Newport to Magor 19.4.19

Newport must be one of the few cities that has not updated its docklands and as the bus trundles through Pillgwenlly (Pill for short) to the hotel where Damian and I are planning to spend the night, my heart sinks. However, I have a surprise in store. Surrounded by mean streets of grim ugly houses, industrial buildings and shops that look like untidy front rooms, the solid red brick of the Waterloo Hotel stands alone as testament to another era, when the docklands were a hive of industry and accommodation was needed for the sailors  coming off the ships.

Once inside it is another world – totally devoid of pretension the hotel is comfortable and intriguing, the food delicious and well presented. Once famous for having the longest bar in the world (to line up the pints waiting for the sailors) the interiors are fabulous.

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And yes that’s Damian at the end of the bar……..

To add to the excitement, just outside the hotel is Newport’s famous Transporter Bridge, one of only two in the UK and seven in the world. And yes that’s Damian with the cap…..

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Designed by French engineer Ferdinand Arnodin, it was built in 1906 and is still in operation today. The design was chosen because the river banks are very low at the desired crossing point, where an ordinary bridge would need a very long approach ramp to attain sufficient height to allow ships to pass under, and a ferry could not be used during low tide.

The following day Damian tries to persuade me to walk over the top of the bridge but luckily it is temporarily closed. Instead we have to walk the long way round and over another bridge which is not quite so challenging!

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After getting a bit lost in a housing estate we are led back to the Transporter Bridge but on the other side of the river Usk. Here, we get a better view of the mechanics of this remarkable feat of engineering.

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The blue structure suspended on cables is called a “gondola” . Attached to the other end of the cables is a moving carriage which runs along the high horizontal beam on rail tracks operated from the motor house. The gondola is in fact a ferry in the air, capable of transporting people and vehicles. Amazing…..

Just in front of the bridge is a path off to the left which runs alongside the river with its usual repertoire of derelict wharves and rotting boats. We meet an old man gathering drift wood in a wheelbarrow for his stove. He has a thick South Wales accent and tells us it’s a couple of hours to Magor – I think not. We are now on the Welsh Coast Path.

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The path runs inland here through wide open green spaces – it is a lovely day again and people are out walking dogs. A solid newly constructed bridge takes us over an artificial drainage channel called a “reen” on the map and there are quite a few of them criss crossing the landscape.

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Over the next stile we are approaching what looks like a pub where we decide to indulge in a cream tea. Opposite the pub is a large church where people are tending graves.

Suitably refreshed we set off across the fields again in the direction of the sea wall – through a nature reserve reclaimed from what used to be a dumping ground for waste from the power station we can see in the distance. It is heartening to see the rebirth of wastelands into wetlands.IMG_6076

The reserve offers a lighthouse, lakes, birdwatching hides and various trails including a sculpture trail. This is one of the “sculptures”:

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….and here is the lighthouse, which used to have legs…..

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Onward we tramp in the scorching sun – mad dogs and Englishmen but it’s only April! Whatever is growing on the rocks is a very fashionable yellow.

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Just before the village of Gold Cliff the path turns inland to avoid marshland. It then dips down again to join the coast, running past a place called Redwick. By now we are both very tired, hot and hungry. It has been a much longer walk than anticipated, I had misjudged the distances on the map and not taken the heat into account.

Onwards – past someone’s attempt at public art and then finally we reach the turn off at Magor Pil which runs past the Sewage Works (just what we need) and up onto a road.

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We have 30 minutes more of road walking before we reach our AirBnb. Absolutely exhausted we crawl into our host’s kitchen, wrench off the boots and with the minimum of niceties head for the pub. Damian buys me a pint of weak but ice cold lager (I am only now getting back to drinking alcohol after 9 months abstinence) which goes down a treat.

Distance: 15 miles

 

 

Yatton to Weston-Super-Mare 18.4.19

I don’t really know where I got the idea from that Weston-Super-Mare was a tacky, run down seaside resort full of amusement arcades, dodgy theme pubs and screaming children. Yes there is a little bit of that but actually it is quite harmless, especially early in the morning. The Grand Pier has none of the elegance of Clevedon Pier but after a fire in 2008, which completely destroyed it, the pier re-opened in 2010 after a rebuild which is surprisingly tasteful.

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So, alighting from the train at Yatton I spot the cycle/pedestrian path which will take me back part of the way to Weston.  I am walking in the direction of Congresbury but after crossing the River Yeo I will be turning right on to the A370 and then left onto a minor road and farm track over the Oldbridge River.

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http://www.thestrawberryline.org.uk

This walking/cycle path takes its name from the old railway line previously used to transport strawberries from the strawberry fields of Cheddar – It has a grand entrance and information board at Yatton.

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However, as most train tracks are quite straight, walking this path is a little monotonous.

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Eventually I cross over the River Yeo which is looking a bit weary, turn right on to the main road and then shortly after turn left onto a minor road which runs past a collection of farm buildings called Stepstones Farm.

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This then turns into a stoney track which I hope will take me over to the next village called Puxton. Breathing a sigh of relief that there is no sign of an irate farm dog (I am always wary of walking past places that are not used to seeing people on foot).  I follow the track for half a mile when I hear the sound of angry barking. It’s coming from up ahead but I have no alternative but to hope that the animal has a responsible owner. The barking gets louder and hoarser, a sure sign of bad temper, but the gods are with me and when I turn the corner I see that the beast is caged in behind a high metal fence. It is a big dog and all my attempts at shushing it just seem to irritate it even more. I scuttle past with as much dignity as I can muster and do not look back.

Arriving in Puxton, a bit hot and bothered I decide to cool off in the church.

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From the information board I gather that the church dates from the 13th century and is not used anymore. It is a Grade 1 listed building with a leaning tower due to the peaty foundations.

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Inside it feels dusty and forlorn – worn woodwork and pews moulded by the pressure of hands over a period of 600 hundred years.

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Blinking in the bright sunshine I emerge from the church to continue down the road. As I turn off right on to a footpath I am startled by the sound of a horn and a whistle. Surely there are no trains around here? But quite quickly I realise that behind the high hedge is a children’s outdoor theme park with toy train rides, canoeing and all manner of climbing activities – this is Ruxton Park.

I walk on another mile or two ending on the A370 and cross the same motorway as I did yesterday – and I still don’t like the feeling of hundreds of vehicles driving at high speed underneath me. IMG_6052

From the outskirts of Weston I walk back to the station to pick up the rest of my belongings from my BnB. In the centre of town I pass this amazing structure which lifts my spirits. As far as I can see this is a bus shelter!

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Distance: 8 miles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Portishead to Yatton 17.4.19

It’s been a long absence but here I am again, joining a few dots from last year.

The rather overdeveloped Marina is very quiet as I set out from my BnB without breakfast. Walking past the Co-op I vaguely wonder if I should get some provisions but decide that I am bound to find a cafe or corner shop on the way – big mistake.

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From the end of the Marina I walk through residential streets up to Battery Point a local beauty spot where people go to watch ships sailing past and I just miss a photo of a huge container ship sliding its way along the coast. Turning left towards the lighthouse I come across a small concrete building with a strange Banksyesque image. I have tried to Google it with no success so is it or isn’t it? I somehow don’t think so, it’s not well drawn and I’m not sure what it’s saying.

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On the other side of the building I see steam rising and wonder idly if this could mean food, as I am by now very hungry. But no, what I am faced with is a wonderful heated  lido with people enjoying an early morning swim. I ask the lady at the ticket office if I can go in and take a few photos and after a short consultation I am allowed in.

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Chatting with the woman from the ticket office I mention that I also live near a lido which is unfortunately not heated and it transpires that she used to live just round the corner from us and used to swim in Brockwell Lido – a small world.

There is also a Lido cafe but it doesn’t open til 9 am, a 30 minute wait. I decide to walk on despite the fact that the two locals I meet are adamant that I will not find any cafes or shops until I hit Clevedon which is a two hour walk away.

I head for the ugly lighthouse and down onto the road, passing another closed cafe.

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Forcing myself to forget my hunger I plough on across a wide expanse of grass, following a path which eventually leads me to Portishead Sailing Club.

And then I give up, unlike London there are no handy corner shops and I know I cannot walk any further on an empty stomach. Cursing my lack of foresight/assumptions I walk up to the main road and catch a bus back a couple of miles to a Tescos. I am then lucky enough to get a bus back after a 10 minute wait – Take 2.

From the sailing club the path follows the coast along a narrow sandy track and then through stretches of woodland. This is pleasant.

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I pass a different kind of lido.

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A little later on I come to Black Nore lighthouse and later Redcliffe Bay. It is easy walking and the sun is out – I settle into an easy rhythm which allows my mind to wander.

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………at one point I think my mind may be wandering too much as I catch sight of this off to the left. This concrete toadstool must have been a garden ornament for the mansion on the hill that I can just about see through the trees.

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Soon I can see the delicate supports of Clevedon Pier in the distance.

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I decide to go on the pier which has been described by Sir John Betjeman as “the most beautiful pier in England”. And he’s right, it is lovely.

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Brass plaques adorn the weathered wooden boards, celebrating weddings, births and deaths.

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There is no accessible coast path from Clevedon to Weston-Super-Mare and from reading various blogs which describe crawling through overgrown sluices and through fields of mad cattle I decide to head inland. My route is on a minor road leading south from Clevedon to a hamlet called Kingston Seymour. It’s not exciting walking especially in the heat of the early afternoon but there’s not a lot of traffic. I walk past Dowlais, Seawall and Riverside Farm without being challenged by barking dogs and take a rest at the crossroads in sleepy Kingston Seymour.

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From here it is more hot tarmac and a wobbly walk over the M5 – so noisy!

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until I reach Yatton.

IMG_6020 My plan is to take the train from Yatton to Weston-Super-Mare, spend the night there and come back tomorrow. For my first walk in a year (I have been ill) I am quite pleased with myself.

Distance: 15 miles

NB: If you cannot see the map – click on the URL link at the very bottom of the page and all will be revealed. I haven’t yet worked out why this doesn’t work properly on email updates.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bideford to Horn’s Cross 27.5.18

A patch of blue sky and an optimistic forecast. We leave Bideford and carry on northwards up the west bank of the River Torridge. The shore is littered with derelict vessels of all shapes and sizes but at one point we climb up into a lovely stretch of woodland with a photo opportunity.

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Just south of a village called Appledore is a large ship building yard. The area is hermetically sealed from prying eyes and the coastal path diverted away from the estuary. Obviously there is/have been projects here deemed not for the public eye and I later find out that, in 2007, important elements of the two Queen Elisabeth class aircraft carriers were constructed here – maybe why.

Appledore is delightful little fishing village – home to Hocking’s ice cream, which is only sold in North Devon. Pity we didn’t know that when we were there. The streets are lined with pastel coloured cottages and we walk past one of the narrowest houses I have ever seen.

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A little further down the street two terracotta figures lean out from an upstairs window.

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…and further on, another homage to the village

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From Appledore we continue up and around the Northam Burrows Country Park and down into Westward Ho! which must surely be the only place in the whole world to have an exclamation mark after its name. The town has attracted its fair share of holiday makers on this sunny bank holiday weekend and we find it difficult to find a nice place for a cup of tea and a sandwich.

Setting off again we follow a tribute to Rudyard Kipling set into the pavement of the promenade with small granite cobbles. Apparently he spent a few years of his childhood life in the town.

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Admirable sentiments……

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Further on down there is a concrete swimming set into the rocks. It looks enticing but we don’t really have the time and no swimsuits.

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The path leading out of the town now follows the base of the cliffs for a while but then twists upwards and we soon start to see the lovely red sandstone that I associate with Devon.

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Eventually we reach Pebbercombe which is our turn off.

IMG_3757The track that leads up to the main road seems endless as we are pretty tired by now but as always a pint of cold beer at the end makes it all worthwhile. In the bar a couple of girls are setting up a drum set and testing microphones. They are due to start in a hour which is a bit long to wait. Pity.

Distance: 10 miles

 

Fremington Quay to Bideford 26.5.18

So back to Fremington Quay, this time with Damian and this time we cross the bridge and carry straight on along the Tarka Trail.

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It’s a dull day but at least it’s not raining and we make good progress. On the outskirts of Instow we pass another overgrown railway track and a very well preserved signal box – now a listed building.

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Instow is a pretty little village with a wide sandy beach, independent shops and a well stocked delicatessen. We decide to stop for a cream tea from a van parked overlooking the beach. As luck would have it, a few minutes after sitting down the heavens open and there is very little shelter around – stuffing down scones in a rainstorm is not really what I had in mind.

Anyway, the rain is short-lived and we are soon on our way. A while later (it’s so long ago my memory fails me) the path takes us though a patch of woodland and rounding a bend we are treated to the sight of a large boat which has been hauled up onto the mudflats and showing clear signs of human habitation. An extraordinary sight – very Dickensian.

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We tiptoe past, feeling like intruders.

From here on we share the path with joggers and cyclists – it is long and straight with no surprises. There is a sculpture.

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And soon we are crossing the bridge into Bideford and straight into the tumult of a motorcycle rally.

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On our way to our BnB we walk past at least half a mile of motorbikes and their owners – of all shapes and sizes. A constant worry for me is that my daughter is a motorcyclist – she would have loved it.

Distance: 8 miles

 

 

 

 

Barnstaple to Fremington 25.5.18

Once upon a time, a long long time ago, I set out for Barnstaple in North Devon to go walking – since then I have not had my boots on – work is a curse.

Anyway I arrive in Barnstaple at lunchtime and having found my hotel I set out for the Tarka Trail which runs westwards, skirting the estuary of the rivers Taw and Torridge.

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It takes me a while to find it but after a few stops and starts I set off on the long grey tarmac road which runs alongside the sand and mudflats of the estuary. It is drizzling but I don’t mind. There is a concrete road bridge ahead of me and as I walk under it I see that one of the pillars has been decorated with a picture of a mermaid in what looks like an old fashioned diving helmet – very strange.

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Further on a rusty old fishing boat sits on the sand waiting for the tide…………….

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Nothing much happens now, I trudge along with rain dripping steadily from the hood of my jacket, fantasising about supper – but at least it’s not cold.

Eventually I arrive at Fremington Quay where I had planned to turn round and head back to Barnstaple. Looking at the building, which houses a heritage centre and cafe (closed), it dawns on me that the long straight road I’d been walking on is the path of the old railway line from Barnstaple. Further research tells me that by the mid 19th century Fremington Quay had become the most important port between Bristol and Lands End – the main export was clay and imports included coal from South Wales and seed potatoes from Ireland.

IMG_5369From here there is a road leading into the town but I see on my map that there is a footpath off to the left and I quickly find the sign.

 

The very muddy path leads alongside the water and then opens up onto a tarmac track lined with beech trees and rhododendron bushes.  It is pleasant walking and I fall to daydreaming.IMG_3715

Ten minutes later I awake from my reverie to find myself staring at a high metal fence which is blocking my way. I can see, on the other side, the tell tale signs of new house building but as I stare in horror at the prospect of having to retrace my steps I notice a chink in the armour. There is a very narrow space between the end of the fence and a tree, which would then leave me at the top of a slippery slope of newly dug over earth. Oh well – here we go. After a struggle to get me and my rucksack through the tiny space I slip on the mud and only save myself from the ignominy of sliding down the slope on my bum, by grabbing onto a young branch which is in the right place at the right time. Phew!

After this episode it is an easy walk back to the main road, the bus and a pint. Damian arrives tomorrow.

Distance: 4 miles

 

 

St. Bees to Harrington 20.11.17

This was the walk we did on our way up to Gretna Green to get married – it rained all day and I have precisely 4 photographs – 1 outdoors and three inside our hotel. It is also a very long time since I laced up my walking boots.Why? well Christmas, granddaughter in Denmark, work and last but not least a gammy leg (or knee to be precise) which I’m trying to get sorted.

So, strangely enough we arrive at the hotel right in the middle of a wedding trade fair and we take the opportunity to send off a few photos to friends – a juicy bit of fake news.

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The next morning we wake to rain and an overcast sky – well it is November after all. Trying to convince myself that it will clear up we walk carefully up the slippery path towards St. Bees Head. From here I look back at the village which is dominated by a large caravan park.

From the head it’s an easy walk up to the lighthouse which is unmanned – we continue to walk along the top of the cliffs. At one point we walk past a quarry and stop to read an information board where we learn that the sandstone excavated here was used to build the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

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And from now on there are no photographs, not even of Whitehaven which would look lovely in the sunshine with its newly refurbished harbour and beacon. One gory detail about the town was that in 2010 it was the scene of a shooting spree. After killing his twin brother and the family solicitor, taxi driver Derrick Bird began the spree in Whitehaven, shooting several people on the streets and at the taxi rank where he worked, killing one.

After Whitehaven it is an easy walk through Parton, which reminds me of towns in South Wales, with its grey terraced houses creeping up the hill. And on into Harrington where we end up in a small, neglected pub that seems to have escaped the no smoking rules – we drink quickly and leave.

Distance: 12 miles