Day 92 Minehead to Watchet

Day 92 Minehead to Watchet

Today has been a gentle reintroduction to carrying my own bag. Since I am by myself the cost of luggage transfer is too high, at least for this stretch where the route is blessedly flat after the relentless ups and downs of Devon and Cornwall. I also appreciated having an easy day as I was a little liverish this morning. Last night, I did a talk and signing of my book, ‘The King’s Pearl’ http://amzn.to/2uIjPDd  which was finally published in September. Several friends came to give me moral support, and we had supper after, resulting in a late night, and a rather heavy head.

But as there is no peace for the wicked, I was up just after 6am to catch the 9.06 from Paddington to Taunton. Amazingly, Paddington was running smoothly, and the train was only 2 minutes late at Taunton. Since I was at the front of the train I had to run along the platform to catch the bus link to Minehead. There is only a five minute gap between official train arrival and bus departure, which is frankly optimistic. A gentle bus drive through the Somerset countryside decanted me in Minehead at around 12.15. Ravenous, I went into a cute little upstairs restaurant and had an excellent lunch.

IMG_2446Somerset has now completed its stretch of the England Coast Path. The route runs along the prom, then around the edge of the West Somerset golf links, before dropping down onto the beach at Dunster. Inland, the enormous mediaeval pile of Dunster caste dominates the countryside, while to the seaward side, the coast of Wales was visible. It was a dull and cloudy day, so the opposite shore was not very clear, although the Porth Talbot steelworks are easily identified.

The West Somerset steam railway runs along the coast, and from time to time I could see great clouds of steam billowing up behind the houses.IMG_2466

I misread the map just after Dunster, thinking I could go further along the shore than I could, rather than following the path up onto the road to skirt behind the Blue Anchor pub that gives its name to a little hamlet. I debated pressing on along the beach, but although the tide seemed miles out, the map showed a very high tide mark so, unfamiliar with the speed of the tide in the Severn Estuary, I backtracked and took the path along the top of the cliffs. It eventually dropped down to the shore again, and I was glad I had not stayed down, the whole area was a mass of ankle breaking cobbles. My very least favourite waking surface. I inched over them, until I reached the harbour at Watchet. I had a false dawn when I saw steps leading onto what seemed to be the prom, but they dropped down again into another morass of cobbles and slimy rock pools.

Watchet has an interesting history. Originally a Celtic settlement, then taken over by the Saxons. A Welsh saint, Decamon, tried to convert the pagan Saxons, but they martyred him by cutting his head off. This is all rather beautifully represented in a pebble mosaic. There is also a fine statue inspired by Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which he apparently wrote whilst in staying in nearby Nether Stowey.IMG_2494

My favourite memorial was to Yankee Jack, a local mariner who lived to the astonishing age of 94 sailing the world under sail and even running the Yankee blockade in the American Civil War. His last voyages were under steam before he retired to become the town crier. His greatest claim to fame was his voice and knowledge of the old sea shanties. Recorded directly from him for posterity by Cyril Sharp. My hotel is by the steam railway station. I hope they don’t start too early, as the hooter is very loud.

I am now in the nearby pub, having supper, and listening to two astonishing conversations. To my left middle-aged men are talking about brothels, and to my right a man is brilliantly worming his way into his father-in-law’s will to cut out the man’s son. A smooth combination of flattery, self- deprecation, ‘umble pie and delicate insinuations about the unsatisfactoriness of the son.  7.9 miles.

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Day 91 – Porlock to Minehead 11th July 2017

Day 91 – Porlock to Minehead 11th July 2017

It was just as well we did the little bit extra yesterday rather than finishing at Porlock Weir in line with standard route, as we had to be in Minehead to meet our luggage and catch the bus to Taunton. All the other days we have dawdled, but we managed a respectable speed of 2.2 miles per hour today.

There was a gentle start from picture perfect Porlock across the flood plain, via Bossington, which also looks like it fell off a chocolate box – all thatched cottages and roses rambling. IMG_2410

We then turned into woodland at the foot of the hill, followed by a long, steady pull upwards for at least a mile. Once on the top, we had a choice between the ‘rugged’ path, which went up and down the combes, closer to the water’s edge, or the cliff-top path, with the view. We elected the top path – partly because it would be quicker, and partly because we had plenty of woodland yesterday, and wanted the views.

In fact, there was not a lot to see, as rain set in around 9.45. It was not heavy, but it was persistent and the sea and sky blended into grey. Wales, which we have been able to see for several days, disappeared from view. There were a few Exmoor ponies chomping quietly and quite a few cows. Only heifers though, so no bother with them.IMG_2429

The final 2 miles wound down through woodland again and we arrived promptly at 12.15. We had a quick bite in The Old Ship Aground, which had very kindly agreed to take our luggage in, then a whistle stop photo opportunity at the end of the South West Coast Path before a 10 min wait in pouring rain for the bus. Now on the fast train to Paddington.

Today is my birthday, and I am able to celebrate it with a truly great present – finally completing the South West Coast Walk – 630 miles from Poole. But still only a fraction of my whole scheme!  We covered 7.4 miles.

Day 90 – Lynmouth to Porlock 10 July 2017

Day 90 – Lynmouth to Porlock 10 July 2017

We had an absolutely superb meal last night, and managed to be in bed by 10.30. It rained heavily during the night, but by breakfast time it was beginning to clear. We walked along the sea front at Lynmouth then climbed up through woodland to the cliff top.

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We passed a small church at Countisbury and, since both of us like old churches, decided to go in. Saxon in origin, the church is very plain, and now at quite a distance from any village.

The hymn numbers from yesterday were still on the board. We checked the first, and, astonishingly, it was the hymn I think of as my own – ‘Eternal Father, Strong to save’ sung to the tune named Melita. Of all the possible hymns that it might have been, it was that. I am sure it was a sign – although for the life of me, I am not sure exactly what of.IMG_2356

Rachel, who is a talented singer in one of the big London amateur choirs, began to sing, much to the delight of some German walkers who wandered in. Rather less dignified for Rachel was the failure of her trouser zip. I have been forbidden from adding any photographs illustrating the mishap.

Shortly after, we took a short cut – the kind of short cut that ends in long delays. The Germans were following us, and we compared notes, agreeing that the map suggested a path outside a field edge would bring us back to the main route. We ended up in a thicket of bracken, so dense that we had to give up and retrace our steps to the point where we had left the main path. It must have added at least a mile to the whole day.

The route then dropped down onto a valley, before joining a road a road, then into a long stretch of woodland, the flies were dreadful, crawling all over us, in our faces and hair, and driving us completely potty. We had to tolerate this through several miles of woodland, not compensated for by its general prettiness, lined with foxgloves. We were amused to see a mower of some sort that looked as though it had just been abandoned in the middle of the bracken – the driver was probably driven mad by the flies.IMG_2381

There is a choice of routes here, and we elected to take the upper one along the cliff top. Longer, but easier and slightly more direct, with the aim of avoiding the flies. After several uneventful miles we dropped down again into woodland, and then we entered Alice in Wonderland territory – there were numerous signs for Porlock, but they pointed in different directions – we would follow one, then come to another pointing back in the direction we had come. No matter how far we walked, the signs continued to say 1.5 miles.

At last, we caught sight of the edge of the village through the trees and, ignoring signs, headed for it. Porlock is a lovely little town, and our B & B is gorgeous. I have a vile horse fly bite from our encounter with the cows yesterday. They disagree with me, and it has swollen up into an angry red lump. 14.5 miles

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.