The day, once again, started ridiculously early. We hauled ourselves out of bed to get to Leeds airport for the 8.55am plane to Newquay - again. The cabby was a cheerful sort of chap, and although he was a little early neither Brian nor I could see how he would take us to the airport and return to Guiseley for his next fare a scant 20 minutes later.
Getting to and from the South West for this year's walk has proved to be a convoluted process. Flying to Newquay and taking the bus to Boscastle is a bit of a no-brainer, but the return is problematical. All the long distance links feed South Devon and Cornwall meaning that before one can start the trunk haul one has to get to Exeter or Taunton [a return to Newquay would take nearly all day from our likely finishing points in North Devon].
After many hours of investigation we decide to fly back to Leeds from Exeter International Airport. [It's wonderful how the smallest airports tack "International" after their names on the strength of one or two foreign flights a day, whilst the real international gateways don't bother].
The only likely drawback to our plans is that we are scheduled to arrive at Newquay at 11.05; the buses to Padstow are at 11.30 and 1.30. We are resigned to a 2 hour wait at Newquay airport, but by some miracle our plane is a little early; the baggage handlers must be on speed and we are outside the terminal at 11.25!
We duly catch the 11.30 bus but by ill fortune and bad traffic we are passed by our bus to Wadebridge as we pull into the bus station. [Part of the delay was also due to the driver being very diligent in making sure we didn't pay too much. Yes he could give us a ticket to Boscastle; but would the day rover be cheaper? After a fair bit of prodding and poking at his ticket machine the answer is .... a day rover.]
With a 50 minute wait for the next bus we have time for a stroll into town and partake of a beer and other facilities before catching our bus. At Wadebridge we alight once more at the bus station - like Padstow on the site of the old railway station, although here more of the old railway buildings remain having been carefully converted to offices and the like.
The excitement is about to be begin. About five minutes before our bus is due to depart, a bus to Exeter pulls in. A few people get on leaving Brian and I plus another couple waiting for the bus to Boscastle. Our bus is due to arrive at the same stand, and me being of a suspicious nature in these circumstances glance at the timetable and espy a previously missed small "c" against the arrival time in Boscastle. Our bus has arrived in the shape of the Exeter bus and we have to change at Camelford. With a quick yell and a gathering of traps we all bundle into the bus with about a minute to spare.
On arrival at Camelford the four of us dismount and enquire where we catch the bus to Boscastle. There is bad news - our driver thinks that it has left! Again Western Greyhound come up trumps. After 4 - 5 minutes conversation on the bus's radio it has been sorted. Our bus has indeed departed, and is at the school about half a mile away. It will stay there till we arrive,. The Exeter to Wadebridsge bus is due in a few minutes. Instead of going up the hill and turning left, it will turn right and take the 4 of us to the school. All this duly happens and by 4.00 we are in Boscastle and approaching our digs.
We get settled in and have a stroll around the village looking for a likely place for our supper. Little has changed since last year except the weather which is distinctly unsettled. We eventually chose the The Wellington, chiefly on the strength of a beer and a curry for £6 for orders placed before 7.00pm. As it is 5.30 we indulge. All our good intentions of an early night and only a couple of pints get blown out of the window as the beer is good and we get chatting to Reg and Ann, a couple of about our age, who are staying at the near by Trewethett Farm caravan park overlooking Rocky Valley. This place is known to us as we filled our water bottles here last year. Some 2 hours and several beers more than intended we eventually get back to our digs.
Boscastle to Crackington Haven
The weather forecasts all week have been pretty gloomy predicting rain and strong winds for most of Cornwall for most of the week. Friday had been a bit showery, and Saturday dawned with the sun shining, but the ground wet. The morning weather forecast predicts strong winds gusting to 60mph and heavy showers to break up the generally persistent rain! Lovely walking weather.
By about 9.30 we are ready to set off, with sandwiches safely tucked away in our rucksacks and our breakfast safely tucked away in our bellies. We have not gone more than a hundred yards before the first shower hits. It is a brief squall but sufficient for us to have to don waterproofs before we have passed the harbour en-rote to theheadland. Despite the wind, which is not too strong, it is pleasantly mild.
As we get closer to the headland we begin to feel the true force of the wind as it becomes unencumbered by the land. It is strong! Thankfully the rain has stopped, but the rocks require care as they are nice and slippy. Brian is in the lead and as I near the headland I see him disappear round it. A few moments later he is back. We appear to have run out of path - just like we did at Porthcurno in 2006. We make our way back towards the harbour but cannot see where we have gone wrong. All the clearly defined paths go out to the headland.
We meet a young lady who is also intending to head in our direction along the coast path. We discuss what we have learnt and by now we have decided that we will take an alternative route out of Boscastle. There is a path running along the back of the houses which then joins the road before striking directly to the coast at Pentargon. Our Lady walker decides to search for the Coast Path so we bid farewell and set off. We climb a short steep hill and are soon on a path running parallel to the road about 50 feet below us. After the initial steep incline it becomes little more than an undulating path with a slight upward trend. All very pleasant despite the grass still being very wet from the earlier shower and overnight rain
We suffer no more concerns and about an hour after setting off we reach the coast, and can see our Lady Walker about 100 yards to our left heading towards us. When we finally meet she explains that she too was confused but then spotted a half overgrown finger post about 50 yards off the path to the headland and some 50yards or so from the headland. This alerted her to an unusually overgrown path crossing the headland. She confessed to nearly missing it.
The next 41/2hours are not very pleasant at all. It doesn't start out too bad as we enjoy the company of our Lady Walker for about half a mile. Her speed is greater than ours - I doubt we could have kept pace even without our packs. Shortly after she departed we were joined by the rain and wind with a vengeance. At first it was squally showers being hurried along by the oh so strong winds that gusted - so we learned later - to 60mph a lot of the time. Also the terrain was unforgiving being a series of steep climbs and descents. These were made all the more tricky by the soaking wet ground.
My notes for this period are pithy and to the point - "Wind! - Rain! - YUCK!"
We get one bit of luck in that the rain stopped long enough for us to eat our sandwiches in the lee of an outcrop near Russey Cliff. We need to take a lot of short breaks as the terrain, rain and gusty wind make for tiring - and at times - dangerous conditions. After struggling up to the top of the 732 ft High Cliff we review our options. We have to reach Crackington Haven as we have booked digs near there. The rain is becoming more persistent, but the wind does ease a little. In the event we decide to abandon the coast and head for the road. We make much better progress along the road despite the hilly terrain. The wind and rain don't really relent for any length of time though. All in all we think we have made a wise decision. Despite the wind and rain we can rely on our footing on the tarmac, whereas the path could only get more tricky as the rain turned the stones to glass and the earth to a quagmire.
At about 3.15 two bedraggled walkers make the steep descent as the road drops into Crackington Haven past a field with the remains of a shower block next to the gate. It really is amusing to see the remnant of a concrete and breeze block wall with two shower heads and exposed plumbing standing amongst the nettles and thistles.. The rain has stopped for a few minutes and we look for somewhere dry and warm to sit down. There appears to be a pub across the stream and the car park, 100 yards away but a cafe just 10yards to our right is nudging our elbow, so we enter. A good idea really as we learn that the pub has been shut for about three months. The cafe staff are very understanding and allow us to gently flood the place as the water runs off our waterproofs. We are both feeling very tired and are grateful we pre-booked tonight's digs. They are about 3 miles away near Wainhouse Corner on the A39, but we won't have to walk there. All we have to do is phone and they will come and get us. Several cups of tea and a phone call later we are shouldering our packs to make our way across the stream to our agreed rendezvous outside the closed pub.
Fifteen or so minutes later we are baling out of our hosts car and into our room. We are staying in a converted farm house and our room is one of two converted from some out-houses. We enter into a small lobby with the bathroom to our left; our bedroom to the right and ye olden wooden beams 6 feet above the floor. With me exceeding 6 feet by an inch or so I am going to have to be careful.
Our digs turn out to be just what the doctor ordered - apart from the headaches I got by not being careful. We can use the tumble dryer over there; they can do us an evening meal if we don't fancy the 1000 yard walk back to the pub [what in this rain, yes please] they can do us packed lunches for the morrow [- yes please]; and to cap it all there is even a bottle of wine with our evening meal!
By the time you add the friendliness of our hosts and the lifts to and from Crackington Haven these digs have turned out to be more than a bit of all right - a damn good result even if I thought they were pricey when I booked them. Now if they could do something about those wooden beams ....
Crackington Haven to Widemouth Bay
Despite our good intentions it is quite late by the time we fit our return ride to Crackington into their morning schedule. At first we go to the closed pub and soon realise that the path in fact leaves Crackington a few hundred yards back up the road. A quick reversal and we are dismounting and wishing our host farewell and urging that they should advertise in the South West Coast Path booklet.
At 10.30 we set off for day 2. The weather is a lot better but still poor. The winds have dropped but we still have to wear our waterproofs as the heavy overnight rain has left the vegetation and ground sodden. Fortunately there has been none so far this morning. We had toyed with the idea of starting at St Gennys as this would save a mile or so walking out to Pencannow Point and back, but our host had told us that we will miss some excellent views from a ridge both out to sea and inland if we do that. So the die is cast and we are off.
Although the weather is better it is really only from terrible to bad. The wind is still gusting up to 40mph blasting the clouds before it as it tugs hard at our clothes and legs. We soon reach the ridge and it does indeed offer good views across a gorse filled valley to the landward; and with the fair visibility available we get to admire some handsome countryside and rather pleasant views of the sea. With the gusty wind however it makes for interesting walking across this relatively narrow section of path with steep drops on each side. We have to negotiate a couple of steep descents and climbs before we make our first stop just outside Cleeve National Trust.
The next stage along to Dizzard is also tough going. We have to negotiate some gullies and with the tricky conditions underfoot it is slow going. The steep climb up to towards Dizzard takes its toll and we stop quite frequently before taking a deserved [?] rest. It is just after 1 o'clock and although we've been walking for nearly three hours we are a little disappointed at the relatively short distance we've travelled even allowing for the terrain. We munch at our lunch and Brian even manages to fall asleep in the gusty wind.
The going gets a little easier for the next 30 - 40 minutes and the path takes to the road just before Millook. This proves to be quite tough on the calf muscles however as the road twists and turns down a 30% incline to the small stream at the bottom. On a warm sunny day the natural charms of this little valley would be easy to appreciate, but not today. It is grey and cloudy; we are a tired and hot and sweaty under our waterproofs.
The path forsakes the road on crossing the stream at Millook Haven and heads up to the cliffs. The climb out is as steep as the others and takes us a little while. Then we almost immediately drop down into a gulley and despite the clouds being high we are getting wet! The sea is several hundred yards away. What is going on? Brian eventually works it out. The little stream we have just crossed drops over a small cliff and the gusty wind is whipping water off the top of this mini-waterfall. On a warm sunny day this too would be a most attractive place, but the wind and total cloud cover make it dull and a place not to linger too long.
As it happens leaving here gives us perhaps the most cause for concern we've ever encountered on our walks to date. The path is steep; narrow; twisty and strewn with rocks. The gusting wind is giving us a right old battering as the path is totally exposed. At one point as the path performs one of its many hairpins we are faced with a significant drop on each side. We both have to resort to crawling on all fours to negotiate this bend. To attempt normal walking with the sail of a rucksack on your back and so little margin for error would have been plain foolhardy in this gusty swirling wind straight off the Atlantic. It is true to say that although we have often felt like crawling at the end of a long hard day we've never actually had to do it before - even when returning to our digs after our last night celebrations.
We take a short break and decide that if we are to reach Bude today we will have to abandon the path and take to the road - certainly as far as Widemouth Bay. So we set off down the road just as the rain that has threatened all morning finally arrives. Whilst not actually taking its coat off, putting on slippers and lighting up a pipe, it gives every impression of settling in for the rest of the day.
We splash through the rain as we make our way past Penhalt Cliff and near Wanson Mouth the path leaves the road to follow the cliff. We, however, decide to stay on the road and head towards Wanson, where Brain has spotted the ever alluring "PH" on the map. As we cross the pub's beer garden en-route to the back door the rain finally relents having done a thoroughly satisfactory job in getting us soaked. When we eventually reach the pub we are more than pleased to remove our waterproofs and have our first orange squash of the week. As our waterproofs form puddles around us we discuss our strategy. It has taken us much longer to reach here than we anticipated and as 4 o'clock approaches we have only done 5 - 6 miles at little better than 1mph. We conclude that if we have to we will stop short of Bude. This would be preferable to missing out the walk round Compass Point.
One good thing about our sojourn in the pub is that the rain, which kept coming back to check how we were getting on with our drinks must have become bored waiting and has finally left to find someone else to get wet. We don our waterproofs once again though as they are still far too wet to pack away. We head of towards Widemouth Bay and eventually find a pub with vacancies at the North end of the village. One good thing is that the pub is already doing a good trade in meals and they look appetising. We won't need to go out again!
An hour or so later we are down enjoying a warm meal and some good beer. The rain has come back and so we quite pleased that the guest house/hotel at the back of the surf shop half a mile or so down the road had no vacancies, we would have got very wet walking out to get our dinner. The rain showers get steadily heavier as the evening wears on. As we climb the wooden hill to our beds we each take one of the complimentary apples left out on the first floor landing and silently pray that the rain will relent before morning.
Widemouth Bay to Morwenstowe
Monday dawns grey and wet with the occasional squally shower. Judging by the puddles there has been considerable rain overnight. Thankfully the showers cease by the time we are ready to set out. We decide to walk the road at least as far as Upton. There are a couple of reasons - we don't like beach walking and the vegetation twixt beach and road is fairly tall - and very wet. With the road being very close to the coast hereabouts it gives Brian opportunities to take a few photos looking back across Widemouth Sand.
Not for the first time we think "this would be pretty with the sun shining" As it is the winds are creaming the sea and the clouds are low and grey.
The walk into Bude is a gentle, undulating stroll after the rigours of the last few days. We pass a couple of walkers heading South with packs as big as houses, plus a few more walkers. At Upton we bid farewell to the road and follow the path up to Compass Point. The dog walkers and constitutionals start to appear more frequently as we get closer.
We turn our back on the sea at Compass Point and head along the River Neet estuary. We are both surprised to see a canal with some remaining evidence of an extensive industrial past. The Bude Canal is some 35 miles long and was originally conceived at the end of the 18th century as part of a plan to link the Bristol and English Channels. The original plans were delayed and the canal was not finished until 1825. The cross country ambitions had died but the canal was important in the local economy by transporting sea sand, rich in lime, to farms in North Cornwall & West Devon, where the soil was poor. Sea-going vessels using the sea locks with a depth of 15 feet on an average spring tide brought coastal cargoes of limestone, coal and general merchandise. The goods were transhipped to more traditional barges and sent on their way. The whole business gradually declined as the railways inexorably spread their tentacles. The sea lock gates were replaced in 2000.
We have our own need of trade in Bude however. We need to get lunch; find accommodation for the night somewhere to the north and Roger's urgent need to increase his travelling wardrobe as several items of underwear had been left in the North East in the excitement of getting packed.
We find the Tourist Information Office and are soon booked into the Bull at Morwenstowe and given instructions to the main shopping street which provides the steepest climb of the day so far. By mid-day we are fully kitted out and heading for the northern exits. The next three hours provide us with some gentle walking on wide grassy paths across gently undulating ground. The winds are still fairly strong but the sun makes a series of fleeting visits to brighten the day.
The further north we go the more difficult becomes the terrain, although nothing as strenuous as the previous days. By 3.00pm we reach Duckpool Coombe and take stock. We still have 4 or 5 miles to go and the efforts of previus days are beginning to make their presence felt. Once again we decide to take the road for the last leg. The first mile or so out past Coombe makes us wonder whether it would have been easier on the coast path as we encounter one of the steepest roads in our wanderings to date!
We continue past the GCHQ outstation at Bude and take a rest outside some houses a little further on. The houses have the hallmarks of Ministry of Defence all over them. What is it about Government buildings that give them away when they try so hard to be anonymous? About 800 yards further down the road when we eventually get going again a Skoda driver stops and asks if we are OK and can he give us a lift anywhere! Apparently this kindly soul had passed us, had a doubt and turned around to seek us out and offer us assistance. We graciously decline his offer and carry onto Morwenstowe which we reach at about 5.00pm feeling tired but quite satisfied.
It has been a pretty good day, although the exertions of the previous days did catch up with us towards the end. The scenery has been interesting rather than as grand as the previous days and the weather has been kind with only the shower shortly after starting out to spoil the day.
Whilst we are getting booked into the Bush we sip at the almost mandatory orange squash and try to glean information on B & B's at about 10 - 12 miles further up the coast. All the staff can come up with is the Hartland Quay Hotel - at Stoke - a mile or so in from the coast at Hartland Quay. With few known options we phone and book a room for the next night before retiring to our rooms to get cleaned up.
After getting rested and showered I venture down to the bar to work out what is on the menu for dinner. I meet the Skoda driver again and stop for a little chat with his colleague who had also seen us stretched out on the grass in front of the ministry houses! He too had been a little concerned for our welfare. I explained that this was quite normal for us, and didn't signify we were in mortal danger - I think I convinced them. The dinner menu is short on choice and long in price. All in all we are not impressed with the Bush which we feel is a tad expensive.
Morwenstowe to Elmscott
The day dawned and we finally stirred ourselves for the day's efforts - or Brian did. I was feeling most peculiar. There is nothing specific; no temperature, just a feeling of not being well and possibly a touch of heartburn. I eventually summon the will to get ready. The moving around must have done something as I suddenly felt as though I was going to be sick. Well I just about made it to the bathroom and the results were spectacular and dramatic indeed. Rarely have I been so violently sick.
After that I felt considerably better, but still a little fragile. What had caused it? A good question - the immediate suspect was the burger with blue cheese I had had for dinner. With some trepidation we went down to breakfast. Brian tucked into the full English with some gusto, whereas I just couldn't face it. I ate something - I can't remember what though. After breakfast we repair to our room to decide what to do. Brian is very concerned and is thinking of abandoning the walk to get me sorted. Despite what is primly termed a very loose bowel movement I still felt rough, but not so bad as to consider calling the whole thing off. Eventually we abandon our plan of coast walking and we will set out for Hartland Quay via the road and take it almost literally one step at a time. Sticking to the road means we will be closer to help if needed and we are more likely to get a mobile phone signal.
The weather is dry with a cool breeze as we head off down the road. Apart from traversing the county boundary in the woods where Marsland Water cuts its way to the sea we will be on the road every step of the way. After the first 20 minutes or so I feel confident enough for the next twenty or so. In this fashion we made steady progress.
We pass Bryaton and at Cory we are greeted by a farm dog. He watches us before approaching to give us a closer inspection. We obviously pass some sort of test as we are allowed to continue on our way. The dog however decides to follow us, at first about 10 yards behind us and later leading the way with frequent glances back to make sure we hadn't strayed off the road. Eventually our canine companion disappeared, presumably we had been seen off the premises or were deemed harmless.
After about 2 hours we reach the woods and it makes a pleasant change to be off the road. The ground is wet after the days of rain, and there is a damp musty smell about the place, but it still feels good. The path descends steadily to the Marsland Water which is traversed by a wooden bridge. Shortly after this we are presented with a choice of paths, and, not for the first time in our wanderings around England, we take the wrong one.
The climb out is as steady and relentless as the descent in, but with a gradient profile that kept raising spirits by suggesting the climb was over only to reveal the continued climb beyond. All too soon though we are back on the road, which comes quite close to the coast past South Hole. By the time we reach Elmscott however I have had enough. We are some distance short of Hartland Qauy. We see a B&B sign on a farm and enquire within. At first the lady of the house thinks we are her guests for the night, but it is not so. We have struck lucky however. The lady owns the youth hostel about 300 yards or so away. It is a little early, but she will phone Kath & Alan [the wardens] to see if they are in and tell them we are on our way. Within 5 minutes we find out that not only are they in but so are we!
That evening my stomach does not improve. I am sick again and suffer further bouts of the trots. I retire to my bed at about 4.00pm and stay there except for calls of nature and because Brian insists I get up and try to eat some food around 6.00pm and again just before 10pm. Despite all this we have enjoyed the walking, but it could have been so much better.
The Youth Hostel only has three other guests so we are able to have the 6 berth dormitory to ourselves. During the course of the evening a Swedish couple arrive from Bude. They have followed the coast path all the way and according to Brian they arrived covered in mud. In conversation next morning I learned [according to her partner] that the lady had spent almost as much time "on her butt" as standing in places! Perhaps our decision to use the roads had been a good one - but our reasons were different!
Day of Rest
The next morning dawns grey and very wet. As we peer out of our window we cannot see the hedge on the far side of the field - it is shrouded in low cloud and mist - it is raining as well. I feel just as poorly as the previous evening and Brian and Kath and Alan have decided that I must go to the doctor. Therefore I am presented with a phone and the Yellow Pages and told to organise it. A few minutes later the appointment is made and I am left wondering how we get there. I need not have worried it has all been agreed between my three Good Samaritans. After breakfast Alan will take Brian and I to the doctor's surgery in Hartland. The trip is interesting to say the least. There has been torrential rain overnight and the showers are still rolling in from the sea. Whilst we packed the view rom our window changed from barely able to see the near hedge around the field to about a three mile range and back again!
Several of the roads were flooded to a depth of an inch or two as the ditches either side of the road overflowed. In other places the driving rain made visibility almost impossible. Altogether some of the most atrocious conditions we have ever seen. Fortunately on the 20 minute or so journey things got better and the rain had stopped by the time we made our farewells to Alan and entered the doctor's surgery.
The waiting room was about half full and the conversations stopped momentarily as we entered. As each new patient entered there would be greetings exchanged all round the room. We overheard snatches of conversation about Mrs So-snd So's pregnancy; and that Mr Thingummy Bob's operation had been a success and so on. Eventually it is my turn to see the doctor. He suspects a bout of gastroenteritis or possibly food poisoning, I mention my suspicions about the burger at the Bush the previous night. He prescribes warmth; rest and fluid, and tells me in no uncertain terms that something to "bung me up" is out of the question as that could lead to vomiting and that would have worse consequences. He gives me some advice on what to eat and what to avoid. The upshot of that is that I shall be a virtual veggie until it clears up, although fish is OK, but not shell fish. Eggs are a big no-no as well.
We leave the doctor's just before 12 and have a gentle stroll around Hartland. It's a fairly typical large village or small rural town and has its charming bits. We repair to the pub at lunch time to think about options. There is little to debate really. We will take a day of leisure in Hartland and see what tomorrow brings. We search out a B & B and find a pleasant one not too far from the town centre. At about three o'clock we are fed up with sitting around and decide to get the bus to Clovelly. The rest has done me some good, but I ain't right! Clovelly is a rarity in Britain in that it is a private village. The Hamlyn family acquired the Clovelly Estate in 1738 and have owned and run the estate to the present day. Chles Kingsley, the author of Westward Ho!, lived here as a child. One of the cottages has been converted to a museum to reflect on his life.
The village is run as a tourist attraction with a visitor centre at the top of the hill. Unless one knows better the only access to the village is to pay the entrance fee and go through the visitor centre. The visitor centre is little more than a big shop, but there is an interesting audio-visual display downstairs. We spend a pleasant couple of hours exploring the old cottages lining the steep cobbled street down to the small harbour with its small beaches either side. Our first intention was to walk back up but the flesh is weak and we decided to pay the fare and get the Land Rover to carry us up. The Coast Path cuts across the top of the street and provides a free access point. We hang about in the damp late afternoon air for our bus to arrive before making our way back to Hartland. It has been an odd day. The enforced rest has left me feeling a little better, but let's see what the dawn brings. After all we've done is rest for the bulk of the day, and spent probably less than 2 - 3 hours on our feet. The old digestive tract has settled down a bit, but is still letting me know who's boss! Brian has been very patient with a very impatient patient.
Hartland to Horns Cross
The day dawns grey and a decision has to be made. The easy bit is that we are not giving up, and that we will take to the road in the general direction of Bideford. Brian tucks into a hearty full English breakfast whilst I toy with some cereal and toast. To be honest the thought of a cooked breakfast is too much - I just couldn't have done it justice.
Our plan is all based on my infirmity, and neither of us is relishing the idea. The first few miles won't be too bad as we will be on "B" roads; but then we will spend the bulk of the time on the A39, the main trunk road through North Devon and Cornwall. It must be particularly hard for Brian who was expecting to have 10 days waling the coast, not a couple of days road walking and a day mooching around trying to be cheerful.
The trek up to Clovelly Cross and the A39 passes uneventfully. The grey skies brighten a little, but we do get a short shower. There is a garage at Clovelly Cross with a house next door. Being a cheeky sort of guy I notice that there are some plastic chairs in the small front garden and that the gentleman I spotted leaving the house is now manning the till in the garage. A quick question and 30 seconds later sees us relaxing in the garden on his chairs rather than the wet grass!
We stop longer than anticipated, but reality eventually creeps in as we realise there is nothing for it but to re-start and continue to plod along the highway towards Bideford. The traffic is quite heavy on the A39, but the road and grass verges are wide. After about 30 minutes a car heading for Bideford at a reasonable rate suddenly puts on the brakes and pulls onto the opposite verge about 200 yards in front of us. A figure clambers out and crosses to our side in a gap of the traffic and starts to run towards us. What's this all about we both wonder. As the figure approaches we see it is a woman with a face we recognise! It is Kath from the youth hostel. After giving her the latest medical bulletin and exchanging greetings we learn that their stint at the hostel has finished and they are heading back to Yorkshire. The last 5 -10 minutes has given both Brian and I a lift as we shoulder our packs and set of again after bidding farewell to Kath and Alan.
We pass through Bucks Cross and I am a little disappointed not to find a pub or cafe on the road side. We take a short break on a wide grassy verge on the eastern city limits. After our break I am more than grateful to reach the Hoops Inn some 30 minutes or so later. The last stage took more out of me than I'd expected. The pub is an old coaching inn and has a rather upmarket feel to it. Quite what their £5 for a bowl of soup customers thought of us bedraggled walkers is anyone's guess.
After a bit of a rest we set off again and just before 2pm we reach the Coach and Horses at Horns Cross. I order a bowl of soup and announce that I've had enough. There will be a bus shortly and I have decided that I'm getting on it. Brian takes this pretty well considering my rather dictatorial attitude. We are joined in the pub by a couple of walkers who also order a bite. As we make our way to the bus stop 2 or 3 more walkers arrive for the bus. We end up discussing things walking until the bus arrives.
On arrival in Bideford we seek out the Tourist Information Centre which makes a good job of hiding behind a couple of trees on the edge of a park close to the river. Bideford is quite a pretty town nestling on the hillside that runs down to the Western shore of the River Torridge. An ancient narrow bridge links the town to the aptly named East-the-Water on the far shore. A quayside has been built along the river bank through the centre of town and we see a couple of boats nestling in the mud of low tide. We can only imagine what the bustle must have been like in the town's seafaring heyday. We get booked into some digs and wend our way up the hill to seek them out. Our original plan is to stay one night but on reflection we decide to stay two. Three hours or so had been enough for me today and may well be enough tomorrow. This sort of timing would see us back at Bideford on the morrow by the time we get the bus back to Horns Cross and walk the coast to Bideford via the romantically named Westward Ho! [the only place I know with a punctuation mark in its name - apostrophes don't count]
With all this fixed in our minds we seek out our landlady and ask to stay another night. With an early finish this could be a good opportunity to get the laundry done and enquire about a launderette. There is one in town; it closes at 7, but we are not to go there - she will do it for us! We explain there is quite a lot, but she is insistent. With another problem solved we are about to take our leave when we are asked about breakfast arrangements. I have to explain the delicate condition of my lower digestive tract [again], explain I'm not eating fried food, and that cereals and fruit [if possible] will be fine. After all the explanations and chat we get away to our room with the promise of clean clothing and a banana for my breakfast!
It is still only late afternoon and a little early for our evening meal so Brian decides to eat the apple he's carried from our stay in Widemouth Bay .....
Horns Cross to Westward Ho!
I awake the next morning to see a Brian not exactly in the pink. He to is complaining of an unruly lower digestive tract - in short he is suffering the same symptoms [apart from throwing up] that I have been suffering these past days. The villains of the piece have been unmasked! The only common food are the apples from Widemouth Bay. Presumably there was something on them that had nobbled us. With one mystery solved we are left to wonder at all of life's imponderables, and promptly decide to ignore them in favour of breakfast!
Elaine [for that is our landlady's name] has been as good as her word. Our laundry is done and there is a banana for my breakfast. Although suffering a gippy tummy Brian cannot say "no" to a cooked breakfast.
We arrive back at Horns Cross and are on our way down the track to the coast by 10am. This starts out as metalled driveway and is a relatively gentle slope down. We pass a group of men repairing the ditches who prevent us taking a wrong turn. The track gets narrower and steeper but is easy going. As we approach the coast and sea level our route swings away right and onto the path proper. We climb up to the shoulder of the cliff. The conditions underfoot are now much worse. It is extremely muddy in places and generally wet after the rain of the last week. We can now appreciate what our fellow walkers on the bus yesterday were talking about. For much of the next two hours we are traversing a series of gullies with the path flanked by shoulder high hedges. At several points our efforts are rewarded with some more than pleasant views along the coast and inland through the gaps in the hedge walls. A stony beach flanks us for most of this time although the path only takes us there once.
This stage takes a lot out of us. The climbs are not that severe being relatively short, but sharp. We find we both need to take frequent breathers - I guess the conditions underfoot don't help and our illness is sapping us more than we think. There is one saving grace - the rain stays away, although the wind is brisk and the skies leaden. For various reasons this is probably the best day's walking so far.
As lunch time comes and goes the clouds begin to lift and the sun makes an appearance. The terrain also changes as the cliffs get lower and the gullies fewer. Shortly after passing close to Crackington Farm the land is very flat and the going is very much easier. As an extra bonus we have left the really muddy sections behind us. The stony beach is now much narrower with large wave cut rock platforms jutting out into the sea. Despite all this I find a heartfelt plea in my notes made about 2.00pm -"not far to go - Please!"
The last mile or so is easy peasy - there is a metalled trackway to speed our progress towards Westward Ho! We begin to meet large numbers of folk out for a walk from Westward Ho!, up till then we had met a solitary mountain biker heading west.
One feature of the last hour or so is that we had been growing a little impatient to actually see Westward Ho!. It is only when we pass Rock Nose and Mermaids Pool that we get our first view of the town, although, sadly, we didn't see any mermaids. From this distance the town does not look very romantic at all. In fact the town is a rather small place that fails to live up to its somewhat exotic name that conjures visions of adventure and deeds of derring do. The town reminds me of a place where solid respectable folk go to relax and enjoy the stunning views across the Taw / Torridge estuary. Unfortunately, whilst the view has not been impaired, that image has been spoilt by the modern flats that have been built along the sea front. By 3pm we are in a cafe in the town proper and discussing what to do. We are both feeling particularly tired. Neither of us believe we could walk to Bideford by following the coast around Northam Burrows Country Park. Unfortunately the map does not suggest there are any paths across the park - just the coast path. The other alternative doesn't appeal overmuch either - road walking to Appledore and then follow the river up to Bideford. In the event given the way we feel and that neither of us believe we have two hours walking in us we decide to catch the bus back to Bideford. Brian has coped well with the day's walking despite his gippy tummy.
The relatively early finish gives us time to rest up before venturing back down into town for our evening meal. We were not overly impressed with eateries the previous evening and so were very pleasantly surprised when we found an excellent little Italian restaurant along one of Bideford's pedestrianised streets.
Bideford to Chivenor
This is the day when walking became more like it should be. There was no rain; and after an overcast start the sun shone and the wind was the gentlest it had been all week. We have our sights set on Barnstaple and we will follow the Tarka Trail - former Southern Railway line that has been converted to a long distance cycle way and footpath. The Coast Path follows the trail for much of the way, making short excursions through the dunes near Instow.
We cross the Torridge by the old bridge and return to last night's chat with Elaine and Roger [our landlady and her husband]. Until comparatively recently the A39 ran through Bideford and crossed the Torridge by this narrow stone bridge. The traffic queues must have been horrendous until the by-pass with its high and rather elegant concrete bridge were built a mile or so downstream.
We access the Tarka Trail at the old Bideford station which is now the base for the Bideford Railway Company - a preservation project. They appear to have one diesel shunter; one coach; one brake van and one goods van to play with on a few hundred yards of track.
As may be expected the going is easy. Being an old railway line built on the banks of the river there are no gradients worth the name and being a cycle way means we are walking on a smooth tarmac surface. We pass a few forgotten relics of the railway age in the form of the odd gradient and mile posts and even the remains of a permanent way hut. Across the river we pass Northam and spy the hotel Brian's Mum & Dad will be dancing the weekend away in in a few weeks time.
We go under the new bridge and see the shipyards at Appledore. We eventually reach the small town of Instow and pass its' station - a single platform with a couple of signals still standing. We leave the trail here to follow the river shore road whilst the railway line scurries through the back of the town.
We take a break on one of the "prom" benches and luxuriate in the unaccustomed sun whilst watching some kids playing football. The match is quickly abandoned in favour of rounders when the only girl present scores a goal. Despite the sun becoming more prominent the breeze has a chilly edge to it when sat down. We can see the surf breaking on the horizon as the sea meets the Taw and Torridge estuary.
We leave Instow by rejoining the Tarka Trail at the northern edge of town. The coast path meanders off through the dunes here but we will stick to the trail. We are meeting more and more people - the route is really very popular with cyclists and walkers. The walk is getting really pleasant now - the sun is shining properly with some high-ish white clouds scudding along. The old trackbed has pretty much levelled out all together now. The view to our left is of mud and sand flats and across the river we can see Horsey Island whilst the military base at Chivenor is coming ever closer ... but hang on a minute ... what is Horsey Island doing there? We passed you in 1999 and you were on the East Coast twixt Harwich and Frinton!
We pass a large electricity switching station between us and the river; and a short while later an oil storage depot on our left. A road cuts across the trail and leads down to a rather large jetty that climbs out across the mud flats before turning parallel to the coast. We surmise that small coastal tankers berth here to top up the fuel depot. We plod along and whilst the scenery is pretty uninspiring close to, the longer vistas are rather attractive in all directions. We reach a shelter that has been constructed in the middle of the path to look like two halves of an upturned boat. We take a rest here with a family of cyclists. The shelter is quite attractive but with the wind blowing in this direction it acts as a lovely wind tunnel.
As we approach Fremington things begin to change. The trail goes through a cutting and their banks are covered with bushes; then suddenly we are deposited out of the cutting onto a bridge over the muddy Fremington Pill, a creek feeding the River Taw. We can see the remains of a quay and a coaster listing on the mud bank a hundred yards or more across the Pill.
We cross the old iron railway bridge and take a rest in the cafe built on the former station platform. The cafe buildings are much more extensive than the buildings shown in old photographs of the station, but the modern day site still has what is probably the old signal box towering over the platform. The cafe houses a fascinating and informative photographic display depicting the history of the quay, along with a collection of period bicycles including pennyfarthings and boneshakers. In its heyday at the turn of the 19th century Fremington Quay was the busiest port between Bristol and Lands End.
Whilst in the cafe we resume our discussions as to where we will stop for the night. It is just before 1.00pm and we have been going for about as long as we have for the last two days. We both feel better than previously so we must be getting over our illness, but how much longer can we go on? In the end we decide to continue along the Tarka Trail to Barnstaple, find the Tourist Information Office and see how we feel when we get there.
Shortly after leaving Fremington the path curves gently to the right and we see in the distance another new high bridge very similar to the one outside Bideford. This sparks another debate as to where we should go next. I am beginning to feel that going into Barnstaple is a bit of a waste of time as we will be walking for a mile or so on one bank of the Taw to walk back on t'other side. I am also feeling quite well and think I could have two / three hours walking in me. Unfortunately I don't think that this will help very much because there is little chance of the new road bridge being suitable for pedestrians. Brian on the other hand is of the opposite view and is convinced there will be an adequate footpath for us!
I also sense that Brian, although feeling off-colour himself, is pleased I feel I can go on. The last few days must have been frustrating for him. Every year Brian looks forward to our walking trip with a passion, and this year we have not had as much walking as we should have had. Despite my protestations that I am OK, I think Brian is still a little concerned for my welfare.
As we approach the bridge I am amazed and surprised. The new road bridge not only has a footpath it also has the cycle path as well. The whole thing has been built with the needs of cyclists and pedestrians in mind. The only downside is that getting to the bridge's high point over mid-channel involves us in the steepest climb of the day - a bit of a shock after several hours of more or less flat walking.
We continue along the North shore of the Taw and pass our grounded coaster on the far shore at Fremington. We are both feeling a little tired now and are seduced by an hotel shown on the map. We are also intrigued by a castellated structure in the near distance. As we approach we realise it is the hotel marked on the map. Unfortunately it is not an hotel in the true sense of the word but a rather grandiose pub. We do learn some news however that Braunton is more likely to have digs than the nearer Chivenor.
So it's back to the Tarka Trail and we head off into the sunset. As we approach the base I start to feel a hypo coming on so it's down pack and into the emergency rations. Several biscuits later I am feeling better, but the enforced stop has rather broken the spell and my weariness suddenly bites hard. I think Brian is a bit disappointed as I insist on calling a halt to the day's efforts and getting the bus to Braunton. It is not far, but I really don't feel as though I have another hour in my legs. In retrospect it was a shame. For the first time in the week we'd had a day go for us. Admittedly the walking along the old railway lines was easy, but the sun had been shining and the easy terrain meant we could push on.
At Braunton we are told there are plenty of digs round the corner and "up There". Well after about 300 yards we eventually pass Laurel Cottage. There is a pub almost next door serving food and more importantly a "vacancies" sign in the window. We knock and get taken in. We are asked "Where are your bikes?" This is the first of several misconceptions in the next 14 hours or so! Thelma, our landlady, is expecting a group of cyclists! We soon get sorted out and settled. Thelma, a German who married a Brit, will be going out, so here are the keys and help yourselves to tea or coffee. If so-and-so turns up please tell him I've gone out!
We eventually repair to the pub for a meal and I cannot resist trying the steak and kidney pud - it will be the first meat I've eaten since Morewenstowe. In the end it is too much for me and I leave most of it. We go back to our digs and neither of us is feeling grand. We put it down to tiredness, but it is the stomachs' revolt. All a bit disappointing and it leads to disturbed night's rest for both of us.
Before bed we meet the cyclists and chat about our expeditions. They will do more in a couple of days than we will do in a week! The walkers and bikers both have trouble adjusting to the relative speeds of the others. They think we should reach Ilfracombe the next day without to much trouble [at least 2 - 3 days if we are fit] and we think they will reach the cafe at Fremington just in time for lunch [but only if they leave at 11.00am, they'll be early for elevenses if they set off at 9.00]. They are well pleased to hear that the new bridge at Barnstaple is open however.
Chivenor to Croyde
Neither of us feels particularly good in the morning, but we have to make a start. By the time we get our lunch and wait for the bus it is almost 11am before we are back at Chivenor and walking. The day is even better for walking than yesterday - except for our stomachs.
The first 40 minutes or so are spent with a tall wire fence topped with razor wire on our left as we pass the military base at Chivenor. Built in the '30s as a civil airfield it was taken over by the RAF in 1940 and has been a military base ever since. The RAF handed it over to the Marines in the 60's but a couple of RAF search and Rescue helicopters are still based here. There's not much to see from the Tarka Trail - married quarters; car parks; some trucks and at the western end some cadets messing about with a helicopter as a backdrop. It is getting positively hot out of the gentle breeze - such a contrast to a week ago when we set off.
There are quite a few people out and about going for their morning constitutional or walking the dog as well as the occasional cyclists. At Velator we cross the tiny River Caen and head towards Braunton Marsh and the largest sand dune system in the UK - Braunton Burrows, named after the large number of rabbit burrows found there.
We have decided to forgo the pleasures of walking around this area via the Coast Path and cut across its neck via the country lanes. Once again we had debated the point at some length; and eventually decided on the cautious option. I for one couldn't face serious trailing through dunes for any great length of time, and although the map suggests there is a track for part of the way it is decidedly unclear for other chunks!
In the event we have a rather uneventful hour or so of walking, getting gently grilled on both sides by the increasingly fierce sun. We pass by a couple of ponds as we cross from one side to the other and see two pairs of swans, and they are big birds. All four of them must be 3 - 4 feet tall.
We turn sharp right onto Sandy Lane and head for Saunton on the Braunton to Croyde road. Although a "B" road we find it is very busy when we get there. After 15 minutes or so of watchful walking we see a sign for the beach and, more importantly, it also advertises a cafe. With a break due we promptly make a detour and are very pleasantly surprised at the quality of the place. It is very posh, far above the standard we are used to. We sit in armchairs sipping at our tea - and the menu is very extensive and tempting! Yet for all that it is a beach cafe. There is a steady stream of beach apparel clad young things [some not so young who really ought to know better] who purchase their drinks and snacks to take back to the beach. The beach is really good and stretches for some considerable distance, and on this hot sunny day is very popular. We just relax and enjoy the view across the estuary through the panoramic windows.
With something of a wrench we leave the cafe and head back to the road. It is still busy but there really is no alternative for the next mile or so. Eventually, about half a mile past Saunton Down the path scurries onto the grass on a narrow strip of land between the road and sea, but we spurn the opportunity to leave the roas behind. Truth to tell we are both feeling tired and feel the solid surface of the road is better for us than the uncertainties of the path. As we go past here the road turns sharp right around the headland and we get our first view of Croyde Bay. Whilst not the most stunning view of the week it is very attractive. A few houses come into view and we spot several B & B's. There is a holiday camp on our left which contains the "PH" marked on the map. We are due another break and Croyde is also the end of the road for us for today. We are in no state to go on to the next town Woolacombe. It has been a pleasant day, but too much road walking. That said I doubt we would have reached Croyde had we walked round the marshes on the hottest day of the walk to date.
After cooling down and consuming the obligatory orange squash we set out for the village and search for a room. We go up the road and finds a place but it is expensive. The village seems to peter out a few hundred yards further along so we go back to the one we passed on our way into the village. With the aid of a returning guest we eventually get to speak to the landlady but they only have a single available - so it is back to the first place we saw. It seems very pretentious. The restaurant is open for [expensive] evening meals; and in all honesty the bedroom is not worth the price. It will prove to be the most expensive place we have stayed at this trip and is at least £10 a person over the top. Still we defray some of this cost by going back to the bar at the holiday camp and having an excellent value bar snack for our supper
Croyde to Woolacombe
The day dawns bright but with a hint of mist making the far horizon a bit fuzzy. As we set of we begin to realise that Croyde is village of two halves. The "modern" bit where we stayed and an older slightly more interesting bit about 400 yards from our digs. There are some more B & B's here and a pub and a few shops that provide our lunch. The first mile or so is on the road and then it is onto a metalled path as we gradually climb up to the delightfully named Baggy Point. The path is quite wide to start with but gradually narrows and becomes a gravel surface. There must be a lot of traffic on this path to justify the considerable effort and energy expended in building and maintaining this path all the way to Baggy Point. The views back into Croyde Bay and the Taw / Torridge estuary are well worth the [gentle] walk out to the point, notwithstanding the somewhat overcast conditions.
So far the day has been very good - we appear to have our digestive tracts in some sort of control. The only thing is that I am keen for us to get to Woolacombe in time to get the 2.30 bus back to Barnstaple and Brian is adamant that he does not want to be rushed. As we have only 7 miles to do and we left at 9.30 I really don't see what his worries are!
At Baggy Point there are a plethora of tracks in the grass so to avoid having to make any decisions we ask one of the several couples who have joined us which is the correct one to Woolacombe. Armed with this knowledge we set off in the right direction and very soon, about 100 yards past Whiting Hole, we see for the first time that glorious stretch of beach that is Woolacombe sands. They are about 2 miles away and stretch for about 2 miles from Putsborough into Woolacombe. Even from this distance and through a very thin mist they look inviting.
The day's walking is rather pleasant. We are quite high up on the cliff path with excellent views all round. The only fly in the ointment is that it has become even more overcast. For all that the clouds aren't dark slate grey and threatening rain, they're just there blocking the sun!
We make steady progress towards Putsborough; turn left and continue along the path and are faced with a dilemma - do we take the high road or the low road. In the event we choose the high road to preserve the views for as long as possible, The high road soon turns into a path and we continue to enjoy our walk. Suddenly the path spills out onto a wide road. This is Woolacombe's Marine Drive - a road from town to a field halfway between Woolacombe and Pusborough. It does have a purpose in life though, for the most part it is one long car park with many paths down to and parallel with the glorious beach to our left. We continue along and gradually lose our views as the land banks up on both sides. Of course there is a [very small] sting in the tail as we have to descend the very steep Challacombe Hill Road to get into the town.. It is mid-day, we haven't rushed and still have two hours to wait for our bus!
Woolacombe is a pretty little place which boasts two large car parks to our left as we reach the town centre; some attractive gardens and grassed areas; a modest selection of shops; pubs and an hotel. One interesting feature overlooking the beach is the memorial to the US soldiers who were based in the area and trained here for the D-Day Landings by running their landing craft onto Woolacombe beach.
Our bus duly arrives and we head back to Barnstaple to find some accommodation and a venue for our last night celebrations. The journey is uneventful but our impression of Woolacombe as an overgrown village is borne out as we leave town. It is bigger than Hartland, but smaller than Braunton. We don't see many B & B's. We are soon passing through Braunton and Chivenor and in just under an hour we cover that which took us 2 days to walk. There is a bit of a mix up as we get off the bus a little too soon. We are seeking out the Tourist Information Centre and would you believe that none of the first three people we ask know where it is!
We eventually get some directions and walk through the town centre to reach the place. After some to-ing and fro-ing about which digs are not too expensive / too far out of town / too far from the railway station for the morning train, the very patient lady dealing with us remembers that the big hotel in town is doing a deal that may work out just as cheap as a B & B a bit out of town. In the event she is correct and within ten minutes we are checking in. The Royal & Fortescue Hotel is very comfortable and certainly a cut above our usual last night billet.
We are both tired and we still have a certain lack of confidence in our bellies' ability to cope with the normal last night fare. In the end we mooch around town looking for somewhere suitable and decide that our hotel probably offers the best deal in town We stroll back and sit in the bar sipping at our first beers for over a week waiting for dinner to be served. The meal is wonderful, and most unlike us we have only one bottle of wine between the two of us. More importantly neither of us is betrayed by his lower digestive tract.
This has been one of the strangest of our walks. The weather was atrocious to start, but calmed down eventually to finish in good walking conditions. The countryside has been varied and initially very challenging - and then there is the what might have been. Because of the weather and illness we have missed out a reasonable chunk of the coast this year. A quick scan through Google Earth gives an impression of what we have missed. Whilst we have followed a cautious policy and missed some wonderful sights, we have probably done the corredt thing in the circumstances - sad but true.
Our journey home by train and plane passed un-eventfully. On our return we are greeted by Mark [Brian's son] who has anticipated our needs perfectly - a pizza each ready to cook! So several hours later we sit back replete with pizza and wine to reflect on this year's odyssey although we never did settle down to identify the locations of the photographs - they can wait for another day!