Rugged Tales

Wherever my feet may take me…


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Feet of clay

The weather this summer may not be good for hiking but it seems to be just the thing if you’re a slug. At the campsite in Shaldon I had to remove three or four small grey ones from my Crocs every time I wanted to get out of the tent. At Ladram Bay, the big black kind were more common, and we removed a number of them from all around the tent before setting off for Seaton.

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It was a tough start to the day with the path over High Peak to Sidmouth the worst yet. It ran through a woodland that had recently been logged and the passage of the heavy machinery over the sodden ground, followed by another day of heavy rain yesterday, had destroyed it. We both had near misses, almost standing on ground that wasn’t as firm as it looked, until eventually the inevitable happened and Rob sank into mud right over the top of his boots. Luckily he had the drawcord round his trouser cuffs tightened so they acted like gaiters, but when we finally came out onto more solid ground, having taken 45 minutes to pick our way through half a mile of quagmire, Rob was more skeptical than ever about hiking as an enjoyable leisure pursuit!

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Fortunately that was the worst of the terrain behind us, but after so much rain more paths were muddy than not. We climbed up and down the cliffs accumulating a colourful collection of different muds on our boots as the surface rocks switched between the deep red Otter Sandstone and Mercia Mudstone, and the creamy white chalk and Upper Greensand. At least my latest toy – the Jurassic Coast iPhone app – allowed me to revel in a new-found geological prowess as I slithered along! But in spite of the condition of the paths it was an enjoyable walk, and with the consumption of a tactical cream tea and the help of a fortuitously placed tree, we dodged the heaviest rain showers and stayed pretty much dry all day.

As we made our way round the delightfully named Beer Head, we had great views back over Hooken Undercliff, formed by an enormous landslip in 1790, under the stormy sky.

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And although my allergy to yeast prevented me indulging in a pint once we arrived in the village of Beer itself, I’m happy to report that the Anchor Inn had an excellent selection of alternative beverages (including specialty gins, single malts and a variety of wines) to refresh us after a very muddy, hilly walk.


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Silver linings

We stopped last night at Ladram Bay Holiday Park. Although it was voted Hoseasons Best Holiday Park in Britain 2011, when I read that it was one of the largest privately-owned holiday parks in the UK, together with a review praising “some of the best entertainment I’ve ever seen on a campsite” I was tempted to look elsewhere: it’s the not the type of campsite I normally prefer to stay at. But with the Coast Path running right through the bottom of the site the location was too perfect to turn down, especially once I’d negotiated their initial price of £26 down to a much more reasonable £15. And it had wonderful views over the red sandstone stacks in the bay.

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We got up eager to walk but our enthusiasm was quickly drowned by the heavy rain that started around 9:00 am and was forecast to last all day. We put on our coats and went back to Reception to pay for another night. The staff were incredulous: everyone else had come in wanting to check out early, did we really want to extend our stay in such terrible weather?! We explained that it was better than the alternative – and then graciously accepted their sympathy. But if we were going to be rained in it was fortunate we were on a big whistles-and-bells holiday park when it happened. With it’s own launderette, shop, cafe and pub on site we passed the day with only minimal outdoor exposure, although we drew the line at attending the evening entertainment programme (complete with a guest talent spot).

As darkness fell and the rain – finally – slowed to a drizzle, we headed back up the hillside to the tent. After a whole day of torrential rain the grass was disagreeable squelchy underfoot but my lovely two man tent had withstood the deluge without a single leak. It turns out a rainy day is much less miserable when you have a properly waterproof shelter to go back to, and somebody to spend the time with.


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Jurassic Park

Today I was transported back 250 million years. Or at least, so claimed the information board at Orcombe, the start of the Jurassic Coast. After catching the ferry to Exmouth, we successfully dodged one heavy shower through judicious timing of a cooked breakfast, and another while stocking up on snacks. Having bought a new gas canister and posted my one man tent back home (the manufacturers seem confident it can be fixed so I hope that will prove to be the first step on its road to recovery) we were finished in the town and ready for a closer look at England’s first natural World Heritage Site.

It certainly proved educational. I’d barely taken two steps before I learned something new: although it’s known as the Jurassic Coast, the rocks at the Western end actually date from the even older Triassic period. Having studied more chemistry than geology, however, the bit I related to most easily was that the rocks are so red because they have a high iron content. “The cliffs are literally rusting!” the noticeboard excitedly informed me. I also grasped that the Geoneedle, unveiled by HRH The Prince of Wales in 2002 to mark the World Heritage status, was an excellent opportunity for a comedy photo.

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As we walked over the low cliffs to Sandy Bay we had great views back around Babbacombe Bay, and could see numerous heavy showers dotted over the land and the sea, happy we’d been lucky enough to miss them so far. Sandy Bay itself turned out to have the bizarre juxtaposition of a sizable holiday park and the Ministry of Defense firing range at Straight Point. It was quite surreal picking our way through the sea of static caravans to the accompanying crackle of gunfire. Equally unexpected was Budleigh Salterton. I knew almost nothing about it before I arrived there, other than it’s passing mention in a Monty Python sketch. I now also know that the pebbles there originated over 400 million years ago in the place we now call Brittany. Judging by the appearance of the beach today they are proud to be British now.

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The easy, level walk round the marshland of the River Otter estuary was a relaxing way to digest my lunch and offered some fabulous views as the sun got the upper hand for a while.

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And the easy cliff paths over Brandy Head that followed were a world away from the frustrations of yesterday. Although the clouds gathered I escaped with no more than a few drops as I approached the campsite at Ladram Bay. It was a wonderful day, not least because it was so lovely not to be rained on for once, and topped off by a beautiful bright rainbow over the tent as we set up camp. If only all the days could be like this.

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