Purlock to Countisbury 30.8.19

Instead of grassy paths across the top of cliffs or narrow lanes through deeply wooded valleys, our walk today starts off on the stony beach round the back of Porlock and continues across flat marshland and fields until we get to Porlock Weir.

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Damian has one of his Dr. Doolittle moments………………

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Just outside Porlock Weir this sculptural breakwater catches my eye……………………….

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Porlock Weir is sleepy this time in the morning – we have a quick look round before heading up behind the main hotel to skirt the edge of a patch of woodland to come out onto the road once more.

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But we are not allowed onto the road – the sign on the gate says “no walkers” and for cars, motorbikes and motor homes there are toll charges and warnings.

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P1040615For those like me who have never heard of non-feasance or misfeasance the word means a transgression, especially the wrongful exercise of lawful authority. I can think of a few instances where this word may be used in the circus that masquerades as a government at the moment.

No – we are sent off to the right and up into the damp dense woodlands of Yearnor Wood that shuts out the sunshine for a couple of miles, but eventually opens up into the tiny settlement of Culbone – presided over by the smallest parish church in Britain.

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The church is dedicated to the Welsh saint Beuno and recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086. It is just 35 feet long, with the nave taking up 21 feet of that length and even though there is no road access, there are still regular services. These two windows below are believed to be 1,000 years old. And there is obviously no electricity………………………………….

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Apart from the church there are two other buildings in Culbone, both of them houses – here is one of them.

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I do love walking through forests but what follows is a bit too much of a good thing. We plod along through Culbone Wood then Embelle Wood and Yenworthy Wood. We can see nothing through the dense covering of trees with only the occasional patch of dappled sunshine and a lucky find!

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Until eventually the terrain changes and at a junction we meet this monster.

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This machine can apparently fell, strip and saw into neat logs, whole swathes of forest with only one man at the wheel. As we investigate, a horrendous roar starts up to our left which sounds as if some mighty pre-historic animal has just discovered our presence and taken objection.

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Sure enough up the hill trundles one of these machines – we scramble up the nearest bank as it sways and snorts its way around the tight corner and past us. What it leaves in its wake is a mile of unpleasant trudging through churned up mud and puddles.

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Eventually we leave the logging industry behind and move into calmer territory. The Sisters Fountain is a natural spring which was enclosed in stonework in the nineteenth century and named after the daughter (or daughters, or nieces, depending upon who’s telling the tale) of the first owner of the Glenthorne estate.

There is a legend that Jesus drank here, as a youth, when he passed this way with his uncle, the Phoenician tin trader Joseph of Arimathea, on their way to Glastonbury. Joseph is said to have struck the ground with his staff, prompting the flowing of the holy water. We stop for a while in this quiet peaceful place.

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The walk from here now opens up a little allowing us views of the coast for the first time for hours.

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………..and soon we are walking on a path lined on both sides by a dense cover of rhododendron bushes planted in the mid 19th century as part of the Glenthorne Estate – it must be an amazing sight to see them in flower in Spring.

On further investigation however I learn that the plant is responsible for the destruction of many native habitats. The reason for this is simple. Where conditions are suitable, Rhododendron will out compete most native plants. It will grow to many times the height of a person, allowing very little light to penetrate through its thick leaf canopy. This effectively eliminates other competing native plant species which are unable to grow due to insufficient light. This in turn leads to the consequent loss of the associated native animals. Who would have thought it?

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By the time we have reached the end of Glenthorne Cliffs we are both very tired and thirsty so it is with joy that we discover a tea/drinks/fruit stop organised by some enterprising souls who live nearby.

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Moving on we walk through the strangely scabbed hillsides of the Foreland – the path is endless, I use my pole a lot to get me up the slopes, I feel a hundred years old.

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………….until finally we look down on the wonderful sight of Countisbury Church and then it’s through the church yard and out the other side to the pub.

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Distance: 14 miles

 

 

 

 

 

 

Countisbury to Lynton 29.8.19

The path at Countisbury runs behind the church, so we walk straight through the churchyard and out the other side.

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We then follow a wide track across the top of the cliffs and can soon see Lynton in the distance.

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Coming down into Lynmouth however is a little more complicated – one sign points up the hill, the other down. We go down, hoping that the wonderful cliff railway is still working – this will take us up a steep cliff from Lynmouth to Lynton.

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Lynmouth town and harbour are not too busy – it has that end of season feel – in fact our taxi driver told us that the population of the town in winter is not much above 50! I can hardly believe that………..

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Anyway – to our relief the cliff railway is running so we wait in line for our turn. The lift is totally water powered and if you’re interested in how it works here is a link which explains the mechanism much better than I can.

https://www.cliffrailwaylynton.co.uk/about-the-railway/how-it-works/

What the website does not tell you is that the water is drawn from the river high above the town and that it is gravity which sends it down the pipes. The clever Victorians had worked out just how high they needed to go when laying the pipes.

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Distance: 2 miles

Lynton to Hunters Inn 29.8.19

Just half a mile up from our B&B is the Valley of the Rocks – ridges of grey granite along which visitors like to scramble. But the ridges are dead ends and not on our route, thank goodness. Instead the coastal path winds round the back of one of them, overlooking the sea and cliffs – it is quite narrow and it’s a long way down, so I move closer to the cliff face and away from the drop.

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We then follow the sign up the hill (this shot is take looking backwards) until a turn off to the right takes us on a slight detour through a herd of goats!

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They look extremely comfortable, sitting munching away and they are completely disinterested in us despite Damian’s attempts at sociability.

Through a gate at the top of the paddock we are back on the tarmac road which passes through what used to be toll gates. I have no idea what this cryptic message means.

 

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The next message is easier to understand – is it too early for tea?

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Up on the hill Lee Abbey announces itself………………..

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This is a side entrance with an information board telling us that the abbey is now a Christian activity/retreat/conference centre. Just opposite, a banner has a suggestion for the weary………………

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The main building is huge with extensive grounds. People sit on benches looking out over the bay, some are busy tending the grounds – a young girl drives a tractor and trailer past us.

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At the bottom of the hill we find the tea house, set in a beautifully landscaped garden with the plumpest rose hips I have ever seen. The cafe is run by a bunch of fresh faced youngsters and the young girl who takes our order at the hatch has a smile that makes me stand to attention. It seems to illuminate all those lucky enough to receive it – maybe there is something in this praying business.

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Refreshed, we follow the road and then a path through woodland up to Crock Point and down into Woody Bay.

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We walk down behind the hotel and past a rather pointless signpost – it is also here where we could go down and have a look at the beach but a 10 mins walk down and 30 mins up does not seem that appealing.

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A little further on a gap in the trees reveals this magnificent view of the coastline – the building in the distance is Lee Abbey.

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The trail now passes through dense woodland with a few waterfalls along the way. I would love to be able to photograph moving water properly, maybe I will learn on my photography course that starts next month.

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Eventually we reach the point where the path turns sharp right and plunges down the cleave of Heddons Mouth, on the opposite side to the one I picked my way down some weeks ago. Below us is the beach with a few people milling about.

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We start the slow descent which takes us down to the pretty stone bridge over the stream and a sculpture trail of sorts – all signs that we are nearing Hunters Inn.

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It is still early when we reach the inn so after some lunch we decide to head back to Lynton in a taxi (there are no busses here) and walk a couple of miles east of the town. This will make tomorrow’s walk shorter and easier.

Distance: 9 miles

 

 

 

 

 

 

Machynlleth to Aberdyfi (Aberdovey) 25.8.19

Today we are walking down the other side of the estuary and we start by crossing the river over the stone bridge to the north of the town. A large slab of slate heralds our entry into Snowdonia.

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A right turn after the bridge would take you up to CAT (Centre for Alternative Technology), an educational charity that has been researching and communicating positive solutions for sustainability since 1973. I wish there were more places like this.

https://www.cat.org.uk/about-us

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We are however turning left along the very busy road but thankfully it is not long before we are directed off to the right up a narrow tarmac road with plenty of shade. This then turns into a forest track through an area of woodland known as Foel Gôch. As the track meets a tarmac road again, there is a sign warning of tree disease. We are asked not to carry any mementos away from the forest and clean our boots before any future visits. I am old enough to vaguely remember the Dutch Elm disease of 1967, which spread through the countryside when I was a child. Since then more than 25 million elms have died in Britain and the only remaining mature elms can be found in the Brighton and Hove area where they are somewhat protected from the disease by being sandwiched between the English Channel and the South Downs.

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A little later we come to the village of Pennal, our lunch stop but we have no lunch. The pub is very busy preparing for the onslaught of Sunday lunchers and there is no shop open in the village. We stop for a drink and I make a mental note to always carry a few emergency rations in the future.

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Outside the village the coast path turns left off the main road and up the hill to a holiday resort. The accommodation consists of rows of neat cream coloured bungalows – I keep expecting to see a “Stepford Wife” gazing wistfully out of the windows .

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Further up the road, outside reception, are signs to remind people they are on holiday………I dash into the bar to load up with peanuts, to be met with frosty stares and sullen service.

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A sign on the path above the resort makes me wonder what they’re hiding in the undergrowth.

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From here the path rises up through woodland – through a gap in the trees we catch sight of what I think is a railway bridge not far from Dovey Junction station. This is where the line splits, one bound for Aberystwyth and the other is the Cambrian Coast Line to Pwllheli. I am amazed by the fact that there is a direct line from Birmingham to Aberdovey, which accounts for the number of holiday makers coming from the Midlands to West Wales.

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On we walk, through Penmaendyfi, a collection of wooden holiday chalets dotted around an original stone coach house, now for sale – one of the original buildings has seen better days.

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And out, crossing the A493 onto a narrow road through woodlands and fields. The path is now a rough grassy track lined with ancient stone walls covered with moss.

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It is very quiet so we are startled by the sound of an engine behind us. The noise is coming from a mud spattered quad bike – we scatter. Is this a joy rider or a farmhand? We are about to find out.

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Round the corner we run into the quad bike again, which has stopped at the bottom of a very steep rough track. The rider is talking to the drivers of two land rovers who then with much crunching of gears and screeching of tyres, execute a 6 point turn and roar off back up the hill.

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It appears that the quad bike is being used to scout the terrain for another group of off- road vehicles behind us. At the top of the hill are the two land rovers, one of which now has a puncture. The drivers are all male and accompanied by a 12 year old boy in sunglasses.

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We exchange a few pleasantries, they appear to be a little self conscious of the noise and chaos they are creating, asking us how we are and if we have enough to drink – do we look that old and decrepit?  Further along the path turns into a bog which is a bit difficult to negotiate and we wonder how the cars are going to manage to drive through the deep mud, we decide to sit to wait and see.

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We do not have long to wait. With loud cheers and cries of encouragement, the first vehicle races through the water, promptly sinks and nearly tips over. We watch spell bound as the driver clambers out of the window with strict orders for the boy to remain in the car. I think if it was my son I would like him out of there as quickly a possible.

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Undeterred and obviously having fun, the driver of the vehicle behind attaches a line and attempts to reverse back up the hill to pull the stranded vehicle out. The land rover does not move an inch. More laughter.

The next ploy is to turn the second vehicle and try in first gear up the hill. This pulls off the back bumper and the rescue vehicle also sinks, and not wanting to be left out of the dance slowly tips to the left. More laughter, although by now it is tinged with slight exasperation.

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By now a few other vehicles have joined the party and an attempt is made to rescue the second vehicle, which works initially, but in the process is pulled over to the other side of the mud and sinks again (I do hope you are following). At this point the driver of one of the newcomers suggests a winch.

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This does not work either so after 30 minutes of gripping drama we leave them to their fate.

After all that excitement it is wonderful to walk across the moorland in peace and quiet. To our left the estuary can now be seen clearly and to our right are beautiful views of fields and distant hills.

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We branch off the minor road that leads down into Aberdovey where dinner with Damian’s sister and family awaits. This is a quiet morning shot from the house we are staying in.

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Distance: 13.5 miles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Machynlleth to Tre’r ddol 24.8.19

Any opportunity to join a few dots and this one is a visit to Damian’s sister Carmel who’s just bought a house in Aberdovey (Aberdyfi) on the west coast of Wales…………….but that’s tomorrow.

The punishing pull up the tarmac lane just outside Machynlleth does reward us with a view of the town and a chance to catch our breath. We are starting late and it is already very very hot.

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We are on the Welsh Coast Path which actually doesn’t follow the coast here, as it has to go inland to circumvent the wide estuary of the river Dovey. The narrow tarmac lane winds up and up, passing a rather sad produce box that has seen better days.

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We are then directed off the lane onto a clearly marked track through the trees – I do love the shell symbol of the Welsh Coast Path.

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………….especially in ceramic, as they are all along the promenade in Penarth where my parents lived.  This photo is take from the great blog written by Charles Hawes who completed the Welsh Coast Path in 2015.

https://charleshawes.veddw.com/category/wales-coast-path

The path then opens up to beautiful views over wooded hills and fields and it suddenly strikes me how much I miss of this by sticking to the coast. Of course coastal scenery has its own beauty but dipping into countryside like this is very refreshing.

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A little later the path leads us into an area of managed forest – a lot of logging has been going on and we pass large graveyards of tree stumps – necessary but a little sad.

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……….and then down into the Llyfnant Valley, walking beside the banks of a pretty little river.

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Climbing up out of the valley into a wide area of grassland called Foel Fawr, stunning views of the estuary open up so we stop for a rest and eat the last of our provisions. Walking in the heat means that hunger signals are not as clear as they should be but food is needed for energy.

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We are now down to half a bottle of water but soon our path crosses a stream and we stop for a drink and a refill. To cross the stream is a wooden bridge, constructed with regional development funds from the good old EU.

 

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Then follows a couple of “lost in a field” episodes where the sign points into the field but not where to get out of it. The sheep must wonder…….

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…………..and then finally down into the hamlet of Tre’r ddol where we devour ice creams and ginger beer while we wait for the bus back to Machynlleth.

Distance: 11 miles

 

 

 

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