded “path diverted” sign.  What a nightmare – an extra 2. 5 miles including a good mile of narrow lane.  I stomped off muttering and swearing.  About quarter of a mile up the lane a very kind lady stopped and offered me a lift.  I leapt in the car before she could clock my cow-patted boots and change her mind.  Her kindness saved me a lot of time and pain.  There was still another 2 miles to do up a very steep hill and long a bridle way into East Prawle.  Over the flatter inland view, I could see over the bumper harvest north to Dartmoor.  IMG_4718IMG_4723My b & b is a bit weird.  It is the last house in the village and rather tumbledown in appearance.  The landlord, who sounded like an elderly British gentleman on the phone turned out to be a very dishevelled, middle aged stubbled Kiwi.  The place reeks of dogs, but the bedroom and bathroom are clean.

I have just finished my meal – no, the pub does not deserve to be so pleased with itself.

Day 30 Torquay to Dartmouth 28 August 2013

Purists will need to cover their ears at this point!  This morning, I looked at the map and realised there were several miles of road bashing.  Walkers will know that road walking is far harder than even quite hilly walking off-road as every step jars your joints.  IMG_4586I was feeling pretty chipper, and the day promised to be hot and sunny, however I didn’t want to wear myself out first thing, so I hopped on a bus from Torquay down to Goodrington Sands where I re-joined the coast path as it turns to run beside the railway.  Rather excitingly, I saw a steam train puffing through, packed go the gunwales with tourists.  IMG_4588

The first couple of hours round to Brixham were very pleasant and easy.  A few ups and downs, but no more than necessary to stretch my legs. I chatted to a nice lady who has moved down from Iver in Buckinghamshire and who is the first person I have ever met outside of an Agatha Christie novel to describe a town as “a dead-and-alive kind of place.”

Brixham was absolutely heaving – you could barely stand on the pavements.  I saw a group of men in orange t-shirts and bethought me of the orange cagoul in my back pack – was there something special about orange tops in Brixham?  Apparently, yes: they were congregating at a statue of William of Orange, who landed near Brixham in 1688. I was glad I was not actually in orange, as, despite being generally supportive of William’s statement “the liberties of England and the Protestant religion I will maintain”, he was not very nice to his wife and was perfectly dreadful to the Irish and I wouldn’t want to be seen to be taking part in an Orange march.    The town looked very pretty, but I think I’ll come back out of season to look properly. I decided to have an early snack before setting off on the more arduous afternoon stretch, and I was glad I did – see review. As the path leads out of Brixham there are several pretty gardens, rather like Chelsea show gardens in size, presumably sponsored by local businesses.  IMG_4609

I have seen nothing today to change yesterday’s view that there is not a single flat space in Devon.  The path went up and down over and over again – out to Berry Head, then past several beautiful coves, the path dropping down to the beach then climbing up, up, up to the cliff, then down, down, down to the next.  Around 2.15 I decided to stop and paddle at Man Sands, sadly more “sands” than “man”, but it was delightfully refreshing, not to say, bracing for the feet.  I toiled on, back up to the cliff, wishing that instead of being called the South West coast path, the route were named the “path that stays on the top of the cliff with wonderful views and no ascents or descents of more than 50 feet”.  IMG_4623Around Froward Point, the path gets very narrow with steep drops down to the sea. I was glad the rain that came close around 3pm passed over, as I would have been rather nervous if it had been wet.

I came across a herd of Dartmoor ponies that were hogging the path, and had to wriggle round them, they seemed entirely unconcerned by my predicament.

Eventually, the path makes its final steep descent into Kingswear where I crossed on the passenger ferry – first recorded in 1365, although I am glad that the craft appear to have been replaced.  Dartmouth is an absolutely delightful town.  The fun fair was being set up for tomorrow’s regatta, but it seemed to have a reality about it that is missing from some of the other seaside towns.  I caught the bus up to Strete, advised by my landlady to sit on the top deck, which gave a great view of the many more ups and downs I will need to cover tomorrow.

Day 29 Exmouth to Torquay 26 August

Today was much shorter than yesterday at only just over 15 miles. It was still pretty taxing.  I was worried that I would be exhausted from yesterday and that my various knees and hips would be aching this morning, but I must be getting much fitter as after a solid 9 and a half hours of sleep I woke feeling fine.  The ghastly hotel was somewhat redeemed by copious amounts of hot water in the (mouldy) shower, once I had figured out how to turn it on, but nothing really compensates for a crimson nylon ruched counterpane.

My plan was to cross from Exmouth on the Starcross ferry from close by my hotel, however, after consulting the timetable (I know I should have done it before, but I didn’t), it transpired that the first crossing wouldn’t be until 10.40 and would then take half an hour.  To walk up the Exe Estuary to the nearest crossing at Countess Weir and back would take several hours so I opted for the train around to Dawlish Warren.

The walk from Dawlish Warren into Dawlish itself is easy enough- along the sea wall, parallel to the railway.  The railway bed was originally carved out in 1839 for a new turnpike, but was eventually used for the railway in 1843, running all the way along the bottom of the cliffs to Teignmouth.  I imagine the fishermen of Dawlish were very unhappy as the line cuts off the beach.  I stopped in Dawlish for a delightful cream tea, even though it was only 11am.  I burnt so much energy yesterday (and breakfast was not that big) that I was starving.IMG_4545

I had arranged to meet Bridget at the Teignmouth to Shaldon ferry at 1 pm, and was in very good time. IMG_4559 We crossed on the dinky little black and white ferry, then took a short detour through Shaldon, which is very twee.  Beautiful gardens overlooking the sea and a village green surrounded by superb Georgian houses, selling to rich Londoners at a million pounds a pop.

We stopped for a drink before setting off, but began our ascent around 2pm.  The path climbed steeply, then dropped over and over again, till we lost count of the number of ups and downs.  It ran mainly through woodland, with occasional glimpses of the sea.  IMG_4571After an exhausting 3 miles we heard an enormous clap of thunder and congratulated ourselves on the fact that the rain had passed us by – the path was wet but not too slippery.  Unfortunately, we spoke too soon as the heavens absolutely opened with a torrential downpour that made the track extremely greasy and awkward underfoot.

I was blessing Tom for lending me his cagoul – I should have been soaked to the skin without it.  The path continued its crazy rollercoaster effect all the way to Babbacombe, where Bridget left me.  I continued round to Anstey cove, but yesterday’s long day caught up with me so I took a bit of a short cut to my hotel.  I do not think there is a single flat foot of ground between Shaldon and Torquay harbour.

My hotel is rather superior to yesterday – a very traditional seaside boarding house.  I am now in the Hole in the Wall pub -selected because no young children are allowed.  I have had my fill of over tired, over sugared children in the last few days.  A hilarious incident occurred on the table next to me.  A French couple who don’t speak much English ordered “chicken pasta” and “a duck”.  In due course, they arrived.

“No, this is not right.  I ordered a duck.”

“This is duck.”

” No, no, not a duck, fish. A duck.”

“Oh, you mean haddock.”

” Yes, a duck!”

Day 28 Seaton to Exmouth

Today has been a marathon – well, not quite, but nearly!  23.5 miles.  It is too far, really, I am very tired now, and unfortunately, after the delightful B & B I stayed in I last night, my hotel for tonight is utterly repellent.  However, those quibbles aside, it has been a fantastic day.  I left just before 9am, and walked along the prom at Seaton, climbing up to Beer head.  It was a good pull up, but not so steep as yesterday’s first climb. IMG_4481 Once on top of  Beer Head, there is a long grassy plateau with excellent views back down to Seaton.  The path then curves around and drops steeply into West Mouth bay. It climbs up again, then drops sharply, then up again, and back down to the beach.  There were four of these steep ups and downs before I reached Sidmouth, which was about half way.

All the people who were at Lyme Regis yesterday have moved west overnight to meet me in Sidmouth.  I rested for about half an hour then climbed steadily up yet another headland which then dropped down ( there is a pattern here….), then another up and down, more gentle this time, into Budleigh Salterton.  In Budleigh Salterton there is a long and rather tedious walk inland to the bridge crossing the River Otter, even though you can see the path not 100 yards away.  I am now in an area of completely red sandstone, which, if I remember correctly from what I learnt yesterday, is from the Cretaceous period. Another climb up, more gradual this time, then a long, long descent into Exmouth, via a caravan park where a few rabbits were disporting themselves in the evening sun.  IMG_4519The sign posting is rather confusing at this point, as I had reckoned 6 – 7 miles from Budleigh Salterton, but the sign said 4 miles, then 2 .5 miles, then back to 3 miles, then 1.75, then back to 3 miles again.  All a bit confusing.  In fact, it was close to 7.  Exmouth seems to have the longest promenade I have ever seen, making it a very dreary trudge for the last three miles. IMG_4538

It was an extremely warm day, which was delightful, and the boots are doing very well, although they are a trifle hot, being leather with goretex lining.  Lots of butterflies today, yesterday was too windy.  Saw painted ladies, large whites, small whites, green-veined whites, grizzled skippers, small tortoiseshells and even adonis blues.  May have seen another kestrel, but not certain.