Rugged Tales

Wherever my feet may take me…


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Wildlife encounters

At 8am on 6th July I set out to walk the 19 or so miles to Brixham. This evening, I finally arrived. The weather was so bad yesterday I decided to take another day off, the only snag being that the hotel where I’d taken shelter was fully booked. As check-out time approached all hope of a late cancellation seemed gone. Not particularly keen to return to my tent on such a wet, miserable day I prepared to try and find somewhere else, but with minutes to spare I was granted a reprieve. The gentleman who had booked my exact room rang and cancelled. I felt like Christmas had come early! I stopped packing, made myself a cup of tea, and settled down with a good book.

Much as I like camping, I was increasingly seduced by the benefits of an indoor life. Dry and warm, surrounded by a cloud of fast wifi with a plug to charge my phone up whenever I liked and just a few feet of carpet to traverse if I needed the toilet, my little hotel room had many benefits compared to the wet, muddy fields that have become my typical residence. It cost me a small struggle to give up all these comforts, even when I got up this morning to a glorious sunny day. I hung out at the hotel until the last possible moment to get the maximum enjoyment from all it’s delights, before shouldering my pack and heading back onto the Coast Path.

Stepping outside the door I was amazed to find the hotel had a sea view! Thinking about it, I suppose that shouldn’t have come as such a surprise: Stoke Fleming is right on the Coast Path and the hotel not very far inland. But there’d been absolutely no hint of the view for the 48 hours I’d been there. The outdoor pool, which hadn’t interested me before, now looked enticing and as I pictured a relaxing day reclining on one of it’s sun loungers I felt my resolve weakening. But I stayed strong and walked resolutely out of the grounds.

The route initially followed the road, but as I made for the turn off to the cliff path at Little Dartmouth carpark a couple coming up behind me cautioned against it. They’d been warned in turn by a group in wellies who had just emerged from that stretch of path with tales of calf-high mud. In walking boots, they said, it would be impassable. Thanking them for the tip I set off towards Dartmouth Castle by an alternative route along the ridge line, badged as the ‘Diamond Jubilee Way’. And if that was the ‘good’ path I’m glad I didn’t try the other one! It was extremely muddy, and though it would have been an easy stroll in good conditions the thick slippery mud and deep path-wide puddles made for slow going this morning.

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It got even worse when the path ran down to a dip in a cow field. I struggled to keep my feet in the quagmire born of numerous hooves trampling in the pooled rainwater, and began to wonder whether walking to Brixham would be possible in these conditions. What if it was all like this? I couldn’t be more than a mile or so away from the hotel. Maybe I should go back there and wait another day or two for the paths to dry out and… I ruthlessly stopped that line of thinking and, regaining a drier bit of path, set off again for Dartmouth.

Having already been there on the bus I had the unusual sensation of walking into a town and knowing where things were. Quickly picking up some lunch and a couple of other supplies I ate my food on a sunny bench on the Esplanade before catching the ferry across to Kingswear. Now the fun started: a 10 mile stretch to Brixham reputed to be pretty tough. But as with the last ‘tough’ stretch I really enjoyed it. The unspoiled scenery and peace of a relatively inaccessible section more than compensated for the extra effort of the ascents and descents.

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But the highlight of the day was the wildlife. I saw a big grey seal swimming along near Froward Point. There are only about 30 or so off the South Devon coast even around September, the peak seal time, so I felt fortunate to see one. I was also lucky to see Peregrine falcons on the cliffs at Pudcombe Cove (through the telescope of a lovely man who was watching then there) and, later, circling high on the thermals over the cliffs.

And despite my fears, the paths weren’t too bad on the whole. I guess steep sided valleys drain quite well! There were a few muddy patches, and a few places where steams had burst their banks and were running down the adjacent paths or spreading out to form mini-marshes to paddle through. But the only really sticky moment came at Mansands Beach. The National Trust helpfully suggested a two and a half mile detour to avoid possible deep water crossing the steam on the beach as a result of the recent heavy rain. For a horrible moment I thought it was going to be the Erme all over again! Fortunately, this steam came up to your thighs only if you were a young child, and had chosen an injudicious place to cross! Too lazy to take my boots off, I managed to jump across one of the narrower points.

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From there it was a an easy walk round Berry Head and into Brixham – at last! And just time for one last encounter with the wildlife before bed: picking off two small ticks that had attached themselves to my leg. Eeughhh!


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Birthday presents

It was my birthday today! But it didn’t get off to the best of starts. I woke up tired and a little grumpy after a terrible, night’s sleep. Some little creature(s) left over 50 bites across the small of my back while I was walking yesterday – an unwelcome early birthday present – and they itched infernally.

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Uncomfortable as it was to put on my backpack, I manned up and set off around 8am since the forecast was for light rain to move in late afternoon. As I passed Strete I met a man from the village walking his dog, who told me he thought the rain would hold off. I liked his optimism and happily shared it – right up until it started to rain heavily as I approached Stoke Fleming half an hour later. I took shelter under a tree, hoping it was just a shower: after 15 minutes standing there, however, I got bored. Deciding to push on into the village and find a cafe to wait it out I dug out my coat and headed into the deluge.

It turned out my tent is not the only thing that’s sprung a leak. In the 10 minutes it took to walk through the downpour to the village shop then onto the Stoke Lodge hotel, my shoulders, back and chest were soaked. I drowned my sorrows in a full English while I dried off. Two hours later it was still pouring, and I noticed the Met Office forecast had been updated to heavy rain most of the day and all night. Presumably someone had looked up from the computer models and out of the window! I decided to take my sister and brother-in-law up on their excellent suggestion of a hotel room for the night as a birthday present and, being already in a nice hotel, checked in there and then.

The good thing about having such a small tent is that it’s easily dried even in the confines of a hotel bedroom. With my damp belongings spread over every available surface I borrowed a golf umbrella from the hotel and caught the bus to Dartmouth in search of waterproofer for my coat. Mission accomplished, there was just time for a quick cream tea by way of a birthday cake while I waited for the return bus. When the plate arrived I was startled by the size of the Dart Cafe’s scone; it was probably the largest I’ve ever seen in my life! But I felt a small qualm: my researches so far had suggested that smaller scones generally prove the best. But you can’t judge a book by its cover, and the mega-scone turned out to be excellent: tasty and crumbly without being dry. While not quite enough to knock the current leaders from their perch it was definitely a cream tea I was glad to have eaten.

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Back at the hotel I spent the afternoon washing and reproofing my coat. While Andy Murray fought for a place in the Wimbledon final I battled in my en suite. As the manufacturers had suggested when I phoned them in distress after my soaking this morning, I washed my coat in normal non-bio laundry detergent, then in Nikwax Techwash, and finally Nikwax reproofer, all with copious rinsing in between. Then I did it all again for my tent footprint, figuring I might as well give it a try while I was at it.

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It was a long and arduous process. By the time Andy and I had triumphed I’m not sure which of us was tireder! I can see why people invented washing machines. It seemed an ideal moment to restore the bath to its rightful function and get into it myself for a long, hot soak. After walking some 470 miles of the Coast Path I’d almost forgotten what it’s like not to have slightly stiff legs and slightly smelly feet; neither condition being readily cured by a quick shower, however much soap you use. But after the bath I was as good as new. I even blow dried my hair!

Emerging from the bathroom I caught the tail end of the news. The Met Office had revised their forecast again and issued a red weather warning – the first ever – for heavy rain in the South West, with the area affected almost directly centred on where I am. With widespread flooding expected the Environment Agency was apparently touring campsites to warn people. Excited as I was to be in the area on this momentous occasion I was very happy not to be experiencing it from the increasingly limited shelter of my tent. After a three course birthday dinner in the hotel restaurant – a nice change from all the instant mash and pub grub I’ve been eating lately – I curled up in my warm, dry bed, reflecting that it’s much nicer listening to the rain pouring down from inside.