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.
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. 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