Once upon a time, a long long time ago, I set out for Barnstaple in North Devon to go walking – since then I have not had my boots on – work is a curse.
Anyway I arrive in Barnstaple at lunchtime and having found my hotel I set out for the Tarka Trail which runs westwards, skirting the estuary of the rivers Taw and Torridge.
It takes me a while to find it but after a few stops and starts I set off on the long grey tarmac road which runs alongside the sand and mudflats of the estuary. It is drizzling but I don’t mind. There is a concrete road bridge ahead of me and as I walk under it I see that one of the pillars has been decorated with a picture of a mermaid in what looks like an old fashioned diving helmet – very strange.
Further on a rusty old fishing boat sits on the sand waiting for the tide…………….
Nothing much happens now, I trudge along with rain dripping steadily from the hood of my jacket, fantasising about supper – but at least it’s not cold.
Eventually I arrive at Fremington Quay where I had planned to turn round and head back to Barnstaple. Looking at the building, which houses a heritage centre and cafe (closed), it dawns on me that the long straight road I’d been walking on is the path of the old railway line from Barnstaple. Further research tells me that by the mid 19th century Fremington Quay had become the most important port between Bristol and Lands End – the main export was clay and imports included coal from South Wales and seed potatoes from Ireland.
From here there is a road leading into the town but I see on my map that there is a footpath off to the left and I quickly find the sign.
The very muddy path leads alongside the water and then opens up onto a tarmac track lined with beech trees and rhododendron bushes. It is pleasant walking and I fall to daydreaming.
Ten minutes later I awake from my reverie to find myself staring at a high metal fence which is blocking my way. I can see, on the other side, the tell tale signs of new house building but as I stare in horror at the prospect of having to retrace my steps I notice a chink in the armour. There is a very narrow space between the end of the fence and a tree, which would then leave me at the top of a slippery slope of newly dug over earth. Oh well – here we go. After a struggle to get me and my rucksack through the tiny space I slip on the mud and only save myself from the ignominy of sliding down the slope on my bum, by grabbing onto a young branch which is in the right place at the right time. Phew!
After this episode it is an easy walk back to the main road, the bus and a pint. Damian arrives tomorrow.
Distance: 4 miles