Combe Martin to Hunters Inn 28.7.19

Only 35 miles to Minehead! The end of the South West Coast Path – won’t be long now. Today, however I am stopping at Hunters Inn, hoping to take it easy for the rest of the day before heading back to London tomorrow.

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My euphoria dissipates a little as I struggle up a very steep incline up to Hangman Point.

P1040472There are cows in a field nearby, beautiful white cows, and thankfully behind a fence. I know lots of people would think nothing of walking through a field of cows and either did I until I got chased by some. The incident prompted me to do a little research and discover that according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), on average four to five people are killed in accidents involving cattle each year, with 74 fatal attacks since 2000.  So I am always wary – and anyway isn’t that a bull?

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At the top of a hill known as Greater Hangman is a substantial cairn and hiding behind it a group of Spaniards are having a picnic. I wait until all of the heads are hidden before taking a picture.

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It is already very hot but for the moment the path is wide and fairly flat – but not for long. At Blackstone Point it plunges down through dense woodland into a steep narrow valley and at the bottom a lovely little stream bubbles and tinkles over the rocks. Ah! a shady spot for lunch methinks, but no, a young couple have had the same idea. I say hello and mumble something about what goes down must go up, – they nod in agreement.

At the top of the equally steep ascent they overtake me and the young girl approaches with an enquiring look on her face “I have a question” she says, German I think. In my time I have been approached by quite a few Germans with this conversation opener, they must teach it in schools. Anyway, she asks me whether I think the water in the stream we have just crossed is safe to drink. I have no idea but manage to summon up a reasonable response based on the dangers of agricultural fertilisers and such……..she seems satisfied and they trip gaily off up the hill. I don’t meet them again but their destination is the same as mine so I end up following them at a polite distance.P1040480

From here on the path winds through gorgeous shows of heather and gorse. P1040474

……………and up ahead another young couple are searching in the scrub as if they have lost something. I ask if I can help and they laugh and tell me that they are participating in a GPS cache hunt. I nod as if I know what they’re talking about and as I turn to continue walking I hear a gleeful cry. They have found the cache – it’s an onion in a plastic bag – each to his own I guess.

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I carry on following the track which now becomes narrow and stony, a bit difficult to walk on. It winds down and around the cliff and there are a few perilous patches where I feel I have to lean into the hillside to avoid that strange feeling of wanting to throw myself off – I know I am not alone in this.

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Eventually I move into the intense woodland green of Heddons Mouth Cleave. The valley is deep with narrow paths on both sides. I take my time as the views take my breath away. I realise I have left the sound of the sea behind me, it is wonderfully quiet only punctuated by the occasional laughter and conversation which rings around the valley from people on the other side.

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Nearing the bottom of the valley the path flattens out and I can take my eyes off my boots and enjoy the cool of the shady woodland.

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I start to see groups of people as I follow the sign to my destination.

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Hunters Inn is a relaxed establishment offering what looks like good but expensive food. There is no mobile signal down here so I am allowed to use the pub’s telephone to phone a taxi.

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I take my pint outside and sit mesmerized by the blowsy hydrangea – they do like a hydrangea down here. P1040487

 

 

This is the end of 4 days of wonderful walking.

Distance: 8 miles

Lee Bay to Woolacombe and Combe Martin to Ilfracombe 27.7.19

Very early next morning I am surprised to see people already up exploring the rock pools of Lee Bay.

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I stand and gather my wits for a few minutes, adjusting my rucksack and making sure I have the triumvirate of camera, phone and purse all in the right place. I then follow the signs up onto Damage Cliffs, the path widening out into a broad grassy track.

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The map tells me there should be some standing stones off to the left but I see no sign of them. After 40 minutes or so of quite gentle walking I see below me the roof of the lighthouse at Bull Point.P1040420

I’m hoping that I may be allowed to visit the lighthouse but the complex seems to be gated off and although the lighthouse is still in use I discover that the cottages are holiday lets.

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Heading south towards Rockham Bay I see two large dinghies arrive and stop close to the rocks below. They remain bobbing up and down on the water for about 10 minutes before turning round and speeding back to Ilfracombe. A couple ahead of me are watching them, peering down the cliff and they tell me that this is supposed to be a favourite spot for basking seals. I’m sure nothing can get close to my experience of a large pod of seals that Damian and I walked into on a beach in Norfolk – there were at least 30 of them and the smell lingered in my nostrils for a while afterwards.

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About a mile after turning the corner at Morte Point I climb up to a point where I think I can see the outskirts of Woolacombe – but no, what I can see is the village of Mortehoe, where I follow a sign that promises to take me to Woolacombe, avoiding the tarmac road. Another steep climb and I find myself confronted with several narrow tracks that wind their way down through ferns and bracken to end up in Woolacombe. I take one of them.

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This is where I now take the bus from Woolacombe, back to Ilfracombe to collect my things and then on to Combe Martin to deposit half of my rucksack. I promise I will not mention these tedious arrangements again but I think it’s about time I pointed out the coast path is not always a straightforward paddle along endless stretches of golden sand.

It is said that Combe Martin has the longest village high street in England but this is a myth as the longest street is in Stewkley in Buckinghamshire. Nevertheless it is a mile and a half long and what maybe another myth is that it was on Concorde’s flight path so the pilots knew they were heading in the right direction out of Britain!

I start my second walk at the small beach on which a row of colourful kayaks are lined up.

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The first part of the route follows the main road but in places it is possible to veer off onto short stretches of shady lane.

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It is easy walking, quite flat, and I soon reach Watermouth Harbour and Bay where the track walks me through an extensive camping site with all manner of voluminous tents equipped with “everything but the kitchen sink” .

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The bay beyond is stunning ……I have never been to Thailand but I’ve seen pictures a bit  like this.

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At Hele Bay I follow a track up into the woods, taking me up to Beacon Point.

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The path is steep and my calves are screaming at me to stop but I want to get to Ilfracombe before I rest.

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At last I turn a corner and see Ilfracombe beneath me. I suddenly realise that I had previously only seen the west side of the town. Walking down from the east takes me to the harbour. P1040453

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…………..and at the entrance to the harbour the infamous statue of Verity, created by Damian Hirst, on loan to the town for 20 years. This controversial piece of public art has brought in revenue to the town but there are mixed opinions about its aesthetic value.

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On the left side, looking out to sea towards South Wales, we see a strikingly defiant pregnant woman, sword in one hand, the scales of justice in the other. On the other side, which you can only see by walking down to the end of the harbour wall, she is stripped of her skin covering, her internal anatomy and foetus brutally exposed to the elements.

Hirst describes it as “an allegory of truth and justice” but I’m not sure the anatomy lesson is necessary, I think the work is powerful enough without it.

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Anyway, on a more prosaic note I realise I need to eat so following the footprints in the tarmac that the considerate citizens of Ilfracombe have planted all through the town, I make my way back to the other side of town for fish and chips.

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After supper and a shower I still have time for more exploring, so despite the fact that my feet in sandals feel quite unstable, I head for what are known as the Tunnels Beaches.

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In 1823 a team of hundreds of Welsh miners hand carved through the cliffs to allow easy access to an existing cove, a frequent sanctuary for smugglers. They subsequently built three tidal bathing pools – two for the women and one for the men. Nowadays there are only two and when I visit the men’s pool is closed off for a wedding – there is a cafe/restaurant above the pool.

Here are some pictures….

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Some years later the Ilfracombe Sea Bathing Company erected an elegant new bath house where both hot and cold water sea water baths were available for health and hygiene. Sea water was fed from the Tunnels Beaches via a wood fuelled boiler that in turn powered a pump.

There is a priceless quotation in the information leaflet taken from an article written in 1867.

Ilfracombe and its baths are ideal for invalids, waifs and strays from the heat of India, worn out clergymen…….and to people, whether young or old, whose ailments arise mainly from want of stamina and general lack of tone” 

And I think that’s enough of Ilfracombe for the time being.

Distance: 13 miles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Putsborough Sands to Woolacombe and Ilfracombe to Lee Bay 26.7.19

Putsborough Sands is yet another long stretch of golden sand with an award winning beach cafe. An environmentally conscious affair, the food is presented in cardboard trays with wooden cutlery. All very admirable but it did spoil my cooked breakfast – there is something about wooden cutlery that puts my teeth on edge quite literally. Anyway, after figuring out which dustbin to put my rubbish in, I jump down onto the sand, heading for Woolacombe.

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Up on the cliff, with a wonderful view of the sea, is what I’m told is an illegal caravan site. Apparently there are certain months in the year where any empty field can be legally used as a camping site – first I’ve heard of it.

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The beach is empty so early in the morning but as I approach Woolacombe, I can see people milling about and surfers in the water.

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On the beach would be surfers listen intently to their instructors, some looking worried, others excited. I don’t know how many times I have thought to myself what a pity it is that surfing had not yet arrived on British shores when I was young. Never too late I hear you say – but yes it is.

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Woolacombe is an assault on the senses, packed with tourists, mostly from the Midlands by the sound of their accents, and mostly families. I am here to catch a bus to Ilfracombe, deposit half of my back pack with my bnb and then walk back.

The first thing I notice in Ilfracombe are these huge kiln like structures that sit uneasily amongst the rows of tall Victorian buildings and the brightly coloured plastic of the bouncy castles.

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I later discover that these conical structures, locally referred to as Madonna’s Bra, house the Landmark Theatre – an award winning theatre with excellent acoustics………..and more hydrangeas.

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Elsewhere the town is prim but definitely quirky.

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………………with a high street full of independent shops with whacky names – a lot of them sporting union jacks.

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And where do you see this on offer nowadays? And so cheaply.

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There is also something strange happening at the entrance to the church. Are they desperately trying to get out?

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Anyway, it is time to move on, I have spent too long exploring Ilfracombe so I head up behind the theatre, following a sign, and soon I am up onto the cliffs on my way back to Woolacombe.

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The narrow path ascends steeply up onto the cliffs but then widens out and is fairly flat for the next three miles but I can feel that destination Woolacombe is looking unrealistic. Instead, after a mile of tarmac lane, which leads me down into the hamlet of Lee, I decide to call it a day.

Lee is a pretty little cove with a summer let house right on the rocks above the beach.

P1040415There are very few people about – they’re all in the pub  – which is where I’m going.  I will come back tomorrow and finish the last stretch into Woolacombe.

Distance: 9 miles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Velator to Putsborough 25.7.19

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.

 

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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.

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I am greeted by the now familiar sight of boats parked in the mud.

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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.

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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.

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At this point the path divides and I am directed away from the official coast path.

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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.

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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.

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……….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.

P1040364According 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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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And here it is…..

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barnstaple to Velator 24.7.19

Back to the land of red telephones that actually work – not only one but two……..albeit tagged.

 

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I am back in Barnstaple and instead of turning left along the river as I did some months ago, I am now turning right to follow the Tarka Trail which runs along the right hand side of the estuary up to Braunton.

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It is a long straight tarmac path and cyclists whizz up behind and past me, their urgent bells making me jump.

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To my left geese and seagulls squabble loudly…

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……and small lagoons form lovely organic shapes in the sand……..

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At one point I am tempted to sit for a while but having got off the train at 4pm I am keen to cover a reasonable number of miles before supper.

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Later the path leaves the estuary and moves up through woodland and up past the heavily guarded airfield at Chivenor. Originally a civil airfield, it was taken over by the RAF during the second world war and later transferred to the Royal Marines.

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The 2011 BBC television series The Choir: Military Wives featured Chivenor. The programme documented choirmaster, Gareth Malone, forming a choir of wives and partners of Chivenor personnel deployed on active service in the Afghanistan War. In forming a choir, Malone aimed to raise the women’s morale and raise their profile in the public perception. The song Wherever You Are was recorded by the Military Wives Choir and was released as a single in December 2011, with proceeds going to the Royal British Legion.

Just past the airfield the path stops at a junction in an area called Velator – this is where I stop for today and where I will resume tomorrow.

Distance: 5 miles

 

Clovelly to Hunters Quay 30.6.19

Clovelly has worked its charm on me and I cannot stop taking pictures.

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But it’s time to move on – down a wide leafy lane which skirts Clovelly Court Gardens and leads into woodland running parallel to the coast. Turning a corner we come across a beautiful wooden shelter beside the path. A place to rest.

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The path continues through the woods until we come to an ambiguous sign which could either take us straight on or sharp left. We deliberate, the map is not helpful so we decide to carry straight on. This turns out to be the wrong decision but we are then pleasantly surprised when we arrive at a small wooden church tucked into the cliff with a stunning view over the valley and cliffs beyond. It is very quiet…..

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Carved into the lintel of the door is this inscription “non fatuum huc persecutus” which translates as “it is no will o’ the wisp that I have followed here”. In folklore a will-o’-the-wisp, is an atmospheric ghost light seen by travellers at night, especially over bogs, swamps or marshes. The phenomenon is said to mislead travellers by resembling a flickering lamp or lantern. In literature, will-o’-the-wisp sometimes has a metaphorical meaning, e.g. describing a hope or goal that leads one on but is impossible to reach, or something one finds sinister and confounding. I take the inscription to mean that even though we took the wrong turning we were not misled to this wonderful place for a spot of soul searching.

Retracing our steps the path takes us down into a deep wooded valley and then up and out into the open onto Windbury Hill, from where we can see Blackchurch Rock – a sea stack in the form of an arch perched at the end of the cove.

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From here the path continues to follow the coast in and out of woodland for miles – it’s a trek, uneventful but exhilarating. That is all about to change. Time for a photo in the daisies.

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Round about West Titchberry we are directed through a field where Damian spies a short cut down a steep bank. I protest but am over won, and anyway it doesn’t look too dangerous. Damian goes first and as I am slowly picking my way down the slope he kindly offers a hand – this was a big mistake. I realise afterwards that taking his hand must have upset my precarious sense of balance. I stumble, try to right myself and then slowly but inevitably tumble head first into a patch of brambles and nettles! Ow!

Fortunately I suffer nothing more serious than scratches and a bruised knee which only stiffens up later in the evening – the curious bend of my arm is genetic. Onwards!

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By this time we are very hungry and desperately looking for a nice spot to eat our sandwiches. Round a corner we spy a welcoming bench with a fabulous view over the sea but just as we head towards it another couple appear and get to it first – Damn!

Onwards we plod in the hot midday sun……..maybe there will be a bench up by the satellite?

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Sadly no….it’s fenced in.

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Hartland Point is where we stop – to clean my wounds, gobble sandwiches and stretch out in the sun. The lighthouse on the other side of this promontory is closed to the public today so after a rest we carry on. Walking up a concrete path to the top of the next cliff I become aware of a very brightly coloured pigeon (or rock dove) that decides to walk along beside us. It seems very at ease in such close proximity to humans and sure enough it has a ring around its leg. Perhaps a carrier pigeon. It then decides to become our leader, walking  just a few paces in front and showing no fear or inclination to fly off. At some point it is so close that I cannot resist leaning down to stroke the iridescent green and purple neck feathers, but that is too close and it flies off.

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Our hotel for the night is at Hartland Quay, where we set off a few weeks ago to walk in the other direction to Morwenstow. The hotel, as I remember it then, was a pale yellow colour but it has now had a face-lift. New bay windows, grey stone walls and wooden shutters have been added – but all FAKE. The hotel is being used as a film set for a new version of Rebecca by Daphne du Marier. This “stone” boathouse, built into the cliff is (as one of the set designers tells us) “nothing but cardboard and glue” . A slight exaggeration but astounding nevertheless. We are told the the boathouse is destined to be burnt down in the film.

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After the usual well earned pint of cold beer I am sitting reading in our hotel bedroom with the window wide open when I’m startled by a scrambled clatter from the window. Looking up I see a pigeon on the window sill – about an arm’s length away from me. We sit and stare at each other for a full 3 minutes before I reach out to try and touch its beautiful feathers. It takes off immediately of course – I like to think it is the same pigeon that joined us on the path earlier.

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Distance: 15 miles

 

 

Horns Cross to Clovelly 29.6.19

Walking down the lane from Horns Cross towards the coast we meet the pink cottage again and it’s still empty. Like so many beautiful houses in Devon and Cornwall this is a summer let or holiday home.

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Turning left at the coast we walk though beautiful woodlands until we end up on the beach. Stumbling across pebbles we realise that something is not quite right and that we have missed a turning. Great driftwood though.

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Retracing our steps we continue to walk through the gentle dappled light of Sloo Wood and Worthygate Wood – it is a beautiful day. Eventually we reach Bucks Mills, a pretty little hamlet where we buy water from a real “hole in the wall” . Some enterprising soul has converted their living room into a small shop, using the window space as a hatch. We continue up through the village.

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From here we walk again through long stretches of ancient trees, the path lined with foxgloves – it is easy walking.

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After about 2 hours the path opens up into a car wide road called “The Hobby” which takes us over a beautiful stone bridge and on to “Hobby Drive” . The stone bench gives us a little history of the road.

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We descend the steep valley into the village of Clovelly, seen through the trees.

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P1040273From the visitor centre where we have left our car we totter down the incredibly steep cobbled lanes into what used to be a thriving fishing village. Not much has changed here since the 16th century apart from the depletion of fishing stock. Owned by one family, nearly all the buildings are listed and they are all rent payers – no property speculation here.

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No cars are allowed in the High Street and transportation of goods and people used to be be on donkeys. Nowadays the donkeys are for children’s rides and sledges are used to drag essentials down into the village.

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Some parts are not for public access…..

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We find our Bnb and walk down to the harbour for a pint. There is a noisy wedding going on in the Red Lion but the Snug bar is open for food. I wolf down a huge plate of fish and chips and we then go for a stroll to the end of the harbour wall.

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………and then back up the cobbles to our beds.

The link below has more information about the village.

https://tammytourguide.wordpress.com/2015/07/17/clovelly-devons-prettiest-village/

 

Distance: 8 miles