Rugged Tales

Wherever my feet may take me…


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Family matters

Today was another unexpectedly sunny day. At this rate I’ll start to assume that it will be sunny and warm whatever the forecast says! It was also another fairly easy day – relatively flat and not too long a walk. I could get used to that too. As it was I used some of the left-over energy to get a closer look at the famous line of stacks at Bedruthan Steps. As the tide was in I was only able to do 114 of the 142 steps available, but it was still worth the effort.

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It was a slightly sobering morning, passing a couple of benches in memory of people who died too young. I had a definite sense of ‘there but for the grace of God’ as I read the inscriptions. And I felt a renewed commitment to walking the Coast Path and all the other things I want to do in life while I still have the chance; who knows what’s round the corner?

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I stopped for lunch at Berryl’s point, to enjoy its views over the turquoise waters of Beacon Cove, and Newquay hazy in the distance. It was a bonus to discover that it also boasted a good 3G signal! It was an idyllic spot to write my blog and upload some photos, and with the weather so good I spent well over an hour lounging in my little spot.

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But the highlight of my day was Newquay. My father was evacuated there in the war and it was fascinating to see today the places he recalled from that part of his childhood, including the cliff-top house where he lived for two years (one of those on the left in the photo), and the niches alongside the footpath leading up from the harbour where he watched the bombing raids on St Mawgan airbase with his mother, wrapped up in bedclothes against the cold. I’m still smiling at the thought of my Dad as a naughty schoolboy wrecking his shoes by taking a shortcut along the beach as the tide came in.

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One of the people I met on the path today told me his father was once a junior airman stationed at St Mawgan airbase – it really is a small world. He (the son, that is) is also aiming to complete the whole Coast Path. After going so long without meeting anyone else embarked on the same task now I’ve met two in as many days. I guess it’s not only campsites that resemble busses in coming along in groups!


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Weary legs

It was a slow start today. After yesterday’s exertions, and with an uninspiring drizzle to greet me when I woke, I could cheerfully have stayed in bed until lunchtime! But with 15 miles or so to walk I dragged myself up and hit the trail.

The first obstacle was at Widemouth Bay. After just a few yards struggling through the piles of soft sand in the dunes I was cursing whoever had invented beaches and eager to trade them for a nice firm cliff or two. As is so often the case, I should have been more careful what I wished for…

The sun came out as I strode up Penhalt cliff before tackling a particularly steep descent into the valley at Millook, and then another dip at the Dizzard in increasing heat.

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Atop the cliffs near Cleave I came across a dedicated South West Coast Path bench – only 500 miles to go to Poole. Hopefully some of them will be flatter than today’s!

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Stopping for lunch on the hillside above St Gennys I was horrified to see a tick crawling up my leg. Having had quite enough tick fun in Oklahoma to last me for a while I flicked it away and hastily set off again. After four hours (and five steep valleys) I finally tottered into Crackington Haven: hot, sweaty and very tired. A cold drink partially revived me and I set off to climb back up out of the valley. But when, after having clambered over an inordinate number of stiles in the course of the day, I got stuck in a kissing gate of wholly inadequate proportions for someone with a backpack I came perilously close to a sense of humour failure. But the views back to Crackington Haven, nestling between the cliffs behind a sparkling turquoise sea, were so glorious it was hard to stay grumpy for long.

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Increasingly tired, I dragged myself up the aptly named High Cliff (one of the highest parts of the Path at 223m) believing it to be the last ascent of the day, only to discover a steep descent and the looming bulk of Rusey Cliff hiding behind it. I should have read the map more carefully.

Nonetheles, at long last I made it to my campsite in the hamlet of Pennycrocker – too small even to get a mention on the OS map – and relieved of my backpack I managed to totter the 30 mins each way to the pub at Tresparrett, the nearest available food. Yesterday’s route was reputed to be the toughest but I found today’s harder going, probably because I started it tired. It was barely dark before I fell into bed and to sleep.


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Circumlocutions

Waking up this morning in Croyde village I was just 5 miles or so from my destination of Braunton – if I could go by the direct route. Via the Coast Path, and adding in a mile to get back to it from the village, two miles round Baggy Point (which I bypassed yesterday as it was getting late) and another mile detouring back into the village again when I realised there were no other shops) it was more like 15.

Despite being shrouded in a morning sea fog, the path round Baggy Point was a dramatic walk I’m glad I didn’t miss.

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My detour back to Croyde village also had it’s compensations: an unconventional but delicious breakfast of luxury Devon ice-cream from one of the shops that was closed when I arrived last night and hadn’t yet opened when I left this morning. Between the ice-cream, the beautiful views, the friendly people and a perfect beach, I’d be happy to go back and spend more time in Croyde.

But for now it was time to press on and make my way along the back of Braunton Burrows. A military training area, I was braced for a degree of risk but it came from an unexpected quarter. Lucky the fog had burnt off by then!

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Once the adrenaline had faded, the rest of the day was spent in an unexceptional, flat walk around the River Caen estuary and past the south edge of Braunton.

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The only excitement was the discovery of a Tesco superstore as I skirted the town. Not normally a cause for celebration, but it’s definitely opened up more possibilities for my tea tonight.


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Hat trick

Having already caught the bus to and from Combe Martin from Ilfracombe, today marked my third – and hopefully final – time in the town for this trip. It was, however, more interesting on foot than on the bus. Ilfracombe still has a working quay and I saw the boats coming in and piles of lobster pots stacked up ready as I walked past. Ilfracombe is actually part of the reason I decided to walk the Coast Path. In 2009 I spent a couple of days there and walked up from my B&B to the top of the cliffs. I passed a marker for the Coast Path and would have liked to walk a section of it there and then, but various factors (chief amongst them being the far from summery August weather) made it impossible. As I walked up out of the town today I passed the spot where I stood nearly 3 years ago and first thought it would be fun to walk the Coast Path. And, so far, it is.

Ilfracombe had new sights to offer amongst the familiar. Stopping for breakfast on the High Street I saw the largest number of dogs being walked by a single person I have ever seen.

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I assumed the human in charge must be a professional dog walker but, overhearing some other tourists’ query, it turned out they are all his own ‘large family’!

Ilfracombe also furnished me with one of my best lunches of the trip so far: a fabulous mackerel salad from the fishmongers on the harbour. And the cliffs above Pensport Rock provided a fantastic backdrop to eat it.

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For much of the day I walked above beaches covered in jagged black spikes where seams of slate met the sea.

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During one attempt to get a photo of myself with dramatic scenery behind my iPhone fell off just such a slate outcrop. Fortunately, it seems none the worse for wear and I spent the rest of the day grateful that I’d invested in the waterproof, dust proof, drop proof case that at the time seemed indulgently expensive!

But the day ended on the gentler terrain of Woolacombe Sand. Surfers were even more plentiful here than dogs in Ilfracombe, and the sand had that perfect firm but springy quality that made it a joy to walk on. Strolling by the crashing pale blue waves on what must be one of the most perfect beaches in England, this has been one of my favourite days do far. I know it’s only day five, but this one will take some beating.

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