The hotel staff could not do enough for us from an overload of tea and biscuits in the room, all our laundry done for us free of charge and the most wonderful Sunday roast, with the largest Yorkshire pudding I have ever eaten. The two breakfasts and dinners we had here were top notch as well. I enjoyed walking round the harbour and beach area with Joanna Elizabeth on our day off, enjoying the land-level views across Bigbury Bay, but reneged and returned to the hotel while JE went off to explore some of the high places in the village. It was a nice, peaceful and restful day.
The plan over the next three days had been to have two short walks (in case we need to take the long routes round the rivers) and then one long haul to reach Plymouth. However, knowing that things can change on the ground we had built in flexibility and we left Hope Cove armed with various options regarding the river crossings and what we could do if things did not go according to plan. While we did not relish having to walk all the way round the riverine estuaries, we might have no choice if the tides are against us.
There is a slight rise as you leave Hope Cove going up and over Woolman and Beacon Points and passing by the rock formation known as The Priest. As you beard the hill, the village of Thurlestone lies snug in the lee of the other side of the bay and you have great views of the lovely sea arch from which the village is thought to have taken its name; 'thirl stone', a thirl being a hole. The arch dominates the bay, with the bright red sandstone cliffs behind. Later as you come closer to the cliffs and particularly beside the golf course which abuts the beach, you appreciate just how deeply red the rock is in places. On the hilltop, the cold breeze from the sea was cutting and, in the overhead skies, we felt there was the promise of rain. Back down at sea level, approaching the village, we crossed a lovely little sandy beach that was completely empty of people, a reflection perhaps of the day's temperature.
On the other side of the bay looking west, we could see Burgh Island standing just off the mainland, with the outline of the white Burgh Island Hotel stark against the grey skies and the dark background of the cliffs below Ringmore. Later in the day we had closer views across the mouth of the River Avon to the small town of Bigbury-on-Sea, which is on the mainland directly opposite Burgh Island. After the sixty-metre climb to above Butter Cove, the route drops back down to almost sea level for the walk in to the village of Bantham, where the ferry is located. On the way we passed lovely little turreted, boat-house shaped dwellings. It in Bantham that the wheels came off the planning bogey, but for once it worked to our advantage. We had presumed the ferry ran all day, but arriving at noon, we were advised it was only running twice a day, from 10 - 11.00am and, 3 - 4.00pm.
While we sat there, we also rejigged our plans after realising that with a late ferry crossing and with today's tide times, if we did a Royal Marine 'yomp' up to the River Erme, we might be able to make a fording of the river just as the tide turned (low tide roughly 6.30pm) in the early evening and still have enough light to walk round the bay to Battisborough. Instead of two short and one long day, we would do one of about 10 - 12 miles and one of about fifteen, which would then put us a day ahead of schedule and which we could use as an extra day off in Plymouth.
We had intended trying to camp on the other side of the river at Mount Folly, but with heavy rain forecast for tonight that would be no great loss. We spent some time perusing the map and figuring out options. Eventually. we contacted the field study centre where we had booked to stay tomorrow and were lucky enough to be able to change that booking to tonight. We then contacted our youth hostel in Plymouth and were able to extend our booking there, staying in the same room, to two days. Problem solved! Only the miles left to be walked.
When the ferryman arrived he made his way to a small rubber dingy which to me looked as if it would be lucky to take two people. I looked at me and Joanna, looked at the boatman, looked at the two rucksacks and thought 'not a chance in hell I am getting in that boat'! I was relieved to realise he used the dingy to go and get the proper boat, which was at least twice as large, maybe a bit bigger, more a rowing boat with a lawn mower engine, than an actual ferry. Certainly, it was the smallest ferry we had used on our walk so far. In the event, it did the job, albeit we were a little surprised to be left on a bare patch of sand on the other side, but tried to look nonchalant, as if we did this kind of trip every day and knew exactly what we were doing.
As we moved to the ford we stopped to remove boots and socks. We could see the tide was on the turn but it did not look too deep and as we took the plunge, me first and then Joanna Elizabeth, we were relieved to find that at its deepest, it only came to our knees. Despite the shallowness, on the second, deeper part of the river there was a bit of a current and you could feel it tugging at your legs as you walked. The botton of the river beds is rocks and stones and it was occasionally a little bit difficult to keep your balance. I was glad I had worn a pair of Merrells to cushion my feet and using one walking pole was really handy. The water was absolutely freezing and our legs and feet (and hands, curiously) did not recover until much later when we were settled in to our accommodation.