Hartland Quay to Morwenstow 5.5.19

I have had Hartland Quay in my head for months and when we arrive after miles of driving down a narrow twisted track it does not disappoint. Round the back of the hotel, perched on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, the jagged profiles of black granite cliffs slide into the sea. Perhaps due to its isolation, the atmosphere around the hotel reminds me of a ski station.

IMG_3828

 

IMG_3831

 

IMG_3832

After checking that we have enough water (a lesson recently learned the hard way), we set off south along a wide grassy track. We have been told this may be a difficult walk with more than its fair share of steep ascents and tricky descents but I’ve learned not to listen too closely to people’s opinions. We all have different pain thresholds.

IMG_3834

Our climb takes us up and down St Catherine’s Tor – there is road access here and a few people have arrived with surfboards. Looking at the sharp tooth comb of rocks on the beach I wonder where they are thinking of surfing.

IMG_3836

Say no more…….

IMG_3838

From here the path meanders across the top of cliffs and there are no more serious climbs or scrambly descents – we make good progress. I do however, know from all accounts that the first part of this walk is easy and the torture comes later. At Mansley Cliff the signpost directs us down onto a narrow tarmac road and then things go a little awry. The repetitive walking on tarmac in hot sun results in a lack of concentration and us missing the point where the road joins the coast path again.

IMG_3839

We find ourselves in South Hole, a well heeled hamlet full of pretty well kept summer homes – there is no-one around.

IMG_3840

We do eventually find a Londoner who points us in the right direction with a recommendation – the bluebell woods further down the road. And indeed it is a lovely walk down the shady lane.

IMG_3841

IMG_3842

Eventually we follow a footpath off to the right which takes us down into Welcombe Mouth where there are stepping stones – I love a stepping stone.

IMG_3844

From the bay the path rises steeply but on the descent we discover a poet’s hut. The hut was the retreat of the poet Ronald Duncan and is now looked after by his daughter.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ronald_Duncan

IMG_3847

Inside is a visitors book to sign, photos from his life and excerpts of poetry.

IMG_3853

IMG_3850

I am a little underwhelmed by his work but struck by another poet’s contribution.

IMG_3851

Thinking of the razor blade rocks of this coastline I think the choice of the word “eviscerated” is genius. Unfortunately I thought I had written down the name of the poet  but no.

IMG_3845

IMG_3857

Onward we walk in the hot sun, up and over Marsland Cliff where we are suddenly back in Cornwall.

IMG_3856

…and then almost immediately the path rises steeply again up and over Cornakey Cliff and then one more – the bizarrely named Henna Cliff.

IMG_3860

….and who is this charming fellow not exhibiting a trace of exertion?

IMG_3861

Eventually the spire of the church at Morwenstow comes into view and the path levels out.

But before we finish we have another hut to visit.

IMG_3864

Down a short flight of stone steps to the right of the coastal path is the smallest National Trust property in the country. The hut was originally built from wood from shipwrecks by the eccentric clergyman and poet Robert Stephen Hawker. This was his refuge where he allegedly spent many hours writing poems and smoking opium.

IMG_3869

And what a view!

 

IMG_3866

Coming back over the fields we rejoin our car in the carpark of the wonderful Bush Inn. It has been a hard but exhilarating walk and to top off the day we are treated to an evening of folk music from a band of local minstrels settled comfortably in a corner of the inn.

Distance: 10 miles (although it felt more like 20)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Widemouth Bay to Bude and Morwentstow to Bude 4.5.19

Leaving the car at the Beach Hotel we set off for the short walk to Bude across the top of the cliffs. It is a beautiful morning, the bright sunshine lighting up the yellow sandstone  cliffs.

IMG_3790

IMG_3791

The path runs parallel to the road almost all the way but there is not a lot of traffic – we walk at an easy pace over the springy turf.

An hour later Bude comes into view – the town is overlooked by a pretty octagonal tower which some say was a refuge for coastguards and others that it was built for its ornamental value – a folly.

Damian does love a photo…..

IMG_3792

Down the hill into Bude Haven the River Neet separates us from the centre of town but further up we find a bridge. The town, which is the transport and commercial hub for this area of North Cornwall is quite attractive but like a lot of towns in this part of the country I am glad I’m not walking through it in high summer.

IMG_3796

It is now mid morning but we have plenty of time to collect our car , dump our luggage in the hotel in Bude and drive north to the hamlet of Morwenstow – the plan is to leave the car there and walk back to Bude. The logistics of these walks beggars belief sometimes.

We arrive in Morwenstow, leave the car in the car park of the 13th century Bush Inn (where we will be staying tomorrow night) and set off down the road, past the church and onto the coast path.

Need I say more…….

IMG_3799

After crossing the small stream known as The Tidna I look up from my feet to see the outlines of a string of satellite dishes on the horizon – the path will take us past these later on. But first we must negotiate a series of coombes involving a steep, often perilous drop down a narrow path, sometimes stepped but not always, followed by a back breaking climb to regain the lost height.

IMG_3800

IMG_3801

Previously used by the RAF during the second world war the site was later redeveloped as an Anglo/American Satellite station. The antennae are generally orientated towards satellites of the INTELSAT, Intersputnik, and INMARSAT communications networks over the Atlantic Ocean, Africa, and the Indian Ocean, as well as towards the Middle East and mainland Europe. And they’re all eavesdropping. The area is protected by two tall parallel metal fences with a “no man’s land” of a couple of metres in between. At regular intervals a string of close circuit cameras on tall posts stare blankly downwards. Someone means business…

IMG_3804

It is very quiet….

IMG_3805

We have reached Steeple Point which, so we’ve been told, is the last leg of this roller coaster ride. From here it is supposed to be easier.

IMG_3806

There is however one last slide down into Duckpool.

IMG_3808

This is the path – with a very steep drop down to the beach. I am so glad I have my walking pole. Damian scorns them – instead he’s often seen frantically waving his arms around as if he’s swatting a persistent fly, in order to maintain his balance.

IMG_3810

And yes from here the walking is much easier across open heath and fields and I have time to look down at the sea. These sharp slabs of black rock jutting out to sea make me think of how easy a ship could come to grief on this treacherous coastline.

IMG_3811

Not far to Sandymouth now where there is road access and a cafe – weather permitting, which of course it is.

IMG_3812

The cafe is very busy but we top up on tea and biscuits and watch people trying to control their dogs and children.

Just before Bude this wonderful bench presents itself. I don’t know what kind of wood it’s made of but it’s solid and what wise words! Go with the flow…..

IMG_3814

Just outside Bude, on the cliffs overlooking Summerleaze Beach, is a wonderful surprise – Bude Sea Pool. Built in the 1930s to provide safe bathing in sea water, but away from the dangerous Atlantic currents in the bay, the pool is part-natural, and partially man-made. It is tidal, topped up at high tide by the Atlantic Ocean – and it’s free.

IMG_3818

As we watch we see two kids in wetsuits larking about on the walls of the pool trying to catch waves which will sweep them in to the pool. It is high tide and the waves are hitting the walls of the pool with a loud smack – the lifeguard seems unconcerned.

IMG_3819

IMG_3825

In the bay the surfers are out.

IMG_3822

We walk round the back of the beach to our accommodation – tired but satisfied.

Distance: 12 miles

 

 

 

 

Crackington Haven to Widemouth Bay 3.5.19

Gone are the days when I could just set off for a quick walk in Kent or Sussex – North Cornwall, with its dearth of public transport is a long long way from London. Anyway, we arrive in Crackington Haven in the middle of the day, leave the car in the car park and after a cream tea top up, set off up the cliff path.

IMG_3760

A photo opportunity…..

IMG_3761

After climbing up to the headland of Pencannow Point the path dips steeply down and then almost immediately up again. The path is narrow and stony, running between closely packed gorse bushes –  I need to keep my eyes on my feet to avoid twisted ankles, which is just as well since some of the precipitous drops would probably make me feel a little queasy.

Thankfully, the path eventually opens up onto a stretch of gently rolling hills, an area called Lower Tresmorn.

IMG_3765

– this sign on a gatepost makes me laugh.

IMG_3763

We walk past Cleave Strand and Chipman Strand – an obvious Viking legacy (“strand” is Danish for “beach/coast”) If anyone is interested, the link below has more information on the influence of those who came to “rape and pillage”

https://icelandmag.is/article/vikings-left-their-mark-european-map-here-our-guide-help-you-find-them

At this point we are treated to a short stretch of woodland – twisted trees patched with moss and lichen watch over a blanket of bluebells interspersed with bright green virgin ferns.  Beautiful….

IMG_3773

IMG_3770

IMG_3774

We have reached Dizzard Point from where we can just about see the sands of Widemouth Bay which is our destination for today. Later I am told never to pronounce the first syllable as rhyming with “side” but rather “sid”. This goes against all my training in the teaching of English pronunciation where adding the “e” makes a long vowel. Examples are “sit” and “site”, “pin” and “pine”, “shit” and ……………….but then there are so many exceptions to the rules of our mongrel language.

IMG_3775

Coming down into the valley we cross a pretty little stream and then it’s up and down the other side into Millook Haven.

IMG_3776

Towering above the beach are cliffs of what look like sandstone and something darker laid down in chevron folds. This is apparently one of Britain’s top 10 geological sites, leading the “folding and faulting” category.IMG_3780

Perched above the small stony beach is a pretty wooden house – obviously a summer residence. I dread to think what it must be like to live here in the winter – there is road access but a very narrow one and it really is miles from nowhere.

IMG_3781

A little later the path joins the road and down on to Widemouth Sands – we have a stream to cross and then up onto some sand dunes to reach our destination – the wonderful Beach Hotel.

IMG_3785

IMG_3786

If you ever come across it, do not be put off by the down at heel exterior. The interior is surfer/traveller chic, colourful and homely. Small meditating buddhas sit serenely amongst the shelves of books, musical instruments, toys and surf boards. The walls are covered with striking paintings by the owner’s mother and the food is delicious and beautifully presented. The staff are friendly and efficient and our waitress didn’t bat an eyelid when I asked her to freeze an ice pack and prepare my Chinese medicinal herbs. So there ‘s a plug (which I don’t usually do).

Related image

This is a picture from their website, obviously taken in Summer but we had the same view.

Distance: 9 miles

Again – if you can’t see the map below, just click on the URL link at the bottom of the page. Still working on it.

 

 

 

Severn View to Portishead 21.4.19

From the infamous Severn Bridge we follow a cycle route heading south and we have PLENTY of water. Coming down a hill onto a long straight stretch of coast road we walk past some wonderful metal garden ornaments.

IMG_6105

IMG_6106

Down on the road several camper vans are parked and people are out enjoying the morning sunshine. There is a great view from here where you can see both bridges at the same time. Well – if you screw your eyes up you can.

IMG_6107

On we go following the coast path, past a place called Redwick and then eventually to Severn Beach which is where the railway stops. Here the sea wall is well maintained and forms part of the Severn Way which starts in Gloucester and has been recently extended to Bristol. Severn Beach is a village of modern houses built to replace most of the infrastructure of a seaside resort (complete with open air swimming pool), popular in the 1920’s. Visitors came mainly from Bristol, encouraged by the less strict licensing laws.   I imagine that a lot of the inhabitants now commute to Bristol for work. The village has no through traffic and spectacular views.

Half way along the sea wall we meet an elderly gentleman on his equally ancient bicycle. He looks like the father in Steptoe and Son and is very keen to tell us how old he is – he offers advice on how to keep young – no TV and lots of cycling apparently.

The smooth path of the sea wall now turns into a sandy track through rough land but before continuing I have to sit down and inspect the beginnings of a blister. Off to the left  a silent power station keeps watch.

IMG_6119

Next to the bench where we sit and rest are some information boards about birds of the Severn Estuary and some local terminology. I find myself wondering if I would ever need to use these words but you never know.

IMG_6116

From here we decide to by-pass the industrial wastelands of Avonmouth and follow a cycle track alongside and over the railway line, under and over two motorways – the M49 and the M5 (I’m beginning to notice a theme here). After a few wrong turnings we find ourselves meandering around a surreal collection of massive brand new warehouses – the sunlight reflecting off the metal surfaces is almost painful.

Suddenly I am stopped in my tracks by the sight of a swan waiting patiently in front of the open door of an HGV.

8a4e2b94-b2d8-4139-9d17-64f292d78965

A minute later it is greedily guzzling down the large lumps of white bread being offered by the Rumanian lorry driver. “My friend!” he exclaims excitedly “I have friend in England” It makes me think of how lonely the life of a long distance lorry driver may be, far from home and with only a tenuous grasp of the language.

c9e76c31-f82d-4cc9-bf5b-43ec53652aac

Anyway, we eventually rejoin the cycle track to end crumpled up on the grass verges of a town, which could possibly be the most unattractive place I have ever had the misfortune…….this is Lawrence Weston.

After a sandwich or two and lots of water we make our way up a hill and branch off onto the Severn Way again through a lovely patch of woodland. Then down into a town called Shirehampton and another bridge over a motorway. This what I mean when I tell people that coast walking is not always what they think it is.

The first part of the bridge has the cycle path screened off but when we get to the middle we are suddenly exposed to the full horror of walking beside cars hurtling past at 70 mph. – the noise is horrendous.

We scuttle down the slip road and meet one of those sad memorials we now find on roads all over the country.

IMG_6130

We still have a few miles to go to Portishead and we are both tired. A cycle track turns into a minor road and we then turn left up through a nature reserve to meet the first outlying houses of Portishead. The houses are modern, the gardens freshly landscaped, all competing for a sea view. A smooth tarmac path guides us back to the Marina.

IMG_5981

Distance: 15 miles

Magor to Severn View Service Station (yes really) 20.4.19

Our lovely Airbnb host gives us a lift from Magor back to the sea wall where we finished yesterday. Turning left we set off eastwards on the grassy raised bank. It’s going to be another hot day. Lost in thought and eyes on my feet I lift my head to take in the view and catch sight of a field of cows (or are they bullocks?) off to our left. I have never been frightened of cows, I spent my childhood working/playing on a farm, but while doing this walk I was once chased and forced to scramble over a barbed wire fence, ripping my waterproof trousers in the process. Since then I have heard quite a few stories of killer cattle injuring people, so I suddenly feel a little anxious as there is no fence between them and us. To add to my worry, on seeing us, the whole herd set off at a determined trot towards us. Damian is not perturbed and thankfully, on realising that we are not coming to feed them they halt their advance and stand and stare.

IMG_6085

We walk on. Up ahead is a stretch of coastline marked on the map as a danger area -shooting practice for the military perhaps. We do hear intermittent gunfire. This means that we have to walk inland up a track which then joins a cycle track and a bridge spanning the M4.

IMG_6086

The coast path then turns back to the coast, leading us UNDER the M4 and the new Severn Bridge – what fun!

IMG_6089

IMG_6091

IMG_6092

…..until we reach Sudbrook, a village which marks the beginning of the Severn Railway Tunnel which opened in 1886. Most of the houses in the village were built for railway workers. Towering over the village is an enormous pumping station once used to pump water from the tunnel.

 IMG_6095

By now both of us are feeling a little peckish so when a stretch of grass, trees and picnic benches appears, we stop for a rest. The area is named Black Rock and from here the original Severn Bridge can be seen. It looks beautiful but we will later come to hate it.

IMG_6099

A little later on the path turns inland again, running through fields, past a few farms and through a village named Malvern. It is here we pick up a cycle track and an innocent  grassy approach to the bridge we need to cross. It is still extremely hot, we are tired and have run out of water.

IMG_6100

Crossing the Severn Bridge is a huge disappointment for me as I was looking forward to being on close terms with such an iconic structure. The noise of the vehicles whizzing past is deafening and there is very little protection from the road for cyclists or walkers. The sun is beating down on my tired and worried brow – I get out my scarf (cotton) and drape it over my head and face. The bridge just seems to go on and on. I occasionally emerge from my head tent to squint up at the first of the two rugby post towers but to my dehydrated brain it never seems to get any closer. Half way across Damian calls a halt – I realise I am panting. I feel like a refugee heading for the border of a promised land although the difference is that there is no danger of being turned back.

IMG_6102

At last we reach the end and can see a motorway service station a hundred yards up the road on the other side – there is a bridge over the road (a constant theme of this walk). Hobbling in to the Costa I concede to drinking an ice cold Cola and a burger from Burger King – I cannot remember the last time I did this, if at all. We call it a day and ring an Uber to take us into Bristol.

Lesson learnt: always make sure you have enough water – but it is only April!

Distance: 15 miles

 

Newport to Magor 19.4.19

Newport must be one of the few cities that has not updated its docklands and as the bus trundles through Pillgwenlly (Pill for short) to the hotel where Damian and I are planning to spend the night, my heart sinks. However, I have a surprise in store. Surrounded by mean streets of grim ugly houses, industrial buildings and shops that look like untidy front rooms, the solid red brick of the Waterloo Hotel stands alone as testament to another era, when the docklands were a hive of industry and accommodation was needed for the sailors  coming off the ships.

Once inside it is another world – totally devoid of pretension the hotel is comfortable and intriguing, the food delicious and well presented. Once famous for having the longest bar in the world (to line up the pints waiting for the sailors) the interiors are fabulous.

IMG_6063

IMG_6062

IMG_6061

IMG_6060

And yes that’s Damian at the end of the bar……..

To add to the excitement, just outside the hotel is Newport’s famous Transporter Bridge, one of only two in the UK and seven in the world. And yes that’s Damian with the cap…..

IMG_6067

Designed by French engineer Ferdinand Arnodin, it was built in 1906 and is still in operation today. The design was chosen because the river banks are very low at the desired crossing point, where an ordinary bridge would need a very long approach ramp to attain sufficient height to allow ships to pass under, and a ferry could not be used during low tide.

The following day Damian tries to persuade me to walk over the top of the bridge but luckily it is temporarily closed. Instead we have to walk the long way round and over another bridge which is not quite so challenging!

IMG_6069

After getting a bit lost in a housing estate we are led back to the Transporter Bridge but on the other side of the river Usk. Here, we get a better view of the mechanics of this remarkable feat of engineering.

IMG_6071

IMG_6072

The blue structure suspended on cables is called a “gondola” . Attached to the other end of the cables is a moving carriage which runs along the high horizontal beam on rail tracks operated from the motor house. The gondola is in fact a ferry in the air, capable of transporting people and vehicles. Amazing…..

Just in front of the bridge is a path off to the left which runs alongside the river with its usual repertoire of derelict wharves and rotting boats. We meet an old man gathering drift wood in a wheelbarrow for his stove. He has a thick South Wales accent and tells us it’s a couple of hours to Magor – I think not. We are now on the Welsh Coast Path.

IMG_6074

The path runs inland here through wide open green spaces – it is a lovely day again and people are out walking dogs. A solid newly constructed bridge takes us over an artificial drainage channel called a “reen” on the map and there are quite a few of them criss crossing the landscape.

IMG_6075

Over the next stile we are approaching what looks like a pub where we decide to indulge in a cream tea. Opposite the pub is a large church where people are tending graves.

Suitably refreshed we set off across the fields again in the direction of the sea wall – through a nature reserve reclaimed from what used to be a dumping ground for waste from the power station we can see in the distance. It is heartening to see the rebirth of wastelands into wetlands.IMG_6076

The reserve offers a lighthouse, lakes, birdwatching hides and various trails including a sculpture trail. This is one of the “sculptures”:

IMG_6078

….and here is the lighthouse, which used to have legs…..

IMG_6079

Onward we tramp in the scorching sun – mad dogs and Englishmen but it’s only April! Whatever is growing on the rocks is a very fashionable yellow.

IMG_6080

Just before the village of Gold Cliff the path turns inland to avoid marshland. It then dips down again to join the coast, running past a place called Redwick. By now we are both very tired, hot and hungry. It has been a much longer walk than anticipated, I had misjudged the distances on the map and not taken the heat into account.

Onwards – past someone’s attempt at public art and then finally we reach the turn off at Magor Pil which runs past the Sewage Works (just what we need) and up onto a road.

IMG_6082

We have 30 minutes more of road walking before we reach our AirBnb. Absolutely exhausted we crawl into our host’s kitchen, wrench off the boots and with the minimum of niceties head for the pub. Damian buys me a pint of weak but ice cold lager (I am only now getting back to drinking alcohol after 9 months abstinence) which goes down a treat.

Distance: 15 miles

 

 

Yatton to Weston-Super-Mare 18.4.19

I don’t really know where I got the idea from that Weston-Super-Mare was a tacky, run down seaside resort full of amusement arcades, dodgy theme pubs and screaming children. Yes there is a little bit of that but actually it is quite harmless, especially early in the morning. The Grand Pier has none of the elegance of Clevedon Pier but after a fire in 2008, which completely destroyed it, the pier re-opened in 2010 after a rebuild which is surprisingly tasteful.

IMG_6022

So, alighting from the train at Yatton I spot the cycle/pedestrian path which will take me back part of the way to Weston.  I am walking in the direction of Congresbury but after crossing the River Yeo I will be turning right on to the A370 and then left onto a minor road and farm track over the Oldbridge River.

IMG_6027

http://www.thestrawberryline.org.uk

This walking/cycle path takes its name from the old railway line previously used to transport strawberries from the strawberry fields of Cheddar – It has a grand entrance and information board at Yatton.

IMG_6030

IMG_6029

However, as most train tracks are quite straight, walking this path is a little monotonous.

IMG_6031

Eventually I cross over the River Yeo which is looking a bit weary, turn right on to the main road and then shortly after turn left onto a minor road which runs past a collection of farm buildings called Stepstones Farm.

IMG_6033

This then turns into a stoney track which I hope will take me over to the next village called Puxton. Breathing a sigh of relief that there is no sign of an irate farm dog (I am always wary of walking past places that are not used to seeing people on foot).  I follow the track for half a mile when I hear the sound of angry barking. It’s coming from up ahead but I have no alternative but to hope that the animal has a responsible owner. The barking gets louder and hoarser, a sure sign of bad temper, but the gods are with me and when I turn the corner I see that the beast is caged in behind a high metal fence. It is a big dog and all my attempts at shushing it just seem to irritate it even more. I scuttle past with as much dignity as I can muster and do not look back.

Arriving in Puxton, a bit hot and bothered I decide to cool off in the church.

IMG_6037

From the information board I gather that the church dates from the 13th century and is not used anymore. It is a Grade 1 listed building with a leaning tower due to the peaty foundations.

IMG_6036 (1).jpg

Inside it feels dusty and forlorn – worn woodwork and pews moulded by the pressure of hands over a period of 600 hundred years.

IMG_6038IMG_6039

Blinking in the bright sunshine I emerge from the church to continue down the road. As I turn off right on to a footpath I am startled by the sound of a horn and a whistle. Surely there are no trains around here? But quite quickly I realise that behind the high hedge is a children’s outdoor theme park with toy train rides, canoeing and all manner of climbing activities – this is Ruxton Park.

I walk on another mile or two ending on the A370 and cross the same motorway as I did yesterday – and I still don’t like the feeling of hundreds of vehicles driving at high speed underneath me. IMG_6052

From the outskirts of Weston I walk back to the station to pick up the rest of my belongings from my BnB. In the centre of town I pass this amazing structure which lifts my spirits. As far as I can see this is a bus shelter!

IMG_6026

Distance: 8 miles