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. 

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.

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!