Day 93 Watchet to Shurton 27 Oct 2017

Day 93 Watchet to Shurton 27 Oct 2017

I’ve decided on a new ranking scheme for each day – depending on a a range of variables, weather, my mood, views, difficulty, wildlife etc. Day rankings

Today was a bronze day – one up from the standard day. It could have been a silver, but for the incident…

I caught up on sleep last night and was ready to leave by 7.30am as it was just getting light. My B & B was B1 only, so I walked down to the esplanade for breakfast, intending to be the first customer at 8am. Sadly, there was nothing to be had until 8.30. I didn’t want to wait and had had a large dinner as well as lunch yesterday, so I contented myself with a takeaway coffee and an oat crunch biscuit as a substitute for porridge.IMG_2503

The path makes a short climb behind the steam railway, then drops down onto a beach. I was completely mesmerised by the rock formations. It was almost like seeing the creation of the world as the beach had different layers of rock ranging from red sand to shale, then cobbles, then slabs of rock with deep grooves at an angle like frozen waves, which must eventually break up into the large cobbles.

I was walking very slowly as the surfaces were so uneven and slippery, when I felt a warm wet sensation in my right hand. I leapt in the air, the fear of God in me, and gave a shriek. I turned around to be faced by a large dog which had crept up on me – not a clatter of class so be heard. Its owner gave a perfunctory apology and mentioned that it is as well to be aware of one’s surroundings at all times. Thanks – top tip. I refrained from sharing one about the proper training of dogs.

The England coast path is not well signpostedIMG_2521. Although there are signs pointing down to the beaches, it is not easy to know when to leave them. I saw one slip coming down and a lady walking a dog told me take it, and walk through the little hamlet behind the caravan park. With no other clues, I took her word for it. The path climbed a cliff then dropped down onto another beach with even more fascinating rock formations than the first.

It was obvious that the tide, if it came in, would be right up to the cliff, but there were no alternative route signs or warnings before you went onto the beach. Fortunately, although the tide was turning, he sea was a good way out. Enquiries of a lone angler led me back off the beach along another track which undulated gently. I could see a large herd of cows in the distance, but there was no point in borrowing trouble. The path might not go anywhere near them, and in any case, at this time of year, they should be docile.

To my right I could see a beautiful Tudor mansion nestled into the trees. Down to the shore again, then up a little path with a gate at the end and the way marker. I was just opening the stile when I heard the pounding of hooves. Yes, the cow telegraph was in operation and the whole herd was thundering towards me. I clanged the gate shut again as they pressed against it. They weren’t big, but they were young bullocks, and there were an awful lot of them. There was no way I was walking through them.  I looked at the map. There was a considerable detour, but I saw no alternative. I walked down a lane, then along a track and turned back up. Doing three sides of a square, it was not clear whether the path led back into the same field, but it was a big field with a hill in the middle. Hopefully, I would not encounter the beasts again.IMG_2559

Of course, the path did go back into the same field, and I could see the blighters, walking back around the base of the hill. Fortunately, there were two other people coming from the direction I wanted to go in. If I were quick, I could enter the field at the same time as them, and we could give each other mutual support. They got into the field before me, and walked along the far side, where I would have walked if I had not detoured. The beasts thundered towards them. The walkers had sticks and were waving them furiously. In cowardly fashion, I thought I would just nip unobtrusively through the field corner whilst the bullocks were occupied elsewhere, but one looked round and saw me. Half of them kept the other walkers pinned up whilst half began to trot in my direction. I went as fast as I could without running, and nipped through the gate, feeling hot breath on my back.

I was depressed to find that the gate, only of wood, had no proper fastening, but it was enough to e stymied the bullocks. I shot sideways behind the hedge to take myself out of their sight. They set up a halloing and a harrumphing. I felt a bit guilty about the other people, who I could hear desperately shooing them but, peeking through the hedge, I could see the mob that had followed me still hanging hopefully around the gate. I scurried sideways to cross the field out of their line of sight in case they cracked the gate opening.

I could see Hinckley point coming ever closer. The map shows the path going around the edge of it, which was my plan, with a detour of a couple of miles inland to my accommodation. IMG_2563However, the path was closed and brought me the west side of the power station, down a track into Shurton. I arrived at 1.30, having done an easy 10 miles, rather than the 12 I planned, but there is no point doing more this afternoon, as I’d have to backtrack and then repeat it tomorrow. I am planning to  meet Vicki and her spaniel tomorrow for a walk down the Parrett river.

 

Advertisements
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.

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.

IMG_2337

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.

IMG_2283

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.

IMG_2293

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