The logistics of these walks are complicated. To make my walking life easier I try to winnow out things from my rucksack that I will not be needing during the day, leave them wherever I will be staying that evening and then walk back to where I started. This is fairly fool proof but depends on availability of busses/taxis and location of bnbs. Today, the picture is even more complicated as I have slept in Barnstaple but finished my walk yesterday 5 miles away! Sooooo………… even though I am up at 6.30 in Barnstaple, it is 10.30 and 4 busses later that I hit the road at Velator.
By this time I am hungry, having not stopped for breakfast, so heading down towards the Tarka Trail I am happy to see a cafe at the start of the path offering avocado and poached eggs on toast. I experience a moment of contentment that moves me to compliment the young boy responsible for the table flower arrangement.
The path now follows the river Caen which will eventually feed into the estuary of the rivers Taw and Torridge. At a sluice I nearly miss the turn off up onto the bank of the river.
I am greeted by the now familiar sight of boats parked in the mud.
The path is narrow and a bit uneven so my eyes are on my boots but when I do look up I see what I think are birds on the telephone wires. In fact these are small steel and plastic gadgets that flap in the wind – I have no idea why they are there – to scare the birds off the wire maybe? This calls for a song – I am looking forward to seeing the new Nick Broomfield documentary about Leonard and his muse Marianne.
A little later I meet a woman of my age walking on her own. She is Spanish and doing the South West Coast Path (in the right direction – unlike myself) . We exchange a few pleasantries, it always cheers me up to see women walking alone. Further up the path is a garage selling/renting the iconic BW camping vans – the must have vehicle for any self respecting hippie in the 60s and 70s. In Denmark they were called BW “rye breads” presumably because of their shape.
At this point the path divides and I am directed away from the official coast path.
The trail now turns sharply north with the dunes of Braunton Burrows to my left and Braunton Marsh to my right. The Burrows have been a military training area since 1942 when they were used by American troops to train for the Normandy D-Day landings. There are warnings but no signs of any activity today.
It is now 1pm and very hot. I follow an endless dusty cycle track through the dunes, the sun beating down on my head, so I am relieved to see a turn off left into a stretch of shady woodland – the poetry of this sign makes me laugh.
……….and soon I reach a parking spot with a little wooden hut selling ice-cream! Bliss….
After a short rest I follow the path through woodland full of delicate dappled light before reaching a junction with the main road leading into Saunton.
According to my map there is an alternative route into Saunton which will save me walking on the hot tarmac – I take it, walking across the road and up a narrow lane. There is a moment of hesitation when I spot a sign saying “private road” but my map tells me it is a public right of way so I ignore it.
The lane widens and leads me up past what we would call a “country spread” – a huge grey brick mansion with extensive gardens.
All is quiet…………..but not my heart when I see this sign on the gate into the field I have to cross. I stand deliberating for half a minute before logic takes over. Eyes on stalks I open the gate as quietly as I can – as if that would make a difference!
Heart in mouth I walk as quickly as possible through the field, my ears straining for the sound of pounding hooves, but despite the fact that I can see a herd of cows (and presumably a bull) way off to my right I realise I have escaped my possible fate.
Phew! Once out of the field I am up high, overlooking the beautiful stretch of Saunton Sands and I allow myself 5 minutes to rest and recover.
I then take a chance on an ambiguous sign and manage to take the wrong one. Checking the map I see that I have taken a footpath which leads down into Croyde, leaving out the short stretch of coast around the headland. I can see the village below me.
Cursing, as I am by now very tired, I retrace my steps and find the path which runs above the main road into Croyde Bay.
Walking into Croyde raises my spirits. It is very pretty with thatched roofed cottages and has that feature that reminds me of French villages I have seen, with a stream running along the bottom of the gardens.
I find the pub and after a double tonic with ice and lemon (too early for gin) I walk down to the bay again and up onto the cliffs. I have not met many walkers today and up here there are none. Rounding Baggy Point (lovely name) the wind picks up and throws me slightly off balance – I reach for my pole which I generally reserve for these kind of situations or for going down steep hills. Soon I can see what must be Woolacombe in the distance and tucked into the cliffs round the corner is Putsborough, my destination for today.
And here it is…..
I know there is no bus to anywhere from Putsborough Sands so I am forced to add a mile or so on the road which runs inland back into Croyde. The road is very narrow and there are quite a few occasions when I am forced to flatten myself against the hedgerows to let motorists past. I am happy to say that there is a lot of apologetic waving on the part of the drivers.
Back in Croyde I discover there is a bus going my way in 40 minutes, just enough time for a pint and plate of fried calamari. Life is good.
Distance: 16 miles