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.

 

Seatown to Beer (nearly) 27.5.14

Yesterday, when walking up to Chideock to get the bus to Bridport I had noticed a sign to Golden Cap, so today I retrace my steps and turn off the road, following a wide grassy track winding gently upwards.

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This gentle slope then turns into something a little more challenging so I stop to catch my breath by the side of the only tree in the near vicinity – I wonder why this bent old specimen has been spared.P1030893

Ahead of me are a family with young children, their squawking disturbs the peace – I realise I am turning into a grumpy old woman. It is warm today I am already peeling off layers with the exertion of getting to the top and when I get there the children are playing on the cairn so I wait a while, taking in the view.

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Coming down the other side is painstakingly slow – the slope is steep and I have to take small steps, using my pole. Stopping to rest not far away from a bench full of local people I overhear the explanation of why the hill is called Golden Cap. Apparently the top used to be devoid of vegetation and was just golden earth – this would then glow in the light of the setting sun. Nowadays, the top is much greener.

From here the path carries on through fields and meadows full of beautiful wild flowers – daisies, dandelions, meadow grass, red campion and buttercups. I take no pictures because I know they will not do them justice.

After a while I can see Charmouth below me but just when I think I can roll down the hill to the town I come to a stop in front of a sign that tells me the path is closed and directs me off to the right. Hoping it’s not going to be too much of a detour I follow the path which brings me out to a car park and a narrow tarmac road leading down to the town. I walk past expensive looking houses and every two minutes I am forced to stop to let equally expensive looking cars pass – they all give me a friendly wave. On either side are woodlands with the last of the spring bluebells.

Coming down into the town I approach a field full of cars and lots of people milling around. It’s an open air market so I decide to take a look around. I do not stay long – the smell of cooking fat and candy floss turn my empty stomach and there is nothing of any interest.P1030903

I am now very hungry and thirsty so when I reach Charmouth beach I make straight for the  cafe. Taking my lunch with me outside I find a place to sit on a bench overlooking the beach and watch fascinated by the small groups of fossil hunters. Wielding hired hammers they break up the stones, some have masks on.P1030908

So time to move on, I have to get to Lyme Regis and further today. Again the coast path is closed so I head upwards through residential streets trying to follow the plethora of footpath signs. Some end in dead ends and this one leads me down to a point where the path disappears over the edge of a cliff, the ground has fallen completely away. I walk back, thinking it would be nice to buy some quail eggs but how on earth would I carry them?P1030909

Eventually I am forced on to a very busy road leading out of Charmouth and it seems an age until I finally reach the welcoming sign.P1030910

The path is now through some lovely woods and after a while out onto a golf course. Walkers are instructed to follow the white stones placed at intervals right across the middle of the course – I realise there are golfers waiting for me to cross before they send that ball travelling at 150 mph down the green.

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At the edge of the golf course is a gate and I turn left down a road which winds steeply and unrelentingly down to Lyme Regis. Coming down to a crossroads I turn left towards the seafront. P1030912

On my right is the river Lym which runs prettily down the sides of houses – to my left a row of pastel coloured cottages. It reminds me of a few French villages I’ve seen in my time.P1030914

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Arriving at the seafront is a shock. I have been here before but I cannot remember it being so geared up for tourists, it verges on the tacky – even the majestic Cobb cannot raise my spirits.

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I quickly head for the Tourist Information Office where my suspicions are confirmed – the path along the Undercliffs is closed. “Are you sure?” I ask the pert little woman who with a flourish of her biro draws two firm lines to indicate where the slippage has happened. I scowl , “Don’t look at me like that”, she says, pursing her lips. I adjust my face and walk dejectedly out the door.

I am tired now and the detour is a wide loop to the north of the town – I am beginning to wonder if I will make it to Beer this evening. I decide to try.

Heading off past the bowling green I see a sign pointing up to the right. A couple of locals with dogs are coming down the path so I stop to ask them if they think I can get past the slippage. It is an academic question really because the thought of trying the gruelling seven  mile walk to Seaton with no accessible path inland is daunting and I may have to come back halfway. They hum and hah so I make up my mind – no.

I walk upwards through woodlands in the direction of Ware. Coming out onto Ware Lane I walk past a lovely little wagon behind the hedge. I used to live in one a little bit bigger than this in Denmark and have very fond memories of life with a wood stove and no running water.P1030922

I am now following a footpath over a few stiles and through fields until I reach a gate where the ground dips sharply down and I am treated to an amazing sight – Cannington Viaduct. The pale yellow stone makes it look surreal against the lush green of the countryside.

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On I go, over gates, through two farmyards, holding my breath waiting for the sound of snappy farm dogs but no, all is still and it is a lovely evening.

Eventually I reach a main road and ignoring the signs I decide to walk down the road to Seaton. I am exhausted, have walked far further than I intended and developed a healthy respect for the rigours of the South West Coast Path. I think wistfully of the flatlands of Essex and Norfolk but I know I will get used to this and it is very, very good exercise. From Seaton I get a taxi to Beer and collapse into bed. Tomorrow I will make up the shortfall. I am now in Devon!

Distance: 11 miles

Abbotsbury to Seatown 25.5.14

This gorgeous lamb seems interested in my progress as I puff and pant up the steep hill to St. Catherine’s Chapel in Abbotsbury. P1030857

It is Sunday, very quiet and quite breezy – I zip up my jacket.

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After taking a few pictures I move down the other side of the hill and not finding a direct path, I head in the general direction of the coast. At the bottom of the huge field I find myself on a grassy track, which eventually leads me to the shingle of the northern tip of Chesil Beach.

Just before I hit the beach I notice some wild flowers by the side of the track that look very familiar – I had bought a pot of these a few weeks ago, planted them in the garden and a day later they had lost all their flowers. Here, these same flowers were everywhere and looking extremely healthy. I can only surmise that they love sandy soil and not heavy London clay but then why didn’t it say so on the label?!P1030858

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Head down, I begin the familiar shingle trudge hoping it’s not going to last too long – and it doesn’t YET. Just round the corner is a tea shop, a car park and a friendly National Trust man who tells me that there is a decent track most of the way to Seatown, although he does qualify it with “some places better than others”. Encouraged I start walking on the dirt road, past some pretty newly renovated coastguard cottages – to my left is the beach, a few fishermen are out. I realise I have no idea what kind of fish you can catch off this coast, if they weren’t so far away I would ask – next time.P1030861

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After a while the track starts to deteriorate and the walking gets harder. At West Bexington I stop to take a photo of someone’s mini Stonehenge, it makes me happy to think someone has taken the time to build it.

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On I go and the shingle gets denser – this is Cogden Beach and I won’t forget it for a long time. It is now filed away with another shingle trudge in Norfolk which nearly killed me. There is really no path, there may have been at one time but the shingle has reclaimed it ….obviously…..P1030868

I meet a couple of walkers coming the other way, they do not have good news, but as it happens they are exaggerating. For another 20 minutes I crawl along with a very narrow field of vision and nearly miss a gate off to the right with grass on the other side! Through I go, my heart lifting with the joy of having firm ground under my feet. P1030870

This part of the path circles a couple of ponds and wet land called Burton Mere – there are irises and boardwalks.P1030871

Later on the path turns into firm grass and I’m walking closer to the coast. It is lunchtime and I am very hungry so when I round a corner and find myself looking down on a pretty little beach I decide to head for the cafe. P1030874

Half an hour later I am still standing in the queue only to be told when I finally get a chance to order that the soup may take another 30 minutes – it is a bank holiday weekend, very busy. Resigned to the wait I sink into my chair, reminding myself of the fact that I am here, in this lovely part of the country, doing what I love doing and not at work. All this positive thinking must have had an effect as 10 minutes later I’m tucking into the most delicious seafood soup with large hunks of homemade bread.

Satisfied, I walk along the beach and realise that I am now being diverted inland (not for the first time) – but it is only a short detour and I am soon back on a wide grassy path on the cliffs all the way to Burton Freshwater.P1030875

A small stream runs through the beach but further up there are some stones which allow me to cross it. Children are daring each other to slide down the bank – one of the girls nearly gets dragged in to the fast flowing stream.P1030878

From now on, the path hugs the coast, there are a few, quite steep ascents and descents and a couple of extremely ugly caravan sites. P1030881P1030886

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Eventually I reach the sprawl of West Bay, it’s actually prettier once you get down to the harbour but I don’t stay long as I need to get to Seatown early enough to get the bus back to Bridport where I will be staying the night.

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It is still a beautiful day, I walk on, through Eype’s Mouth, then up a very steep slope and down the other side. My knees are complaining a little so I spend a little time drinking a cold beer outside the pub, watching people on the beach. It’s been a hard walk but a good day.

Distance: 11 miles

Rest Bay to Aberavon Sands 4.5.14

I fear this post will be a bit patchy as I have been too busy to get down to writing and the 4th May seems such a long time ago – but here goes……

Having spent the night in Bridgend the taxi drops us off at Rest Bay where we will  unfortunately be diverted away from the coast. A few days previously I had rung Bridgend Town Council to ask about the closure of the boardwalk that runs parallel with the coast – they assured me that it was closed. Damian is sceptical but I take the good girl route and head off towards the golf club. IMG_0748

After a few wrong turns in a world full of bungalows and neat lawns we eventually find the path that leads around the golf course and back to the sea. Arriving back at the coast I sheepishly concede that indeed there were walkers on the boardwalk coming from Porthcawl. “Did you walk from Rest Bay along the boardwalk?” I ask tentatively. “Oh yes ” is the reply “there’s a bit of digging going on round the corner but we just walked around it!” my humiliation is complete.

Moving on we find a clear grassy path leading westwards and soon pass Sker House off to the right.  Once home to Cistercian monks over 900 years ago, it lay derelict for centuries, providing a setting for many a ghost story and the famous Welsh ballad “The Maid of Sker”. This was one of my father’s fascinations when walking the Kenfig dunes on family holidays. IMG_0749Now restored at great expense, it is a private dwelling in the hands of someone who obviously adores yellow.

On we walk, Damian striding ahead – the Port Talbot steelworks in the distance –  a strange backdrop for the surfers, braving the wavesIMG_0750IMG_0751

The sun is hot on an unprotected head and as we tramp through Kenfig Dunes I feel I could be in a wild stretch of desert country instead of South Wales heading for one of the country’s biggest industrial complexes.  IMG_0756

Closer and closer we get, until we cannot go any further and are diverted around Tata Steel country, up the side of a huge mound of sand and down to the bridge over the Kenfig River. This has been built recently, a solid wooden structure that looks like it was built to carry a herd of stampeding cows rather than the occasional walker. IMG_0755

Crossing the bridge the path is now clearly marked, leading us down through a pleasant stretch of woodland, over two boardwalks and up to a disused railway line. We then follow a wide grassy path through some scrubland until we end up back to civilisation in the form of a railway crossing.

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We stop to watch a goods train grinding slowly along, the track buckling beneath its weight, the wheels screeching like stuck pigs.

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On the other side of the crossing the path follows the perimeter fence of the gasworks which is part of the vast complex we are now circumnavigating – it is time for lunch and a cup of tea but the landscape does not look promising.IMG_0786

Misinterpretation of the map (can happen to us all) sees us meandering around a stark landscape of newly tarmaced service roads, tall concrete walls painted a blinding white, metal turnstiles demanding entry codes, sentry lights which I’ll swear house CCTV cameras and not a soul in sight to ask for directions. Any minute I’m expecting the flat  tones of a loud disembodied voice to shatter the ominous silence, asking us to get off what is so obviously private property – but then I am a good girl.

Eventually, we find our way out, under a bridge and into the sad streets of Margam – still no sign of a cafe – we do in fact pass one but it’s closed!

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Turning a corner we come out onto a wide road and in the distance a pub – with tables outside. Wearily we sink into the wooden benches, now too hot for a cup of tea so we brave the local ale………Brains……..a bit of a mistake. As we sit demolishing huge bacon sandwiches, a band starts setting up and I groan inwardly thinking this is going to be LOUD. And it is, but fun, and it’s amazing what two small pieces of tissue paper can do. The two lead singers have good voices and the young guitarist is trying very hard, he has a Led Zeppelin t-shirt on, I like him already. IMG_0788

After lunch, we set off down the road, heading roughly for the coast, skirting Port Talbot docks, following a road which leads up to a weir and an old rusty steel bridge. IMG_0793

Damian poses for a photo…..catching flies.IMG_0794

From now on the walk becomes more like a walk as we know it – a narrow path winds up the side of the weir in the direction of Aberavon. We pass people out for a Sunday afternoon walk and turning a corner we are greeted with the splendid sight of the miles and miles of golden sands that make up Aberavon beach. IMG_0800

What a relief! Even the horrendous architecture that lines the beachfront can not spoil the feeling of having left behind Port Talbot and its industrial wastelands. IMG_0802

On the seafront is a sculpture – the Kitetail – Wales’ largest sculpture, standing at 12 metres high and weighing 11 tonnes. Designed by Carmarthenshire-based artist and sculptor Andrew Rowe, it tells another story, the historical importance of the steelworks for the area. I like the combination of the massive steel components and the notion of a kite flying high up in the blue sky.

 

 

Portland to Abbotsbury 10.4.14

There is mud and there is MUD and the hallmark of today’s walk is the latter……..but more on that later. I get up early, determined to do the second day despite the throbbing toe – grit, determination or plain stupidity? Who knows, but 8.30 am I am standing taking photographs again of the ferry bridge to Portland before turning west along a clearly signposted path to Abbotsbury – 10 and  half miles it says – my toe winces.

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The path winds upwards past Chesil Beach holiday village where two men are sitting talking about their sciatica and out into open fields. At this point the MUD appears ……at first just a few puddles and then it turns nasty. Stuck contemplating my next move, perched on one leg on a semi-firm clod, my support pole slowly sinking into what can only be called a bog, I nearly jump out of my skin when a woman walks briskly past from behind me on the other side of the barbed wire fence, where the ground looks firm and safe. She stops and smiles knowingly. “Going far?” she asks. “How on earth did you get over there?” I gasp and when she points I see way behind me a dip in the fence. She is  a local woman and knows to her cost what happens to the path after a period of rain – she is also heading for Abbotsbury. She walks purposefully on and I’m left to contemplate how to get back to where I can also reach the promised land. I manage it and stride off across the field hoping there is somewhere at the other end where I can get back to the path without encountering wild horses or frisky cows – but that’s another story.

On my left across the Fleet lagoon is the great desert of Chesil Beach – a unique spit of shingle, eighteen miles long between the lagoon and the Channel. It is also the location for Ian Mckewans book on the tragic frustrations of pre-liberation courtship in Britain. Apparently, he took a few pebbles to sit on his desk when he wrote the book and was threatened with a £2000 fine by conservationists and the local council  – he should have kept quiet about it.

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Anyway, there are not many signs of life on Chesil Beach – some fishing shacks, a military presence but what really catches my eye is the line of beautiful oyster shape depressions in the shingle….here is one.IMG_0724

The path winds around the bank of the lagoon then up through some woodland where the MUD raises its ugly head again. I am so glad I have a walking pole to negotiate my way through- even so it is painfully slow. Reaching the top of an incline I come to a kissing gate and spread out before me is a rash of caravans and holiday homes, a real eyesore but hey……..P1030831

I walk down and past the site following the edges of muddy bays and then come to a sign warning of military activity – the red flag is not flying so I am not diverted inland.

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After a while I see signs of habitation and the hamlet of East Fleet comes into view – a little way inland. There is a wooden bench facing the water at the top of the road leading to the village and I sink gratefully into it to eat an apple and rest my toe. Ten minutes later I heave myself up and walk on, up a long grassy slope with a sandy path to my right, reserved for horses – I see none.

Approaching Gore Cove I see a cluster of grand buildings surrounding what looks like the square turret of a castle. I pass a family having a picnic on the shore and ask them if there is anywhere to get a cup of tea – Moonfleet Manor they say, pointing to what appears to be a hotel. Feeling slightly too aware of my extremely muddy boots and trousers I tip-toe through the entrance, over the Persian carpets, through the dining room, all crystal glass and silver and out to the back courtyard where people are sitting having tea and scones – I am relieved to see that some of them look like me.P1030833

I stop and drink tea in the sunshine and on the way out take a photograph of the lounge.

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Feeling refreshed I head off following the path through blinding fields of rape until I reach Rodden Hive where the path is diverted inland to protect breeding sea birds.P1030835

This now becomes a field walk and field walks can be very pleasant if there weren’t any cows. I am normally not scared of cows and walking past a herd on the other side of an electric fence is no problem! Having to walk through a field of cows and frisky bullocks however is a completely different matter. I sit on top of the stile watching the herd trundle off to the other side of the field – they’re gone, I can’t see them, I jump into the field. Halfway across I round a corner and there they are – all staring at me, the bullocks revving up for a skip to my end of the field. I am ashamed to say I run, praying my ankle doesn’t give out on the hillocky ground, not back to the gate but over a barbed wire fence where I stop and dare to look around. They are all trotting and gambolling (yes it’s not just lambs that do this) towards me and I cannot go anywhere – there is a wide muddy stream behind my back. All of a sudden they change direction, it’s not me they’re interested in, I breathe a sigh of relief, jump back over the fence and run for the next stile. Pesky critters!P1030839

The path now climbs up through more fields and more cows but these are much more docile and hardly look up when I walk past them. I come to a lovely stone stile which reminds me of the even prettier ones on the South Wales Coast Path – bits of which I have already walked.

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On the outskirts of Abbotsbury I walk past a sign for a Swannery – I wonder what it is but I have no time to investigate as I need to get the next of the very few buses back to Weymouth.

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The road into the village is overlooked by St. Catherines Chapel – standing alone on the top of a bare hill.

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The village itself is picture perfect, thatched cottages of lovely golden stone, a tithe barn, a parish church, subtropical gardens, a hall, a castle and a traditional pub (which unfortunately is closed).

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I sit on the wall opposite the pub and wait for the bus back to Weymouth. I somehow feel I will not be walking tomorrow, my toe is hurting too much.

Distance: 10 miles

 

West Bottom to Ferrybridge (to Portland) 9.4.14

On my last walk I sprained my ankle and a couple of weeks later managed to break my  toe by giving the wall of the swimming pool a vigorous breast stroke kick. Since then I have become very wary of anyone or anything that comes near my feet. On trains and buses and in cinemas I tuck them carefully away, I cannot afford any more breakages. So it is with some trepidation that I approach this walk, support bandage around my ankle and all manner of protective plasters in my rucksack should my toe start playing up.

I spend the night in East Knighton in a pub which I’m told was Lawrence of Arabia’s local when he was stationed at nearby Bovington – I even get to see his favourite seat by the fire which unfortunately is occupied. The following morning I get a taxi to West Chaldon where the map is showing some sort of a path to take me down to a point on the coast, more or less where I finished last time. And indeed there is a muddy, potholed track which leads me onto the South West Coast Path and puffing and panting up the mighty White Nothe. Unlike last time the weather is kind  and it promises to be so all day.

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Up over the top of White Nothe and down again, I follow the path through a patch of woodland, past a path leading to Burning Cliff, which is blocked off due to subsidence and then down to Ringstead Bay.

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It is quite windy and the sun is hot on my left cheek – with the focus on foot and toe problems I had forgotten to bring sun cream and I have no hat. I know I will finish the walk with a cherry red face.

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After a while the path leads down to Osmington Mills and a pretty pub called the Smugglers Inn, but it’s too early to stop for lunch. Dating back to the 13th century, the Smuggler’s Inn is known to have been the home of the leader of the most notorious gang of smugglers in the area during the 18th and19th centuries, Emmanuel Charles. An importer of brandy so foul, even the locals refused his offerings.

Coming out of the settlement I lose the path and stop to ask a man sitting with his car door open, in the process of putting on his walking boots. He tells me he does a lot of walking in the area but cannot tell me where to pick up the coastal path – hmmm………..two minutes later, after a brief stop to watch three guinea fowl delicately crossing the road in front of me, I find the path clearly marked off to the left.

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Walking on, the path now widens out onto a broad sweep of grass and I stop to watch a group of youngsters trying their luck on climbing frames and zip wires, they are all very brave.

A few gentle ups and downs later I reach Redcliff Point and take a look back to where I have come from.P1030805

Up until now, when walking on narrow paths, I have been very much focussed on my feet, looking out for holes my foot may disappear into or loose stones I may stub my toe against, but as the path widens out I allow myself to raise my head and look around – and to my surprise I see a massive white horse and rider carved into the limestone of the flank of the hill.

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This, I find out later is the Osmington White Horse, sculpted in 1808 to represent King George III, who regularly visited Weymouth, riding on his horse.

From now on the path is well populated with people airing their dogs and couples out for a stroll in the sunshine. At the edge of Bowleaze Cove I walk past a 30’s built holiday hotel painted an unusual blue and white and named rather optimistically The Riviera.

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Further on I find myself walking down a narrow alley round the back of a small fairground.  I then realise that to get to the beach I will have to retrace my steps so this is what I do – clambering over a concrete wall down onto the pebbles. A minute later I also realise that to continue walking on the beach I will have to cross two quite deep fast running rivulets of the River Jordan (yes it’s really called that!). A small boy and his father are dithering on the other side, weighing up how difficult it may be to cross without getting wet. Eyeing up the largest stones to balance on I make my way gingerly across the water and get to the other side. Encouraged, the little boy is excitedly trying to persuade his father to let him have a go – Dad is not keen and drags the disappointed boy away – what a pity I think – the worst that could have happened was a pair of wet shoes.

I walk for a while on the shingle but by now my little toe is really hurting, so I climb up onto the rather boring promenade which will take me into Weymouth.

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The line of immaculate Victorian beach huts and pretty pastel chalets are still all locked up – the sun is shining but there is still a chill in the air.

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Finally I limp into Weymouth desperate to sit down and take off my boot and have a cup of tea. To add to my misery the house numbers on the Esplanade are not logical and it takes me a good 15 minutes of walking round in circles before I reach my B&B.

It is still quite early in the day so after a bit of a rest and a toe slathering of pain relief cream I decide to walk a little further before calling it a day. I walk down the promenade, past the colourful clock tower and round the corner to the old harbour. I spy a sign for a ferry and people waiting.

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The ferry is a rowing boat and takes about 3 minutes, a tidy little business and good exercise for the owner.

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On the other side I follow signs for Nothe Fort, the gardens are lovely with great views of the coast and off to the right the hulk of Portland in the distance. I am not tempted to go in and see the military displays but I nearly buy an ice-cream before realising that it is still Lent – no puddings, no pastries, no cheese, no wine……….sigh.P1030824

The acorn symbol of the South West Coastal Path is clearly signposted but at one point I am diverted inland to skirt an industrial complex. I walk through residential streets for a while before coming back to the path that leads to Portland Harbour – a deep water harbour formed by the building of a breakwater in the mid 19th century. Six million tons of Portland stone were needed to build the defence wall, quarried by convicts otherwise bound for the colonies. I reach the road bridge that connects the island with the main land and take a picture.IMG_0720

As the name suggests the Isle of Portland is an island and I therefore do not need to walk around it. Nevertheless I decide to catch a bus to have a look around as it is still not really time to call it a day. The bus literally does go all around the houses, and there are lots of them – dingy, dull brown, ugly. The place feels run down in the same way some of the South Wales mining towns do but I realise that I have only seen a small part of the island and I am notoriously quick to judge…………..my toe still hurts.

Distance: 11 miles

Kingston to Kimmeridge (am) and Lulworth Cove to West Bottom (pm) 19.2.14

This morning I am walking parallel to the coast but some way inland due to the closure of the coast path. The website however assures me there will still be sea views. My route starts with a footpath off to the left just outside Kingston and soon I am striding up a wide grassy path following signs for the tumulus, a Bronze Age burial mound. In the distance I see a man walking towards me with a couple of dogs and his passing remark makes me chuckle  “nice and benign this morning isn’t it?” I feel like saying “yes vicar” but don’t of course.

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The views from the top of the tumulus are wonderful, craggy limestone cliffs to the far left and wide deep sweeps of countryside behind them – and yes the sea. It is very quiet.

After a brief conversation with a few sheep I turn right onto a very muddy path which leads me over the ridge and eventually down to Kimmeridge.

P1030778From here there are more long views, although I spend most of the time head down with my eyes on my feet trying to navigate the boggy trail.

After a while the trail turns into a track and I can see a 4×4 approaching. A man gets out of the car and stares into the distance, he then turns to get back in, sees me, stops and goes back to where he was previously standing. I pretend to be fiddling with my boot and wait for him to get back in his car. I walk quickly past not making eye contact – I am aware of how alone I am out here. I hear the car start up behind me so I move onto the verge to let him pass. As he does so he winds the window down and asks if I want a lift, in what I hear as a slightly lascivious tone, “no thank you” I say, politely but firmly…………………………

A tad rattled I arrive at a crossroads where I see a signpost to Kimmeridge – only according to my map it is pointing the wrong way! Fortunately, another walker appears and assures me that I am on the right track – she is wearing gaiters, sensible woman. Together we try to turn the signpost round so it doesn’t confuse future travellers, but it is too heavy for us. I head off downhill to the village, coming out past the churchyard and right in front of a pub with a pretty thatched roof – I go inside for a cup of tea.

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Looking at my watch I realise that it is 12 o’clock and I have already reached my destination. I can go no further as the next bit of the coast is MOD country and the public are only allowed at the weekends. Luckily, the young girl behind the desk tells me her mum is a taxi driver so I am soon on my way to Lulworth Cove to make a start on the walk I was planning to do tomorrow.

The taxi driver is a born and bred ex-army man, extremely proud of his home county.  I am treated to a lecture on different land formations, military manoeuvres and local history -he even stops the car to show me where he used to abseil down a cliff to tag young peregrine falcons.

Eventually we reach the car park at the foot of the wide footpath leading up and over to Durdle Door.

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I realise I’m hungry so I head for the fish and chip shop for a quick fish cake and chips. Feeling energised I walk briskly across the car park which is criss crossed with small overflow streams and suddenly find myself sinking in smooth, liquid, light brown mud up to the hem of my trousers. I screech with horror waiting for the slow wet trickle to seep through my socks but it doesn’t! My feet remain dry, so without looking back (as I was sure someone somewhere was having a laugh) I started up the path.

After a 30 minute trudge up the slope I come to the top where I can see down to the back of Durdle Door. P1030782

….and five minutes later the well-known front view.

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The sky is now threatening rain so I stand and dither at the base of a very steep slope wondering whether it is wise to carry on, or leave the rest til tomorrow. If I continue I will have to come back along the ridge which would involve another three miles of extra walking in the wrong direction but it is still quite early to stop. I decide to be brave and soon I am quite alone, puffing and panting up Swyre Head, the steepest of the three “bumps” I will have to climb today. The path is muddy and slippery and runs parallel to another narrower one, closer to the cliff edge – I think this must be the original one but due to slippage people are keeping well away – big piles of chalky rock have crumbled down onto the shore. P1030788

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Up and down I go, squinting through the fine rain, I meet no-one apart from a group of cheery walkers who have just come from the beacon I am heading for and can give me some idea of how much more walking I have to do.

After a while I start to see the beacon in the distance – this is where I will turn around and come back to Lulworth walking along the ridge through an area called The Warren and on to Scratchy Bottom (where did that name come from?).

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Feeling triumphant I turn from the beacon and follow a very narrow path back in the direction of Durdle Door. The walking is easy on the flat, the path well marked and I feel a a little smug looking down on a couple of walkers struggling up the steep coast path – but as they say “pride comes before a ………………” and then it happens.

P1030790Entranced by what look like narrow corn rows in the landscape I take my eye off my feet and end up on the ground, my ankle twisting to a nasty crunching soundtrack. Hurrying to my feet to test the damage I am pleased to feel no pain just shock – so on I go. Wet and tired I arrive back at my hotel, tear off my boots and hurl myself into a hot shower. Later on I go down to dinner and half way through the sea bass my ankle starts throbbing a little and then a little more and when I finally try to get back up the stairs I need help. Fortunately the waitress is an ex-army nurse who sets me up with an icepack but no painkillers (health and safety) and then contacts my partner Damian (there is no mobile signal in my room) who heroically agrees to come and pick me up the following day. I am devastated that I cannot finish my planned walk but when I wake up in the morning to the sound of lashing rain and howling wind I almost start counting my blessings.

Distance: 6 miles