Rugged Tales

Wherever my feet may take me…


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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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Tough nut

Today’s walk, from Hartland Quay to Bude, is reputed to be the toughest of the whole Coast Path, with 10 river valleys between the cliffs to navigate and a total ascent/descent of over 1,300m. Not content with that challenge I started proceedings a mile from the start in Stoke (the nearest campsite) and planned to end the day at the campsite in Lynstone, a mile further on than Bude.

Although rain was forecast it was another glorious start to the day and I enjoyed a picture postcard view of the church as I left Stoke.

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Once on the Path I had a good view of the cliffs I would have to climb over. From this distance, with the valleys between them obscured, they didn’t look too bad!

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But by the time I’d slithered down my third steep cliff to cross the footbridge over Marshland Water (crossing from Devon into Cornwall at the same time) it did cross my mind to wonder whether I would run out of energy before I ran out of cliffs to be climbed.

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I had a couple of things to distract me from the pain, however. First, the stunning scenery which was unremittingly spectacular. And second, the fact that I was proving unusually exciting for dogs. Two quite large specimens gave up a boisterous game of chasing each other round the beach to come and bark vigorously at me as I climbed down to Duckpool in the Combe Valley. As I made for the toilets there another dog gave voice, startling her owner into remarking “Goodness, I don’t think I’ve ever heard her bark before!”. Perhaps I’ll try a different outfit tomorrow…

On the up side it stayed dry, and it appears I must have got fitter since I started the walk. Where 8.5 miles with 650m of ascent/descent on day one had me almost on my knees, when Bude finally appeared today I had enough energy left to give, I think, a reasonable impression of a hardy hiker rather than an aged crone.

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My guidebook said that today’s route ‘can be tiring in wet and windy weather’. Having now done it I can confirm that it’s pretty tiring even in close to ideal conditions! But I’m pleased to have cracked the toughest nut, and optimistic now for my chances of staying the course.