Category Archives: SW Coastal Path

WESTWARD HO!

Appledore  –  Westward Ho!

Westward Ho! was a novel written in 1855 by Charles Kingsley featuring the port of Bideford in a seafaring adventure. When a town was being developed on this part of the coast a few years later it was thought that linking it with the novel would help promote tourism. Hence the name and the exclamation mark. I remember an area in the NE that started putting up signs ‘Catherine Cookson Country’ for tourism, I felt that it was inappropriate at the time and I don’t know if they are still there. At least they didn’t christen any new town or village with the moniker. Anyhow today I heading appropriately west.

Again it was raining heavily so I lingered over my superb breakfast and talked amongst other things of travel and carpets with my hostess, she had once imported oriental rugs and the house is still full of them. Eventually I had to leave as my schedule was tight today with a train to catch home later. The streets of Appledore still looked attractive in the wet but on the quayside the tide was out exposing a lot of mud.

Lanes out of Appledore brought me to the entrance to Northam Burrows Park, a few cars were driving to the car park.  It was not pleasant with mist, wind and rain. but they were mainly dog walkers with a routine. The dunes of Saunton and the Croyde headland could just be made out. I short cut across the dunes towards the point, one minute I was on rough ground the next on a perfectly manicured golf course which I had not recognised in the conditions, fortunately those same conditions were too bad for golfers and I scuttled off towards the sea.

What golf course…

… oh that one.

A sandy path of sorts above the beach sufficed to bring me to the remarkable black pebble bar which stretches down to Westward Ho! There was not much to delay me and I was soon on the road and catching a bus to Barnstaple for my onward journey home.

 

A murky pebble bar and distant Westward Ho!

It will be awhile before I return and head towards Lands End, shall miss the salty air and the friendly soft Devon lilt.

 

DEAD LEVEL THROUGH BARNSTAPLE.

Braunton  – Instow/Appledore.

It was raining hard so I was happy to chat with my sociable B and B host over breakfast, So It was almost eleven when I was on my way. After a bit of clever navigating through streets and parks I was on the old railway track into Barnstable. Today was going to be virtually all walking on old railways, the Tarka Trail follows the same route. At first there were new houses built close to the track and then Chivenor Royal Marine barracks. Plenty of joggers and cyclists were using the flat track for their exercise.  Somewhere along the line the sun came out and suddenly I was alongside the Taw estuary which at low tide wasn’t very attractive.

Walking quickly I was soon under the new Taw Bridge into Barnstable and having lunch at the great little cafe attached to the railway station. 

When I set off again it was hot and sunny, the weather has been so changeable this week. There is a cycle hire depot at the station so lots of cyclists of all shapes and sizes were using the old railway line. It was good to see whole family groups out and everyone seemed in a cheerful mood. A girl coming towards me was walking Land’s End to John o’Groats, she was just getting into her stride after two weeks on the trail. The tide was coming in and I was amazed at how quickly the channels filled with water. The old station halt at Fremington Quay has been converted to a cafe and was doing a great trade with the cyclists most of whom went no further. They were so busy I didn’t stop but was lucky to come across a mobile coffee stall further along. A young man had packed in his job bought the tricycle and set up shop. He’d obtained a license to trade and was hoping for a good summer, his coffee was excellent! The walking along the railways has not been as boring as I thought.

How many miles?

Fremington Quay.

At Instow I took to the beach for a stretch with plenty of activity happening in the water. The sand dunes at Braunton were visible and a yacht race was in progress on the open water. I was now alongside the mouth of the River Torridge with Bideford downstream, just across the water was Appledore. I didn’t fancy the long detour down river to the first bridge and was in luck as the ferry was operating, it only does two hours either side of high tide. So for £1.50 I was soon stepping onto the quay in Appledore, the journey across delightful in the afternoon sunshine. The ice cream sellers were doing a roaring trade.

Approaching Appledore.

This old fishing and shipbuilding village was a delight with tiny houses in traffic free narrow winding streets. Most of the tourists disappeared in the early evening, so I enjoyed an exploratory stroll around in the warm sunshine with clear views across the coast.

Looking back to Instow.

A decent pub meal for a change and back to my stylish B and B for an early night. http://www.torridgehouseappledore.com

 

 

BAGGY POINT, CROYDE AND SAUNTON BAYS.

Woolacombe  –  Braunton.

It was going to be hot today but as I left, rather late, spots of rain were falling and people were coming off the beach. Somehow I managed to get onto the sand dunes which were heavy going,  Herb Elliot comes to mind. I retreated to the firmer sand on the beach as the tide went out. It’s a long beach. Climbing out on a lane I looked back at Woolacombe.

Sand dunes along Woolacombe beach with Baggy Point in distance.

Back to Woolacombe.

At the far end of the bay was Putsborough Sands which seemed popular with surfing groups under instruction. Now onto open land I began the traverse to Baggy Point high above the beach. I was looking forward to this renowned climbing area which I’d never visited. Lots of people were walking out from Croyde Bay. At the point I could look down onto the loose slabs on which there are some classic climbs , always fancied Kinky Boots. There was no climbing today as a bird ban was still in progress. I examined the metal belay stakes and imagined the exploratory abseil down into the abyss.

Main climbing area at Baggy Point.

A made up path, popular today. took me directly into Croyde and a cafe primarily for surfers. Tea and panini. People were setting off excitedly on surfing and coasteering [a new ugly term for an unusual pastime thought up by commercial organisations]. Again I extricated myself from soft dunes and arrived back on the coastal road by a monstrosity of a  building project, don’t they have planning controls down here?

Croyde bay.

A path above and  parallel to the road proved really pleasant with lots of flowers and views. a seat provided the perfect lunch spot. It came to an end on the main road above Saunton beach and its busy car parks but I found a path back up onto the open heath populated with sheep. This super highway eventually brought me back down to earth near a little chapel and I walked along the road as a short cut into Braunton, it was very hot and I had no desire to do the longer route.

Saunton bay.

Braunton from on high.

Fish and chips at the famous Squires sufficed me before reaching my B and B. This latter turned out to be interesting in that it is run by a garden nursery, or rather propagator, man. Long discussions ensued on horticultural topics. The accommodation was first class. www.escallonia.co.uk

Inanda B and B.

 

 

DEVON MIST, A DAY OF TWO HALVES AND TWO LADIES.

Ilfracombe  –  Woolacombe.

 

The lady serving breakfast said she had been over at Woolacombe yesterday evening to catch the good surf conditions and for the next few days I felt out of place without a wet suit and board, mind you I would have looked ridiculous on the Torrs which was my first objective for the day. Reading about Ilfracombe later I found there was lots of interest there worthy of a further visit. I had walked into town following footprints and on the way out had posh finger tiles. The morning was misty and damp and not one for hanging about so I was quickly following the Victorian pathways cut into the hillside, above tunnels leading to hidden bathing beaches. Flowers brightened the way and I was soon up to the summit of the Torrs where there was an elaborate viewfinder but no views.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Onwards onto open farmland the paths were difficult to follow but all seemed to go in the right direction, there is one rule in coastal walking – keep the sea on the same side. Out of the mist would appear herds of cattle whose sex I couldn’t identify which didn’t help my ‘bullophobia’.

This elaborate sign said –                                          PUBLIC PATH. PLEASE KEEP TO IT.

?Hidden danger.

Sunken lanes lead into Lee Bay a delightful little hamlet. The hotel has seen better days and looks unlikely to reopen but across the beach was a little cafe. I was glad to get under shelter and have a hot drink. I got into conversation with a Swiss lady, from Montreux, who was out walking whilst her husband did deals for Nestlé. We talked of the Swiss Alps, gardens, families, chocolate and of course she quizzed me on Brexit, an hour or so went very pleasantly and by the time I set off the rain had stopped and the sun came out – thanks to a bit of détente!

Cafes are becoming a theme on this walk.

 

The next stretch of coast was undulating in and out of little bays with a few families making the best of the day. A couple were watching their girls searching the pools. They come to this area where they were married 12years ago, their reception was in that hotel which closed shortly after – they didn’t feel it was a bad omen.

At Bull Point was a lighthouse, there are some treacherous rocks on this coast. A local man said seals were often spotted along here but I failed to see any.

Bull Point.

View back to Bull Point lighthouse.

A long hot tiring trudge round Mort Point was enlightened by my first sight of Lundy Island. Lundy has special memories for me. In 2002 I spent time there climbing with a good friend Tony [and others] we did all the classics and he was delighted to lead The Devil’s Slide and particularly Diamond Solitaire a classy VS on a flying buttress coming straight out of the sea. After a great climbing trip we parted, I went off to the Alps for a month and on my return he was dying of cancer. Sobering thought.

Morte Point and distant Lundy Island.

Anyhow heading south again more and more people were met walking the paths out of Woolacombe. Most of the coast headlands today have been managed successfully by the National Trust. The beach seen ahead was one mass of people, mostly children on body boards but also well out into the higher breaking waves surfers who didn’t seem to having too much success. The car park had a lot of camper vans favoured by the surfing community. Ice creams and fishnchips seemed high on families’ priorities.

Heading to Woolacombe.

Distant headlands…

My hostel for the night, The Beach House,  was in a side street amongst the busy shops and cafes nowhere near the beach.  I’d booked into a bunk room which turned out to be very smart and clean. I bought a cider and relaxed in their garden. Asking about food, they had a good menu, I was told everywhere just about booked up but they would fit me into a table later. Into the cozy bunk room walks the American lady, she has no worries about sharing being a fellow coastal walker. We compare notes, share the dinner table, watch the sunset and drink wine. Another interesting meeting with wide ranging conversation, she is avoiding America whilst Trump in power by working and touring in Europe. A talented lass fluent in several languages and with varied careers.

Think I spent more time chatting today than walking.

 

 

 

 

HIGH POINT OF THE SW COASTAL PATH.

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.

Great Hangman ahead.

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.

Wild Pear Beach.

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.

A fellow coastal walker finding it hard going.

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.

Valerian, ox eye daisy and orchid.

Approaching Watermouth.

Watermouth harbour with Great Hangman behind.

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,

 

BACK WALKING ON THE DEVON COAST.

Lynmouth  –  Heddon’s Mouth.

SW Coastal Walker at Lynmouth.

 

I have a great admiration for Devon’s bus drivers. We are winding our way along narrow steep lanes from Barnstable to Lynton and at times seem to have only inches room either side but it doesn’t seem to slow the driver. Thatched cottages in the little villages add to the character of the area along with the thick accents of my fellow passengers. I take the funicular railway 500ft down the cliff to Lynmouth harbour. This link was opened in 1890 as tourism was expanding and many arrived by boat, local goods could also be transported more effectively than by pony up the steep hillside. The cars are powered by a simple water system, 700gallons are pumped into the top car which is linked by cable to the lower and gravity does the rest. Talk in the quayside cafe where I had breakfast was of boats, engines and tides.

 

Back up the hill I walked on the SW Coast Path. A popular terraced path leads dramatically across the exposed hillside high above the sea towards the far end of The Valley of Rocks. The poet Robert Southey visited in 1799 commenting  “the very bones and skeletons of the earth” and that is an apt description today. Goats were scrambling across some of the higher places, Just above the path was a large buttress of good sedimentary rock which called out to be climbed – turned out to be the Devil’s Cheeswring with several 45ft climbs, no time today. Lanes continued past an impressive Christian Centre, Lee Abbey, a large estate on a headland. I was feeling a bit miffed that some good looking walking paths were denied to the public – most unchristian. All was forgiven [almost] when a great little garden cafe appeared. Run by volunteers at the centre this was one of those places you couldn’t walk past.

Lee Abbey estate.

The cafe.

The next headland, Crock Point, was accessible but I regretted the long detour and lots of ascent and descent involved. Back on the road I circumvented Woody Bay but could hear children playing on the beach below. A long pull up onto the next hill rewarded me with views across to south Wales and back to Foreland Point beyond Lynmouth, visited a few weeks ago. I kept coming across a pleasant chatty knowledgeable couple and they turned out to be staying at the same hotel tonight,

Looking back up the coast.

Heddon’s Mouth.

I could see right down into Heddon’s Mouth cove below and as I had time I diverted to it on the way into the valley. A lively stream finds its way to the coast, it looked a likely spot for dippers but I saw none. Apparently otters visit this area. Above the pebble beach was an old lime kiln, large quantities of limestone and coal were shipped from south Wales, kilns were built on harbour sides to avoid the need to transport raw materials over land. Families were just ending their day on the beach and wandering back up the valley, one of many places on this coast managed by the National Trust. The Hunters Inn was doing a roaring trade but I’d booked into the Heddon’s Gate Hotel which turned out to be  a mile up a 1in4 hill. The situation on the edge of Exmoor with glorious gardens, a lovely sunset and a gourmet dinner in good company were worth the climb.

What a great short day’s walk in outstanding scenery.

Seen today, not all sign posts are as helpful as others…

 

SOMERSET INTO DEVON ON THE COAST PATH.

Porlock Weir – Lynmouth.

The sun is shining and by the time I leave after a hearty breakfast the temperature is more pleasant than the last few days. People are wandering round the quayside in holiday mood. The coastal path soon rose into the woods and contoured along nicely. There was only the sound of birds as the sea seemed so far below and was only occasionally visible. A group of three women appeared, they meet up at weekends for walking and are just starting on the coastal path – it will take them years. They skipped along happily chatting and laughing and I was somehow reminded of ‘Three little maids from school’, the tune from The Mikado. Guess what I was whistling all morning.

Not far along I spotted a church tower below in the woods and took the short detour to explore. It turned out that a service was just about to start – chaplain, organist and churchwarden were preparing and two parishioners appeared. The churchwarden, a local farmer, chatted to me in the sun about the church and several other topics until he was needed. The church is in the parish of Culbone although it is in the middle of nowhere. I was told it was the smallest complete parish church in England, for more information – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culbone_Church

 

I think I crossed into Devon at Coscombe Stream… Close by was Sister’s Fountain fed from a spring and topped with a cross. I’m not sure of the history of this place but the cool water was delicious. The track continued winding its way with occasional views of the inaccessible beaches below. More people were out strolling as well as the coastal path regulars, one lady carrying her little terrier who didn’t like walking. I decided to take the longer way round Foreland point, the most northerly part of Devon. A small locked bothy was passed on the path. There were extensive views back up the coast to Hurlstone Point. At the end there was a lighthouse and then a narrow exposed path, perched just above the cliffs, continued round the headland. The Coastal Path was rejoined at Countisbury where there was a small church and a busy looking pub. The path ran parallel to the road down into Lynmouth. A local taxi man was advertising by the road for anyone too weary for the last mile or so. Eventually I reached sea level at a lovely little sheltered beach.  Lynmouth is infamous for the serious flooding of 1952 killing 32 people and devastating properties. My hotel for the night was close to the meeting of the two streams which being in steep sided valleys couldn’t cope with the 9inches of rain coming off Exmoor. A later stroll round the harbour area gave perfect views in the evening light.

I had planned another three days or so but my wretched cold and sinusitis showed no signs of abating so next morning it was a bus out to Barnstaple and a long train journey home. Can’t wait however to return and continue in this beautiful area.