The second of the lighthouses, the High Trinity Tower, also built in 1832, stands twenty-five metres tall and more resembles a traditional lighthouse. The light no longer functions and the building has been converted in to domestic accommodation. The third and oldest of the lighthouses, built in 1820, known the 'Short or Round Lighthouse' was originally a four-storey structure, created a by a local vicar who charged passing ships for the service. On the instruction of Trinity House (lighthouse authority), this light was ordered extinguished and subsequently the building was reduced to two-storeys, featuring a crenelated top.
When a walk does not go according to plan, it is easy to beat yourself up about it. Reflecting on yesterday's 'walk on the wild side', it was never that we were lost a such. At all times we knew fairly accurately where we were. Rather it was a case of 'unable to make forward progress'. Now, that sounds better and I don't feel so daft.
Today's walk is more straightforward (literally), shorter and all carried out at sea level. For most of the first half of the walk we are on the beach or just above it, later having to cut inland a bit to cross the River Axe and then a short stroll down a creek on the Axe to come in to Weston-Super Mare. The weather forecast is that it is to be very hot and we hope for a cooling breeze. Towards the end of the morning there is an option to walk up to Brean Down, a promontory that extends from the land out in to the sea and on the eastern side overlooks Weston Bay. It would mean walking a circular route and then doubling back on ourselves to return to the river crossing. We never have to look far to find additional miles on our journeys and it is very busy with day walkers so I suspect, given the weather forecast, that we might give it a miss.
In our hotel, we avoided the robotic food dispenser and made our own breakfast in the room, porridge and fresh fruit, before hitting the road. It was literally one minute to the beach, where the tide was out and the sands had an endless look to them. In front of us we could see the stark white outlines of one of the three lighthouses that there are at Burnham, all at one time or another guiding ships in to the River Parrett where they go up to reach the port of Bridgwater. The white wooden lighthouse (which has a single red stripe on the front) standing on the beach has nine solid oak legs, is nine metres high and is a Grade II heritage structure. Built in 1832, it has has had a chequered history, being inactive between 1969 and 1993, when it came on line again and it is still in active service.
The second of the lighthouses, the High Trinity Tower, also built in 1832, stands twenty-five metres tall and more resembles a traditional lighthouse. The light no longer functions and the building has been converted in to domestic accommodation. The third and oldest of the lighthouses, built in 1820, known the 'Short or Round Lighthouse' was originally a four-storey structure, created a by a local vicar who charged passing ships for the service. On the instruction of Trinity House (lighthouse authority), this light was ordered extinguished and subsequently the building was reduced to two-storeys, featuring a crenelated top.
The beach stretched out in front of us and it was difficult to guage how far we were walking. Once you are away from buildings, etc., walking on a long beach like this it is difficult to what progress you are making. You can walk for half an hour and think you are still in the same place. The sand dunes to our right appeared featureless, all of a muchness. In the distance, a headland running across the beach at Berrow offered the only break in the scene and for a while it was far enough away that it never seemed to be any closer. As we progressed to the front, the beach at our back lengthened and it felt like being in a desert. Its like when you hillwalk and you think you see the top of the hill, only to find out there is another peak in front of you. Here, it was thinking you were going to turn a corner and the beach would end, only to find another long stretch of sand in front of you. It is in fact a trick of the horizon and of the mind and really there are no corners. What you need to do is either go in to a cocoon and walk blissfully or have a really interesting and thought provoking conversation with your walking partner.
We were walking in really bright, hot sunshine and by the time we had covered the ten kilometres of sand to the village of Brean, we were in dire need of resfreshments and a second breakfast. Approaching Brean, we saw a van in the distance parked up at the top of the beach that we hoped was a coffee wagon (to far away to be sure). By this time we had decided not to do Brean Down, which meant we would cut off at Diamond Farm to cross the River Axe at the sluice. Although it meant an added mile to the walk there and back, we headed for the wagon where we enjoyed cups of coffee and bacon rolls. With comfortable little chairs in front of the wagon, we ended up spendiing at least an hour sipping coffee and chatting to the owner. In the sunshine and the comfort it required a lot of thought to get up and start walking again.
After 'elevenses', we left the beach to walk out to the road and made our way back down the road to the turn off to Diamond Farm to walk across country to the crossing point on the River Axe. As you turn on to the farm road there are caravans as far as the eye can see. Much better if you just shut your eyes until you are beyond them. There has been a lot of work done in the area in recent years to open it up for walking, including putting in new paths and opening up the sluice as a crossing. We were walking on the cycle trail (Brean Down Way)which was probably the driver for all the work. As we walked we spoke to a number of people who advised us that the work has resulted in a lot of people now coming out to Brean from Weston Super Mare which has been good for local businesses.
Crossing over the sluice there is a structure called 'The Great Bird Screen of Brean'. It is both an art installation and a practical measure to protect the many birds that nest here. In artistic terms it is designed to look like drift wood that has been heaved up on to the shore, while practically it provides a screen between the many passing tourists and the roosting birds. The sluice marks the tidal limit on the River Axe. The one hundred and fifty metres screen was built by volunteers under the direction of the artist, Katy Hallet. the work at the sluice is part of the Brean Down Way which runs from Weston Super Mare to Brean. Prior to the work being completed the road was closed and a lengthy journey round the Axe was required.
After crossing the River Axe the walking took on a different feel as we moved on to the Bleadon Level and moved up on to the sea wall that runs part way down the River Axe before turning in right towards the marina. We spent a bit of time here talking to a man out walking his dog who was very interested in our adventure and we laft him wistful that he had never followed his dreams. We followed the creek that runs off the River Axe in the direction of the marina, admiring the boats on both the creek and the marina.
As we walked towards the marina we had nice views of the sail-less windhill and the old church of St Nicholas on top of the hill. After going round the marina, we exited in to the village of Uphill where, after following the road for a very short stretch we moved on to the beach for the final stretch in to Weston Super Mare. Even from the beach, Brean Down dominates the scenery and looks close enough to touch. We had a day off planned here to catch up with some of Joanna's family, so we stopped off in the tourist information centre to check out local busses. Later, we stopped off in a cafe where we enjoyed French patisserie and coffee. We were in Airbnb accommodation and knew we could cook for ourselves, so we shopped for some groceries before headiing off to our digs. It had been a long and hot day and we were relieved to find we had a large and airy bedroom in which to stretch out and rest up before cooking dinner.
When you first have the notion to walk the coast of Great Britain, you have visions of walking on endless sands and enjoying walks by the river with birdsong and wild flowers aplenty in the hedgerow. And sometimes it can be like that. I think of some of my journeys in Essex and Lincolnshire where such was the case. However, because it is not always idyllic. there are days when it all goes wrong and you come to appreciate that because the OS says there is a public footpath on the map, that doesn't necessarily mean that it will be there on the ground, or that you will able to find it, even if you are in the right place. Today was to turn out to be such a frustrating day. 'Off-piste' can offer some wonderful walking, but it can also go horribly wrong!
We started the day at a slightly elevated position but quickly dropped to sea level and pretty much stayed there for the whole day, apart from an occasional small rise. We had walked part way up the River Parrett yesterday and, as rivers go, it had been the most boring of our two and a half thousand mile journey so far. So we made the first mistake of the day and decided that instead of going back down to and following the course of the River Parrett up to Bridgewater, we would take a cross-country route following local public footpaths to Perry Green and from there come in to the western side of Bridgewater. Moving through the top edge of the town, we would walk up the opposite bank of the river as far as Pawlett Hams. At the Hams, we would cut across the neck and take another public footpath back down on to the seawall at Stretcholt and then walk the coast to Burnham-on-Sea.
It started off well enough. Leaving our accommodation, we walked through Cannington to The Downs and on to the track that goes past Gurney Manor and then out past the sewage plant where we headed off in to the countryside. Beyond the sewage plant it started to go belly up when the vegetation went wild. Going across country we wanted excitement; we wanted adventure, what we got was lost, wandering in a sea of four and five feet high grass, weeds, nettles and bramble. It was impossible to tell where paths ran and there were no signposts to indicate where the path should be. In places, the vegetation was impassable unless you wanted to wade through high nettle, thistles and brambles; fearty that I am, there was no way I was doing that in thin shorts. So we had no option but to continue going straight, almost to Quantock Lodge, where we were at last able to cut across the land to take up the road we were originally aiming for, only at a lower level.
From close to Quantock Lodge we doubled back on ourselves to reach Perry Green where we set off on another cross-country path in the direction of Chilton Trinity. Before reaching Chilton, we turned down to head for the top corner of Wembdon, walking on road enclosed by very high hedges which made it difficult when cars came zooming up the road, particularly on corners, as there was no way to step off the road or to let drivers know of your presence. From Wembdon, we turned to walk to the Newtown district of Bridgewater and from there headed to the bridge crossing over the River Parrett. Re-joining the England Coast Path, we followed the River Parrett round past a retail and industrial site. As we were reading an information board about Bridgwater, we spied a small cafe a couple of streets of in and decided to stop head there for coffee and cake and to try and regroup after the morning's fiasco. We didn't know it then, but the day was not finished with us yet!
Apart from chasing and managing to photograph a Little Skipper butterfly, the walk down the River Parret was as boring as the walk up it was. As planned, we cut across the neck of Pawlett Hams and up through Gaunt Farm where we passed a number of notices telling us we shouldn't be there. We passed in to and walked through the hamlet of Stretcholt, where we hoped to find a public footpath to rejoin the river trail. It was initially a forlorn hope. We had been advised there was a footpath at the back of the vet's house but we could not find any way through. We walked on further to try to find a second footpath that should have run off left just as you approach Yearsley Farm. No sign of a footpath. Where we and the map thought it should be there stood a field of cereal, a locked gate and no sign post.
We decided to walk in to Yearsley Farm to ask directions and where an elderly lady coldly advised us we were trepassing and should move off her land. Eventually, when we explained why we were there, she calmed enough to tell us that the field where the cereal crop was growing was in fact the right of way but the owner removed any signs that were put up and continued to crow his crops without leaving a through-way. Back up the road, climbed over the gate and, with great trepidation, walked our way through the cereal crop. At first we tried to walk on the field margin but it was impossibly rutted and full of nettles and thistle so we settled for walking in the one of the ruts between the rows of cereal. We eventually rejoined the coast path at Black Rock Clyce and from there had a fairly straightforward walk along the sea wall to cross the Huntspill River via the sluice that discharges there in to the River Parrett. Just after the sluice, in the midst of the sheep and the cows, we stopped for a late lunch at a spot overlooking Steart Point and Steart Marshes which we had walked through yesterday. A cup of coffee in your hand never fails to take away the mistakes of the day.
After lunch we continued on the last stretch of the River Parret before it discharges in to the sea by Steart Island. Just by the island the River Brue also dischares in to the sea and we turned inland to walk up the Brue to the New Clyce Bridge to cross the river. Heading back down the river we turned on to the esplanade of Burnham-on-Sea jus below a huge holiday complex. The esplanade and the town were both busy and noisy and, after the quiet of the day, it was a shock to the system. Another shock was that the hotel we were staying in had absolutely zero staff, everthing was computer operated, with even a robot-controlled drinks dispenser.
River Parrett & Bridgwater Bay
After the usual tea, shower and rest, we ventured out to find the local Wetherspoon's for dinner. When everything else in your day goes wrong, look for Weatherspoon's which we find to be consistently good. After dinner we enjoyed a nice, slow meander, hand in hand, along the shore and where we were rewarded with a beautiful sunset before returning to our robot hotel for a good night's sleep.
A night of leisure on a long-distance walk can be a wonderful, particularly when it is unexpected and not part of the original plan. Our night in a chalet at St Audrie's holiday park was such an experience. Not that the place itself was particularly attractive, but it did the business. The whole deal of hot shower, nice food and sleeping in a bed, just did the trick. We had hoped to have a swim and a sauna, but the facilities had been hired out to a community group for the night and were not available until about 10.00pm, by which time we were bed-a-byes.
Today's route will not be as easy as originally planned. We had known there would be a diversion on the coast path at Hinkley Point where work is underway to build a new nuclear power plant, but we did not know the detail of the changes that had been made to other public footpaths in the local area. The main path usually goes along the front and round the existing power station and we expected a short diversion to another footpath at the back. However, we know from our conversation with two women on the beach yesterday that the works are more extensive than we realised, reaching back a good distance inland as they carry out also carry out work on the local road network and subsuming at least two other footpaths that we thought to use with the consequence that we have a much longer detour than planned.
We start off from the highest point of the day, dropping down to the lowest on the beach in front of the camp and thereafter any heavy work is at the beginning of the walk, contained in the first third, roughly between East Quantoxhead and Shurton just below Hinkley. Even then it is of the nature of gentle rises, rather than steep hills before levelling out to continue for the rest of the day at sea level. The forecast is that it is to be hot for the whole day and we need to make sure and 'slap it on'.
Of course the thing about a wee bit of luxury is that you want to linger over it too long and it was almost 9.30am by the time we had breakfasted, packed up and hit the beach. Whatever the weather forecast said there was little sunshine to be seen. Rather, the sky was dominated by cloud cover, creating a close and muggy heat on the ground. Our expectation was that as the sun rose higher it would burn off the cloud cover, but that never quite materialised.
The walk on the beach didn't last long as there was an incoming tide and we were not sure what the access to the cliff we would have later on. On the advice of two local lads who were going fishing, we turned up at Esson's Gully on to the clifftop where we re-joined the England Coast Path. On a nice meandering track, moving through a primarily soft, arable and green landscape with gently rising hills, it gave a lovely pastoral feel to the day. It kind of felt like a Sunday used to be like when it was the only opportunity you had to get out in to the countryside. The view was dominated to the front by Hinkley Point and to the rear the low red cliffs lead the way back to the the higher hills at the back of Minehead. The grass at the side of the path was both thick and long with full, fat seedheads weighing down the stems. Before too long we were effected by the pollen, sniffing and sneezing and having to deal with runny eyes and noses.
Just below East Quantoxhead, looking inland across the fields, we could see the rooftop of Court House, a medieval manor house with square turret, owned by the Luttrell family since 1070 and which is well known for its lovely garden. The family also own the nearby Dunster Castle. To our left striations on the rock and stony beach run in straight lines along the front of the sea. This stretch of shore leads to Kilve Beach which is another place well known spot for collecting ammonites and reptile remains. As we approached we could see adults and children, heads down, looking for fossils or enjoying one of the many rockpools that cover the beach. The grasslands on top of the cliff continued to be green and abundant and the arable fields were filled with cereal crops.
Kilve Beach Area
Moving on to Lilstock Cliff, where you can see very clearly over the beach, the geology reminds you of why the landscape is so verdant here. The cliffs and bedrock are made up of alternate layers of mudstone (shale) and limestone, which wild plants love for the lime component and which accounts for much of the rich and verdant growth in the area. The cliff hereabouts are rich in fossils and, the cliff tops, known as Lias Grasslands, are rich with grasses and wild flowers such as Wild Carrot, Meadow Vetchling and different varities of Orchids.
The walk onwards from Lilstock Cliff was dominated by the nuclear power station at Hinkley Point. On the seaward side we could see work ongoing in building the new jetty which is utilising a unique 'walking jack up barge' to help cope with the high seas of the Bristol Channel. The new jetty will be used to bring in the aggregate that will be used in the nuclear grade concrete for the new batching unuts.
As we progressed Hinkley grew in size and detail and you became aware of the enormity of the project. We began to hear the construction noise on the wind long before we were close to it. Walking ever closer without being diverted we began to think that maybe things had changed and there would be a way through. The closer we came, the more certain we were that the day had been saved. Tiredness does that to you! It helps you believe in fairytale endings. We were almost noses up against the wire fence of the construction site before the detour came in to force and we faced the reality of a three and a half mile detour.
The construction site was like a scene from Dante's Inferno and the first thought we had was how terrible this must be for the local people. The construction site alone is enormous, the noise level horrendous and the whole works must result in a considerable discomfort for people and, it will go on for years. As well as the dirt and the noise, the new reactor results in a loss of land and access over the longer term. Walking the detour itself was not particularly arduous, mainly on the flat, but the psychology of walking being what it is you keep remembering what the day could have been if only there had been no diversion.
The diversion exits on to the main road running in to Hinkley Point where we walked for a short distance before heading off to the right of the power station to return to the coast. En-route, the path passed through a field that contained a herd of young stirks that took an uncommon interest in us. As soon as they became aware of our presence they thundered across the field to catch up with us just before we reached the kissing gate exit. The herd surrounded us so that they were between us and the gate. Just for a few seconds, that seem like an eternity, you wonder what the hell you are going to do. Of course, there is only one thing you can do and that is to be confident and just walk through them, which we did and let the breath out when we were through the gate. While it was slightly scary, they only appeared to be inquisitive and I don't think we were in any real danger but it is one those times when you remember all the horrow stories you have ever read about cows in a field.
Back on the coast just before Little Dowden's Farm, it felt good to be actually making inroads to the real miles of the day, as opposed to diversion miles. Through Catsford and Wall Commons and through to the approaches to Steart Marshes, we were walking in open countryside with, at times, quite grasses, shrubs and trees. There is a small peninsula at Steart that you can walk out and then walk back. Given the time lost on the long diversion and still with a long walk up the River Parrett in front of us, we decided to cut across the neck of the peninsula and reach the river just below the Combwich Reach.
Steart Marshes is part of a new wetland habitat that has been created to assist in managing the problem of rising sea levels. The man-made wetlands operate as a buffer between the sea and the surrounding houses and businesses by replacing other wetlands that have previously been developed. Criss-crossed by a network of hard paths and boardwalks, it is a very interesting environment with a considerable numer of birds and insect life. The ponds that have formed are home to beautiful plants such as Bullrush; tall and graceful, insects including Water Boatmen, Scorpion and Beetle, various fish and newts, as well as snails and water spiders. There were beautiful Damsel and Dragonflies on the wing. When we passed through lovely Water Lillies were just coming in to bloom.
Once we were on the River Parrett, it was a fairly straightforward hike on a hard path, past the village of Combwich and on to our turn off to the village of Cannington where we were staying the night in the aptly named Friendly Spirit Inn. We encountered more 'friendly' cows but this time had the space to give them a bit of a wide berth. Nonetheless, they eventually caught up with us and followed us all along the trail to the edge of the village. It had been a long and eventful day and we were happy to be finished and able to rest.
The inn, located in a secluded area just back off the main street, was of the motel-type with little units to the side of the main building. They were quite spacious and after a showering, we had a meal in the restaurant that consisted of a very nice piece of pan-fried hake on a bed of chorizo and cannelini bean followed by a very nice berry cheesecake. Cleaned up, refreshed, fed and watered, sitting with a drink in the dining room Hinkley Point was in another dimension and the world seemed a better place.
Day 51 Rest Day - Minehead
We stayed at The Baytree B&B in Minehead witth Jill and Clive who were the most wonderful host and hostess. Jill makes the best porridge I have ever tasted. We spent much of our time preparing and sending most of our camping equipment back home, as we do not require it for what will be the last week of this adventure. We had one camping night planned, tomorrow at West Quantoxhead, but on reflection decided it was silly to carry all our gear for a week for one camping night, so booked a night in a holiday camp chalet instead.
The remainder of our day was spent sleeping and eating. We enjoyed coffee and cake in Blenheim Gardens, just opposite our B&B and, found a lovely little Italian cafe for lunch where we spent an age chatting to the owner, Christina, about Italy, Australia and Scotland. Food was delicious. At night we had booked in to a local eatery where Joanna was able to enjoy what is becoming a rare English dish of properly made steak and kidney pudding. After a last walk on the beach we returned to our digs to prepare for tomorrow and to rest up.
The route today splits almost neatly in to three. Leaving Minehead we are walking at sea level until the approaches to Blue Anchor where we have the first climb of the day, which is also the highest point at over eighty metres. Straight away there is a descent dow to Warren Bay before another short rise just before Watchet. Thereafter, is a bit of rise and fall with nothing over forty metres before our over-night stop at St Audrie's Bay Holiday Village where we have taken a chalet for the night. This would have been the one camping night on this final stretch of the adventure, but it didn't make sense to carry all the equpment for a week for one night.
The weather forecast is mixed with cloudy skies but muggy heat. It would not be surprising if we have a thunderstorm before we are finished.
The route out of Minehead was along the Strand and on to the top of the beach at Warren Point, with a very pleasant stroll along to Dunster Beach. The edges of the beach path were beautiful,filled with a myriad collection of wild flowers of various huses and colours, dominated by large stands of bright yellow Horned Poppy. Despite the cloud cover, the flowers shone in the early morning light and the flowers and the buzz of the many bees that were working there gave the day a wonderful pastoral feel. At first the legs were heavy but we have been walking so long now that it only takes a couple of hundred yards before they remember what it is they do.
The tide was out and the expanse of the beach exposed but with a good walking path we were not tempted to take our usual station of walking where the waves break. To the front of us we see across Bridgewater Bay to Hinkley Point and in the far distance could just make out Brean Down. Offshore, just a grey smudge on the horizon, we could see the coast of South Wales. Inland, we were initially walking on the edges of a golf course belonging to the holiday village located in the town.
As we progressed towards Dunster Beach, looking over the arable land to our right, the folly Conygar Tower stood on a hill close to Dunster Castle. A circular tower with crennelated top, the tower is hollow in the inside with no floors, ceilings or roof but it does have three sets of windows, diminishing in size as the building rises. Built around 1750 - 1760, the given costs for its construction are interesting with the sum of £4 2s 6d in scrumpy cider for the workmen, and an entertainment bill of £2 5s to celebrate the opening.
Nearby, Dunster Castle dominates a tree-lined hillside, rising ghostly in the morning mist from among the trees. Built in Norman times, it has looked over many difficult times in local and national history. The earliest reference to the castle is 1086, soon after the Alfred the Great's iconic battle and rise to power in 1066. The coastal section just off from where the castle is, is known as Blue Anchor Bay and as you walk along here you are walking parallel to the West Somerset Railway. First proposed at a meeting in 1856, the West Somerset Railway has had a chequered history since its opening in 1862. Enjoying initial success, use of the line deteriorated until its closure by British Rail 1971, only to be re-opened in 1976 as a heritage railway line. It is the longest standard gauge heritage line in the United Kingdom. Subsequent to our visit, the line was closed in January 2019 for saftey works to be carried out. It was re-opened at the end of March 2019.
Our route passed along the front of the Blue Anchor Railway Station heading, we thought, back on to the cliff just after the Blue Anchor Inn. However, when we reached the inn we were diverted to another path at the back of the inn, consequence of a land slip on the cliff. Fortunately, it was a fairly short diversion up Cleeve Hill (B3191) and back on to the coastal path to continue along the clifftop, with views back across Blue Anchor Bay to Minehead. Walking through arable fields with sheep and lambs, there were some delightful Common Orchid growing in the verges. Just after Chapel Cleeve, we enjoyed a short woodland section, after which we had the second highest rise of the day on the approaches to the village of Watchet. If the changes in the landscape generally had not convinced us that we had left behind the glories of the South West Coast Path, a simple glance at the dirty waters of the Bristol Channel lapping against the edge of Warren Bay, confirmed it for us. Not for the first time that week, we yearned for the pristine, clear, blue-green waters of Dorset, Devon & Cornwall.
At the end of the short climb above Warren Bay, after fighting our way through some undergrowth, just before we hit the road for the final short stretch in to Watchet, we passed through the location of Daws Castle. The hill spot was the location of an iron Age hillfort, reinforced by Alfred the Great as part of his coastal defences, particularly against Viking invaders.
As we walked in to town, we passed some lovely artwork on the back of the harbour wall, commissioned by the Watchet Arts Group, which fair cheered up the place. Completed single-handedly by local artist Pat Dennis, features a number of themes from Watchet's history.
Later, by the harbour, we pass the forlorn sculpture of The Ancient Mariner by the Scots sculptor, Alan B Herriot. Commissioned by the Watchet Market House Museum, it celebrates the poem of the same name by the romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. In the epic poem, the mariner shoots an albatross and is condemned to wear it round his neck. From this somes the oft used phrase 'an albatross round your neck'. If you have never read the poem, give it a go. It is a wacking great read, a great story full of adventure and disaster in equal measure.
We arrived in the town just as some of the cafes and diners were closing down after the lunch rush. From the Esplanade, we made our way down Swain Street, where we found the little Chives Cafe & Deli where we both enjoyed a 'savoury cream tea', which consisted of a large and lovely cheese scone, filled with tomatoe chutney and cream cheese. Served with lashings of tea it was a real treat. As we ate, we spoke to an elderly Cornish couple who were on a day out from 'Dahn West'. With their delightful Cornish accent and friendly demeanor we laughed our way through lunch with them.
After lunch, we returned to the Esplanade and made our way along to the Eastern Pier where we dropped down on to the beach for the walk round Helwell Bay. The beach is well known to fossil hunters, the area at low tide teeming with remains. Geologically, it is also a very interesting area with a number of geological faults to be seen on the cliff face, with lovely sloping lines to the differnt layers. Walking along the flat stone beach, where there are huge unbroken sheets of limestone, we could not believe the number of ammonites to be seen on the surface. Dating from the Jurassic period, about two hundred million years ago, this part of Somerset was then beneath a shallow sea and what we see are the remains of the creatures that swam in its waters.
We were so distracted walking along this stretch of beach that we did not notice that we had missed the turn off to take us round the waters of The Swill, a water feature that crosses the beach and we had to backtrack, roll up the trouser legs and wade over the river where it was slightly shallower.
The official route here goes behind a holiday camp, but we came across notices that informed us there was a detour in place and looking at the detour, which would have taken us on a wide sweep out in to the countryside, we decided to give it a body swerve. Instead, we set off to find a way through the holiday camp, under the interested scrutiny of a couple of security guards.
At the other end we emerged in to a field on top of the cliff and with St Audrie's Bay lying in front of us. The area where there had been a landslip was close to the edge of the path but we were able to pass it with care. While we are used to seeing the consequences of coastal erosion we were still surprised at the large cracks in the earth that criss-crossed the clifftop here, indicating there are more falls to come. We had a last short stretch along the base of beautiful, inclined, red and low sandstone cliffs before we were at journey's end. Along the way we stopped to speak to two women who advised us about the extent of the work underway at Hinkley Point and, from what they said, it scuppered our plans for walking along the beach tomorrow. From the beach on Audrie Bay we climbed a set of shoogly steps uo and in to the holiday camp where we were to be spending the night. After booking in and getting settled in our room, we enjoyed fish and chips (him) and minute steak (her) in the restaurant before retiring to rest and recupperate in our chalet.
We had deliberately left ourselves a tiddler of a walk for today. Knowing that it was our last on the South West Coast Path (SWCP) the expectation was that the mood would be low and enthusiasm hard to find. After walking for nearly eight weeks, it would be fair to say we each possessed a constant tiredness that as the miles wore on we wore ever closer. It was at its worst first thing in the morning, just when you needed the energy to break camp, hung around for the first couple of miles before retreating to the back of your mind as you were caught up in a new adventure, only to return in the latter stages of a walk.
Today was no exception and we struggled to get out of bed, the mind having already decided we had reached Minehead and a day off; the body knowing the miles were still to be walked and crying out in frustration and pain. We kind of sleep walked through morning ablutions, breakfast and taking the camp down with the result that it was almost ten o' clock before we were on the road.
The profile for today's walk ended up fairly simple; climb up, stay up and then come down at the end. Couldn't be easier. There are a couple of decisions to be made on the trail about the route that concern whether or not you want to take the high road or the low road. At one point you choose between a 'rugged' path and a more straightforward path on the higher reaches. Throughout our journey we have usually taken the rugged option, feeling that to do anything else would be to cop out. Today we copped out and stayed high for the day, wanting our last, long lingering looks of the coast of the SWCP to be at height where we could enjoy the majesty of it. The highest point of today's walk is above Bossington Hill at Selworthy Beacon, over three hundred metres above the sea.
After saying goodbye at the campsite to our new friend, Marika from Belgium, we returned to the lane we had come up last night and walked back down to Sparkhayes Marshes. Porlock is a lovely little village that has a nice traditional feel to it and in the early morning it was particularly nice.
The morning was slightly overcast and had grey overtones to it, which only added a sense of mystery and foreboding to the marshes. The lifeless branches of the sunken forest pointed in futility to the grey sky as if in constant search for new life. The greenery below the trees was a contrast in colour and texture, small flower buds just waiting for a final kiss of sunshine before they open and brighten the landscape. It is easy walking on this section, initially on man-made gravel path and, for a time, on boardwalks as you cross a particularly wet bit of marsh and then on an, at times, wide, grassy path. There is lots to catch the eye as you walk along the back of the marsh with wild flowers, butterflies and bird life vying to catch your attention. The dominant hill at Hurlstone Point dominates the view. The path cuts inland to pass through arable land, to pass by the village of Bossington, where we passed a house offering fresh apple juice from their orchard. After passing the village the route goes round the bottom of Bossington Hill, heading for Hurlstone Point.
At Hurlstone Point the path turns to the right to go up Hurlstone Coombe, heading for the summit at Selworthy Beacon. Half way up you need to make the first decision about high path or low path. If you take the latter, you turn off left to cross over East & Henner's Combe, down on to the Western and Eastern Brockholes and then walk out to North Hill where the two paths meet up again at Bramble Combe. We opted for the high line and continued on the steep climb up to the Beacon at three hundred and six metres. The views were slightly curtailled by a light mist but we enjoyed it nonetheless. You drop back down the same path to re-engage with the SWCP again to enjoy a walk across lovely, open heathland where the sound of the Peewit and Skylark can be heard over the moor. We passed a number of small herds of grazing Exmoor ponies, muted dark colours somtimes making them difficult to see against the dark backdrop of the vegetation. The walking on this section is on good, solid path or track and we were making very quick headway, such that we deliberately tried to slow down to make it last.
The two paths meet up again just above Bramble Combe and are together for just a short time until the next decision is required at Burgundy Chapel Combe, which also marks the start of the descent back to sea level. Here, the path separates again, the lower path passing the remains of the medieval chapel that names the combe, to continue down to a side path that offers access to Greenaleigh Sand and Culver Cliff Sand. Tha main path continues parallel to the beach and onto Culver Cliff where it meets up again with the top path. The top carries on through a wooded section, before dropping down on to Greenaleigh Lower Road for a short time, before cutting off again to the left to Culver Cliff for a coastal approach to Minehead. Coming down from Burgundy Chapel Combe we stopped at bench to brew up coffee and and to eat a sandwich. Neither of us were too hungry, the coffee and food a ploy to lengthen our stay on the SWCP.
After a long-drawn out lunch we continued the descent to emerge on to a path that took us directly on to the Minehead promenade for the final stretch to the finish line of the South West Coast Path. For both of us this last little stretch was surpisingly emotional. it wasn't as if it was the end of the journey for us. We still had about one hundred miles still to walk to finish our adventure properly at the Severn Bridge. Still, it was a light-headed couple that posed somewhat embarrasingly at the finish point and then hung about, reluctant to leave it all behind. There are remakably few photographs of Joanna and I taken together on our UK coastal walk but on this occasion a passing couple were happy to snap us in our ecstasy.
Eventually, before we were arrested for causing a public nuisance, we moved on to find our accommodation for the next couple of days. While we had a day off to look forward to we could not relax completely because the journey goes on. Depending on your point of view, the good news was that we were finished camping and for the next week we would enjoy the luxury of a roof over our heads at the end of each days walking as we took advantage of Airbnb. We would also be walking lighter, because we intended posting a lot of our camping equipment back home to await our return and the next adventure which, luck being on our side, would include our reaching the Wales Coast Path later in the year. For now, we were headed for a nice, restful afternoon. I should be so lucky!
Lying in our tent this morning, listening to the murmur of the river as it passed through the park, it was difficult to generate any sense of urgency about setting off. Once out of the tent, however, we could see the frenzied activities of other walkers as they broke camp and it stirred us on. Not before coffee, porridge and fresh strawberries on the verandah, however, after which we set about packing up.
Estimated at just over thirteen miles, today's route has the highest ascent and descent of the day at the very beginning, before settling in to a middle section of rolling, wooded countryside, ending with a fairly long and gentle climb to our campsite at Porlock. The weather forecast is for another hot day, but with a large section of the route under trees it could potentially be close and muggy. There are few services after Lynmouth before you reach Porlock, so we need to make sure we are well provisioned.
After walking from our campsite to Lynmouth we passed a B&B, 'The Captain's House', that had a sign out indicating it was open to non-guests for breakfast. Despite having already breakfasted, we reasoned that if we ate another 'hearty' breakfast here it would save us carrying too much. So that is what we did, breakfast number two less than an hour after breakfast number one. Then having had second thoughts about carrying food we decided to order a packed lunch as well, which the B&B were happy to provide and which proved to be of a high quality with lovely home-made cake. While there, we spoke to a young European girl who was to be walking in the opposite direction to us and asked for some advice on the walk. Turned out she was walking with no directional aids whatsoever and we ended up giving her our paper OS map, as we had our GPS to back us up.
Our breakfast stop was quite a bit back from the main SWCP but there was an alternative route that run up the hill at the back of the establishment that we opted to take rather than backtrack on ourselves. It was by no means an easy option, along a steep and winding path that zig-zagged up the hill and, after walking parallel to the coast for a wee bit, re-joined the main path just above Point Perilous on Lynmouth Bay.
Initially, from here we were walking just off the road but when we left it the path was green and heavily vegetated on both sides, albeit the path itself was relatively clear. Walking on the side of the hill, with the road above us, we had lovely vistas and front and rear and in the early morning light, the colour palette of blue and green was very vivid.
It was fine walking, in beautiful countryside with that wonderful feeling of solitude that you get when walking in what feels and looks like wilderness yet, incongrously, not too far away civilisation was whizzing by. When you reach The Foreland you can choose to whether to go round the front to the Point where the lighthouse and the Keeper's Cottages are located or to cut across the neck at the back of the Point. We had decided beforehand that we would not take the circular route but, as a wee side bar to the main walk, we diverted up a smaller path to take us to the trig point on Butter Hill where we could enjoy the coastal views at the greater height.
Above Lynmouth Bay
Coming down off Butter Hill and joining back on to the main path, you are walking in lovely open heathland that has a nice sense of space and light. Going behind the Foreland, as you cross the neck there is a lovely 'saddle' in front of you that lies along the edge of Coddow Coombe. It is one of those bits of hillside that you intuitively feel would be lovely to walk over. At this stage, we were walking in pretty muggy conditions, as the sky had clouded over and there was a degree of light mist lying to front and rear. The close atmosphere intensified as we entered a series of woods
As we progressed on the walk the vegetation grew ever thicker. On much of the hillside here there is abundant growth of Rhododendron that was in full flower as we walked through, providing a wonderful spectacle. While it is stunning for the walker and tourist, for the people who manage the land it is increasingly becoming a major problem. It is a major problem on two fronts; one, Rhododendron grows very rapidly and can quickly over-run landscapes and, secondly, it can be very dense, such that nothing else grows beneath the canopy and it shuts out all the plants would otherwise grow at ground level, including the range of Spring flowers that are seen in such abundance here such as Primrose, Bluebell and Red Robin. Rhododendron are also voracious feeders and the quality of the soil beneath and close to them consequently very poor. I know from growing the cultivar varieties beneath one hundred-year old cherry trees in my front ornamental garden that absolutely nothing grows beneath the Rhododendron, not even weeds.
Entering the Woods
In response to the invasion, work was underway on the hillsides to clear some of Rhododendron and although it is drastic and the short-term consequences are not very pretty, in the long-term the landscape will benefit. There are already some really beautiful stretches of mixed woodland on the walk, some of which have something in common with sub-tropical rainforest environments. As well as the mosses and lichens that grow on almost any surface, the range of ground flowers and ferns is wonderful and interesting.
Once you round Foreland Point, almost the whole of the remainder of the walk is completed beneath woodland canopy. There are times, for example at Glenthorne, where you are walking quite far back and cannot see the sea. At other times, you only catch occasional glimpses of it through the trees and undergrowth or where view points have been cleared. Nonetheless, it is a lovely walk (at least it was the day we were there. On a day of heavy rain I would imagine this might be a difficult walk with muddy paths), with lovely examples of the beauty of the light and shade. It is also an 'old' place in which one would not be surprised to come across a meeting of Ents discussing the stupidity of men in the face of environmental disaster.
There is a very nice natural spring or holy well in the trees known as Sister's Fountain, where we spent some time sitting on the hillside listening to the gurgle of the stream. The spring is thought to have been enclosed in the early 19th C, possibly by the Reverend W S Halliday, who built Glenthorne House, which lies just below the hill and which is the cause of the diversion inland (It was on the market in 2018 for £5.5 million). I even ventured in to the well to try out the water and found it to be very cold and refreshing, particularly welcome on a very muggy day. It is claimed that Joseph of Arimathea drank here on his way to Glastonbury, so I was in good company!
Not too long after the well, we decided to stop for lunch. We kept hoping for a nice open area but, as it never seemed to appear, we just stopped at a corner on the path where we had a nice wide area to spread out and brew up without being in the way of other walkers. The packed lunch that had been made up for us by The Captain's House in Lynmouth was a veritable feast with two different kinds of home-made cake. We do so love cake! While we were sitting there, we were joined by an older lady who was out walking on her own and, we think, was glad of a bit of company. We discussed our various experiences walking in Australia and New Zealand, as well as her interest in playing bridge.
After a long lunch, we continued along the enchanted way, the path meandering up and down dale through the trees. We were, essentially, under tree canopy for most of the afternoon, only emerging in to full daylight at the hamlets of Culbone, where there is the nice little St Beuno's Church, said to be the smallest parish church in England and, Worthy, where we passed an 'honesty box' for walkers which had some snacks, water and sweets in it. What a lovely idea and trusting gesture.
The path also passes a private toll road here that runs from Worthy to Yearnor Mill Bridge. From Worthy we were walking on track or road until we dropped down on to the pebble beach at the front of Porlock Weir. Before we hit the beach, however, we stopped at the Ship Inn for refreshments and where we spent some time chatting to a couple about our round the UK walk and who clearly thought we were barmy.
The beach walk was really nice and interesting, starting off on a beach of large pebbles, before moving on to a firmer earth path moving through on the edge of a huge area of marshland (Sparkhayes) that included a sunken forest. Looking to the horizon in the photograph to the right, it is possible to see the gap in the shingle barrier where during a major storm in 1996, the sea breached the barrier, creating a salt marsh behind, and in that the sunken forest. Allowing the breach to remain, sacrificinf the area od farmland behind the breach, is known as 'managed retreat'.
Lying just to the front of the beach, the pebble and shingle ridge has over hundreds of years offered a variable level of protection to Porlock Weir and surrounding areas. The barrier has, however, been breached many times over the years (most notably in 1990) creating ever-changing fresh and seawater environments. There is evidence that over time the barrier is both moving inland and becoming thinner following a drastic reduction in the amount of sediment and pebbles that is moved along the coast from Foreland Point and the cliffs. As the changes take place in the barrier, it becomes more vulnerable to actual physical breaches in the wall and to waves coming over the top of the barrier in stormy conditions, both threatening the local communities.
I have mentioned a number of time in my journal, particularly coming down the east coast of England, that defensive measures taken to protect developed areas or specific developments at risk from the sea, often have a detrimental effect for areas to either side of them as the natural motion of long-shore drift is interrupted. Such consequences can be seen locally where the construction of groynes and a sea wall and dredging at the harbour mouth to replenish the barrier, have diminished the natural replacement of sediment and pebbles. As I have progressed in my walk there has been a sea change in thinking about rising sea levels and ever-more ferocious storms as a consequence of global warming, such that decisions have been taken to leave many low lying areas in England to the mercy of the sea. Porlock is one such area where the National Trust have decided to leave the breach in the shingle barrier open, flooding the farmland at the back of the barrier, hoping to contain the threat in the exposed area.
We stayed on the beach path as far as Sparkhayes Lane, which runs right down from Porlock on to the beach. We turned right on to the lane for the walk up to our campsite in the Sparkhayes area. Sparkhayes Campsite is quite small, when we arrived there very few other campers there and the office was closed with just a sign advising where you could and could not pitch. While not being the most glamorous of camp sites it did everything you would want and we were soon camped up and heading for the showers.
We were beside a Belgian lady in a camper van and over the next few hours spent some time chatting to her. Later, we went out to the local pub where we had dinner before returning to the campsite to take advantage of the good laundry facilities. Although we were close to the end of our odyssey on the SWCP, our journey would continue on for a week or so yet, as intended walking as far as the Severn Bridge. Once the camp kids were in bed the site quietened down and, before long, we joined them in slumber land.
We enjoyed our short time in Berrynarbor and its lovely little valley, chatting with the locals, taking advantage of the award-winning community shop with its wide range of goods and relaxing and eating in Ye Olde Globe Inn. Our Airbnb accommodation was luxurious and we were well looked after. Just as well, because today's walk is both long and challenging, taking in the Hangman range of hills which includes the highest seacliff in England and the highest point on the South West Coast Path (SWCP).
The weather forecast for the day is for very hot, which will please the beach lovers, but dismays shade-loving creatures like myself. A look at the walk profile will convince you about the level of challenge the walk presents and so we will go at it slow and careful. Most of the walking will be done in open countryside with moves inland at a couple of locations to go up or round natural land features like Great Hangman and then Sherrycombe gully. After leaving Combe Martin, settlements are few and far between with little in terms of services actually on the path, so we are carrying rations for today and tonight or, if we eat it all which is likely, we can replenish in Lynton. There is a restaurant close to our campsite on the outskirts of town but as it is Sunday, we are not confident it will be opened.
Leaving Berrynarbor we were unable to secure a signal on the Garmin, so the route map above only starts once we hit the junction at the top of the valley. The mileage for the day was, therefore, nearer sixteen than fifteen, but we only count what we record. The coast path runs below the A399 but, as learned yesterday, it is closed and we had a bit of road walking to do until we reached the end of Hangman Path and on to beach end of Combe Martin.
We returned to open countryside, rising above the beach with a climb on to Lester Cliff. From the start the views on this section were to be nothing short of stunning, as light, colour and texture constantly came to together to present us with one breathtaking view after another. Also, from the start, it was hard going in the heat, with the deceptively named Little Hangman stretching the calves and the lungs early on. The colours in the early morning light were vivid and, with just a light touch of haze over distant hills it had an added sense of mystery about it. The initial walk on a hard-packed, earth path, often in the dappled shade of trees and shrubs, was a welcome haven from an already bright and hot sun (and it was still not yet 9.00am). As we gained height on the cliff we could see up the ribbon-like development of the coombe and across Coombe Martin Bay to the rock features that run off Golden Cove.
As you progress up the hill from Coombe Martin you have a number of different perspectives on the Little Hangman, which is a wonderful angular shape. The route moves away from the coast a little and your views of the sea are limited for a short time until you reach Hangman. The path passes below the peak of the Small hangman so we dropped the rucksacks by the drystane dyke and walked up to the peak unladen where we were rewarded with lovely views east and west. There were some nice shrubs in flower which were attracting the butterflies. As we enjoyed the views, the light to the east changed somewhat and areas of the sky took on a kind of light raspberry tint that was quite stunning. The photograph does not do it justice. From the Little Hangman we could see along the coast and started to have a much better idea of the walking and the climbs that lay in front of us, particularly the Great Hangman, which was our next challenge.
When it actually came to it the walk up to the Great Hangman was not as hard as we first feared; gently rising would describe it, albeit was long. After dropping back down the steep path from the Little Hangman, we picked up the rucksacks where we had left them against a dry stane dyke. Loaded up again we just took our time walking up the long but actually not too steep incline to the highest point of the day, where we again had nice views up and down the coastline. We took the rucksacks off again at the top of the Hangman at the trig point and took a ten minute rest to regain our breath and take some photographs. Coming off the Hangman there is a steep gully down to Sherrycombe and where you have to cut inland a bit to get over the river. Coming up out of Sherrycoombe there is a climb up Holdstone Hill and on to Holdstone Down, followed by a wlak along the Cleave cliffs.
The path we were walking on was of a good quality, still designated as the Tarka Trail. Walking along Holdstone and Trentishoe Downs the land and seascape continued to be wonderful with the blue of sea and sky so intense and the green of the hillside as it rolled down to the sea was truly emerald in shade. To each side of the path there was thick growth of fern and heather, real heathland environment, with occasional smatterings of wild flower poking through. We were surprised at one point when a cyclist whizzed by us, the last thing we expected so far out. Later in the day, as we neared Lynton, there were numerous fell runners as well.
As we moved on the path narrowed and lost the 'one I prepared earlier' look. It seemed as it narrowed that it moved ever-closer to the edge of the cliff. The location for a picnic was too good to pass up and we stopped on the cliff for an hour and enjoyed a leisurely lunch in the sun. Other walkers passed by looking, we thought, enviously as we brewed up coffee and lay back to enjoy the day.
The walk across the Downs is undulating in nature but it is a joy and a delight. To walk it on a day such as we had and to enjoy the views was to be privileged. At the end of the Downs the path veers out slightly before cutting back in sharply at Heddon's Mouth to go up the gully and cross over the small burn that runs here. There is an option to go off trail and carry on up the gully to Hunter's Inn but we tend to avoid such detours and prefer to carry rations and lunch on the hill. Our meanderings on the narrow path continued after the gully, heading out Highveer Point and and along the mid-cliff, at times very close to the edge. It was a stunning wlak but in now very warm conditions and we stopped again here on the hillside just above Wringapeak, a natural stone archway, to re-hydrate. Fortunately, when we started back we were afforded a little bit of shade by the wooded section across Woody Bay.
The section through the woods protected us on what had become a fairly torrid day. There was no breeze at all and when you walked in the open the sun beat down on you relentlessly. As well as offering shade, the wood also offered lovely colour and texture to the day, as well as nice little shady nooks and areas of dappled shade and light. The views through the geometric shapes of the branches of trees were enigmatic, the wood having a lovely aged look to it with some of the branches on the landward side festooned with grey-green moss.
Wooded Section: Woody Bay to Lee Bay
As well we enjoyed the shade because on exiting from the trees at Lee Bay where the route turns slightly inland, we were subject to the brutal attention of the sun for a couple of miles on a wide open road. The path follows the road here, continuously uphill, passing the Gothic-style Lee Abbey on the left. Lee Abbey is really a misnomer as there is no religious community here, rather a group of lay people who volunteer to staff what is now a Christian retreat centre. Just outside the front gate of the abbey runs a toll road, the toll house for which still stands at the abbey entrance. The toll is now just a voluntary contribution towards the upkeep of road and abbey. The current abbey was built in the 1850's but it is thought there was a religious building here in the 12C AD. We had hoped to replenish our water bottles here but there was no one around to ask and no outside stand pipe that we could see so, on what was a very hot day, we moved on to small rations.
We continued up the road in the searing heat, constantly having to step off the road to allow cars to pass. The road leads up to the Valley of Rocks, where it takes a turn to the left to follow a concrete path in to the village of Lynton. The valley of the rocks reminded us somewhat of our backpacking trips in the Grand Canyon, with many fine rock features to admire. As was often the case on our walk, we were too tired to make the most of it and made do with admiring that which we could see from the path, as opposed to investigating the valley itself.
Valley of the Rocks
Our final section, going behind Castle Hill and then walking below the hard rock face of Hollerday Hill was pretty brutal. As well as the sun shining directly on us, the heat was also reflected back in waves from the cliff face, enveloping us all around with heat. The sensible thing to have done was stop but we like to get the day done and when you stop, stay stopped. So, we persevered and continued on to come in to Lynton overlooking Lynmouth Bay and just by the Cliff Railway, above which our campsite lay out at Lynbridge. As we had come to expect, it was an uphill trek to the campsite, punctuated by a stop at a local store to stock up on rations.
When you book all your campsites on line you never know what to expect when you arrive. We were pleasantly surprised with to find a nice little site with a murmuring brook running along the edge and nice tall trees providing an element of shade. There was a shop where we purchased cold, cold drinks and ice-cream, as well as showers and the facilities to do a washing. We met and spoke with a number of other campers as we pitched up and kitted out the tent, before making our evening meal which we ate on the verandah of the main building, chatting with Sue and her dad, Phillip who was still doing long-distance backpacking at seventy plus. We sat chatting, Phillip and I sharing old army stories, until 10.00pm, by which time we were all falling alseep. Later, lying in the tent, we listened contentedly to the sounds of the river as it bubbled past the tent and rushed over the little waterfall and fell in to an enchanted sleep.
Whether or not we planned an early start or not, we were getting one curtesy of our neighbours on the campsite. Today was a celebration of the D-Day Landings and there was to be a re-enactment of sorts in the local neighbourhood. Our neighbours were driving an authentic USA 3-ton truck, as well as a long-wheel based Landrover and they were enjoying themselves revving up the deisel engines from early on. After last night's rains, it was a joy to waken to clear blue skies and only a gentle breeze.
Today's route is rolling countryside with an initial drop down to Bull Point, a short period of meandering hills to reach the village of Lee and then a long climb from the village up to above Flat Point (highest point of the day), from where it starts a long descent down to the town of Ilfracombe. From the town the road rises to above Beacon Point, after which it is a roller-coaster again until the final climb up to Berrynarbor. We are in open country until the approaches to and through Ilfracombe, before returning to open coast, with occasional road walking, to reach Berrynarbor. A couple of days ago we decided to change our arrangements and walk a longer day today to cut down on the miles tomorrow. Accordingly, we changed from camping at Chambercombe to Airbnb at Berrynarbor with the added bonus of a good night's sleep in a proper bed. The weather forecast is good and we are hopeful the waterproofs will not be required today.
Hitting the trail at just after 8.00am, rom our campsite on top of the hill at Mortehoe we had a drop back down to the coast to re-connect with the coastal path. It was a beautifully bright, crisp, clear morning with lovely views, particularly back to the campsite on the hill. We were walking in rough pastureland, lots of green grass, ferns and gorse vying with the blue of sky and sea for attention. There was still that delightful chill crispness that you can have in the early morning that sparks you up and helps you look forward to the day. We undulated over low hills to Bull Point where the white lighthouse gave a tranquill, timeless quality to the seascape. Built in 1975, the current lighthouse replaced an earlier one built in 1879. The replacement was required after fifteen metres of the cliff face collapsed on 24 September 1972, taking some of the engine room and the fog station with it. The replacement lighthouse was automated in 1975 and is controlled from Essex.
Moving on from Bull Point we had a wonderful view along the line of the coast as far as Capstone Point just off Ilfracombe, the view giving us a good idea of the nature of the walking that lay in front of us. Without a doubt, the star of the early morning was the colour palette with vivid hues acros the spectrum. Approaching the descent at Bennet's Mouth, at the bottom of Kinevor Valley, you have one of those views of the path as it goes down the hill and back up the other side, that just remind you of why you love doing this. The descent was stepped which made it easier and the ascents are not as bad as you first think. At the bottom, where the mouth opens up to the sea, there is a good view of Damagehue Rock. Up on to and along Damagehue Cliff, descent to Hill Mouth, back up and over Sandy Cove and the views just keep getting better and better.
After Sandy Cove we passed through the wee harbour area at the village of Lee. Although we had not been walking long, we stopped for ten minues just to take in the 'zeitgeist' of the place and to enjoy the quiet of the morning. There followed a long section by road to The Blue Mushroom and then track as far as Torrs Park. Along the top of this section, it dawned on us that the coast we could see across the water was Wales, where we hoped to be walking in a few weeks time.
The climb up from Lee is not a steep climb, but it is long and you are glad to see the end of it. On the track section approaching Ilfracombe through the Torrs or Seven Hills, was a trip down memory lane for Joanna, as she grew up with stories of the area from her father, Dick (currently 92 and going strong) who holidayed here when he was a nipper. It was lovely walking the zig-zag paths, albeit we were too early for the Honeysuckle which Dick had asked us to look out for.
In a small garden at the top of the town we passed a Theravadin Buddhist monk who was busy reading an information board. Given it was close to the time by which he would need to ate his one meal of the day we thought to ask him to lunch with us. Thinking a gentleman on a nearby bench was one of his supporters, we went to ask if they had any plans. Turned out he was nothing to do with the monk and when we turned back the monk had gone. Despite looking in nearby streets we couldn't find hide nor hair of him.
Dropping down in to Ilfracombe, we decided to stop for lunch in a cafe (Dolly's), as much to be out of the eat as anything to do with hunger. We enjoyed huge doorstep sandwiches and soup. It was torridly hot and before the lunch we had an ice-cream cone to cool us down. As well as being hot, the town was very busy, too busy for us and after lunch we were keen to be back in the countryside.
The Torrs & Ilfracombe
After lunch we stuck rigidly to the edges of the town, going round by Capstone Point, the Lifeguard Station and Quay. I think it would be fair to say that the twenty-five ton, twenty-metre bronze statue of a pregnant women, Verity, left a different impression on both of us, such that we agreed to disagree. It is certainly a controversial piece of work. From a distance I thought it looked fine, lording it over the quay, seeming to hold the water at bay with what looked like a sword held aloft. Closer to; close enough that you can see the detail of the bisected tummy of the prenant Verity, it is maybe a bit much for some given the very public location. Leaving Verity behind, we left and started the climb out of the town on a hard earth path, heading to above Beacon Point at almost one hundred and twenty metres. The views on the way up over the harbour and the town were very fine. Looking inland it was very verdant, iconic rolling Devon countryside with a lovely kind of olde- world feel to it.
Ilracombe & Countryside
Leaving Ilfracombe, there was a climb up to about three hundred feet above Beacon Point. On the way up you are walking through the Hillsborough Local Nature Reserve, bougth by the local council in the late 19th C to prevent development on the site. The area isdates to pre-history with a Bronze Age burial site found, as well as an Iron Age hill fort which was in use between 300 BC and 50 AD. More recently, it was used by the army in Victorian times and there are the remains of a gun emplacement on the east side. Going up the hill there are great views back over the harbour area and the town, with the view extending on the shore as far as Bull Point.
Up and over the hill, the path offers views over Hele Bay before dropping back down to pass Beacon Point and Fishing Rock, cutting inland to re-join the road for a road walk, sometimes at the side of the road, as far as Rillage Point. Parallel to Rillage Point you go off road again to drop down to go round the point, above Samson's Bay from where there are good views across to Widmouth Head. Follow the route on to Widmouth and there are some caves on the beach here but we did not take them in. From Widmouth there are nice views directly into Water Mouth. I enjoyed this section of the walk with the contrasting land and seascapes, walking on open paths and then in the dappled shade of woodland sections with garlic laden slopes. Looking down on the small beach just opposite Sexton's Burrow, it looked idyllic, with a small group sun worshippers on the beach. For much of the way up this short hill we were accompanied by a fairly large family who were heading for the beach and they were buzzing with excitement, giving the impression they were just starting their holiday and this was the first visit to a beach.
Water Mouth Area
From Water Mouth we continued for a short way passing just in to Combe Martin Bay before we struck up inland on an over-grown path to find the juction to take us down to Berrynarbor. Once we found the junction, we had a walk of about a mile before we reached our Airbnb accommodation in a beautiful old house overlooking the village. We had made good time and after showering went in to the village to shop for supplies at the community-owned shop and thereafter enjoyed a very nice meal in the delightful Ye Olde Globe Inn. Sadly, a couple of months after we visited the pub it closed its doors for the first time in three hundred and fifty years of business, its future apparently uncertain. After dinner, we had a short walk around the old village and then headed back to rest and eventually to sleep.
So! We had an interesting finish to the day yesterday. Fun and games as we finished walking in a major thunderstorm, the rain lasting most of the night, beating a constant, rhythmic tatoo on the canvas. After we had finished pitching up last night, we went to our respective shower rooms to ease off the aches and pains. Joanna emerged from her shower to find out someone had made off with her glasses, which she had left sitting on a shelf in the shower room. Despite a search in the shower room by Joanna and park staff they were nowhere to be found. It might seem like something and nothing, but if you wear glasses all the time for long and short vision, it is a major issue to lose them. For example, without my glasses I can barely see the ground in front of me, which makes walking on rough ground very difficult. While Jo's vision is slightly better than mine, nonetheless, it detracts substantially from the quality of the experience to walk without them.
After a fruitless seach, we went off down the town for a meal and were surprised on our return to be told the glasses had been handed in. A youngster said she had found them in the shower room. The same youngster who had been in the shower room at the same time as Jo. Given the number of people who searched in there it seemed fairly odd they should turn up where they did. Still, at least Jo had them back and I was spared having to read out menus and describe the landscape for the rest of the adventure. Even just a couple of hours with out them had demonstrated how difficult it could be. Memo to self: pack the spare glasses!
Today's route is considerable shorter than we would usually walk, but we had planned to ease off on the mileage for the final stages of the SWCP thinking we would be extremely tired. However, while we are usually tired at the end of each day, as the walk moved on our powers of recovery improved substantially and we were not the victim to the miles we thought we would be. We thought about changing today's arrangements and walking further, but eventually decided that an easier day was no bad thing.
Starting off at sealevel from the campsite, we are quickly in to a long, gentle climb up to about ninety metres above Baggy Point. From that point on it is a rolling and meandering walk, mainly at about fifty metres above the sea, with three or four drops almost back to sea level. The highest climb of the day, as seems to be the par for the SWCP, is to reach our campsite at Mortehoe.
The forecast for the day was poor and we expected rain once or twice during the day. The waterproofs were stowed within easy reach and the gaiters went on to protect against the wet herbage after a night of heavy rain.
On the long gentle walk up Baggy Point, we were walking on tarmacadam, as we continued on the Tarka Trail. The path was mid-cliff, with the steep hillside running down on either side of us, the edges of the path studded with Sea Pink flowers. With thick cloud cover above us it was slightly warm and muggy. The rain petered out as we set off and the sun was trying to break through the cloud in places and, where it was anywhere near successful, beautiful shards of silver light speared the waters. There was a lovely silvery-blue sheen to the morning that encouraged us to stop and keep looking over land and sea. Looking back, we could see the outline of what what we thought must be Chesil Cliff House, on the point below Saunton Down, the dark building picked out against a silvery-white background. To the fore, just off Baggy Point, a single shellfish boat bobbed on top of a surprisingly gentle sea.
It was not really a day for stunning views, too much grey and poor light around for that. However, the slightly murky nature of the weather did give a bit of atmosphere to the early morning. After round Baggy and walking along the cliff a short way, we were able to see the coastline along the front of Woolacombe Down through the mist and gloom. Just before Napps Cliff, we had out first short stop of the day, taking the opportunity to stop on a handy bench. To our right as we looked out to sea was Putsborough Sands leading to Woolacombe Sand and to the front of us lay the expanse of Morte Bay. Where previously we had been captivated by the vivid colour scheme of land and sea, this was a much more muted and consistent set of grey and bluey-grey vistas. The only colour to really break the monotony was the subdued yellow sand and the brighter yellow flowers on the gorse that dotted the hillside and cliff.
Near Napps Cliff
Coming down off the hill at the small village of Vention, we took the opportunity of a toilet stop before progressing any further. From there it was a very enjoyable walk across Woolacombe Sand to the village of the same name. The walk across the beach provided stunning vistas for us with a beautiful quality of light bathing beach sea and clifftop. We stopped at the very nice Beachcomber Cafe where we enjoyed another of our 'second breakfasts'. Fast becoming the new fad. With very short mileage for the day we can afford to take it easy and have as many stops as we like. A relative luxury for us. Following the SWCP route out of Woolacombe we were diverted just above Barricane Beach to walk on the road as the path was closed due to erosion.
We re-joined the path just above Grunta Pool and it was nice to be away from the roadside and back to wild countryside. In the distance we could see the hilltop at Morte Point just starting to disappear in a light mist. There were some nice little beaches lying just off the path here that I susect would provide a nice wee respite on a hot day. As we progressed there were interesting rock features to be seen, with a similar light-grey rock forming the bedrock above the beach. Much of the geology in this area is Devonian slate and sandstone with igneos rock visible on the beaches. The upright, light-grey rockformations are wonderful some of them looking like large predatory creatures such as armadillo. It would be nice, but probably slightly risky, to see this area on a wild winter's day with high winds and ferocious, crashing seas. Approaching Morte Point we were lucky enough to spy two or three seals lying out up on the rocks.
Approaching Morte Point
Rounding Morte Point, despite the mist that was starting to settle across land and sea, we could still see over to the white lighthouse on Bull Point over the other side of Rockham Bay. Rather than detract from the experience the mist added another texture to the land and seascape, a layer of mystery and intrigue. Our campsite for the night lay just off Morte Point and we could have cut off on the easter side of the peninsula but decided instead to walk round the point and down a stretch of Rockham Bay before cutting up just after Oreweed Cove to approach the campsite from the south. While it was a steep climb to reach the park, it was a pleasant little, green valley and, taken slowly, was no great effort.
Coming in to the park from the south meant we were some way from the site office and and we had to walk down there, book in and then walk back up again in to the main camping ground to find a site. Having set off early, we had arrived early, about 2.00pm, which meant we had a pick of the pitches. It is a very hilly site, witht a lot of sloping pitches but we were lucky to bag a very flat one just on the peak of the front slope, overlooking the sea. Jus as we settled on a pitch the rain started to fall and we were fortunate to have the tent up before it came on for real.
The rain lasted a couple of hours, after which we were able to fully establish our camp pitch before a wee walk down in to the village. Later, just as the gloaming was falling, we had a lovely silvery light show out over the bay that made you grateful you put yourself in positions like this and to see nature in all its glory.
Rockham Bay in the Gloaming