Heddon’s Mouth – Ilfracombe.
The dawn chorus woke me in this secluded hotel, there was no other noise, and the sun was already bright. A good breakfast fortified me for the steady climb back up onto the cliffs. A well graded track led up through the gorse and heather with the bracken growing fast. Stopping for a break on a convenient stone was a mistake as I was immediately attacked by several ticks, this was tick city up here. Managed to remove them all before they had settled but was on the alert for the rest of the morning, I know I am stupid to be walking in shorts.On the way up there were good views back down to Heddon’s Mouth beach and yesterdays descending path. Looking back up the wooded valley there was no sign of my hotel. Patches of mist were coming and going in the valleys. Way down below were many inaccessible coves. This was good open walking with views up the coast past many unknown headlands and not forgetting to look back at previous points. Ancient stone walls capped with vegetation bordered the fields, Devon Hedges, with stones laid on edge. These are a superb habitat for lichens and plants.. Typically there was a loss of height down into a little valley before the long ascent onto the highest point of the SWCP Great Hangman Hill 318m, its cairn was already occupied by a couple of youngsters looking at their phones rather than the view. They were the forerunners of a large jolly party from Liverpool staggering up from the other side. More walkers were evident today enjoying the good weather, a Dutchman was walking the whole route.
On the way down I avoided the ascent of Little Hangman and on a cliff path was able to hear the sea once more. Sea kayaks and speed boats were nosing into rocky coves and then I was looking down into Combe Martin beach packed with families.
Wet suited people with boards were in the streets and the paraphernalia of seaside holidays for sale everywhere. I managed to find a cafe with a shaded balcony above the hubbub and enjoyed a late lunch featuring crab.
Leaving after three I still had a long way to go and it was very hot and sunny. Little lanes and flower lined paths avoided for the most part the busy coastal road. I was never far from little beaches and busy campsites, this is a popular area. The natural harbour of Watermouth was interesting but at low tide all the boats look forlorn. A family passed me on the way to a beach only to find it was ‘private’ there seem to be lots of those about.
The beautiful Widmouth Headland seemed to be hard work in the heat with lots of steep stepped sections. The bays of Ilfracombe were getting closer, and then I was onto a nasty stretch on the busy road. As you approach the town SWCP ‘footprints’ are supposed to guide you along but I kept losing them. Again being low tide the harbour looked a bit cheerless… Since I was last here 10 years ago to catch the ferry to Lundy a statue by Damien Hirst, who lives in Combe Martin apparently, has been erected at the harbour mouth. ‘Verity’ is certainly very conspicuous at 20m tall, a pregnant lady with half her innards showing holding aloft a sword and referring to truth though the relevance to this Victorian seaside resort remains a mystery to me. The unusual theatre looking like two cooling towers is no doubt another attempt to update the town… A dated hotel in the backstreets sufficed me for the night. I was tired after a long day of ups and downs amongst stunning scenery,
Brings back memories of me on the southern version last summer: relentless ups and downs in unbearable heat drenched in sweat, but some of the best views and scenery in the UK. I reckon there must be many people who set off vey naively on the SWCP and find it unexpectedly challenging. I think there is little doubt that it is the toughest LDP in England, and perhaps the UK.
Yes the map belies the truth.