I’ve got a hole in my walk

I had hoped to walk to Cornwall, but things didn’t go quite to plan.

I had hoped to walk to Cornwall

The final, last, right in the bottom corner, county in England. Ok, I wasn’t going to walk all the way from here, but I was going to walk from North Devon along the coastal path and was quite excited at the thought of walking across that county border. 

But things don’t always go to plan

I did walk in North Devon and I did walk in Cornwall, but I didn’t actually walk across the border. Over the last couple of years I’ve walked from Minehead in Somerset to Westward Ho! (yes, the exclamation mark is part of the spelling) in Devon along the South West Coast Path and this year I planned to walk from where I’d left off in Westward Ho! to Crackington Haven in Cornwall. When I crossed the border from Somerset to Devon, it was nice to know I’d got to my second county, but not really a big deal. Maybe because I’d not walked end to end of the Somerset coast and because Devon isn’t in the end, sticky out, bottom bit of the country. Walking to Cornwall, however, did seem like a big deal and yet that actual border crossing is the only bit of the walk I didn’t get to do. So I now have a gap in my walk which I’ll have to fill next year before I carry on from Crackington Haven.

So why the gap? 

Well, the sub-title for this post could be ‘My Van Doesn’t Like Bank Holidays‘. I’d planned to drive down to Devon on the Friday night so I could go to Lundy Island on the Saturday morning, but was way too tired and so just went to bed instead. I drove down on Saturday afternoon, arriving in Crackington Haven just before the sun went down. Because of the dearth of buses on a Sunday in this part of the world, the only bit of my walk I was able to do on a Sunday was the last bit. I wanted to check out the parking situation and find the bus stop before the following morning so wound my way down narrow, bendy lanes. It looked really pretty in the nice evening light and I took the first couple of photos of my trip. However, just before I’d arrived I’d taken a wrong turn and had to do a three point turn. As I turned into the reverse part of the three point there was a horrible metallic scraping noise. If I’d been near railings I’d have assumed I’d scraped the side of my van down them. But there was nothing like that nearby and nothing underneath the van either. Once I straightened up and drove off I realised I had a problem with my steering. It was very, very stiff. I took bends and turns really slowly, putting all my weight into making the steering wheel move and worrying that it might seize up completely on me and I wouldn’t get round the bend and would crash into the side instead. I’ve never hoped to be round the bend so much before!

I parked up for the night 

In a layby on the main road above Crackington Haven that was set back from road, and the next morning slowly drove back down to park for the day. I caught the bus to Bude and walked back. I then had to drive to the campsite in Stoke near Hartland where I was planning to base myself for the rest of the week. I had no idea what was wrong. I’d checked everything I could think of checking, which with my limited mechanical knowledge, is not a lot, but couldn’t spot anything obviously wrong. I spoke to the farmer at the campsite about my problem and he recommended a local garage. Of course being bank holiday weekend there was nothing I could do till Tuesday.

On Monday

The weather forecast proved accurate and it was horrendous with rain and wind. I’d already decided not to walk on Monday as I didn’t think it would be particularly safe on the coast and anyway, it was a bank holiday and so there were no buses. Instead I’d planned to get out and about in the van and be a tourist. As I didn’t want to risk driving anywhere I spent the day in the van catching up on reading.

Tuesday morning 

Dawned bright and beautiful and so I drove the couple of miles to Hartland and found the garage. I had to leave the van with them for a few hours and so wandered off to Hartland Abbey for a poke around. The gardens were lovely, as was the house – it had started out as an abbey but over the years had been turned into a stately home. The people were also lovely and various members of the staff reassured me that the garage I’d taken my van to was the best around and told me if I was going to break down I was lucky it had happened here. The ladies in the café let me use their phone to ring the garage when I couldn’t get any mobile reception and the lady who collects tickets gave me a lift back to the garage at the end of the day.

I needed a new steering pump which had to be ordered 

As well as being expensive this meant I also couldn’t use my van on Wednesday as it had to go back to the garage to have the pump fitted. So on Wednesday I wandered off to Docton Mill. This mill has been turned into a lovely private home with extensive and gorgeous gardens. The gardens are open to the public and there’s a bit of an exhibition on the mill, a turning water-wheel, and a café which won an award for having the best cream teas in 2007. It didn’t say why they hadn’t won it again since so, in the interests of research, I tried one. It was delicious. If there is a better place that’s been scooping the award for the last six years, I’d love to know about it.

On Thursday 

I could finally get out walking again. I walked into Hartland and caught the bus to Clovelly. This touristy, but delightful little village hewn into the rock face, I explored last year. So this year I started my walk straight away and walked back to Hartland Quay and then up the lane to the campsite. It was exhausting but wonderful.

Friday morning

I parked in Clovelly and caught a couple of buses to get me to Westward Ho! to do what should have really been the first part of my walk. For some reason I wasn’t expecting the walk back to Clovelly to be that challenging but was I wrong. I had planned to do the only missing bit of my walk on Saturday before driving home, but as this would be the most challenging and longest walk of the trip (over 15 miles of hills, plus almost 3 miles to get from Hartland village to Hartland Quay to even start the walk), I decided this would be too much for me to do after two already full-on days of walking (my knees had swelled that much from all the descents that they seemed to have developed 3 kneecaps each) and the need to do a long drive home straight afterwards.


So I went to Lundy Island instead 

I picked my van up at Clovelly and drove to Ilfracombe where I found a lovely parking bay in Hele overlooking the rocky coastline to spend the night. I hadn’t booked but it was no problem to get on the ferry and I had lovely sunny boat ride and a walk round the island. I’m pleased I finally got to Lundy, but it is disappointing to have this glaring gap in my walk. 

Ah well, there’s always next year, and I did get to see a couple of places I might not have seen otherwise. 

Ilfracombe to Woolacombe

A beautiful day and a beautiful walk to finish my week on the South West Coast Path.

Saturday 9th June, 2012

My last day.

I had planned to leave in the morning and stop off somewhere along the way home. But as it dawned a gorgeously sunny and warm day, and as I still had what should have been the first part of my walk to do, I couldn’t resist sticking around and completing the missing link in my South West Coast Path wander.


It didn’t take long to pack up and I was soon on the road to Woolacombe. I wanted to park in Woolacombe and catch the 8.30 bus to Ilfracombe and walk back from there. However, the big car park was closed – it didn’t open till 9 o’clock. I drove west along the front to the next car park which was open, but I knew I wouldn’t want to walk the extra distance on the way back. The roadside parking was all limited time only and so was of no use. Instead I drove to Mortehoe, a small village about mile to the east of Woolacombe and parked in the small car park there. It was about half the price of the car parks in Woolacombe and meant I got to see the village which I would have otherwise bypassed. It’s a quaint place with a few little shops, a pub or two, a church and a museum. I hoped to get back in time to have a look around the museum but in the end was too late.

Morte Point

I bought a croissant for breakfast and walked down a lane at the side of the church to reach the coast path. Morte Point was to my right and Woolacombe to my left. I set off towards Woolacombe musing on the back-to-front-ness of my walk: I was walking the first day’s walk on my last day and the last bit of the day’s walk first. It might not be ideal but at least I didn’t have any annoying niggly bits missed out.


There was a bit of a steep downhill into Woolacombe and I was glad I was getting this over with and not having to do it when my knees were tired and sore at the end of the day’s walk. I was in good time for the 9.30 bus which took about half an hour to get to Ilfracombe.

Once in Ilfracombe I bought a sandwich for my lunch and wandered down to the seafront to look for the coast path. I could see where I’d finished walking when I arrived in Ilfracombe last year, but couldn’t see where the path continued. After a bit of wandering I got the map out and figured it out properly.

Leaving Ilfracombe
Tunnel Beach

The path left Ilfracombe by winding up through a residential area with regular panoramic views back to Ilfracombe. At one point, peering over the wall, I could see down to one of the tunnel beaches. These beaches are only accessible via a series of tunnels for which there is a charge. The beach I could see looked very nice with a decking area and loungers. It would probably be quite nice to spend a lazy few hours here on a hot day, so maybe I’ll check them out properly sometime.

Seven Hills
Walking towards Lee

The path then wound up towards the Seven Hills and zig-zagged quickly to about 140m. I stopped frequently to stare at the view and take photos. Leaving the Seven Hills behind the path followed the coast to join a lane leading into the hamlet of Lee. I got tantalising glimpses of the little shingle bay as I threaded my way down the lane and into Lee itself. I found a bench and sat here for a while chatting to a couple from Dorset. They usually walk the South West Coast in their own area and this was their first time on this part of it. They were very impressed.

A glimpse of Lee Bay
Bull Point Lighthouse

Leaving my bench I climbed steeply up the road out of Lee and onto a path following the rocky coastline. When I reached the gleaming white Bull Point lighthouse I knew I was on the last stretch of walk for his holiday. First I had Morte Point to go though. This juts out on the north side of Morte Bay and shelters Woolacombe Sands. It’s along here I’d been told I had a good chance of seeing seals so I walked slowly and spent a lot of time peering at rocks in the sea in case they moved and became seals.


Part way round I spotted my first seal. I watched it for a while bobbing about, disappearing and reappearing some way away. Then a second one appeared. They were lovely to watch, but moved far too fast for me to take a good photo. They seemed to sense when I was about to press the shutter and would duck under the water so I’d either get a picture of empty sea or a picture of a blurred blob.

An elderly man stopped to chat to me and pointed out an oystercatcher nest on the rocks. Both the male and female were around and taking it in turns to sit on the nest.

Morte Point looking towards Woolacombe Sands

Eventually I had to draw myself away and walk the last stretch along the coast before turning inland and heading back to the village of Mortehoe and my van. Turning back I had one last lingering look and one last photo before leaving the coast for this year.

Last look

Back in Mortehoe I treated myself to an ice-cream before starting the long drive back to Manchester.


A village so perfect they have cats strategically placed for stroking. They even seem to control the weather.

Friday 8th June, 2012

The weather was horrendous today. I heard on the radio that because of the gales and torrential rain, campers all over Devon had packed up and gone home. I had my campsite to myself. My tent has survived far worse storms than this in Shetland and Iceland and I was nice and snug inside it. So snug, I didn’t emerge until the afternoon. I had a lazy, relaxing morning reading, writing and playing with my new Kindle.

By mid-afternoon the weather was clearing up a bit and I thought I really should do something. As it was too late to start a walk (and still not the weather for a coastal, cliff-edge walk) I thought I’d drive out and recce some of the places I want to walk next year on my next bit of the coastal path. The man I’d met in the bus shelter in Westward Ho! had said he was staying in Clovelly and that it was nice, so I thought I’d head there, see what it was like, and then decide what to do next.

Turning off the main road towards Clovelly I drove past some chocolate box style thatched cottages and down a narrow lane to a large car park. There were signs up informing me that I couldn’t drive into the village and had to go into this car park. A large visitor centre was situated at the back of the car park. I parked up, looked around to see if I had to pay, but it seemed to be a free car park. I made use of the toilets and then wandered into the visitor centre. I had no idea what to expect and was quite surprised when I got inside. There seemed to be a cafe and shop, but to get to them I had to pass by a cashier and stump up £6.50. From what I could make out this £6.50 then entitled me to walk round the village.

I wasn’t very impressed with this and wondered if it was like Land’s End where if you turn up with a car you pay, but if you’re walking it’s free. It is on the coastal path after all. As is Clovelly. I was thinking of walking back to the lane and seeing where it took me, when an irate Irish family came towards me through the cashier point. The man said his family had just got their money back as they felt ripped off paying to walk round what turned out to be a village that you could walk round like any other if you didn’t enter via the visitor centre. He advised me to just walk along the road. So I did.

The lane emerged at the top of the village and it was only then that I realised how high up I was. The village clings to the cliff side and narrow lanes wind their way down to the bottom. The buildings are very quaint and at some points are joined over the path to make short tunnels. There are numerous holiday cottages, cafes and little shops. One cottage was open to show what it would have been like many years ago when Clovelly was a fishing village rather than a tourist attraction. There are also a couple of tiny one-room chapels that it’s possible to go inside.

Clovelly was a childhood home of Charles Kinglsey and he is credited with bringing it to the attention of the outside world. He got the inspiration to write ‘The Water Babies’ here and later wrote his novel ‘Westward Ho!’ in which the village is featured. A mock-up of his study can be seen in the small museum.

The whole village seemed so perfect it didn’t seem quite real. Flowers were blooming, scents were heady, numerous very strokable cats were strategically placed, paintwork were fresh, windows were crystal clear. Even the weather was beautiful. How do they do that? Everywhere else in Devon is a complete washout, but in Clovelly it’s lovely, warm and sunny!

At the bottom of the village is a small harbour, a pub and a pebbly beach with a waterfall. I slowly wound my way down to the bottom, stopping to take lots of photos. Then I slowly wound my way back to the top again, taking even more photos. From what I could see the coast path passes through the top of village and so when I walk here I won’t get to see the village unless I made a detour. Because I’ve seen it now, I won’t feel that I’m missing out if I don’t get time. Also, I know that there’s a car park and a bus service that I could use. I didn’t have time to do anything else on my recce, but still felt it had been very worthwhile and I’d enjoyed my few hours in the sun.

The lane to the village
First glimpse of the sea


Nice gardens and cottages


I want a mobile like this
Narrow streets
A cottage as it would have been
Charles Kinglsey in his study
A glimpse of the sea
One of many cats
A long way down, still a long way to go
Sheltered harbour
There’s even a waterfall
A pretty front door
Sleepy cat
Here’s a link to Clovelly’s website.

Barnstaple to Instow

River walking, a disused train station and a lot of rain.

Thursday 7th June, 2012

On Thursday morning I was up and ready very early so I could drive to Bideford and catch the ferry to Lundy for the day. Because of the gales the ferry was cancelled. Even though I’d phoned the night before and on the morning itself, the voicemail message just said to turn up and then they’d let us know if the ferry would be sailing or not. As it wasn’t, I was up early with no plans for the day. I decided to walk from Barnstaple to Instow. I should have done this on the same day as my Braunton to Barnstaple walk but had cut it short due to sore knees.

I drove to Barnstaple and parked up at the Leisure Centre. I’d decided to walk to Instow and catch the bus back. Usually I like to leave my car at the end of a walk so I’m not clock-watching, but the bus timetable showed that buses run every 15 mins throughout the day so catching one back shouldn’t be a problem.

Leaving the car park I walked through a retail park past a big Tesco Extra and turned towards the train station. Following the road past the station I went through a subway to emerge on the path proper. This path is a former railway track and runs alongside the River Taw in pretty much a straight line all the way to Instow.

It was raining quite heavily but there were still a few people out and about. I was passed by several cyclists as well as a few walkers. There was not much to see along the path (maybe due to the misty rain) and it could have got monotonous, but I was quite enjoying the freshness of it.

River Taw

After about 2½ miles I came to Fremington Quay. This quay was used to load boats with clay that had been transported across Devon by train. It was then exported around the world. The former train station is now a cafe. I wasn’t in particular need of rest stop but it looked inviting and I had plenty of time. I went in and plonked myself on a comfy sofa after balancing my dripping jacket on my walking poles.

The cafe was quite busy which surprised me until I realised there was a car park at the back of it. The walls were adorned with old black and white photos picturing the former industry. One photo showed a group of white workmen with what seemed to be a black workman at the end of the row. This would probably have been unheard of then. The caption explained that the man was actually covered in coal dust disguising his appearance. In the old black and white photograph it wasn’t really possible to tell the difference.

Fremington Station

The station building has a low lookout tower adjoined to it. I went up to the top but couldn’t see much because of the weather. There were information boards on the birdlife that could be seen, but I didn’t see much of that either.


After an un-needed, but much enjoyed, cream tea I set off into the rain again. I walked about a mile and a half further before turning off the old railway and into a wilder area known as East Yelland Marsh. This is the area where the rivers Taw and Torridge meet to finish their journey to the sea together. A firm, but narrow path winds through the marsh sticking as close to the river as possible. It passed a jetty that was no longer in use and was being reclaimed by vegetation.

Finally the path led through sand dunes and on to the beach which I then walked along to reach Instow. I found the bus shelter which had been warmed by the bit of sun and had a very comfy bench and waited about 10 minutes for a bus to take me back to Barnstaple.

When I arrived in Barnstaple I walked down to the river but instead of crossing over the main bridge to get back to the car park I walked along the river bank to the bridge further down and crossed here. I still wasn’t sure if this was the bridge I should have crossed when I walked here from Braunton and I didn’t want to miss out on a bit of the walk.

The walk took me past a park and playing fields and was quite scenic. When I walked back along the other side I walked through trees and then alongside a building site. The views to the other side of the river were lovely though.


Miles walked = 7.5 plus the extra bit in Barnstaple at the end.

Braunton to Barnstaple

River walking, swan yoga and Marines doing sit-ups.

Wednesday 6th June, 2012

I had been planning to walk from Braunton to Instow but felt that I had to cut it short as my knees were really sore after the last couple of days’ walking. This is often a problem for me and so I’m used to having to re-jig my plans. I decided to walk only as far as Barnstaple and as this is mainly flat it would give my knees a chance to recover.

I parked at the Leisure Centre in Barnstaple (£1.60 for the day) and crossed the river to the town and the bus station. I got the bus to Braunton getting off at the stop where I’d got on on Monday when I caught the bus to Woolacombe. I went back into the lovely deli and bought a spinach pasty for my lunch. I also sat inside with a coffee and a piece of delicious apple cake before starting my walk.

I backtracked along the river and the Tarka Trail to where I’d finished on the Coast Path on Monday. Today the whole walk was inland and I wouldn’t get to see the coast at all. It was still a lovely walk though, along the former Brauton to Barnstaple Railway. The path is shared with the Tarka Trail Cycleway and so is very easy to walk along.

I’d only just started walking on the official path when I spotted a a hidden pond to the left. I followed a boardwalk down to it and found this lovely oasis with ducks, swans and coots. They had their young with them and I spent some time trying to get a good photo of the cygnets. A family was stood on the boardwalk throwing bread to them and they were all over the place trying to snap it up. Fun to watch, but not easy to photograph. One of the cygnets seemed to have a leg growing out of its back. I worried that it was deformed but maybe it was just resting it. A search on google reveals several pics of cygnets with a leg like this so hopefully it was just relaxing and practising a bit of swan yoga.

Next the path passed the Chivenor Barracks. These stretch for quite a way and are a base for the Royal Marines. I could see houses, buildings and an assault course through the wire fencing. A seat had been conveniently placed so passersby could stop and watch the Marines training. A few were exercising and running but I didn’t get to see them use the assault course.

Moving on from the barracks I came alongside the River Taw which was wide and full of sandbanks, similar to the Torridge yesterday. The weather was much better though and I stopped several times just to sit and enjoy the view.

After 5 miles on this path I reached Barnstaple. I followed the river into town and crossed what I thought was the Long Bridge and the official path bridge. Looking at my map later I realised it might actually have been a bridge a little further up that I should have crossed. I could see the thick dotted green line on the map going as far as this further bridge but was unsure as to whether this was the coast path or the Tarka Trail or both.

I wasn’t too worried at missing part of the path as by this time by knees were sore and I was ready to take my boots off and get in my van.

Instow to Westward Ho!

Rain, rain and more rain (and a pint of lager)

Tuesday 5th June, 2012

This should have been the last of my walks as Westward Ho! is my final destination for this trip. But due to Bank Holiday bus times it made sense to do this walk today as this was the walk with the most convenient buses.

I awoke to a rainy, misty day so made sure I had my waterproofs packed before heading to Westward Ho! It’s only a small place and I soon found the car park opposite the bus stop. The car park was quite expensive though, so I drove a few hundred metres down the road and parked for free on the roadside. It only took five minutes to walk back to the bus stop.

There was a man, a bit older than myself, in the bus shelter pulling on his waterproof trousers. A pint of lager sat on the bench beside him. He said he was based in Clovelly for a few days and walking different parts of the coast path. The stretch from Westward Ho! to Barnstaple was a niggling gap in what he’d already walked and so he wanted to get it done today. As I was getting the bus to Instow and walking back we expected to cross paths part way through the day.

Trousers on, he set off leaving the pint behind. Mustn’t have been his. As I was now the only person in the bus shelter I did wonder if any newcomers would think it was mine. A couple of minutes later a well-dressed woman arrived, tutted at the pint and gingerly picking it up, tipped the contents into the gutter and put the plastic glass in the bin. She didn’t ask if it was mine.


The bus arrived and then wound it’s way round to Instow. Instow is almost directly east of Westward Ho!, but Westward Ho! is on the coast and Instow is across from Appledore on the far side of the River Torridge. Looking at the bigger section on the map, the estuary of the Rivers Taw and Torridge cuts in from the coast in an easterly direction. Saunton Sands lies to the north of the estuary and the long expanse of sands leading down to Westward Ho! stretch to the south. Following the estuary in a roughly easterly direction leads to the River Taw and Barnstaple. Well before Barnstaple though the River Torridge heads south from the estuary. Huddled in the corner of the estuary and the western banks of the Torridge is Appledore. On the opposite bank is Instow. If this all makes no sense whatsoever you’ll just have to look at the map.

Instow – looking across to Appledore

I arrived in Instow to a light drizzle; I had my waterproof jacket on, but was resisting putting my waterproof trousers on because I’d knew I’d be too hot and rustly in them. A quick wander round and I’d seen most of the village. I called into a deli/takeaway/grocery shop to buy something for breakfast and lunch. I was a bit spoilt for choice but eventually decided on a cheese, salad and onion chutney baguette for lunch which was made up freshly for me. I bought a ‘Jubilee’ flapjack with white chocolate topping and a coffee for breakfast. I also found peanut butter Kitkats and so bought a couple. I love anything peanut butter flavoured and had been looking for these ever since I first heard of them a couple of months ago, but this is the first place I’ve actually seen them for sale. There was nowhere to sit down inside and by this time it was raining really heavily so I didn’t fancy sitting on a bench along the seafront. Instead I stood under the awning of the shop and ate my flapjack whilst balancing my coffee on a box of oranges.

Following the River Torridge to Bideford

The rain showed no sign of letting up so, pulling my hood up, I set off into it. Turning right off the main road I picked up the path which followed the banks of the Torridge to Bideford along the former railway line. This part of the path is also the part of the Tarka Trail; a 180 mile trail following the journey of the fictional Tarka the Otter.

This stretch of the path is flat, straight and easy-going. I got a good rhythm going and made good time. I could see the big road bridge crossing the river at Bideford from quite a way back. The river was sandy and didn’t look particularly deep. I assumed this was low tide and at other times of day the river looks quite different. If not, I don’t see how the ferries to Lundy are able to get from Bideford.

Almost in Bideford

The rain was easing off, or maybe I was just getting used to it. As I came into Bideford the path passed behind buildings and arrived at the former train station. An old train was parked up and had been turned into a cafe. It looked cosy inside and was doing quite a good trade, but I wasn’t ready for a break at this point and so turned right to cross the bridge into Bideford. The Tarka Trail at this point, carries straight on. 

Crossing Bideford Long Bridge

I walked along the quay in Bideford and reached a big car park with a park to the side of it. There are two interesting sculptures here: one a statue of Charles Kingsley, local and author of The Water Babies and Westward Ho!; and the other of a carved wooden ‘helping hand’ supporting a branch of a tree.

Charles Kingsley
‘A Helping Hand’

The path hugged the river to the side of the car park before winding round houses and eventually reaching the river again. I then had a long straight stretch before coming to the outskirts of Appledore. Along here I crossed paths with the man from this morning. He was now reassessing his plans and considering stopping at Instow instead of continuing to Barnstaple.

Leaving Bideford and walking towards Appledore
Walking to Appledore

As the path closed in on Appledore it left the river to go round the large shipbuilding yard and followed the main road into Appledore. I sat on the quay and ate my sandwich and then went for a wander round. Appledore has quaint, narrow streets with pretty, coloured buildings. There’s a ferry running from here across to Instow but I didn’t see it running today. I stopped for a pot of tea in a little teashop that had some good local photographs on the wall. It was crowded and busy as everyone was trying to avoid the rain and so I was quite lucky to get a table.

Quaint colourful streets in Appledore
Leaving the teashop I picked up the path again and walked round the edge of Appledore. I could follow the road west and go straight to Westward Ho! from here, but the path goes north into the sandy, marshy areas of Northam Burrows. There was quite a good road and cars can pay a toll to drive and park here. A few people were out walking their dogs and children, but it was nowhere near as busy as I imagine it would be on a sunny, warm day.
View from Northam Burrows

The rain stopped though there were still very heavy clouds. It was quite pleasant walking here in the stormy light and as I rounded the top of the peninsula the road petered out and became grassland. I walked as close to the water as I could and tried to take dramatic and atmospheric photos of the estuary and the opposite bank. I sat for a while on a bench just enjoying the dark skies and water.

Brooding skies

I left my seat reluctantly knowing I still had a way to go and wanting to avoid the heavy storm that seemed sure to strike at any moment. The path headed south along the third side of the peninsula and led past the golf course back into Westward Ho! and my car.

NB: Westward Ho! is the only place in the UK spelt with an exclamation mark. The name comes from title of Charles Kinglsey’s 1855 novel which was set in Bideford. Entrepreneurs jumped on the bandwagon of the novel’s popularity and saw the chance to develop a new seaside resort to meet the desires of the Victorians who enthused about the benefits of seaside holidays. Charles Kingsley is not the only famous writer associated with Westward Ho! Rudyard Kipling also spent several of his early years living here and wrote ‘Stalky and Co’ about his time at the local college. Of course, Henry Williamson, author of Tarka the Otter, is also connected with this area.

Distance = about 9 miles
Difficulty = easy

Woolacombe to Braunton

A beautiful day for walking along the coast, through sand dunes and on river banks.

Monday 4th June, 2012

Today was my first day of walking. I’d intended to start yesterday by walking the first leg of my planned stretch of the coastal path – Ilfracombe to Woolacombe. Ilfracombe was where I got to last year and so it made sense to start from there this time. However, it was so rainy and misty that I spent the day in Lynton and Lynmouth instead just being a tourist. I didn’t want to walk along the coast and miss out on seeing the wonderful views. It would have been so frustrating knowing they were there but not being able to see them.

Today the weather was much better and it would have been quite nice to walk along this part of the coast. But yesterday I’d picked up a North Devon bus routes timetable booklet in the Exmoor tourist info portakabin in the Lynmouth car park and realised if I jigged my days around a bit I could make much better use of the bus services. Monday and Tuesday were not good days for buses as they were both bank holidays. If I’d left my car in Woolacombe and got the bus to Ilfracombe to start my walk I would have had to change buses and wait for an hour at a junction in the middle of nowhere. Saving this walk for later in the week would mean I could get a direct bus and the journey would only take about 20 minutes.

So instead I started by walking part 2 first. I drove to Braunton and parked on the road just down from the main crossroads. Right by the bus stop was a shop by the name of ‘Devon Made’. I would have assumed it was some kind of craft shop but the smell of baking and coffee enticed me inside and I realised it was much more than this. What a wonderful place. The front part was a bakery, cafe, deli, ice-cream parlour selling local Devon produce. Long tables and benches ran the length of this part of the shop. At the back there were lots of locally made crafts, jars of chutney, chocolates and so on for sale. I bought lunch and breakfast to take away and had a quick cup of coffee inside which I drank whilst looking around. I only had 15 minutes before the bus was due which would take me to Woolacombe, but I was back outside in plenty of time for it.

As the bus rounded the hill above Woolacombe a stunning vista of glittering sea, long sandy beach, houses clutching to the hillside and a massive traffic jam greeted me. By now the day was really hotting up and as it was a bank holiday EVERYONE seemed to have decided that Woolacombe was the place to be. It took a while for the bus to make its way down the hill to the stop at the bottom just by the car park and beach. What had seemed like a nice quaint place from the top of the hill, looked a bit tacky from the bottom and I didn’t want to linger. A quick look around was enough and I set off west along the road running at the top of the beach towards Putsborough Sands. The beach is about 2 miles long and popular with surfers as well as families.

Woolacombe Beach

The path led along a quiet lane with several laybys in which many small campervans were parked. As the laybys overlooked a much quieter part of the beach I could understand why so many people chose to park here.

Looking back towards Woolacombe
Looking fowards towards Baggy Point

From Putsborough Sands the path turned right and up. I was now walking on grass along the top of Napps Cliff and climbing steadily towards Baggy Point. Baggy Point is National Trust land and this part of the SWCP follows the same route as the Tarka Trail (the long-distance trail named after book ‘Tarka the Otter’). Looking back I got great views of the beach all the way back to Woolacombe.

Baggy Point

From Baggy Point I got quite clear views towards Lundy as well as views westwards along the North Devon coast. Walking back along the southern side of this small peninsula led me fairly quickly towards Croyde Bay. The path becomes the main street leading through Croyde and passes the remains of a whale skull that had been washed up on shore in 1915. It looked like rock, but tapping it I could tell it was bone. Shortly after this was a National Trust cafe with a lovely tea garden. I didn’t stop as I wasn’t particularly hungry or thirsty, though if I hadn’t been conscious of the fifteen miles I had to cover today, I probably would have stopped anyway as it looked so inviting.

Remains of a whale that was washed ashore in 1915

Continuing down the main street of Croyde most of the properties I passed seemed to be holiday cottages. As the road became a bit busier the path rose above it, through a gate, to become completely separate. Through a gate at the other end I turned right to head down to the beach and the sand dunes.

Croyde from a distance
The beach here is much smaller than Woolacombe beach, but seemed to have just as many people crammed on to it. There was no real room to walk without feeling that I was intruding on people’s personal space. Multi-generational families were laid out over every inch of the beach baking themselves an unflattering shade of puce. The sea was just as crowded with surfers and boogie boarders. I felt hemmed in and out of place and wanted to get away quickly. On a quieter day it would probably be quite nice here.
Sand dunes at Croyde
I couldn’t find the path at first, but then spotted a small sign pointing behind a hut and up into the sand dunes. The dunes rose up and down with no clear way through them. Children were playing in hollows sliding up and down having great fun. It can’t have been that good for the conservation of the dunes but there were no signs asking people to stay off them and the coast path sign actually pointed straight through the middle of them. It was hard going on my legs and particularly my knees clambering up and down the sand but eventually I could see where I needed to be. I couldn’t get there though, as there was a bit of a stream leading on to the beach blocking my way. I had to backtrack a bit but then found my way onto the far side, joined the beach and, narrowly avoiding stepping on picnic blankets, made my towards steps which I climbed back up to the road.
Saunton Sands
Following the path along the top of a grassy cliff, Saunton Sands soon came into sight. The path rejoins the road here and backtracks a little way. Crossing the road I climbed above it on the opposite side and followed a rather overgrown path parallel to the lengthy beach. I was high enough and in enough overgrowth to be unaware of the road for the majority of the time. The path then dips down, back across the road and leads into the Saunton Sands Hotel car park. Passing through this and winding down around the hotel grounds leads to the beach car park. I got lost in this car park as there were no signs. After doing a tour of the car park I asked someone at the entrance and was pointed in the direction of the road. There was quite a bit of traffic and so it wasn’t too pleasant to walk along and I was glad when the path turned onto Saunton golf club and crossed the edge of the green.
Braunton is not too far from here, but the path heads south past Braunton, then east and north to form a big ‘U’ before finally reaching the outskirts of the town. Tempting as it was to cut straight into town (my knees were getting very tired by this time), I stuck with the path and was glad I did. The path follows an easy track behind the dunes that separate it from Saunton Sands. Part of the dune area is a military practice zone and is fenced off and labelled as a ‘danger area’ on the map.
When the path turned east it became wider before turning north onto a narrow strip of overgrown path along the bank of the river Caen. There were a few boats on the river including one speedboat towing a child behind on a giant tyre. A lone cyclist passed me but I was the only walker here.
The Caen
Eventually I was deposited on a main road on the edge of Braunton. I could have continued following the coast path by almost doubling back on myself and going past the sewage works, but my walk was done for today. Instead I followed the Tarka Trail along the narrowing Caen back into the centre of Braunton and my van.
15 miles
Moderate, mostly flat with the most strenuous bit being the sand dunes

Mobile phones and not going to Lundy

So I didn’t get to Lundy this year after all. Here’s why …

Lundy Island is about three and a half miles long and half a mile wide. It lies off the coast of North Devon towards the end of the Bristol Channel and is reached by ferry from either Bideford or Ilfracombe. It’s owned by the National Trust and although it has a shop and accommodation is a bit of a wilderness. Going there has been at the back of my mind for a long time, but it was last year when I was walking the Exmoor part of the South West Coast Path and came across ferry timetables that I decided I would definitely visit this year.

I decided to go on the Thursday as the ferry times on this day would give me the maximum amount of time on the island. I hoped to walk right the way round and so wanted as much time as possible so that I could achieve this without feeling rushed and whilst still having plenty of time to sit and absorb the views and watch any wildlife.

I emailed the ferry company to see about booking. They emailed me back advising me to book in advance and informing me that I would have to do this over the phone rather than online or by email. Easier said than done as I get in too late to ring during the week. I tried phoning on Saturday morning before I left but each time I rang I got a voicemail message telling me the booking office was closed and informing me of the opening hours. As I was ringing at a time the message was saying the office should be open, this was a bit strange. Stranger still was the second part of the message advising me to ring the number I was actually already ringing. I tried one last time right before I left and this time, hallelujah, got through. I booked my ticket and arranged to pick it up from the booking office on Thursday morning. I even got a discount because I’m a member of the National Trust. The woman told me to be at the office for 7.45am and gave me directions for where to park and how to get to the office and the ferry. She also told me to phone the office after 8pm on Wednesday evening to check that the sailing was going ahead. I left home relieved I’d got it sorted out and knowing I’d be able to indulge my island habit whilst I was away.

All was well until Wednesday. I listened to the weather forecast: gales, storms, thunder, rain, gusts of wind up to 70 miles per hour. Maybe I wouldn’t be going to Lundy after all. I listened to the forecast a couple more times in case they changed their minds but they didn’t. Unless I was told otherwise by Lundy officials though, I still needed to turn up for the ferry the following morning. So it was important I made that after 8pm phone call. This is where I hit my next problem.

I rarely use a mobile phone. In fact I’ve never actually bought one, I just use other people’s cast-offs. I’ve been using my current phone for a couple of years and it’s an old one of my brother’s. As he lives in Germany this is a German phone and so the charger doesn’t fit English plug sockets. Not a problem because German plugs fit the shaver socket in my bathroom and so I can charge it in there. I can also charge it in the car and when I’m travelling in mainland Europe the charger fits the sockets fine and is much smaller and lighter to carry than an English size charger and adaptor. So I’m very happy with my German phone.

Now however, my phone decided to die. Each time I tried to switch it on it said auf wiedersehen and switched itself back off. And yes, it was fully charged. I took the battery out and wiped it and put it back in. I shook it. I held it in different positions. All to no avail. If I was going to make this phone call I was going to have to get a new phone. A trip to Tesco was called for.

I found a phone for £11 that seemed perfect. They did have one for £9 but I needed to buy a car charger to go with it and there wasn’t one to fit the £9 phone. Buying a phone is far more complicated than I ever realised.  I had to charge it, then ring a number to register it, then put credit on it, then learn how to use it so I could actually make my phone call. I sat in my car in the car park with the phone plugged into the cigarette lighter trying to go through everything in the right order. Finally I was able to make my phone call. Only problem now was that I couldn’t hear anything. I played with the volume but still couldn’t hear anything. The only way I could hear was to have the phone on loud speaker. I assumed I was doing something wrong and resolved to play with it a bit more when I got back to the campsite.

As for my phone call? Well, I felt like I’d completely wasted my time because all I got was a voicemail message saying that because of the weather forecast the ferry may or may not go and they’d decide in the morning so passengers should still turn up at 7.45am. What was the point in having to ring to be told that? After my experiences with their voicemail messages on Saturday I really think they need to think a bit more about how to word their messages so they actually tell callers something useful and meaningful.

So next morning I had the alarm set before 6am to make sure I had enough time to get to Bideford and find the parking and the ticket office and the ferry. I tried calling again before I left but it was still the same message as the previous evening. I drove the half hour to Bideford, put my car in the car park and bought an all day ticket (luckily it was only £3) all with the knowledge that I was probably doing all of this for nothing and could have had a nice lie-in.

I walked along the quay to the ticket office. The ferry was docked alongside looking inviting. A queue of people were snaking outside the booking office door and along the quay next to the sign saying ‘cancelled’. I had to join the queue to fill in a form to claim a refund. I wasn’t the only person pointing out the inadequacy of the voicemail messages. The woman in the office said they’d only just made the decision to cancel. I really don’t understand the point of having to ring the night before (ok, phoning the night before probably wasn’t as much palaver for other people as it was for me, but even so …) if they don’t make decisions until just before the sailing is due even when there are such severe weather warnings. I was rather miffed at having got up early, wasted an hour’s worth of diesel (return trip) and the parking fee all for nothing, as well as being disappointed at not getting to Lundy. The next sailing was not until Saturday and that would be too late for me.

At least it was still early and I still had the whole day ahead of me. So I went for a walk. But that’s another story.


I’m home from a week of jumbled up walking.

I arrived back very late last night from my week walking the North Devon part of the South West Coast Path. It was a gorgeous day – hot, sunny – and after a week in which I’d had lots of rain and wind I didn’t want to waste any of it. I also had one bit of my walk left to do, which would have really niggled at me if I hadn’t been able to complete it. So I walked all day, watched seals, ate an ice-cream, and only left at 5pm. Now I have to spend today sorting out my camping gear, getting everything dry and put away, and then I can think about writing up my walks and sorting out my photos.

This isn’t going to be as easy as it sounds as the whole thing is rather muddled in my head. I’d wanted to walk from Ilfracombe to Westward Ho! and of course it would make sense to start at the beginning and walk to the end. But with the combination of Sunday and the two bank holidays affecting bus services, stiff knees and the poor weather, I ended up walking the route in a really hodge-podge manner and now I’m feeling very confused as to which bits join up with which other bits. I’m sure it will all fall into place when I start working it out, but for now it’s all a bit of a daunting jumble.

Half Term

I’m looking forward to walking a bit more of the South West Coastal Path.

I haven’t posted much over the past month as I’ve been far too busy at work and barely had time to think. Still, next week is half term and I’m heading down to Devon to walk a bit more of the South West Coast Path. After spending the really hot week we had recently in what is basically a giant greenhouse, I was really looking forward to a hot week in my tent and walking along the coast. The weather forecast is pretty miserable though. Nothing like last year when I walked the Exmoor stretch of the path. Whatever the weather, it’ll just be nice to get away and have a break. I’m going from Saturday to Saturday. I’m hoping to walk 4 days, have a day trip to Lundy Island on Thursday and have one day being a tourist. I’m booked into a tiny campsite near Barnstaple which I’ll use as my base and I’ve just found out that there’s a bank holiday weekend real ale festival on in Barnstaple. How perfect is that!