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.


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.


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.


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.




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.


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.


Elsewhere the town is prim but definitely quirky.


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



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


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


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.


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.



The path now follows the river Caen which will eventually feed into the estuary of the rivers Taw and Torridge. At a sluice I nearly miss the turn off up onto the bank of the river.


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


The path is narrow and a bit uneven so my eyes are on my boots but when I do look up I see what I think are birds on the telephone wires. In fact these are small steel and plastic gadgets that flap in the wind – I have no idea why they are there – to scare the birds off the wire maybe?  This calls for a song – I am looking forward to seeing the new Nick Broomfield documentary about Leonard and his muse Marianne.


A little later I meet a woman of my age walking on her own. She is Spanish and doing the South West Coast Path (in the right direction – unlike myself) . We exchange a few pleasantries, it always cheers me up to see women walking alone. Further up the path is a garage selling/renting the iconic BW camping vans – the must have vehicle for any self respecting hippie in the 60s and 70s. In Denmark they were called BW “rye breads” presumably because of their shape.


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


The trail now turns sharply north with the dunes of Braunton Burrows to my left and Braunton Marsh to my right. The Burrows have been a military training area since 1942 when they were used by American troops to train for the Normandy D-Day landings. There are warnings but no signs of any activity today.


It is now 1pm and very hot. I follow an endless dusty cycle track through the dunes, the sun beating down on my head, so I am relieved to see a turn off left into a stretch of shady woodland – the poetry of this sign makes me laugh.


……….and soon I reach a parking spot with a little wooden hut selling ice-cream! Bliss….

After a short rest I follow the path through woodland full of delicate dappled light before reaching a junction with the main road leading into Saunton.

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.



All is quiet…………..but not my heart when I see this sign on the gate into the field I have to cross. I stand deliberating for half a minute before logic takes over. Eyes on stalks I open the gate as quietly as I can – as if that would make a difference!


Heart in mouth I walk as quickly as possible through the field, my ears straining for the sound of pounding hooves, but despite the fact that I can see a herd of cows (and presumably a bull) way off to my right I realise I have escaped my possible fate.

Phew! Once out of the field I am up high, overlooking the beautiful stretch of Saunton Sands and I allow myself 5 minutes to rest and recover.



I then take a chance on an ambiguous sign and manage to take the wrong one. Checking the map I see that I have taken a footpath which leads down into Croyde, leaving out the short stretch of coast around the headland. I can see the village below me.


Cursing, as I am by now very tired, I retrace my steps and find the path which runs above the main road into Croyde Bay.

Walking into Croyde raises my spirits. It is very pretty with thatched roofed cottages and has that feature that reminds me of French villages I have seen, with a stream running along the bottom of the gardens.




I find the pub and after a double tonic with ice and lemon (too early for gin) I walk down to the bay again and up onto the cliffs. I have not met many walkers today and up here there are none. Rounding Baggy Point (lovely name) the wind picks up and throws me slightly off balance – I reach for my pole which I generally reserve for these kind of situations or for going down steep hills. Soon I can see what must be Woolacombe in the distance and tucked into the cliffs round the corner is Putsborough, my destination for today.


And here it is…..


I know there is no bus to anywhere from Putsborough Sands so I am forced to add a mile or so on the road which runs inland back into Croyde. The road is very narrow and there are quite a few occasions when I am forced to flatten myself against the hedgerows to let motorists past. I am happy to say that there is a lot of apologetic waving on the part of the drivers.

Back in Croyde I discover there is a bus going my way in 40 minutes, just enough time for a pint and plate of fried calamari. Life is good.

Distance: 16 miles
















Barnstaple to Velator 24.7.19

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



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.


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


To my left geese and seagulls squabble loudly…


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


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.


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.



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.





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.




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…..



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.


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.


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!


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?


Sadly no….it’s fenced in.


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.


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.




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.


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.


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.




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.


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



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.



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


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.



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.


Some parts are not for public access…..


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.




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

The link below has more information about the village.



Distance: 8 miles


Hartland Quay to Morwenstow 5.5.19

I have had Hartland Quay in my head for months and when we arrive after miles of driving down a narrow twisted track it does not disappoint. Round the back of the hotel, perched on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, the jagged profiles of black granite cliffs slide into the sea. Perhaps due to its isolation, the atmosphere around the hotel reminds me of a ski station.






After checking that we have enough water (a lesson recently learned the hard way), we set off south along a wide grassy track. We have been told this may be a difficult walk with more than its fair share of steep ascents and tricky descents but I’ve learned not to listen too closely to people’s opinions. We all have different pain thresholds.


Our climb takes us up and down St Catherine’s Tor – there is road access here and a few people have arrived with surfboards. Looking at the sharp tooth comb of rocks on the beach I wonder where they are thinking of surfing.


Say no more…….


From here the path meanders across the top of cliffs and there are no more serious climbs or scrambly descents – we make good progress. I do however, know from all accounts that the first part of this walk is easy and the torture comes later. At Mansley Cliff the signpost directs us down onto a narrow tarmac road and then things go a little awry. The repetitive walking on tarmac in hot sun results in a lack of concentration and us missing the point where the road joins the coast path again.


We find ourselves in South Hole, a well heeled hamlet full of pretty well kept summer homes – there is no-one around.


We do eventually find a Londoner who points us in the right direction with a recommendation – the bluebell woods further down the road. And indeed it is a lovely walk down the shady lane.



Eventually we follow a footpath off to the right which takes us down into Welcombe Mouth where there are stepping stones – I love a stepping stone.


From the bay the path rises steeply but on the descent we discover a poet’s hut. The hut was the retreat of the poet Ronald Duncan and is now looked after by his daughter.



Inside is a visitors book to sign, photos from his life and excerpts of poetry.



I am a little underwhelmed by his work but struck by another poet’s contribution.


Thinking of the razor blade rocks of this coastline I think the choice of the word “eviscerated” is genius. Unfortunately I thought I had written down the name of the poet  but no.



Onward we walk in the hot sun, up and over Marsland Cliff where we are suddenly back in Cornwall.


…and then almost immediately the path rises steeply again up and over Cornakey Cliff and then one more – the bizarrely named Henna Cliff.


….and who is this charming fellow not exhibiting a trace of exertion?


Eventually the spire of the church at Morwenstow comes into view and the path levels out.

But before we finish we have another hut to visit.


Down a short flight of stone steps to the right of the coastal path is the smallest National Trust property in the country. The hut was originally built from wood from shipwrecks by the eccentric clergyman and poet Robert Stephen Hawker. This was his refuge where he allegedly spent many hours writing poems and smoking opium.


And what a view!



Coming back over the fields we rejoin our car in the carpark of the wonderful Bush Inn. It has been a hard but exhilarating walk and to top off the day we are treated to an evening of folk music from a band of local minstrels settled comfortably in a corner of the inn.

Distance: 10 miles (although it felt more like 20)







Widemouth Bay to Bude and Morwentstow to Bude 4.5.19

Leaving the car at the Beach Hotel we set off for the short walk to Bude across the top of the cliffs. It is a beautiful morning, the bright sunshine lighting up the yellow sandstone  cliffs.



The path runs parallel to the road almost all the way but there is not a lot of traffic – we walk at an easy pace over the springy turf.

An hour later Bude comes into view – the town is overlooked by a pretty octagonal tower which some say was a refuge for coastguards and others that it was built for its ornamental value – a folly.

Damian does love a photo…..


Down the hill into Bude Haven the River Neet separates us from the centre of town but further up we find a bridge. The town, which is the transport and commercial hub for this area of North Cornwall is quite attractive but like a lot of towns in this part of the country I am glad I’m not walking through it in high summer.


It is now mid morning but we have plenty of time to collect our car , dump our luggage in the hotel in Bude and drive north to the hamlet of Morwenstow – the plan is to leave the car there and walk back to Bude. The logistics of these walks beggars belief sometimes.

We arrive in Morwenstow, leave the car in the car park of the 13th century Bush Inn (where we will be staying tomorrow night) and set off down the road, past the church and onto the coast path.

Need I say more…….


After crossing the small stream known as The Tidna I look up from my feet to see the outlines of a string of satellite dishes on the horizon – the path will take us past these later on. But first we must negotiate a series of coombes involving a steep, often perilous drop down a narrow path, sometimes stepped but not always, followed by a back breaking climb to regain the lost height.



Previously used by the RAF during the second world war the site was later redeveloped as an Anglo/American Satellite station. The antennae are generally orientated towards satellites of the INTELSAT, Intersputnik, and INMARSAT communications networks over the Atlantic Ocean, Africa, and the Indian Ocean, as well as towards the Middle East and mainland Europe. And they’re all eavesdropping. The area is protected by two tall parallel metal fences with a “no man’s land” of a couple of metres in between. At regular intervals a string of close circuit cameras on tall posts stare blankly downwards. Someone means business…


It is very quiet….


We have reached Steeple Point which, so we’ve been told, is the last leg of this roller coaster ride. From here it is supposed to be easier.


There is however one last slide down into Duckpool.


This is the path – with a very steep drop down to the beach. I am so glad I have my walking pole. Damian scorns them – instead he’s often seen frantically waving his arms around as if he’s swatting a persistent fly, in order to maintain his balance.


And yes from here the walking is much easier across open heath and fields and I have time to look down at the sea. These sharp slabs of black rock jutting out to sea make me think of how easy a ship could come to grief on this treacherous coastline.


Not far to Sandymouth now where there is road access and a cafe – weather permitting, which of course it is.


The cafe is very busy but we top up on tea and biscuits and watch people trying to control their dogs and children.

Just before Bude this wonderful bench presents itself. I don’t know what kind of wood it’s made of but it’s solid and what wise words! Go with the flow…..


Just outside Bude, on the cliffs overlooking Summerleaze Beach, is a wonderful surprise – Bude Sea Pool. Built in the 1930s to provide safe bathing in sea water, but away from the dangerous Atlantic currents in the bay, the pool is part-natural, and partially man-made. It is tidal, topped up at high tide by the Atlantic Ocean – and it’s free.


As we watch we see two kids in wetsuits larking about on the walls of the pool trying to catch waves which will sweep them in to the pool. It is high tide and the waves are hitting the walls of the pool with a loud smack – the lifeguard seems unconcerned.



In the bay the surfers are out.


We walk round the back of the beach to our accommodation – tired but satisfied.

Distance: 12 miles