Bit of a change this year - we are letting the train take the strain. A relatively gentle walk from Brian's house to Guiseley station; the brand new electric train to Leeds station and then change trains for the main drag down to Teignmouth. We have about 20 minutes to wait and Roger is in his element - at a busy railway station with time to enjoy the scene. Whilst Brian goes off in search of a newspaper I soak up the atmosphere.
Eventually our train arrives. It is an HST, getting a bit long in the tooth now being 20+ years old, but still very comfy and functional. The train had started out from Dundee. Had I known I could have stayed at home Thursday night and caught it this morning in Newcastle. Question is would the early start be too high a price to be spared the humiliation of not doing very well in the pub quiz.
Some 6 hours later we arrive in Exeter, 20 minutes late, having seen a good cross section of the British countryside as we wended our way past Wakefield;
Sheffield; Derby; Birmingham and Bristol. We change trains and take our connecting service on to Teignmouth. Our digs are quite close to the station and
we are soon settled. Our evening stroll locates the bus stop we need in the morning and a shop to purchase lunch. With that we retire to bed to prepare
for the business of the week.
We catch our bus on a bright sunny morning and are soon in difficulty trying to tell the driver where we want to get off. The bus doesn't actually go into the village at Maidencombe, but the driver keeps talking of stopping at the bottom of the hill. As we had walked up one of the steepest hills ever to reach the bus stop on the main road last year we are confused. Not too sure of where we will get off, the bus sets off. As we reach our stop we see what the driver means. There is a down hill stretch of main road before our stop.
We dismount and shoulder our packs before walking somewhat gingerly down the road towards the coast. The road is every bit as steep as our memories and therefore needs some care. It is a peculiar feature of the morning's walk that although we are "walking the coast" we see little sea. The path from Maiddencombe to Oddicombe is mainly through woodland, and then we have to follow the road through to Babbacombe for a mile or so. There are compensations however as we find a rather nice cafe for a cup of tea and a tart.
We get our first prolonged view of the sea as we walk along the high promenade at Oddicombe, which is rather attractive. There are some gardens on the cliff top, a footpath and road then a broad grassy strip with some expensive looking hotels behind. We soon leave the sea to follow the road inland. We do not intend inspecting all of Hope's Nose, but are planning to cut across the headland about half a mile inland. In the event we get lost and end up cutting across a little further inland past some cricket pitches. These are the second lot we have seen that morning. The first were at Oddicombe. Here the pitch was at the bottom of a trough about 80yards wide. The boundaries square of the wicket were some twenty feet higher than the pitch.
We haven't set our selves any target for today. We both feel that Paignton will be comfortable, but that Brixham may be a little far. We decide, as so often in these situations, to go with the flow, suck it and see and decide later. Lunchtime sees us in the centre of Torquay, sitting on some grass a hundred yards or so from the station with the beach over the road.
To reach here we have crossed the brand spanking new harbour bridge which stands proudly with its stainless steel gleaming in the sunshine. The bridge was opened this year - we like it when people go to the trouble of making our journey easier. Mind you they cut it fine! As we pass the marina I try to persuade Brian that Torbay is really an estuary and we should get the ferry to Brixham, unfortunately Brian's conscience is better than mine and we keep walking. So far the day has been warm, a little overcast at times, and humid when out of the gentle breeze.
We make steady progress along the main Torbay road for the next mile or so before being able to take to some quieter streets en-route to Paignton. These eventually lead us onto the prom at Paignton. Mid-way along the prom is the Tourist Information Office, and, as it is only mid-afternoon we book some digs in Brixham. Then it's over the road to the pub for a well earned orange squash. The last three hours or so has been spent walking in an urban environment, along traffic thronged roads for the most part. Unfortunately we have a bit more to do before we reach some countryside after Broadsands. The mile and a half before this from Goodrington was not too urban however as the path follows the Torbay Steam Railway line and the houses are for the most part hidden behind the hill. As we leave Goodrington we are passed by the steam train trundling its way to Paignton. We see its return journey from a distance as we head out into the country toward Fishcombe Point an hour or so later. It has become more cloudy as the afternoon has worn on, and we are becoming quite tired now. We have a fairly stiff climb into the Northern suburbs of Brixham and are forced into taking a couple of short breathers. All in all though we've had a pretty good day and reach our digs at 6.00pm. We are pleased we have pre-booked though as the thought of wandering around looking for a place to rest our heads would have been too much.
Our digs are pretty good. It is a small hotel built, like so many of the houses in Brixham on the sides of the cliffs surrounding the harbour. From the road the place looks like a two storey house. In fact there are at least three levels cascading down the cliff.
After a shower we hobble out to the quayside and find a restaurant for our supper. After a pleasant meal we climb the steps back to our hotel and then down to the bar. In conversation with the landlord we gather a lot of useful information. The first is that the walk to Kingswear is pretty arduous, if not dangerous in places; and that we will be lucky to get past Dartmouth - assuming we reach there before the ferry stops. Also there are not many places to stay in either place and pre-booking is recommended. In the end we decide to stay a second night in Brixham and get the bus back from Kingswear. The last bus is about 6.00pm so we should make it alright. The hotel will even make us a packed lunch!
We leave at about 9.15 and head down to the harbour en-route to Berry Head. It is already very hot. Berry Head has been designated a Country Park and has several ex military facilities dating back to Napoleonic times. There is a small cafe and the urge to stay and explore further has to be resisted. We do explore the contents of our packed lunches and are very impressed.
We press on round the coast and the going is fairly easy. We are beginning to think that our host has been exaggerating the terrors of the terrain. We stop for a second time at Sharkham Point. It has clouded over somewhat but there is still some sunshine. We hear the church bells tolling away in the distance. Somehow the whole experience is one of peace and tranquillity. Again we have to force ourselves to move on.
The next couple of hours soon teach us to respect those with local knowledge. The terrain becomes much more severe. We have a series of very steep hills to descend (and ascend) as we pass by Mam Sands and Long Sands. Phenomenal concentration is needed on the descents. The strain on calves; knees and thighs is amazing. One false step and a nasty fall is awaiting. We are fortunate in that the ground is dry - in wet weather the path would be even more dangerous if not impassable. Roger found this bit very distressing and at one time was ready to jack it all in. This came midway down the second big descent. Fortunately, after a rest at the bottom to get his head together, the following ascent wasn't too bad, if slow. The next hour or so saw us traversing the switchback country. The views from the high points were impressive and the slopes, thankfully, gradually became easier.
The walk has been through some impressive countryside and we are surprised that so few walkers are out and about. The weather has been kind, the excessive heat of the early day has abated a little. The day does have a sting in the tail however. The last few miles into Kingswear are along a lane, and the sight of a road raises hopes of the end being near. Alas it is not and there is one more up and down to negotiate. Compared to what has gone before it is a kitten - but at the end of a long day it seems much worse and hits us like a slap in the face. One compensation is that it is approaching 6.00pm so the pubs will be open. Only the first we come to isn't! A few hundred yards further on we find one that is open. The bad news then kicks in - the last bus has just left; the drinks are expensive and the taxi will be about 30 / 45 minutes.
We eventually return to our hotel; shower; change; eat at the same restaurant as the night before; yarn the night away in the hotel bar on our return, before ordering our packed lunches for the morrow and bed. A hard, but satisfying day.
We make a very slow start today. We amble down to the town square and catch the bus back to Kingswear and take the ferry to Dartmouth. In Dartmouth we seek out the tourist information office and book our accommodation for the night. We pick on Torcross, which is just over 10 miles away. We had hoped to do more walking than this today but the next place likely to have accommodation is Salcombe which is 20 miles off!
At 10.48 we finally get going. The first few hundred yards are easy enough along the river promenade, past the old railway station that, if I remember correctly, never saw a train. It was built by the Great Western Railway, and to catch the train one caught the ferry to Kingswear and then boarded the train. The road gradually started to climb as we went through the town until it became a bridlepath. The views across the estuary were quite beautiful and were ample reward for the long uphill slog in the hot and humid conditions. We caught glimpses of our route the previous day and could more readily appreciate just how far up the river Kingswear is. When in the trees and on the road one expects the town to be just around the corner, yet it must be 2 miles or more from the river mouth.
The SWCP follows the coast past Blackstone Point before turning inland just to the west of the Dancing Beggars and re-joining the bridleway we are on. We decide to give up the coast and follow the bridleway past Little Dartmouth and on to Stoke Fleming. About half way Roger has a mild panic and decides to measure the old blood sugar. Good job the value is low and falling towards a hypo. A rapid rummage in the rucksack locates the victuals for the day and some sense of order is restored. It is a timely warning to replenish the emergency biscuits.
At Stoke Fleming Roger gets his biscuits and we adjourn to the Green Dragon for a couple of pints of squash. It has been thirsty work so far. As we sit in the sunshine outside the pub it is so peaceful we could stay all day ....
The path continues to shun the coast as we head for Strete and ultimately Torcross. The bridlepath is more of a road hereabouts, and truth to tell it does make a change to walk through the country. As we reach the outskirts of Blackpool [the pretty one - not the one with the lights; trams and overbearing smell of fish & chips] the path narrows considerably and we have a steep descent to a lane. Sadly we miss our path here and are condemned to join the main road for the stage into Strete. There is a steep climb away from Blackpool and as we pass Matthew Point we look back into a rather pleasant sandy bay populated by several scores of frolicking families.
Again it has been a hot 3 miles or so, and the King's Arms looms large on our left. After yet more squash we set off down the road. We hear the sound of tractors behind us, and spot a double-decker bus coming towards us. The road is quite narrow here and "this will be interesting" we think. In fact it is more than interesting as there is not one tractor behind us, but two - each very large and each pulling a large trailer. They meet the bus at the narrowest section of the road. We continue our plod along the road to the west as the traffic tails back, and nothing passes us either. A traffic jam in rural Devon!! It takes a good ten minutes to sort out.
Just past Homelands there is a path down to the beach at Strete Gate and we can leave the road behind - it is still hot. We are due another rest and so we settle down on the shingle bank fronting Start Bay. There are low cliffs to our left and the shingle causeway carries the road to Torcross away to our right, the gentle lapping of the waves against the shingle; the heat; our tiredness ... we both wake up with a start about 15 minutes later!
We set off along the shingle and are soon looking for a better surface. There is some scrubby grass next to the road but it is still hard going and the traffic noise spoils things as well. After a while we reach the monument on Slapton Sands to the soldiers and sailors who lost their lives in a tragic accident whilst practising landing craft manoeuvres prior to the D-Day landings.
For the last mile and a half we cross the road and walk alongside Slapton Ley, a stretch of water trapped by the shingle bank. It is designated as a bird sanctuary but we do not see many birds! At the southern end we reach Torcross, a collection of fish and chip restaurants, a couple of bars and shops selling sea side tat. There is also a Sherman tank parked in a corner of the car park. The tank was one of the ones lost in the accident, and had been rescued from the sea to become another monument to the men lost.
Now comes the interesting bit - where are our digs, and how do we get to them? We were given instructions of a sort at the Tourist information office in Dartmouth, but that was several hours ago and they are lost in the cotton wool inside our heads. We ask in one of the shops and check out the sandwich availability situation for the morrow. With fresh instructions we set off for the last quarter of a mile up a really steep hill. It is too much for me. The day has been very hot and I am in a foul mood when we reach the top and find we have to go down an equally steep driveway and lose about half the height we've walked up. We approach the door and are met by our host and two daft dogs that are leaping around like jumping beans on speed. Our host apologises for being busy, leads us to the sun lounge and the cupboard that masquerades as bar. "Help yourselves to a can. I won't be long" The sun lounge overlooks the garden and private beach. The late afternoon sunshine washes benignly over the landscape adding its touch of magic and so making the place seem so wonderful.
Five minutes later my foul mood is disappearing as fast as the contents of the can. On his return our host explains we are welcome to leave our own drink in the cupboard, put our names on it, or keep a tally of what he provides and settle up when we leave.
Our room is comfortable and quite large. We unpack and realise that to get our evening meal we will have to climb the drive and then walk down to sea level; dine and then walk back up again! Even worse in the morning we will have to repeat the exercise to get our sandwiches!
After a bit of a rest we venture up & down the hill to the cafes and bars. One bar is tacky, the other a bit expensive and very busy. We eventually decide on a fish & chip restaurant where we get an average sort of meal. The evening is rounded off in the garden back at our digs with a couple of cans from the help yourself bar. The low evening sun is giving everything a golden tint and matches our mellow mood.
Roger has had a brainwave - we will get our sarnies before breakfast. That way we won't have to carry our packs up the drive, down the hill and up the hill again to the start of our path at the entrance to the drive! A little bit of energy will be saved.
The morning is quite misty, we can only see about half way along Slapton Sands. There is a fairly steep climb away from Torcross over the high ground that separates us from Beesands. One benefit was that the mist cleared a little as we reached the summit and we had a very pleasant view across the flat land to Beesands and the climb over Tinsey Head about a mile and a half away to the West. Although the mist has cleared it is still very humid. The approach to Beesands is a mini version of our approach to Torcross, a shingle bank trapping an expanse of water. Unfortunately as we take a break at Beesands the weather closes in with a fine mizzle falling. We are entertained by a couple of dogs taking their owners for a walk. We leave Beesands via some steps cut into the cliff and head off towards Hallsands. We hope there is a cafe or something here - we feel we deserve a cuppa.
Alas we are to be disappointed with Hallsands - there is an hotel which looks like it has been converted into holiday flats; but no cafe. We take a break again and are intrigued by the signs telling the story of the lost village. By going down a short path we can see the remains of some fishing cottages at the bottom of the cliff. The visibility has improved a great deal, and looking East we can see along the full length of Start Bay and the mouth of the River Dart. We can make out a helicopter circling over the sea in the middle distance. Despite this vast increase in increase visibility the higher ground is still shrouded in mist.
We set off for Start Point and its lighthouse. As we gradually climb up to the cliff tops the weather closes in again and at the car park above Shoelodge Reef we are in fairly thick mist - the visibility is down to about a 100 yards. We pause at the car park and decide it's not worth going down the track to the lighthouse as we would see very little. This is a big disappointment, but we decide to follow the path more or less due South from the car park and hit the coast between Sleadon Rocks and The Narrows. The fields are full of sheep and their mournful bleating adds to the atmosphere of desolation as we trek through the mist. The cliffs are a little lower on this side of the headland and the mist gradually lifts a little.
The rock formations we see when we reach the coast are quite fascinating. For several hundred yards or more the water is crystal clear and we can see these weird patterns above and below the water. Although the mist has lifted somewhat and visibility is back to about 400 yards, I still have problems seeing where I'm going. Fine droplets of water keep forming on my specs! Memo to self - invent some windscreen wipers for specs.
We continue to plod on in the thin mist and I am feeling decidedly peaky. Our progress has been fairly slow and the mist has spoiled what could have been some spectacular views up and down the coast. We are both wondering whether to leave the coast and get to Salcombe as quickly as possible. Over lunch near Maelcombe House we both broach the subject and after much consulting of maps we decide to head for East Prawle, about a mile away and use the more direct road route to East Portlemouth and the ferry to Salcombe. Although it is only 5 or 6 miles to East Portlemouth around the coast our progress has been quite slow today, and at nearly two o'clock, we feel as though we may not get there till after 6.00pm.
So we leave the coast behind and start the long slog up to East Prawle. We take a short break in the Pig's Nose pub when we get there, before setting off down the road to East Portlemouth. We make better progress and the sun has poked his nose through the mist. All of this lifts our mood somewhat. We reach East Portlemouth at about 4.15 with the sun shining quite brightly. From East Portlemouth, Salcombe looks very pretty in the late afternoon sunshine, with its houses hugging the river bank and climbing up the hill behind. What is not apparent is how steep the hill is!
We have a short wait for the ferry and repair to the Tourist Information Office as soon as we arrive. We book some digs for the night and set off. Despite being given directions we get lost in the first two hundred yards and soon regret not getting a taxi. We have to climb the hill that looked so attractive from across the river. It has lost all its charm as we struggle up the hill to our digs. On arrival its boots off at the door and collapse on our beds for half an hour before being able to stir for a shower or even think about our evening meal. We do get a good view of the town and river from our bedroom though.
We change and head off back down the hill to the riverside which although on the edge of town is the town centre if you see what I mean. We are advised to take a slightly different route back into town through a park, which although steep appears to be slightly less so. There are plenty of pubs and restaurants, but they all seem a bit expensive. Eventually we choose an Italian restaurant and have an adequate if slightly overpriced meal. We then move along to one of the pubs and consume some of the local bitter - very good - before ordering a taxi to take us back to our digs. The taxi driver takes a different route to the one we walked up - "never go that way - far too steep!" is the driver's pithy comment.
We are greeted with a glorious view over the estuary before going down to breakfast. The morning sun is glinting on the river and the small boats are gently bobbing up & down at their moorings. Breakfast is good and when we return to finish packing Brian notices that his jumper is missing. We hold an inquest and conclude it is either in the restaurant or the pub. Brian is not optimistic about finding it again. We set off back down to the river side and after drawing a blank at the restaurant we reclaim his jumper at the pub.
We carry on out of town sharing the narrow streets with people and cars - there is hardly room for both in the town centre. We eventually reach South Sands and enjoy a cuppa from the beach cafe. South Sands is the terminus for a ferry that runs along the coast from Salcombe. Seems we could have had a ride ...
After a cuppa and a rest we start a gradual and fairly steep climb up to the cliff tops. The day is really becoming quite sunny and hot which adds to the enjoyment; the rather bleak mood of yesterday lunchtime is a distant memory. By a quirk of the local weather the sea was covered by a thin mist as we reached the summit and approached Bolt Head. A two-masted sailing boat in the estuary had the look of the Marie Celeste as it moved slowly through the mist, her hull barely visible.
By mid-day the mist had burnt off and the temperature was beginning to rise. Through the sun's reflection we could see some fascinating rock formations beneath the clear water at the foot of the cliffs. At about this time we were overtaken by a group of German middle aged walkers and proceed to play leap frog as we pass and re-pass each other as we take our breaks. We get into conversation with a couple about our own age. It appears they are on a week long walking holiday, with a daily programme of guided walks. They are obviously enjoying it.
The day continues to be very hot and our water supplies are getting a bit low when we reach a pub about half a mile inland from Bolt Tail. Walking certainly generates a thirst and we were more than ready for a break in its relative coolness. After about 15 minutes we shoulder our packs again and set off into the sun and head for Inner and Outer Hope. At Outer Hope we start looking for digs and have no success at all at the first two places we enquire. Fortunately the third place, although full, knows of a B&B a bit further up the lane. They phone the place for us and we are able to get a room. They also give us directions, which is fortunate as the digs are in the village's only [small] housing estate. Without the directions we would not have found them, and even then we turned left instead of right when only 50 yards from the place.
[One of the features of the walk so far is that even when given directions to a place we get lost - it has happened three times so far. Is there some peculiar witchcraft at work? ]
Our digs are in a comfortable bungalow, and although there are no tea making facilities in the room there is a well stocked supply in the lounge next to the telly.
We make arrangements for a key as our hosts are going out shortly. After a rest and a refreshing shower we head back towards the coast and the heart of the village. We end up in the village pub and have some lovely beer with an excellent meal. The mobile phones don't work so we queue for the village's only phone booth to check in with loved ones. Brian also spots a suitable shop for provisions in the morning. We finally wend our way back up the road to our digs; it is, of course, uphill all the way. Today's walking has been fun! Good weather and attractive scenery with a lovely end to the day in the pub with an excellent meal and a couple of really tasty pints - grand! The experiment of washing our smalls each day is not progressing too well. They are taking a devil of a time to dry out.
Today will be a bit of a mixed day. The good points are the Cuppa at Bigbury on Sea; the ferry crossing the River Avon; finding some super digs in a pub - where we are able to do our washing; and some lovely scenery [again]. The minuses are the heat; the awkward couple of hundred yards away from the ferry and trying to find a way out of a field of cattle without climbing the fence; and stopping very early - but more of this anon. All in all it will be another good day.
The first part from Outer Hope along the coast past Thurlestone and on to Banham and the ferry passes peacefully enough. The only thing to trouble us is the heat. At Bantham we cross the estuary in a small boat which is fine when we are actually in, but a horror for me getting in and out as it sways and rocks like a demented bucking bronco. As we cross the river we see dozens of people playing on the sands and exploring the rock pools. One group is further out than the others and when we reach the distance sore we notice that the tide is coming in - this group will be in trouble if they don't get back soon. The sands and rocks are relatively high above the water, but their path to the shore is that bit lower. They are too far away for us to give them a shout, but much to our relief and their well being they start moving landwards a few minutes later. Within 20 minutes the tide had come in and covered their footprints in the sand.
Our path to Bigbury is one of those annoying ones. The land gets in the way, or more specifically a ruddy small hill, just high enough to be nuisance, with no route at its base along the water's edge. Its sides are, of course, also just steep enough to be awkward. [Don't really know why I'm having this rant; we/I have suffered with these things each year of the walk and they don't go away].
So we slog up the hill, through the field of cattle, find a way out at the top after about 5 minutes searching about; through the farm yard and then walk downhill almost back to sea level on the road into Bigbury.
Here we find the Bay Cafe and learn several things - the tea is excellent; the hotel on the island just off shore was used as a set for an Agatha Christie thriller; and there is no where to stay between Bigbury and Noss Mayo, about a day and a half's walking away. This last bit of news is a bit of a bummer as we don't want to have to stay in Bigbury after only a morning's walking. The other reason is that we have to be at the River Erme no later than 10.30am the next morning so we can ford it at low tide. Miss that time by more than half an hour on either side, and we are in for a long diversion inland to cross the wretched thing.
As we sup at our second cuppa and pore over the maps we ask about the pub in Kingston which is about 3 miles away and a mile and a half from the ford. None of the staff know about the pub; but yellow pages are provided and a little later we have the whole thing sorted. The pub does indeed do rooms; they have a twin available [not for long] and they do evening meals. It is a matter of minutes to make the bookings, finish our tea and set off with hope in our hearts and get attacked by the sun beating down on us. It has become even hotter during our stay in the cafe. The next stretch onto Kingston is very hilly. A series of short steep sections that are as tiring going down as they are going up. Kingston is set about a mile and a half from the coast and there are several paths we could take. At Westcombe Beach we have the first decision to make. Do we head directly for Kingston or continue down the coast for another 2 to 3 miles to the next path, after that we could go on for another mile or so to yet another path back to the village. Getting to Westcombe Beach has involved one of the steepest descents of the day, and the hill out is even steeper. I just cannot face another series of these climbs and descents, so the decision is made to go directly to Kingston.
Our route follows a little stream up the small valley we have just climbed down into. After about half an hour we reach the shade of some trees and follow a metaled path out onto a road. When we reach the shade of the trees we both start to feel a bit better. We arrive at the village and it is deserted. It is a pretty place but we don't see a soul for almost five minutes. We are given directions to the pub - which is closed and is in two halves. The bar and some of the rooms are on one side of the lane, and on the other side there are various utility rooms; the gents toilets, an archway through to the pub garden [where there will be a B-B-Q Sunday night- all welcome tickets from the bar - price ...] and above them all the guest bedrooms. We eventually find a member of staff who is most helpful. Jugs of orange squash brought to our bedroom; yes we can use the tumble drier Roger has spotted in one of the utility rooms - we can even do all our washing in their washing machine if we want, and they can do us a packed lunch for the morrow as the village shop isn't there any more.
The room is very comfortable. And we get a good rest [except for periodic visits to the washing machine and tumble drier] before repairing to the bar over the lane for our evening meal. Once again the food is good and the beer better. We get in discussions about our trek, and mention that breakfast will have to be timed to leave us sufficient time to get to the river by low tide. This gets the landlord and bar staff reminiscing about how they used to swim in the river when they were kids. Our good fortune in finding this wonderfully friendly place is greater than we realise. The only reason they were able to offer us a room in the first place was because a film crew had moved out the day before. Even this had a bizarre link to earlier in the day as they were filming an Hercule Poirot mystery - written by Agatha Christie.
We retire over the road to our room for an early night and are rudely woken by such a clatter and slamming of doors around 1.00am. About 90 minutes later the performance is repeated, accompanied by much loud wishing of good night. Wondering what all the fuss was about we drop off into the land of nod till the morrow - when all will be revealed.
At breakfast we find out what all the banging and crashing of the night before was about. Apparently our talk of the river had ignited old memories of we were young and went swimming and frolicking in the river when summers were twice as hot and it never rained when .... So after clearing up in the bar, the landlord and wife and 3 or 4 of the staff got in the car and drove to the river for a bit of a swim and a frolick.
During all this tale telling the barmaid from last night walked and whispered in the landladies ear
"Yes, you left your shoes in the car"
replied the landlady in a good strong Devonian voice.
There followed more whispering in the landlady's ear, accompanied by furtive glances in our direction.
"Yes - you left those as well!"
A full confession quickly followed. The party had been skinny dipping by the light of the moon [and car headlights].
We collected our packed lunch and left the pub, following the lanes to the river. We arrived at the ford just after 09.30, an hour before low tide. We decided to wait for a while. The estuary is quiet and we see few people. A couple rode by on their horses and a guy in a 4-wheel drive passes us. I try to look a bit forlorn hoping he may stop and offer to carry us across the now shallow stream meandering its way between the high water marks. Obviously I need to improve my acting or telepathy skills as the guy drives straight past us. There is nothing for it but to remove boots and socks, roll up our trouser legs and get paddling. Brian sets off full of confidence and is soon across. The soles of his feet must be like leather. I feel every tiny grain of sand and just cannot face wading across - the pain from the sand and pebbles is tremendous. There is nothing for it but to put my boots on and take the chance of walking for an hour or two with wet boots.
We cross at just about low tide, maybe a little before - the river is not too deep - reaching mid calf. Also it is not too fast flowing, but Brian and I wouldn't fancy fording it with the water much higher.
We dry off on one of the many sandbanks alongside the river and don our gear. Within minutes we are off and climbing back up to the cliff tops. We stop for lunch about 90 minutes later and are treated to some wonderful views away to the East across the bay to Bolt Tail which we passed 2 days ago. It is still hot, but not as hot as the previous two days. All in all despite some odd moments the walking from Salcombe has been most enjoyable.
As the afternoon wears on we suffer a sort of deja-vu. Our target is Noss Mayo which lies about a mile or so up the River Yealm. Like Kingswear we have to pass the place on the coast and then cut back to the village along the river bank. We could save ourselves a mile or more by cutting across country from Blackstone Point, but today we feel fine as we walk in the afternoon sun. We follow the coast and as we pass Gara Point at the mouth of the estuary we can see what we believe is Cornwall ahead of us to the West. We turn the corner and begin the last stretch into Noss Mayo. It is easy walking here. There is a wide clear path on the cliff top and it gently drops down to a metalled lane as it approaches the river. We pass some expensive looking houses.
There is little wind to disturb the waters and this area is definitely a beauty spot. There are one or two sailing boats gently moving around the estuary - all is very peaceful. As we get nearer to Noss Mayo trees hug the lane and we catch glimpses of the river and further bank through the leaves. Barely a ripple disturbs the surface now.
We pass the ferry landing we will need the following day and note the times and eventually reach the village. We are both a little apprehensive as we have not found out if there is any accommodation. We stop at the Ship Inn near the centre of the village without passing a single sign indicating a B &B or guest house or hotel. The pub provides us with orange squash; the yellow pages and a phone. [Our mobile phones don't work here - no signal, this has been a common occurrence all along the Devon coast].
We find a couple of numbers for B&B's and start dialling. The pay phone, like the squash, is expensive. At the second attempt we are successful and Roger books us two singles - makes a change - and gets directions to the place. The house is little more than 200 yards from the pub, and Roger writes down the house number. We finish off our drinks and set off. We quickly find the place and knock on the door - no answer. We try this several times with no success. After 10 minutes or so, Roger is just getting ready to set off back to the phone in the pub so he can to check the instructions when a lady from the house next door says
"You must be Mr Curtis and Friend"
I am amazed at her intuition and left wondering how she could possibly know our names.
"You'd better come in"
- very kind of her to look after us whilst we wait to gain admittance to the B&B methinks.
"I thought you weren't coming or had got lost".
I am totally confused at this until it is pointed out to me that I have written down the wrong house number. At least we didn't actually get lost this time.
Our accommodation is very comfortable, but there is no telly in either room. Like Outer Hope though we have use of a lounge. The early part of the evening is spent recovering and making ourselves presentable to the local population before dining out. We chose a pub a little further into the village. Again it is a bit expensive but we are in picture box country. I reckon every other home is a holiday home and there are scores of small sailing boats anchored in the river. The evening meal is adequate and suffers in comparison to the previous two nights. The beer is excellent though. We meander our way back to our digs, are given a cup of coffee in the lounge and soon repair to our beds. I discover a copy of Frank Muir's autobiography. I dip into it before gradually falling asleep - it is a good read.
Today will be the last day of walking this year. We will make Plymouth fairly comfortably and the only real difficulties are getting the ferry across the Yealm, and deciding when to get the bus into the centre of Plymouth. The ferry is due to start about 09.30 according to the timetable we saw on the way in the previous night so we set off in good time and arrive at the ferry landing at about 9.15 am. The ferry makes its appearance at about 10.15am. We spend a fruitless hour sitting on the "landing stage" - a narrow length of concrete that runs more or less parallel to the bank as it gradually slips into the water. The landing stage is opposite the fork in the river where the Yealm swings to the north and the short leg up to Noss Mayo join. The whole setting is picturesque with houses peeping through the trees that cover the steep slopes of the valleys. The place has a peaceful air, broken only by the wind in the rigging and the occasional outboard motor. The river is pretty busy with assorted sailing craft either coming in or leaving. The landing stage opposite us at Newton Ferrers is quite busy with pleasure seekers launching their dinghies to reach the larger yachts in the river. Each time one is launched we wonder "is this the ferry".
Eventually our chariot, in the form of a small motorised dinghy appears. We pay the ferry man and are soon whisked across to the Wembury shore. The day has become quite hot whilst we were waiting in the shade. So in glorious sunshine we climb the path to the cliff top and set off past Wembury to Heybrook Bay.
Heybrook Bay is a small collection of houses and a cafe next to the beach. We adjourn to the cafe for tea and ice cream, and revel in the chance to cool down. After too short a break we set off again. We see Cornwall just a few miles across Plymouth Sound. After a few minutes walking we see the Plymouth Breakwater, a mile or so long barrier in the middle of the Sound. There are dozens of boats large and small, the sailing boats flitting about here and there whilst a navy ship lies at anchor just inshore from the breakwater. On the horizon we see a faint smudge of smoke beneath a ships hull. Shortly before we pass the breakwater, the little smudge of smoke and its associated hull pass us. No longer little - it is the Plymouth /Santander ferry - the size of a small liner.
We continue past the holiday chalets at Bovisand Bay and on past the disused Staddon Fort where we run out of the most important thing for walkers - land. To be more precise land we can walk on. We have reached a dead end amongst some small warehouses. We have obviously missed our path somewhere. There is no alternative but to walk back up the road and then, hidden in the undergrowth we spy our path. We climb over the small headland and drop into the broad sweep of Jellycombe Bay. Plymouth and its Hoe are tantalisingly close about 2 miles away across the water. Unfortunately it is 5 or more miles by land.
We beat a retreat to the cafe about mid way along the bay and have a council of war. It is about 3.15pm and we do not want to be too late into Plymouth. Roger spotted that there is bus due in about 20minutes that will take us to the city centre. In some ways we would like to walk on a little further, perhaps to Mountbatten Point. But what are the buses like from there into town. In the end we get the bus from just outside the cafe. Some 25 minutes later we are safely dropped of in the middle of the main shopping street.
We seek out the Tourist Information Office which takes a surprisingly long time as it is not where the signpost suggested it should be. We eventually find it in the Citadel area of the city, a lively place full of bars and shops and restaurants. We are quickly booked into a guest house not too far away and only a few minutes from the Hoe.
After a rest and a shower etc we are ready to explore the place before finding somewhere to eat. We stroll [hobble] around the Hoe in the evening sun before alighting on a pub in the Citadel area. We have an excellent meal in a very popular bar [Witherspoons I think]. The beer is good and the passing cabaret known as Plymouth's pretty young things on a night out are pleasing to the eye.
Before we retire to our digs we stroll around the waterfront and are disappointed to note that there is a water taxi from Mountbatten Point to a point not more than 200yards from the Tourist Information Office! If we had known this we would not have caught the bus. Ah well, we'll have to remember this for the second lap.
Today is a fairly lazy day after a frenetic start. We have to get away from our digs pretty promptly to walk the mile or so to the station and book our tickets to Teignmouth. The train arrives on time and we are soon settled in for the journey. On arrival we head for the sea front and find a cafe where we sit in the sun and read the newspaper sipping cups of coffee until lunch time. As lunch approaches we get rid of the packs at our digs and head for the ferry to Shaldon. There is something of a commotion as we draw near. The inshore lifeboat has been launched and is away on a mission of mercy. The weather is glorious so whoever they are rescuing must have contributed to their peril.
So, just as we did a year ago, we climbed out of the ferry and onto the beach; walked through a pub's beer garden; crossed the road and entered said pub. The big difference today is that we have time to relax and really enjoy ourselves. We order our lunch and beer and head out into the sunshine and settle down in the beer garden.
After several pints and a pretty good lunch we head back to Teignmouth to find a suitable place for our last night bash. Before that however we get the low down on the rescue mission launched a little earlier. Apparently a small yacht had run aground on some rocks. The lifeboat crew had no difficulty getting the crew off, except the captain who was most reluctant to abandon his craft. Eventually he saw sense and was taken off. We later saw the yacht being towed back into the river.
We eventually select a restaurant not too far from our digs, having a couple more beers in the process. By now it is time to prepare ourselves for the festivities so we return to our digs for a well deserved rest before changing and venturing out - ready to show Teignmouth how to party.
Once again we cause consternation by asking for the wine list and ordering a bottle before reading the menu. The food is pretty good and the wine more than passable. After a satisfying meal we wander off into the streets of Teignmouth looking for more liquid sustenance and find it in one of the pubs that overlooks the river. Truth is though that we are both a bit too tired to really appreciate it.
We get to the station in good time for our journey home after calling in at the shop for provisions. Our journey home is slightly more complex compared to the outward journey. We have to change trains at Taunton; York and Leeds to get to Guiseley.
In the event the trains gradually lose time and we are advised to change at Sheffield instead of York. During the journey I begin to muse on the week.
The walk this year has generated a strange mix of emotions. Maidencombe to Brixham was largely boring as we walked through urban landscapes for most of the day. There were some interesting bits, even in the town, but it never really felt like a "proper walk".
Brixham to Kingswear on the other hand was bloody hard work, but well worth it.
Kingswear to Torcross was a curious sort of a day. Overall it was very good, but the last slog alongside the shingle and busy road definitely dragged the day down, only to be lifted by the location and atmosphere of rest and calm in our digs. The evening meal was pretty ordinary though.
Torcross to Salcombe was the big disappointment . The weather, whilst not as bad as it could have been, definitely marred what could have been a day as rewarding as the Brixham to Kingswear stage.
The next few days walking from Salcombe to Plymouth were generally good, if hot at times. There were two things that caused concern - our growing
cumulative fatigue, and missing out on the water taxi into Plymouth. The journey home was a bit tedious as well.