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.