Anstey’s Cove (Torquay) to Brixham 22.7.14

We start where I finished last time, down the back of the Palace Hotel to the north east of Torquay. It is 10 am but already very hot and glimpses of a sparkling turquoise sea don’t make it any easier. We walk through woodland, past Hope’s Nose and Thatcher Rock, down to Meadfoot Beach where a few people are frolicking in the sea.

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P1040077We then join the road for a while – I take a photo of some striking flowers that look like tall lupins – if anyone knows what they are, answers on a post card please.P1040080Further on we smell this before we see it – a “walk through” aviary but very few birds out in the midday sun.P1040082And then Torquay Harbour, bursting with yachts and tourists, living up to its name as the capital of the English Riviera. P1040084We walk over the footbridge and onwards, along the promenade, picking our way in between sunbathers on the beach, tramping up the main road out of town and eventually down into Paignton. Damian poses for a picture.P1040087By now we are ready for refreshment but Paignton seafront is not an attractive proposition – we walk round to the harbour and find a little outdoor cafe for a cream tea.

Energised we walk through Goodrington Sands where it seems like half the population of Birmingham are on holiday and then up onto a path that runs parallel to the railway line. I have by now realised that the train from Paignton to Dartmouth is a steam train and I am hoping to get a photo. A little later we pass a man in a high viz vest working on the line and I ask him when the next train is due – 30 minutes, too long to wait.P1040089

P1040092Still no train……………..and we have a long way to go……………

We are soon back to the sea where the landscape opens up. Down below us are a group of people in wet suits – two men and a young girl. The men are shouting words of encouragement, trying to get the girl to jump into the water from the top of a large rock. Damian tells me they are coasteering which according to Wikipedia is “a physical activity that encompasses movement along the intertidal zone of a rocky coastline on foot or by swimming, without the aid of boats, surf boards or other craft”. It takes a while but she does jump.P1040094From now on we walk along the top of a series of beautiful little coves, the first being Elberry Cove which is well known (in some circles) for its enormous bed of sea grass. The water in the inlet is beautifully clear and there are only a few people around as there is no car access. We deliberate – I am desperate for a swim to cool down but we decide to cover a little more ground before stopping. At the end of the beach is a small ruin which I am told was a local lord’s bathhouse in the 18th century………….very nice.  P1040097Damian walks purposefully on……..P1040098And soon we are rewarded with another beautiful cove – Churston Cove – where we join the excited dogs for a dip in the deliciously cool water…..followed by a nap on the pebbles.P1040099 The path continues to wind upwards through woodland which then leads to a stretch of parkland named Battery Gardens, a coastal defence site intended to protect Torbay from an expected German invasion after Dunkirk.

Walking down into Brixham, we pass a yacht club where a group of young people are confidently wheeling small mirror dinghies down the slipway and into the sea…….it looks quite easy and I expect it is – if you know how.

P1040103 Brixham is a pleasant surprise – the harbour is alive with fishing boats and small pleasure craft and sitting amongst them a replica of the Golden Hind. The information board tells us it was home to 60 sailors and 15 officers – it is very difficult to see where there would be room for so many people.P1040104P1040105iP1040109It is the end of our walk today, time for a pint and some fresh fish – this is the view from our hotel window.

Distance: 11 miles


 

 

Briton Ferry to Swansea 12.7.14

The sun is trying to shine as I walk out of the station at Briton Ferry and back through the town to meet the A48 and the busy road bridge over the River Neath. In the distance is the M4 and underneath me, a lot of mud and a large recycling centre.P1040068Fortunately, there is quite a lot of space between me and the cars whizzing over the bridge, so it is not such an unpleasant experience as I thought it was going to be. However I still have a fair bit of road walking to do on the other side.

I often wonder what people think when they see a lone woman walking along the side of a busy main road, empty of anywhere she may have come from or may be trying to get to – not trying to get a lift, just walking. Do they think I’m doolally? Are they right?

I walk on, it’s monotonous and there’s not a lot to look at but the pretty wild flowers growing in the verges. At one point I am allowed a few minutes peace when the path/cycle track veers off left, only to soon join the road again further up

P1040069After I while I  see a big junction up ahead with signs pointing to an Amazon warehouse and this gets me thinking as to whether I am actually going to put my money where my mouth is (or not as it were) and stop using Amazon – zero hour contracts, terrible working conditions not to mention tax avoidance – but it is so easy. I decide to try.

To my relief I am now directed down a minor road towards Jersey Marine and after asking for a few directions I find a Welsh Coast Path sign on a lamp post pointing towards the tow path of the Tennant Canal. This will take me all the way to Swansea.

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The next part of the walk is lovely, most of it accompanied by a family of swans.

IMG_0902I meet no-one apart from a lone jogger until I end up in a housing estate, after which the   path dips down to the building sites of a ferocious redevelopment of Swansea docklands.

At one point I am high above the road and treated to the sight of a trio of bikini clad Welsh beauties, sent out into the drizzle to encourage passing motorists to pull in for a car wash. They wave weakly at the cars speeding past but don’t seem to be harvesting much but a lot of honking car horns – think I’d rather clean toilets.IMG_0912Eventually, I walk across a footbridge over the River Tawe and end up outside the Dylan Thomas Centre – I call in.IMG_0919One could spend far more time in this lovely place so when I continue my walk later in the month I will make a point of coming again. The one thing I did need to see though was the replica of the poet’s writing shed as this was on tour and was due to be moved in a couple of days. IMG_0922One of my favourites:

And when the firemen turned off the hose and were standing in the wet, smoky room, Jim’s Aunt, Miss Prothero, came downstairs and peered in at them. Jim and I waited, very quietly, to hear what she would say to them. She said the right thing, always. She looked at the three tall firemen in their shining helmets, standing among the smoke and cinders and dissolving snowballs, and she said, “Would you like anything to read?”

Dylan Thomas, A Child’s Christmas in Wales

 

Aberavon Beach to Briton Ferry 11.7.14

It has been brought to my attention that those of you who have signed up to get an email every time I post a walk are not getting the Google map at the end which shows you where I’ve walked. I don’t know why this is happening because the map is there on the website but in the meantime, if you want to see the map, just click on the “View Larger Map” link at the bottom of the post and the map will appear.

So here I am in Wales again planning a walk to Swansea but having to spread it over two days due to inclement weather. Early afternoon sees me down on the seafront at Aberavon faced with the vast expanse of Aberavon beach. P1040061

The beach is empty apart from a few fishermen and the damp sand makes for easy walking. The official route takes you through the dunes but someone ‘s been having fun with the signposts so I decide to stay on the beach and head up into the dunes further up.

P1040063This is a mistake as by the time I need to head inland the dunes are very steep and very hard work. After a lot of exertion I manage to get to the top of one where I can see more clearly in which direction I’m supposed to be walking but a passing local with an extremely slobbery dog tells me that I may have trouble getting through.

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I know I cannot cross the River Neath up ahead and I can see the power station that stands in my way. If the walker is right I’d have to come all the way back – I turn around and head for the road which winds back inland through sad streets of pebble dash and yellowing net curtains. Eventually I join up with cycle path 4 which runs parallel to the very busy main road. Reaching the footbridge that spans the road over to Baglan station I decide to carry on up a minor road running parallel to the A48 and eventually end up in Briton Ferry. A sign catches my eye….P1040064Later I discover the connection between Bbowa and Briton Ferry is an educational one. This run down town in South Wales is involved in Care For Uganda, a sponsorship programme which aims to give all its children a proper school education. My mind goes back to the time I spent teaching primary school children in Uganda some years ago. Sixty to a class and about 10 pencil stubs between them. Most of them walked barefoot the five miles to school, some without breakfast. It was a real eye opener for me………

Distance: 6 miles

 

 

 

Watcombe to Torquay 5.7.14

IMG_0861Extricating myself from the dubious attractions of Torquay takes a while but I finally hit on the right bus that can take me more or less to where I stopped yesterday. Through the Valley of Rocks, down to the signpost and up onto the path to Babbacombe. This part of the walk is beautiful, through quiet woods on well marked paths, the sea sparkling in the morning sun down below me. IMG_0862I make good progress and get quite excited when I see that part of the route means a ride on the Babbacombe Cliff Railway.

IMG_0868IMG_0867IMG_0870Built in the 20’s it was dismantled at the start of the 2nd world war for security reasons and after reinstatement almost died a death a couple of times but for local support. In 2006/7 it was re-opened after a complete overhaul and refurbishment. I am alone in the carriage which shuttles me down to Oddicombe Beach and a cup of tea in the visitor centre.

Moving south I walk on the concrete path, over a large rock on a wooden walkway where some boys are swimming and on to the village of Babbacombe. IMG_0872

IMG_0873From here it’s looks difficult to walk following the coast and time is getting on – I have a train to catch. Asking for directions from a very sweaty jogger who kindly stops to help me I walk left around the back of the pub and up through woodland to the top of the cliff where the landscape opens out into  a large open area known as Walls Hill. From here there are not many signs so I walk in the general direction of the road. At one point a narrow path is signposted down to Amstey’s Cove but a barrier and warning signs of slippage have been set up – two young boys carrying surf boards calmly walk around the signs and set off down the side of the very steep cliff – I am content with taking a picture. IMG_0877I am soon out on a road which leads to the Palace Hotel and then a bus to the station.

Distance: 5 miles

Exmouth to Watcombe 4.7.14

P1040011The ferry is docked but we are told to wait 10 minutes before boarding – so we wait – myself, a cyclist and the ship’s dog, a wet dewy eyed spaniel. P1040012On the other side Starcross huddles under a grey sky and I take a photo of Brunel’s pumping station, part of his plans for his Atmospheric Railway – this is a Google explanation:

The concept behind an atmospheric or vacuum railway was simple. Instead of a conventional steam engine, the railway would have stationary engines at either end. A pipe ran down the middle of the rails, and the lead carriage had a piston head that fitted into this pipe. The engines would generate a vacuum in the pipe by use of suction, and the pressure change would pull the carriages from one end of the line to the other.

Theoretically this should produce a cost saving, as the engines need not move their own weight or carry fuel with them.

One of those best laid plans of mice and men………

Alighting from the ferry I turn left and spend a long time walking on the road – off to the left is the railway line which soon blocks the view completely and then it starts to rain.

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Feeling just a little dispirited I walk through Cockwood, a picture postcard village boasting two excellent family run pubs – wrong time of day unfortunately.P1040015I walk, it’s not so bad, leafy pedestrian paths running parallel with the road have been kindly provided but by the time I reach Dawlish Warren I am a little weary of this “coastal path”.P1040017The approaches to Dawlish Warren are nothing but a massive holiday complex, little knots of damp tourists huddle miserably under umbrellas, bored children whine.

Further on signs abound warning of how dangerous it can be to walk the coast path from here to Dawlish. Having learned my lesson in Porthcawl I decide to go for local knowledge but the lady in the tea stall says no, only to the “Red Rock” – the path is blocked further up. Remembering the TV images of floating railway lines and huge waves hurling themselves at seafront houses  I am almost convinced, but something urges me on.P1040018I walk up to the “Red Rock” and stand deliberating………it’s a long way back if I can’t get through and there’s no way I can scramble up the cliffs to walk along the top. I decide to risk it.P1040022As I walk the trains fly past me – on the other side it is high tide and the waves pound the seawall. So far so good, I can see Dawlish clearly now and start to relax, making space for the creeping realisation that I have seen “Red Rock” before, from the window of the very trains rushing past me at the moment. At that time I was on my way to Gaia House for a weekend of silent meditation, hard beds and delicious vegetarian food not forgetting the sore knees – insights? I had a few but then again….

Lost in thought I come to a shocking halt, is this the first barrier? Can I climb round it? Does the path really dwindle to nothing a bit further up? But no, in my panic I forget to look behind me (didn’t those childhood pantomimes teach me anything?) and lo and behold there is a footbridge to take me up into Dawlish, through the town and back down the other side – phew!P1040023

P1040028Out of Dawlish I clamber up Lea Mount from where I can see the promontories of Parson and Clerk and Shag Rock (the mind boggles).P1040030The area is fenced off but after a bit of wandering around I find an exit which leads onto  a tarmac road. P1040031There is now more road walking than I feel there should be, so I stop to ask for directions. The middle aged couple are gardening, their outfits strike me as a little malapropos, the lady of the house in a bright red sweater to match her lipstick, her husband sporting a pair of immaculate slacks and a panama hat. She screeches when I mention a particular hill I need to climb but they are friendly and knowledgable and send me off through fields and up and down very steep paths, running parallel to the railway line below.P1040033Finally, the landscape evens out and I come to Mules Park (although I don’t see any) at Eastcliffe – the path leads gently down into Teignmouth which is a bit of a disappointment.

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P1040037There are very few people around due to the miserable weather and as I walk past the crumbling pier I start feeling a little despondent. Food is needed, so I head for the beach cafe and after ploughing my way through a slab of lasagne I feel so much better about the world.

The ferry to Shaldon goes from the “back beach” – there is one just arriving.P1040039P1040040My fellow passengers include a group of boisterous schoolgirls – the skipper who obviously knows them, makes a couple of futile attempts to get them to calm down but gives up in the end. These squealing, shrieking creatures in cotton tops and short skirts are the only ones who seem oblivious to the heavy drizzle which is now seeping through my “showerproof” jacket – I am glad to get off the boat.

 

From now on there are very few photographs, as the mechanics of getting the camera /iphone out of my rucksack where they nestle in their plastic protective coverings is too much for me. It is now raining quite heavily as I head up on a forest path which soon turns into a narrow, overgrown, muddy and very steep one. I trudge up and down fighting off dripping ferns, brambles and stinging nettles which hem me in on both sides – images of Herzog’s “Fitzcarraldo” come to mind, the one step forward, two steps back syndrome.

I then get a bit lost and head down through a field to try and get back on the path. Through all this I have not met a single walker, I have only cows for company who gaze impassively at my painful attempts to get the second leg over a barbed wire fence and are suitably  unimpressed by my groans when I rip my waterproof trousers. So on I go, up the steepest steps cut into the sticky red earth.

Rounding a corner I am brought up short by the sight of a young couple in school uniform canoodling on a step in the middle of the path. The boy has the most beautiful blonde curls and the girl is pretty with long dark hair – I feel like I’ve walked into the set of Midsummer Night’s Dream. Embarrassed, I muster up a good afternoon, encouraged by a sign of human life in the jungle. Eventually, the path widens and gets easier, this is proper woodland and I start to relax – I do however, have very little idea of where I am – all I know is that I am exhausted and it is time to stop.

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I reach a signpost which leads one way to Babbacombe Beach and the other to the Valley of Rocks. I am stuck now between a rock and a hard place (if you’ll excuse the pun) as I know I don’t want to carry on to Babbacombe but I’ve no idea what’s in the other direction – my iPhone has no 3G so I can’t check my position. Reminding myself that I am not in the middle of the Sahara with no water I set off for the valley which proves to be a short walk, up onto a narrow tarmac road leading to Watcombe – I will return tomorrow.

Distance: 13 miles

 

 

 

Sidmouth to Exmouth 3.7.14

TaaRaa! Introducing the JAWBONE – the latest gadget to track your lifestyle, count calories, hours slept, steps taken and distances covered – cute – just have to remember to take it off before I dive into the swimming pool.

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So, having inadvertently spent the night in a Christian Guild Hotel (Booking.com never mentioned it and I just thought it was cheap) I leave the smiles and good will (breakfast served on round tables laid for 10, no escape) and hurry up the cliff away from Sidmouth. 

From the seafront the concrete path winds round a pink cliff – and I find myself on a grassy path trimmed with wooden memorial benches. The hallmark of coastal retirement towns these benches have three functions: to remember the dead, to provide rest for those in need of it and a place to sit and enjoy the view……but sometimes you can have enough of a good thing.

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Through some beech woods and fields of golden corn, then up onto the cliff path which eventually leads down to Ladram Bay. P1030980

An information board tells me that the rock formations here are of Otter Sandstone and are some of the best examples in the world – my little snap happy camera does not do them justice – they feel ancient – 235 million years old to be exact.P1030982

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After a while I follow the circuitous path into Budleigh Salterton, the grassy islets of the estuary reminding me of Essex. The beach is pebbly and someone has spent a long time sculpting this heart…….bless.

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P1030989An enticing path leads to woodland, the roots crossing the path catch my eye – these are real but I remember seeing replicas in bronze coursing through a path at the Yorkshire Sculpture park – the artist called her piece “Speed Breakers”.P1030990

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P1030991The sounds of gunfire had been disturbing me for a while and emerging from the woods I see a military camp on the peninsula in from of me, the familiar red flag flying. P1030993Walking down I pass another huge spread of static caravans and wonder at how much peace the inhabitants actually get with a firing squad as neighbours  – still each to his own.

P1030995I take one more photo of the red cliffs bleeding into the sea behind me and head off for lunch at the next bay – Sandy Bay it’s called and the beach bar and restaurant complex would not look out of place on the Costa Del Sol – despite my thirst I decide to give it a miss but it’s a great sandy beach and for some reason a lot of Welsh accents.

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I am nearing Exmouth now and hunger spurs me on – I speed across the top of the cliffs and down into the town for a cheese toastie and a cup of tea. I recognise the lingering traces of a Goth in the owner of the hotel who is really welcoming and sounds just like Alison Steadman in Abbegail’s Party – slightly unnerving. A little later on I take a reconnaissance walk to the harbour where I’ll be taking the ferry tomorrow morning.

My JAWBONE tells me I have walked 11 miles so it must be true.

 

Seaton to Sidmouth 27.5.14

Waking up in Beer for my third day of walking and despite the forecast it is still not raining. I walk up the pretty main street which has channels of water running down on both sides – I take pictures as I wait for the bus to Seaton. The bus is like a party for the over 70’s – there is chatting, laughing, everybody on first name terms, including the driver – I feel quite left out.

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Soon we are in Seaton which is where I gave up the ghost yesterday – the roundabout at the seafront is unusual.

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I walk west along the seafront until I see a sign indicating a short detour inland and after ten minutes walking along the main road I turn off into a wood along a path which takes me back to the coast.

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Before I know it I am back to the white cliffs of Beer again walking up the tarmac road out of the village and on to the cliff path up to Beer Head.P1030934

The path is very close to the edge here and it’s a long way down – looking back I can see where I’ve come from, the unusual white cliffs of Beer contrasting sharply with the red earth of the rest of the Jurassic Coast.

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On I go, it’s easy walking and not too many people about. I pass a desolate looking building facing the sea, the only one for miles around and have a little wonder about what it must be like to live there. Great views but not much else going for it.

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After a while I see what I think is Branscombe Mouth – the path begins to dip sharply downwards through a field of buttercups. It is a very steep approach, I lean heavily on my pole for balance. There is music coming from somewhere and when I get to the bottom of the hill I am diverted through a camping site past some sort of fair with a loud sound system. Up to the left about twenty wooden summer houses are tucked in to the cliff with an unusual amount of space between them – the owners are obviously not that concerned about slippage.

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It is time for a cup of tea so I find a table outside the beach cafe next to a couple with a  beautiful sheep dog – it sits with its chin on the ground looking mournfully up at my cake.

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Outside the cafe is the anchor of MS Napoli, the ship that was beached here in 2007 after running into difficulties. I remember the tales of an “orgy of greed” – hundreds of scavengers descending on the beach at Branscombe from all over the country, bent on looting the ship’s containers. Amongst the brand new motorcycles and cars was a load of bibles – these were burnt to keep the looters warm!

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Out of Branscombe it’s yet another upward climb but the National Trust have been kind with their “ladders”. P1030945

The next part of the walk is beautiful, through lush green woodland and then up onto the cliffs. P1030950

At one point I walk past and almost miss a wooden wagon, camouflaged by its own careful planting of bushes and trees – the owner is obviously fed up with curious walkers peering through his/her windows.

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Later on a field of beautiful black and white cows and a woman wearing a beekeepers hat and gloves – I don’t see any hives but with all these wild flowers it must be a favourite area for bees.

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Later on the path begins to descend steeply, my progress is painstakingly slow. Eventually I reach the beach known as Weston Mouth – it is almost deserted so I look for a comfortable place to snuggle down into the shingle and have a rest in the sunshine, it is very peaceful. P1030958

Despite wanting to lie down on this beach forever I haul myself to my feet and prepare for the  climb up the other side of the valley. The path is very narrow and I am concentrating so much on my breathing that it takes  awhile before I realise there is someone quite close behind me. That someone is young man in camouflage with an enormous backpack. I stop to let him pass commenting on the speed of his walking and the size of his backpack – “Oh no” he says “it’s full of pillows really” – I do not believe him.P1030959

Off he speeds up the hill and when I get to flatter land I see him again in the distance, running!P1030960

From now on it’s cliff walking until I finally get to see Sidmouth in the distance.

P1030961Not before time but alas I have one more steep ascent from Salcombe Mouth through a field of the whitest cows I’ve ever seen. Reaching the top I gasp at the young couple sitting on the bench watching me that this is possibly the hardest ascent I’ve done for  along time – they commiserate kindly.

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And finally Sidmouth with its retirement homes, period hotels and crummy guest-houses – a town popular with an elderly demographic. I am not impressed.

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In fact I can’t wait to leave.