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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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