Rugged Tales

Wherever my feet may take me…


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A long way round

I thought yesterday that the Coast Path was a circuitous way to end up five miles from where I started, but today I walked 20 miles to end up within sight yesterday’s lunch stop! My longest walk of the trip so far took me round two estuaries: from Chivenor into Barnstaple and back the other side of the River Taw then down to East-the-Water, across the River Torridge to Bideford, and back up again.

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I ended the day in Appledore, which I glimpsed yesterday through drifting sea mists from Crow Point (at the southern tip of Braunton Burrows). Approaching Instow today I got a clearer view of Appledore to the left and Crow Point to the right and realised that if I hadn’t been so prescriptive about my mode of transport I could have swim across in a fraction of the time!

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My route today mostly followed the Tarka Trail cycle path along old railway track beds – always easy to navigate, sometimes boring, and occasionally alarming as cyclists streaked past without warning. At least there were no hills to contend with. Some of the cuttings even offered a little shade for which I was very grateful as the weather had suddenly turned hot. At around 30 degrees by one forecast, it was only the breeze and the odd patches of shade that kept me going.

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When I reached it, Appledore provided my most enjoyable evening to date, chatting with a couple of groups of people from the village in a wonderfully friendly pub on the harbour front as the high tide lapped against the sea wall and the tropical heat of the day gave way to a balmy peach sunset. Maybe I’ll give up all this walking and just relax here for a bit…


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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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On the road again

Or more precisely, on the train, then another train, then a third train followed by two different busses. I had thought my difficulty getting home from Combe Martin was due to the absence of a Sunday bus service and the rail engineering works round Basingstoke, but getting back again was a challenge even on a week day.

After all that there wasn’t much time for walking: I managed only a modest 4.5 miles to Hele, where it turned out I missed the Olympic torch by just a day.

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But there were plenty of other sights to see, including the beautiful harbour at Watermouth, with the Little Hangman and Great Hangman (that I climbed over on my last walking day) rising up to the left behind.

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I stopped for the night at Hele Valley Holiday Park – possibly the most expensive campsite of my life! Despite having a miniature tent and no car (let alone a requirement for hard standing or an electricity hookup) the smartly dressed receptionist quoted me £16 for one night, though discounted it to £12 as I was on my own. The contrast to my recent Asian trip – where you could usually get a double room with air con and an en suite bathroom for that money – was striking! But it was beautifully kept and I managed to get a nice quiet pitch by a little stream. Not quite as picturesque as the first one but as good a place as any to test out my new tent…

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On top of the world

Or at least, the highest point on the South West Coast Path – the summit of Great Hangman (318 m).

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The last ascent of a tiring day, there were times when I thought hanging might have been preferable! But fortunately the steepest, slipperiest sections were at the bottom where the path climbs out of a deep gully at Sherrycombe while the top was a gently rounded done and much easier on my weary legs. Although none of the hills on the Coast Path are particularly high in themselves it’s the number of them to be tackled each day that makes it challenging and I was certainly feeling the accumulated effects by the time I tottered into camp!

The signage also reached a new high today. The sign makers seemed to have given up on distances – probably for the best! – or indeed much other information at this junction near Woody Bay.

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It turned out there was some information on the other side, but it wasn’t much more helpful!

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But although it was tiring, it was absolutely worth it – on day 3 the path delivered everything I’d hoped for when I decided to walk it. Glorious sunshine lighting the spectacular views of rugged cliffs plunging to a sparkling turquoise sea – the view of Castle Rock as I headed out of Lynton was just one example.

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I finished the day in Combe Martin, and will be leaving the walk here for a while as I have a job interview on Monday. Wish me luck!

While I’m a little frustrated to take a break so soon it’ll be a good opportunity to refine my gear and let a worsening blister on my right heel get better. Having walked all the Exmoor coastline it’s a neat place to pause, and I plan to be back soon…